Border Politics


when you are 27 years old, you will be sitting in the bookshop you sometimes work at (tho business is floundering at best most days, and despite everyone’s best efforts) and she will not look at you while laughing and say that her partner thinks she was Mexican in another life because she can cook it so good as if that were any proof, as if your family’s whole muddle of cultures and experiences can be boiled down to posole and refried beans, spanish rice, and you’d bet ten dollars she’s never even tasted a fried plantain.

you will keep quiet, you will not say anything, not even huh even though it feels like you have been hit in the gut by her feckless white privilege, not even knowing how such carelessness can chuck you even months later. you still think about it, sitting on the same stool, next to the same person who still does not know she did anything wrong at all. may never know, because who are you to tell her, you are so tired all the time of being angry, anyways—and how would you explain the vivisection of the border, the division of family lines with more and less privilege.

we can not even divide ourselves neatly into before immigration and after, or colonizer and colonized, or those resisting assimilation and those already assimilated, or those who pass and those who can’t. who would choose, who would be the judge, anyways? some academic in some ivory tower who teaches feminist “thought” some place say?

there are words for the way you have and haven’t assimilated, you learn this a few months later in your “culturally relevant” lifespan psychology course at community college, where all the white students take up so much space and bring with them their constant cultural baggage of that us and them culture, the same culture that writes news headlines about dark-skinned terrorists and those other countries to bomb, filling in for readers provocation and cause with religion and race as if difference were a kind of violence itself.

you are resistant but your father and mother were not given the choice, for them it was to assimilate or die trying, and so you speak only a few words of your abuela’s tongue, and you are learning how to cook dishes she never fed you before cancer ate her body. you are painfully conscious of life on la frontera. you feel hungry every time you catch wind of another queer latin@ person, sometimes you want to reach out and grab them by the wrist so you won’t feel so washed ashore, so left behind, because all you have is your father’s macho masculinity and colonization of your body (the nightmares that has wrought on you, still) and your mother’s admonishments to wear sunscreen, stop lisping, casual identity policing that you still hear in the back of your head. she just wanted the best for you, and she thought it best that you should pass.

you look in the mirror every day and wonder if you do pass. some days you do, forced to swallow your peers’ casual racism that you try to diminish with clumsy callouts that probably reveal the anger of your internal workings anyways; some days you don’t pass, loaded conversations at the bus stop about where your family is really from, or your partner’s mother’s comments about your hair and skin that will never wash away. it’s not that you’re looking for passing, it’s that you’re looking for your self amidst all the adjectives: queer-as-fuck anti-capitalist hyphen mixed race survivor transgender latin@/-o/-a boi bipolar slash switch anarchist-who-can’t-stand-most-other-anarchists brother-AND-sister. you are your mother’s son and your father’s daughter, your own worst enemy, the bad brain critical voice in the back of your head, and your best ally, the voluminous rapture that rings between your ears in manic frenzy as your hands write, write, write, floundering for some understanding.


trigger warning for BDSM.

(sung)”the minor fall and the major lift/ the baffled king composing hallelujah / hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!”
(speaking) back in college, i liked her best when she was my boi friend. face not stubbly but smooth, she bound her chest and called herself Nick, swept her short blonde hair up beneath a baseball cap and stealthed her hourglass figure with a navy blue hoody. one night after i’d sung us thru the dark winding drive like a torch

(sung) “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!”

(speaking) she handcuffed me to her coffee table and beat me, her family upstairs sleeping or reading or whatever they were doing, so i kept silent while she left violent pinch marks, a ringing in my ears as my mouth gawped at the inexpressible. i thought i might choke on my own half-swallowed wails. they were not terrible, those screams. they came from a well of gladness. my heart beat electric blue in my chest and the edges of my vision went black, though i did not faint. after, she brought down a collar from her wall and fastened it, tho after that night i needed no accessory to find myself enchained. she, still becoming familiar with the rituals of BDSM culture, did not take it seriously as i think i did, though she vowed to protect me. when the time came, she was nowhere to be found and the only scorched earth was that under the rain of my father’s open-handed blows. but that came later. it was not long after that evening with her that i was cornered in a dressing room at a mall in plano with my mother. she saw the black and blue eyed marks and her own eyes widened in terror. “don’t worry, it’s consensual. don’t ‘let’s talk about this,'” i begged. she quieted herself and went back to attempting to convert me to floral prints and feminine pastels, forced on me an outfit meant to quell my bizarreness with its normalcy. it felt like putting on a doll’s costume, the colors, shape, and conveyance all wrong. i think of this now when i see Nikki, sculpted and femmed, subtle lipstick and silky henna locks, little black dress cut to reveal her sturdy, curvaceous limbs and intricate scars. it was Nikki, not Nick, who shared a bench with my mother at graduation. in these later years i am amused that when asked, my mother’s opinion of the lady in question was too small town for you. But Nikki was the first and among the only to cast me off in favor of other turns, first as a farflung traveller, now as a military wife and mother, tho still as kinky and non-monogamous as ever. she pops up again, at a party i’m throwing or a performance, and always manages some mutedly grand gesture to let me know how much she still thinks of me. the summer before last she memorized and sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” and emailed me the video for my birthday. my housemates watched with me as tears welled up and my heart clenched in my chest. i thought to myself, the first girl i ever really fell in love with, tho it was the boi, Nick, that I love(d) best and most of all. we failed one another in various ways as teenagers so often do. it was not just her untimely departure that unraveled our romance. i find her now too altered by time to wrap myself up in our inevitable contradictions again, though a year or two ago i fell in love with the bruising force of someone for whom she might have been the prototype: freckles, relentless sparkle, masculine femininity, and all.