A Filipino restaurant is bone marrow
and vinegar boiling
perfectly over the sound
of the most dramatic Tagalog
soap opera you’ve ever been forced to watch.
I come here, when I can afford it,
when my homesick can only be cured
by my mother’s hands
The server is a young woman,
possibly in her 20’s with a posture
that’s been carrying the weight of her father’s expectations.
She calls me, “Ate” every time I come in.
It means older sister in Tagalog.
I can tell by the way she responds
to her mother that she still lives at home,
because Filipino women without husbands
have no business being out on their own,
she wears a crucifix on her necklace
to remind her a man died for her once,
her priest, her mother,
her father, and her aunties
won’t ever let her forget it.
And she doesn’t know.
But I’ve been there.
Wanted to believe that
I could behave and sit still.
Find a nice boy to marry
to shut my mom up and wear tradition
and religion on my wedding day,
but I needed to be free.
And I wonder what young women
like this know about freedom.
What it’s like to not have a predetermined destiny.
To not always have to say the right thing,
and dress the right way
and be the dream
that someone else dreamed for you.
But this glass house
contains a boy
with too many stones
and not enough heart to tell his mother he’s trans.
Because I swore I would never tell my mother.
Because she wouldn’t understand.
Because this is will make the pot boil over.
And this young woman could’ve been my mother in past life
The woman behind the counter says,
“Hi Ate. how are you today?”
Hold back my painful desire
to tell her I’m different now.
I went and got free.
I am not your sister,
but I’m still part of the family.
But the smell of this adobo
is whispering my mother’s name
and I can’t unclench.
My mother grips tradition
and Catholicism so tightly
she has no more knuckles for this.
I do not correct her.
Continue this transaction like we normally would.
Do not try to axe at the root
of this family tree we swing under
I decide to never tell my mother
I can’t be her daughter
Do not throw these stones from your glass house, boy
the only chain you have left
Don’t anger your ancestors
Don’t shame this family anymore
Do not come out again
Don’t do this to us
So, I do not correct her.
Instead I settle into this excuse
rather not uproot this tree from the ground
Rather not show her that she might be the one who is free
We complete our business and she says, “Thanks Ate”
But I’ve been used to being free for too long.
My jaw shakes loose of the weight it’s been holding
dislocates from my mouth
and drops into the young woman’s hands
“Kuya” I say.
which is a respectful title for
I do not expect her to catch me.
My muscle memory braces itself for the shatter
for the shards of stained glass
church windows I’ve just smashed.
She says, “Have I been saying it wrong this whole time?”
And this is where I have to come out again.
A decision to make to erase the history we’ve created together in our connection
to erase my own history
or to be loyal to who I’ve been
I choose to be loyal.
I say, “no.”
Wait for the confusion, the hate, the back turned that I know so well
She says, “Oh, Sige—Kuya”
And wonder how I will tell my mother that I am still her child.