Hidden in Plain Sight

I have a picture of my mother when she was a girl, probably under 12. All you see is her silhouette, because she’s sitting in a window, back against one sill, feet braced against the other, her knees up to support her book. She says that day her family had gone over to some relative’s house or another, and she was in the middle of a good book and didn’t want to stop reading so she didn’t. She says people were making fun of her – maybe her dad was – and he took her picture. I absolutely love that picture.

Today, my Beau and I dropped the boys off at their other mom’s and quickly rushed off to Chinatown to drown the heartbreak. It’s something of a Christmas tradition, and it usually works, at least to staunch the wound a little. With some difficulty, I managed to convince my Beau to eat at a Taiwanese place we ate at several years ago, instead of going to the usual Vietnamese place for noodles. My Beau is VERY big on noodles.

The restaurant was crowded and friendly – all of Chinatown is very hopping on Christmas and no one gives a shit about that particular holiday, which is always very soothing. I was facing a table where a Chinese family – grown brother and sister, her two little girls, and the granddad – were having their meal.

“That’s me,” I said quietly to my Beau, indicating the elder sister, maybe 9, who was reading The Tale of Despereux and completely ignoring everything else. She read the whole time, while she was eating and while her younger sister was fooling around with her braids, trying to tie them together. She read all the way through, just like I used to do as a kid, and just like my mom did.

I liked watching that Chinese family, because they bucked the norm there in the Chinatown diner. When the waitress spoke to them in Chinese, they answered in English. They knew exactly what they wanted to order, but they asked for forks. All around us, other Chinese families spoke in Chinese and wielded deft and yummy chopsticks, but not this family. They looked like they should be one way, but they weren’t. They were something else entirely, at least in part.

My birthday is rapidly approaching and I will be 47. Sometimes it takes me a minute to remember how old I am because I’m in the habit of adding a year or two, sort of a dodge to guard myself against disappointment. I had hoped, in my 30s when I started really feeling the effects of aging, that I would get things under control and my 40s would be the healthiest period of my life. Ah well. A major operation and several tedious health situations I refuse to bore you with later, I am here on the brink of 50 struggling with a curious-yet-mundane combination of denial and panic. What have I accomplished? What exactly am I doing? Why aren’t my novels finished? How did I get myself in a situation where my babies, my greatest loves, are torn from me regularly to go live with a woman I detest and who I think is damaging to them? Why on earth didn’t I understand my sexuality earlier and perhaps have met someone like my Beau? Will I die before I figure any of it out?

I think about being a femme. No one can tell. Not even butches or other femmes, unless we’re in a very circumscribed environment like Pride or a rally to protest Prop 8. Even when I’m hanging on my Beau’s arm, people are apt to mistake her for a man (for a change) and me (for a change) for a straight woman. My femme is hidden in plain sight, because here I am, my body which I adorn to make myself feel sexy and to attract the lascivious glances of my Beau, my brain, which is queer and kinky, and my heart, where my boys live, products of a queer relationship (although poor Seth would probably jump off a cliff before he referred to himself as “queerspawn” in the jolly way that those COLAGE kiddies do), and my marvelous butch Beau with all her little ways that so delight me.

What else about me is hidden in plain sight? What achievements, wonders, miracles have I let loose in the world without even noticing, so intent was I on all the things I haven’t done? What is it I can’t see? I truly don’t know, but just the idea that my vision is only partial, that how I see myself might really be as faulty as the perception others have of me in public, as the waitress today had of the English-speaking family, is enough to give me a bit of courage. Maybe one of these days I’ll be wise enough to see myself just a little more clearly.

Published in: on December 26, 2008 at 12:37 AM  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. We are indeed hiding in plain sight. I come out promiscuously in order to combat femme invisibility. Although it’s fatiguing, I like to think that I’m helping to create a world with a more expansive notion of what a lesbian looks like.

    Happy new year to you and your family!


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