When I was in second grade, I had my first communion in the catholic church. I wore a fluffy white dress and veil with my hair done up high, como una princessa. My whole family traveled from Mexico City to Texas for the occasion. Mass was that morning and I had a soccer game in the afternoon, so my mom put my uniform and cleats in the trunk of the car so I could change on the way. When Mass was finally over I practically ripped the dress off porque picaba mi piel como la eucaristía picaba mi lengua. I played my soccer game with the same hairstyle I had done for church. My family was the loudest even though I was the worst player, and they made me put the dress back on after the game para la fotó.
I taught Spanish lessons to a second grade class once a week for twenty-eight weeks. I spent about twenty hours total in the classroom, less than a day over all. The barrier of language cannot be broken in a day, but we chipped away at it until there was a small hole in the wall.
One day I came into class and one of the students was sitting in a corner licking her hand. Noting my confusion, one of her classmates notified me “— is a cat today”. He said it with the same bored tone he would use when asking to go to the bathroom. I told him “en Español decimos “— es un gato hoy””. Factual statements do not need emotion behind them to be validated. Esa día — era un gato, and the students continued working on their family portrait projects from the week before. Tenemos que proteger la niñez, because it is so fleeting.
I had just been suspended from school when I came out to my dad. He was cool about it but, cada día otro disastro for a man with two daughters who will not sit still. We did not talk about it but I noticed he got tense when I had sleepovers with my friends. Tenemos que proteger la niñez contra pecados de la carne. If we contextualise homophobia as a threat against the innocence of children then we can pretend that it has nothing to do with gender. Nothing to do with gender and everything to do with sex.
— was not a cat every day. She was not even a girl every day. It was not until three months in that the teacher casually mentioned to me that — was trans, and her parents were “working to create a space for their child to explore gender in a natural way”. I asked the teacher if we could have a circle during class so all of the students could tell me their pronouns. None of them even flinched at the question. I guess this is what exploring gender in a natural way looks like. Tenemos que proteger la niñez because in the real world all we have is our training to guide us.
My girlfriend and I walked through a graveyard in London for our first date. There were two headstones under a tree where we stopped to smoke a cigarette. One said “William Brown 1872-1899” and the other was unmarked. We decided that the unmarked grave was William Brown’s secret gay lover, and he chose to have an unmarked grave next to his partner over being buried with his family. She kissed me and then we went to dinner with our parents. El jefe was confused when he realised how big her hands are. I think my parents have a hard time differentiating between my girlfriend and the boys I tried to date in highschool so they would protect me from questions. Now I crave the questions but no one knows how to ask. I do not even have any answers to give.
On the last day I had my students work on their family portraits I saw that one of them had not labeled his sibling with any of the vocabulary words I wanted them to use. “¿Necesitas ayuda?” I asked, trying to see if it was the language or the project he was struggling with. Turns out his sibling had started using they/them pronouns, and we had not covered that in Spanish and he did not want to get it wrong. I told him to put “hermanx” because class was almost over and I wanted him to put his picture on the board with everyone else’s. In that moment it worked, but “x” is a bandaid on a stab wound, and will never be enough. Language traps humanity as much as it sets it free. Tenemos que proteger la niñez, because childhood is where we learn to protect ourselves.