It’s weird to sit down and think about my life up to this point in time. I’m a 23 year old college student who’s so focused on making it through a 16 credit hour semester and working graves full time that other than current events it’s strange to think back on my life and what all has happened. Really looking through the memories I’m not sure there’s a single event that didn’t have something to do with race, class, or gender. I think a lot of what has happened has made me bitter so it’s hard to talk about but I will do my best.
I grew up in a fairly nice neighborhood on the east side of Sandy City, Utah. An elementary school sat just up the block from my house and all the kids in the neighborhood went to school together. The house a grew up in was large, much like the other homes in the neighborhood. But unlike the other homes in this very LDS community, the house was just a front to hide the very dysfunctional pieces of my life growing up. What I remember most what that my mom was never around when I was younger. She worked in a law firm that required most of her time and energy.
When she was home I remember the fights that would happen between her and my dad. I was too young to really understand why they happened but I do remember them happening a lot. I remember my parents throwing things and screaming. I remember the cops showing up and I remember how I could always find a safe haven on rooftops and in abandoned rooms. After the fights or when my mom wasn’t around my dad would talk about how most of the women in his life had in some way ruined it. They (especially my mom) had taken everything from him and manipulated him into sticking around for some reason or another.
And I grew up believing him. I believed a lot of the things he said, like how women are some of the worst drivers, especially Asian women. I believed him when he said that women typically don’t know as much as men. I grew up wanting to be just like him. Because why would anyone want to be like a woman? Why would anyone want to be like my mom? By the time I was 11 my mom had moved my twin sister and myself into a small duplex in west valley. A few years went by of me staying with my mom on the weekdays and my dad on the weekends and everything seemed fine.
My dad continued to live in the house I grew up in and I remember the way is had fallen apart over the years. When I would visit my dad I would remember how there was no hot water, no heat during the winter, and no AC during the summer. When I turned 14 my mom could no longer afford the rent on the duplex as well as the morgage on the house so we moved back in with my dad. When we moved in, the house was at it worst, trash covered every surface, old food sat in the sink and on the counters. The garage was filled wall to wall with broken furniture and things that were collected over the years.
My mom tried her hardest to repair the damage but it was already done and the fighting between her and my dad continued. He was kicked out shortly after I turned 16 and went on to live in various other family member’s house until no one could stand him being around. I remember one of my older brother’s calling me one day. He was crying because he had just kicked my dad out. Apparently while my dad lived there he repeatedly disrespected my brother’s wife. He called her lazy, a terrible mother, an idiot, you name it. My brother couldn’t take it anymore.
At this point in my life I began to realize things weren’t what I thought they were. My dad was never able to keep a job. Even before he married my mom he had a hard time staying employed. When he wasn’t working he was goofing off. Sometimes I think he cared about taking photos more than he cared about his marriage. He made me believe that my mom didn’t care about our family. That she was an angry and hurtful person when in reality she was just tired. Tired of coming home to a dirty house after working all day. Tired of being expected to take care of everything.
Tired of the fact that my dad was incapable of doing the simplest tasks to help her. She was tired and he made me hate her for that when I had no idea she was just trying her best. I was so angry becuase I felt like I missed out on getting to know my mom. I grew up thinking women were these soul sucking creatures and I only wanted to be like my dad. But now | didn’t know what I wanted. All I knew is that I wanted to make movies. Movies had quickly become my only escape when | didn’t know where else to hide. A newer school had opened up a few years before in West Valley called East Hollywood High.
I asked my mom if I could go there instead of the public school in Sandy. To my dismay she said no. She wanted things to be simple, for me to continue going to school with my twin sister. So I did what any teenager would do, I snuck out of the house during the summer and hopped on the train to get to East Hollywood High. I filled out all the paperwork I could while I was there so that I could be registered as a student and took copies home to my mom. I put them on her bed so she could find them when she got home. That following semester I was officially going to East Hollywood.
If that’s one thing I remember most it’s that my mom showed me that if you really want something in life it doesn’t matter if you get told no. You’ll find a way if you really want it. The school had only 800 students spread across grades 9-12. The school was full of kids who had been kicked out of their previous high school or who just didn’t fit in anywhere else. Those who found out my mom was an attorney assumed I came from wealthy family so I did what I could to keep my home life private. One memory that stands out to me while I was in school was how every friday night the school would have an open mic nights.
It was free to the public and students could perform everything from songs, poetry, jokes. It was just a great night for the students to reach out to the community and show what the school was about. On one such night I decided that I would invite some friends come with. Two of them grew up in my neighborhood, both LDS, both from middle class families. The third friend was named Shelby. Shelby grew up in a trailer home. Her dad and brothers frequently made bets on how old Shelby would be before she got pregnant or bets on when she would drop out of school. Shelby wanted to be a marine biologist.
She wore mostly gothic clothing and always had a colorful way of inserting the word “Shit” into every sentence. When the open mic night was over I drove Shelby home with the other two girls in the car. As I pulled up to the trailer park one of the girls in the back seat made a comment about how people who live in trailers are trash and don’t amount to much. The other girl laugned in agreement. I stopped in front of Shelby’s home. The car was so quiet. I pretended I hadn’t heard the comment because I didn’t know what to say. I was floored by their harshness. They had no idea who Shelby was or what she was capable of.
Shelby and I got out of the car and I walked her to her front door. She burst into tears and apologized for being such an embarrassment. I hugged her tight, and told her that she was wrong. That the girls in the car were wrong. I told her that the only thing that even remotely embarrassing was how those two had treated her. I told her that she should be proud of how far she’s made it. That no one will ever understand what she’s been through or how hard she’s worked. The world has always pushed against her and yet she was still standing. I stayed with her til she stopped crying and was able to go inside.
When I got back in the car the two girls started to apologize. The only thing I could get out was, “You know nothing about her and you embarrass me. ” Those two girls never spoke to me again. East Hollywood was a world of it’s own, I met the strangest people there and it was the first time I was allowed to even consider my own sexuality. This scared me for a lot of reasons, one: my mom was born and raised as a conservative baptist in Alabama, two: my dad’s family is very conservative LDS and three: my twin was already dating so I felt pressured to start dating as well but I didn’t even know what I wanted.
And then met Her. It was Spring Fling and I remember someone squealing with delight, “Oh my god, Jess you’re wearing a dress!?! ” | turned around and was awe struck. It’s so cliche but I was gobsmacked. Head over heels for someone I had never even talked to before. Jess and I started seeing seeing each other on a regular basis. My friends were the only ones who knew and as far as my mom was concerned, less and I were just friends. When summer came and went Jess insisted I come out to my family, it was really hard to tell my mom.
Movies never really prepare you to do something like that. They don’t show you that sometimes you aren’t prepared for the conversation. I remember my mom and I were sitting outside Einstein Bagels. It had been raining all morning and I had a cold. I cried when I told her because I was afraid that I would lose out on the chance I had to finally get to know her and when all was said and done she laughed at me. I was this terrified heep of boogers and tears and she laughed at me. It wasn’t until I turned 21 that I came out to the rest of my family.
Driver and I had started dating. This was before he had started to transition I remember the day all too well, my dad had invited Driver and I to have sushi with one of my brothers and his kids. When I showed up it becuase very apparent my dad hadn’t mentioned I was dating a girl. To my embarrassment Jory ignored Driver entirely. What made this so hurtful I think wasn’t that I wanted my brother to be excited for me but it was that Driver is a Marine and had just gotten done with his time in the military. A service that was shadowed by Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
A heavy weight that had followed them during most of their enlistment. My brother treated Driver like less than scum. He treated Driver like he didn’t exist. Like he did not matter. I was angry and hurt. How could someone in my family treat anyone with such disgust? I know that he would tell me that who I choose to love is wrong and gross but I think what I would say back is that it’s between me and God and if loving who I choose to love is a sin then I want no place in Heaven with him. To this day my brother hasn’t talked to me.