I realized that what I wanted was an heirloom. Something physical, something expensive, something with weight and texture and worth that I could pass down to someone. What it was, I didn’t know. To whom it would go was also a mystery. But in my mind, I imagined that, simply by having it, I could guarantee that there would be a future for me, and that there would be a future for people like me, and that theirs would be a world where they didn’t lose sleep over nights like this.
It wasn’t hard to figure out where the instinct came from. I couldn’t see myself in the America ahead. I had only prepared for “President Clinton,” spoken casually on the television or over the radio in the barbershop in a business-as-usual America. I had never stopped to picture myself in president Donald Trump’s America, not only because I didn’t expect it to ever exist, but also because I am at odds with the vision it submits — I am Chicano. I am queer. I am the “other.” Where would I fit?
But the election results are real, even if they feel like they shouldn’t be. On the morning after, it felt incorrect for the M train to be chugging along the track just outside my apartment, stopping, opening, ferrying. Outside, I heard a woman laugh. How? I wondered. I took these mundane activities to be collusion with the injustice at hand. Don’t people know the world has been canceled?
I need something to give to someone, says a crude instinct. A me-shaped gap has opened up in the fabric of my world, and I am a non-person watching another America in some other reality where I am invisible. I want to make myself concrete. I want to have something that will outlast me when I’m gone.
I try to picture myself existing beyond today, but I only see me in the past tense, as one of the weathered, weary queers who survived. They exist here, in the now, and I see their tired faces from time to time in blue-lit nightclubs — a vague, intense battle behind them, they exist in a different world inside of ours that I don’t understand. I realize now that I haven’t learned a thing from them, that I have barely spoken to them. Because although I have also struggled, and although I have also been kicked and spat upon, and called every slur in the book, I have also considered myself to be fortunate. I am living on prime real-estate on the cosmic arc of justice, right where it crescendos and begins to bend downward into a frictionless slope. But that’s not the case anymore. Soon some other ungrateful person who isn’t me will take my place.
We are the future elders. I’ve never stopped to truly consider it until today. I’ve never felt saddled with the burden. Was I so naïve as to think we would be the post-queers, unencumbered by identity? Absolutely not. Maybe some of the white gays were already eyeing property there, in that white male neighborhood where they were being invited to more and more dinner parties. But not us. Not me.
I did, however, see myself chugging along on an engine pushing forward and forward and forward. I subconsciously thought that, as bad as things got, and whatever hiccups might occur along the way, the direction was right. We were moving, and we were moving without me, and gravity would do a good deal of the work.
The ignorance of the activist who thought progress moved this way. Who had never seen the worst possible thing actually happen.
We are the future elders. For the first time in my life, I feel that weight in my hands. Because what we do now, with our backs against the wall, will define us, and how we are defined will provide the context for how those who come after us will live. And I find myself caring deeply about how they will live, because they have a chance to live better.
Mira, mi gente, mi familia. To be born in this world as you have been—queer, of color, woman, immigrant—is to inherit a word in an incomplete sentence. We are required to write, and we are required to read what came before, to read and read and read until we know ourselves, and know where we are going, and what we must do to get there.
This is our inheritance in a country that gives us little. You, and me, and the “us” before, and the “us” after.
El Choque — the Shock. I’ve been in this place enough times to give it a name, the dizzy place where I wake up and someone is crying, where something awful has happened and my mind reels as I’m brought up to speed. Here I am again on the morning after the Orlando Pulse shooting, walking to the bodega to get my roommate a bottle of water because he’s having a panic attack, that awful ping when I walk through the door. I think of it, the ping, and it still has the transportive power to put me back there. I don’t say it out loud, because I feel it’s taboo to compare anything to Pulse. But I find myself saying a lot of the same things now as I did on the day of the massacre, the same promises to fight and to come together and to help people heal. I wonder if pain is pain is pain, showing up on different days and manifesting in different ways but hitting the same place.
So this is what we’ll leave you, and this is what you’ll take from us — ancestral knowledge of how to survive the pain. How to sneak yourself out little by little. How to, in the margins, blossom, erupt into colors, radiate. How to bite your tongue when you have to and how to sharpen it to a fine point when you have no other option. How to mourn, as we must often do, but also, how to thrive; how to turn nothing into something, as we always have and always will.
The world ticks by, and I suspect this surreal feeling won’t last. The train will stop enough times, and people will laugh enough times, and this will feel normal again, and we will adapt again, and there will be a place for me here. That’s the great thing about us. We build our own homes at the end of the day. We belong everywhere where we are.
And we will survive this too. And there will be a future for you.