This story first appeared in Curve magazine.
There is nothing more unwelcoming than stares, especially when they are asserting you do not belong. Going out for Jovany and Eva has been more of an issue than Jovany’s fear of crowds. They decided it was less uncomfortable for their existence together to stay put in the apartment, in small circles of course, close friends. Since it is never seemingly worth the trouble of traveling only to be gawked at, harassed, and at the end of the night, feeling defeated. They would fight with each other like the sex and the love was the problem. It suddenly becomes less or more in the tiny space inhabited.
They have not been out in a while. In fact, neither of them experienced the new weather. The weather: perfect for sitting outside, sipping on something, and enjoying a good cigarette. They decided to meet at a pub after work. Eva chose the pub which she frequented during her law school days, an Irish pub with an outdoor patio. Jovany has never been to this place.
Jovany arrives at the pub and finds Eva outside. Relieved to see Eva’s familiar face, they do not interrupt, but watches Eva doing exactly what they both at least imagined. Eva is not preoccupied with her phone, but instead smiling unconsciously, appreciating the transition of the day. They beam at each other once Eva senses she is being observed. The pub manager comes out to greet Jovany and ask for ID, saying to Eva, “He looks like he’s 12!” Jovany gives a cynical grin, since this is not the first time someone confuses age, confuses gender. And they are aware that this won’t be the last time they will be ignored because of this confusion. Jovany hands over their Louisiana State ID. The manager glances at it and smirks towards Eva. Her back facing Jovany as she asks, “He doesn’t have a New York State license?”
“You mean you need a New York State license to have a beer?” Eva replies. “So what exactly do people from other states do while visiting New York? And by the way it is they, not he.”
“What?” The manager responds confused.
“THEY!!” Jovany and Eva says in unison.
The manager scoffs, “Whatever! It has to be a New York State ID,” she demands sucking her teeth.
“It’s a Louisiana ID, and as far as I remember, Louisiana is still a part of the United States. And by the way, I’m not invisible. I’m right here!” Jovany shouts. It has gotten under their skin, since even the very simple, small things have been adding up.
Earlier, while heading back to work after lunch, Jovany saw a beautiful dress which they believed Eva would love to wear, and they would love to see Eva dance in. Jovany stood at the store window, mesmerized by the fantasy. They walked into the store and immediately asked if they could see the dress in the window. The attendant looked at Jovany for a long time, and finally explained the value of the dress, and that it did not run in their size. Jovany, still high from the fantasy, did not catch the nuances, and instead hastily repeated, “She would look amazing. Can I see it?” Realizing Jovany was not listening to the subtle refusal, the attendant told them, “Ok, I’ll check…”
The store was not busy. After waiting for some time, Jovany searched for the attendant. They asked again for the dress, and the attendant said the dress was out of stock. Remembering Eva’s size, Jovany replied, “I really think the one in the window would fit her. Can I see it?”
“They told me I can’t take it down… It’s only for display,” the attendant said completely annoyed by Jovany’s cluelessness.
“But what if I want to buy it?” Jovany hissed with a hard smile, waking up. “Can I please see it?”
The attendant left again, but Jovany’s excitement was now flavored with distaste. They considered relinquishing the desire of seeing Eva’s face while she opened the box and saw the beautiful dress, and then danced in it. I should just go… I shouldn’t without it. Eva would love it. It’s in the colors she likes, and the cut is perfect. Besides, what does that say about me? I give up when people act stupid? But I am not here to teach anyone anything! I just want to buy a fucking dress! Jovany could not find what they needed to withstand the bitter taste eroding any of the joy they experienced. All they now wanted was to escape.
Having no fight left, they angrily grab their bag and says, “We should leave.” Disgusted, Eva gets up and announces, “I’m never setting foot in this place again. And I’ll be sure to inform my friends who come to your pub as to why.”
After several blocks of walking in silence, Jovany says, “I’m sure she could give a rat’s ass about your friends not coming to the pub, but I understand your need for vindication.”
“What!?” Eva stops and slams her purse to the ground. “What does that mean, Jovany? I’m really disturbed by all this. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to that pub. I even know her, we were chatting before you arrived. I’ve never experienced any of this borderline prejudice there.”
“Well of course, you’re white, babe. What else could it be?”
“Maybe it’s more than your blinders that you feel so self-assured about,” Eva says annoyed, walking swiftly.
“What blinders? What are you talking about?”
Eva, now at the corner of the street, hops into a cab and leaves.
Walking in the dark, still feeling the heat internally, Jovany considers Eva’s remark. They begin to think, Eva is somewhat right, that race was also coupled with many other things. It could be my ambiguous gender? Who gives a fuck about my ambiguous gender! But that argument quickly becomes a conflict, as they remember their father’s last visit. He was overwhelmed by their appearance.
He had not seen them in several years, and they were no longer the awkward tomboy trying to fit into a dress. They however, looked more like him, as they no longer hunched their broad shoulders into an unconscious cave attempting to be shorter than 6’.2”. They no longer folded their long arms to hide their reach, or even their large hands, instead they let them dangle. Even the way they dressed was astonishing, as it was more comfortable, more expressive than the Jovany he knew. But it was too much at once, and his first reaction was an uneasy laugh followed by, “I now have a son.”
“Ah, yeah… I guess…?” Jovany said as they hugged tightly.
Their father held on the tightest, as he felt the same fear he experienced when Jovany came out as queer. He felt it more so now with great urgency, as he saw, more than ever, what he considered to be a dangerous road Jovany was on, as a black person whose gender is ambiguous. He thought maybe their voice could still protect them from harm, so he blurted, “You still have your beautiful voice.”
Jovany did not understand what their father meant until this moment. They believe it was their high soprano voice which confused the manager the most, which led to a deeper confusion. That they were physically there with someone they were not supposed to be with?
Eva was not a model, but she was constantly told that she could be. She had the traditional beauty aesthetic, which made her stand out for random propositions of both marriage, and promises of stardom. Eva, albeit her secret enjoyment of the attention she received, still could not completely believe in its sincerity. Besides, she had a deep seated appreciation for knowing and showing just how strong she is, and how much the scars she earned from living was so much a part of her sense of self.
Eva’s father was partly responsible for her deep seated appreciation of self, he taught her how to hunt, how to build a fire and a tent out of nothing. Eva, never wanting to depend on anyone, she taught herself more than how to handle a gun for killing deer. She repaired everything around the apartment, as she felt her femme self still can occupy those spaces.
“This is not enough, Jovany. Every time we go out we end up here. Do you remember the last time we went out? You probably don’t, but I do. We were at your friend’s birthday party. You didn’t want to go, and I still don’t understand why, since you are in complete awe of Winnie. I know that night was awful, and you were having a difficult time with the amount of people in the bar. And yes, I remember the shoving match with the frat boy in the men’s room. I know the wonen’s room was occupied and you needed to go. And I know about the time the security guard pushed you up against the wall. Or the time a guy tried to kick your ass because his girlfriend was in the bathroom. Or the time at your job when someone said you were in the wrong place. Yes, I know all of this. You told me, but there is something else you’re not telling me, and I see it eating away at you. It’s me, Jovany! It’s me, Eva! Please tell me.”
“Why did you leave? You leaving is just as much a part of it all! That you can just easily remove yourself from EVERYTHING when it becomes difficult! And that’s so much of your whiteness, and how it plays out with you being ‘pretty’… Even when you pretend that it’s not real. I thought about what you said, though. And you are somewhat right, if I get what you meant by blinders. In fact you, you have your own set of blinders… If you cannot or choose not to see how race impacted what happened and what continues to happen. A woman loving a woman – that might be ‘tolerable’ depending on who’s watching and at what particular time, because we are seemingly still living in the days of tribalism. In some spaces it might be okay to love a woman and have her love you, unless she doesn’t fit into solely belonging to a particular group. Which I get every day. That yes, I do deserve love, as long as my nonbinary/non-conforming black ass is not loving from that pool of women that straight cis-gender white men are entitled to have. And yeah, I do feel like I am the complete betrayer of black women… When they don’t necessarily want me, or even have too… What I see is ownership every day. Every single time we are out together. Yeah, I get this message every time when I want to hold your hand. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been introduced as a couple, you’ll still be hit on right in front of me. And I know, even when you say you don’t care, that you do care and you do like it. Even as I’m being hated for no other reason. Our relationship isn’t considered real, Eva. Even our sex, when it’s no one’s business, is up for fucking debate! Do you remember your own cousin’s thoughts about us? She was drunk, but whatever. You know what she believes, ‘You guys are not really having sex, Eva. Evita! She’s a virgin. Like come on, she has never had sex with a dude.’ Do you remember that? Do you remember her saying that shit to us? Emily doesn’t fucking know me like that!!! But oh yeah she gets to assume and openly discuss! Never mind the countless times of being misgendered, or the times her boyfriend being weirded out and thinks I’m going to rob them. Because well, that’s what black people do, especially when you can’t figure out their gender, right? Can’t you not see it? This is what is making me crazy, and you’re not helping! I also don’t need you to rescue me!!!!
The next day, Eva sees Jovany’s response to her note on the refrigerator. She slowly sits on the kitchen chair as she reads. Staring at the floor, she covers her mouth and cries quietly. Jovany is asleep on the sofa bed. Still enraged by the evening, they decided they needed to sleep alone. Eva collects herself, walks to the sofa bed, and carefully wraps herself within Jovany’s arms.
“Are you fake sleeping?”
“Maybe…?” Jovany playfully answers, eyes shut, trying not to smile.
“Fake sleeper.” Eva kisses Jovany’s cheek.
“I read your note… I’m so sorry I left you… That wasn’t right…”
“You think?” Jovany taunts.
“I suck,” Eva tease, hoping Jovany would ease up and let her in.
“You do!” Jovany says not totally giving it up, but also not completely shutting Eva out.
Jovany opens their eyes, and they look at each other quietly. They both laugh.
Eva starts, “I love Emily to death, but she can be an asshole.”
“Yeah, she is an ass. And I want nothing to do with her.”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t spend time with my family? You know how hard this is on me too, you know, right? Eva says defensively.
“I’m not saying that at all… Stop throwing it back on me!” Jovany responds pulling away.
“So what do you want me to do? I mean, we grew up together. She’s my family!”
“I don’t know, Eva! Maybe, I dunno, talk to her, let her know that this is affecting us. It’s affecting me, and it’s fucking wrong! Wrong!!! Either way, I’m not going to subject myself to that shit anymore. You can hang out with her because that’s your cousin you grew up with!”
“Wow, you’re not being fair here.”
“I’m not being fair? Are you hearing me at all!?” They look at each other again, but this time Jovany despondently turns away. Eva holding back her tears, unexpectedly grabs Jovany and says, “I understand… I understand…” The embrace last for awhile, until Eva gently rubs her nose against Jovany’s neck. She whispers, “Also, maybe not tribalism, but more specifically segregation? Remember, Loving versus Virginia.”
Jovany immediately springs up, “But isn’t that the point of tribalism, to dominate and own? And isn’t it easier to do this when you can visually decide that, that person is the enemy and/or inferior? It’s fucking insane there is a need for a law saying it’s ok, when it clearly still isn’t, that two consenting adults can be together and start fucking. Whatever! We should go live in the wild or something…You can teach me how to fish and shoot game.”
Eva half laughs, “Jesus…this again? Are you trying to start a fight?” She abruptly gets up off the sofa bed. “What are we eating for breakfast?”
“Exactly, we can live off the land!”
Eva rolls her eyes, “Stop it! What are we eating, Jovany?”
“Bacon, with some cilantro, scrambled scallion eggs…” Jovany says almost singingly, as they get up. “Seasoned tomato paste, on toasted olive oil garlic bread…” They sing as their voice trails off to the kitchen. Eva puts the sofa bed back into place, and folds the blankets. She stops, heartsick, and with an uncertain stare, she painstakingly looks out into the now early afternoon sky. In the kitchen, Jovany turns the stove on and exhales a long tired sigh.
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