“Why does it have to be so public?”, my not ill-intentioned cousin asked my sister at a family reunion. I wasn’t there.
February 1st marks one year. One year on testosterone. One year of freedom. One year of recognizing myself. One, glorious, amazing, stress free year where life and everything around it feels possible again. One year of living without a giant load on my back. One year of fully and I do mean fully leaning into LOVE not fear. No amount of nay sayers or stares or ignorant questions or uncomfortable encounters in the bathroom can take that from me.
Two weeks ago, I was in the Bay Area when I got the news that Uncle Ricardo, my dad’s cousin, whom I considered to be my ‘gay dad’ was dying. Life serendipitously had brought me to his city, precisely at this time. My cousin Nat and I shook the distant family tree to figure out where he was and hustled over the grid locked bay bridge into the city along with my new nephew Po. An excursion that took hours and was sure to end in lots of baby tears if not my own.
On the way there, doubt crept in. I knew he would love to see me and felt in my gut that going was the correct thing to do. Not knowing what state he was in, I was worried he wouldn’t recognize me. Not because he was old or transitioning out, but rather because I look a little different. I somehow knew no matter how I found him, his mind would still be sharp as a whip and he’d know exactly who I was. I was worried that I might look different enough that if he didn’t recognize me, it would confuse him and make him feel like it was his mind giving out on him. The emergency of the situation left me no time to choose fear so I made the call. Love it was. And up I went in the elevator to the cardiac floor.
When I got to his room, a doctor sped by me. Not knowing whether it was a good time nor what I would find, I hesitated. ‘Camila???’ I turned to my cousin Felipe, who had lived with me at Uncle Ricardo’s house many moons ago. My heart overflowed seeing him, so many years later. Uncle Ricardo never had kids; all his friends were lost to the AIDS crisis in the 80’s; and his lover of forty two years, Danny, had died of cancer around fifteen years ago. A natural care giver, ever since I met Ricardo in my first year of college, he had taken care of and housed a random assortment of cousins, aunts, and sisters, including me, some of our girlfriends and pets in his giant bohemian San Francisco home. Part of me had always worried he would die alone or be lonely at the time of his death, since we had all kind of passed through. Felipe wasn’t the only one there. The cavalry had come to town. It was a beautiful thing.
Felipe walked into the room with me. When he saw me, it took him a second. I think he was shocked to see me in San Francisco. But there it was, just as I had hoped, deep recognition in the sparkle of his eyes. How I love that man! That sweet, peaceful giant. His speech was slurred now, but we could still make out what he was saying. He told us stories about protecting my dad and his brothers in school because he was taller and people were afraid of him. He was terrified of them. We all laughed. When he asked what we were doing there (Felipe had flown in from Mexico), I told him we were there to haunt him like in the old days when Felipe would drum and I’d play guitar and we’d fill his house with indie rock. At some point I noticed his long legs sticking out the bottom of his hospital gown. All I had ever seen him wear up until now were overalls. “Tio! Look at those legs! Why have you been hiding those gorgeous gams in overalls all these years?” He loved that. Once a diva, always a diva!!
It was perfect though bitter sweet to be there. A strange mirror of the present/past/future continuum all mangled into one. He had always loved me, like really loved me exactly as I was. When he knew me, I had no idea I was trans. I was moving through the world in a hyper feminine exterior doing my best to pass as a girl and trying to spark an acting career. He loved me because I was in some way the woman he would’ve wanted to be: I was young, gorgeous, pretending to be glamorous to hide how bashful I was. I loved him because he represented what I wanted to be: all love, living life unabashedly, throwing caution to the wind. It was sweet that someone out there appreciated the woman I was ( even though I wasn’t a very good one), it almost makes the effort worthwhile.
On the way home I cried in gratitude for everything he is and all the love he has shown me. I cried because he used to tell me I didn’t eat enough as he spooned huge piles of food onto my plate. I cried thankful for him and knowing him. I cried because I was able to see him one last time and because my being there lit him up like Christmas. I cried sending him all my love for when he transitions. I cried at how beautiful and intact his sense of humor was even under such duress. And I cried for having had the good fortune of having such an amazing gay role model and mentor in my life. We should all be so lucky. His love was almost beyond a father’s love because unlike most, he was never offered the option of having children. He has been a true teacher handing down the teachings of what really matters. Love.
I didn’t know Uncle Ricardo existed until I was nineteen and went to San Francisco with friends and my dad realized I should meet him. I imagine many people in his life felt the same way they do in mine. ‘Why does it have to be so public?’ The underlying suggestion being: why can’t they tone it down or make less ripples so it doesn’t impact me and I don’t feel so uncomfortable.
Visibility matters. Representation matters. I met him when I was nineteen, right as I started to figure out I was queer. Had I not had someone who loved me unconditionally, perhaps my story would have been different. Studies show that queer people who have even just one person in their corner, are less prone to suicide and depression. The rate of queer suicide attempts has dropped around forty percent since gay marriage became legal. These things matter.
It has to be so public because there is nothing wrong with me and there was never anything wrong with him. I am not ashamed of who I am and I think it’s pretty safe to say neither is he. It has to be public, because it’s out there, we’re out there, we exist and if you love me you will have to change alongside with me. It has to be public because hiding things about ourselves is choosing fear over love and kills us. It has to be public because visibility matters. It has to be public because I am not your skeleton and I will not be hidden in your closet.
It’s an important time of rage- this Kali Yuga. Women are angry and calling to men to show up differently. Men are angry at women for being called out. And both men and women are angry with the gender non-conforming for further toppling the entire meaning of patriarchy. The awareness that us white folks (I say us, because even though I’m Latin I’m mistaken for white so I benefit from this privilege) have bought in and are contributing to systemic oppression, is leading us into a sticky awareness. We are, I hope, at the beginning of the process of looking at, acknowledging and beginning to engage in how we can dismantle it. The mindset in the country is bifurcated. It’s like a huge pandora’s box has been opened, or many of them, simultaneously. It’s a lot.
A personal step we can take on the daily toward love is to stop and meditate. There’s an app called the breathing app. It has two tones. You can set it for five minutes and simply breathe in on one tone and out on the other. This mix of pranayama and meditation can be super cleansing and clearing. Even for just a few minutes. The extra space that comes from it can help us engage in who we are and who we want to be. It can disrupt the patterns we have been blindly participating in and open up potential. A more outwardly social step we can take is to stop asking people to hide, stay quiet, curb, or shut down who they really are and what matters to them. That’s a scarcity mentality. Life is vast and there is space for all of us. We could all thrive if we wanted to at no on else’s expense. I realize these last three plus years have been a slog. The more reason to VOTE. Recruit everyone you can. Make sure young people in your life are registered. The time is now if we want to steer the conversation toward love. It’s going to take all of us and there is no way but through. Hang in there team!
ANNOUNCING SUMMER COLOMBIA RETREAT:
CAFE AND NAMASTE
WITH LEILA ZIMBEL AND MYSELF
JULY 26-AUG 2
It’s true! Two of your favorites are finally joining forces for an epic adventure! Leila has checked the alignment of the planet and the stars and not only is nothing in retrograde at this time, but we will have a full moon AND Miles’ Birthday!!!
At Hacienda Maravelez you will experience the last of its kind -a real Colombian ranch. Along with horseback riding, river baths, mountain walks, bamboo forests, cattle ranching, homegrown fresh pineapple, poolside revelry, and Marquesian sunsets- Maravelez is a perfect gem of picturesque Colombian country life.
AT ALO SOHO
THE DEEP DIVE: HIP OPENING INTO FORWARD FOLDS
Thursday Feb 6, 2-3:15
@ 96 Spring St, NYC
JAM WITH TERRENCE ON DRUMS
Saturday March 7, 4:30-6:30
@ 736 bway 9th floor, $45