In that moment, my mother made me a liar—and at the same time, I understood that my mother was also a liar.


by Indigo

From the time I could coherently say “Yes, ma’am,” my mother told me that she would rather I tell her a painful, uncomfortable truth than to ever tell her a lie.

She always said there was nothing in the world she hates more than dishonesty and deceitfulness—and that no matter how painful the truth is, she is my mother and I am her daughter. She said she would always protect me from harm.

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I believed my mother each time she said this to me, because I had no reason not to. Everything I did from then on, I did to prove to her that I was worthy of her love and protection. From soccer to art to dance to music, everything was for her. I wanted to be my very best for her. Sometimes I still do. Unfortunately, that ship sailed on a Saturday afternoon when I was thirteen-years old.

I sat down on the big, living room couch next to her, like I always did. She casually scrolled through Facebook and abruptly brought up sexuality. As a teenager just beginning to question my own, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I gripped the excess fabric of my sweatpants.

She knows, I thought to myself. Somehow. This is it.

My heart began to beat faster. I could feel it in the back of my throat. I stared at the floor for a short, hoping that if I just focused on my heart rate hard enough I could slow it down.

My mother was a loyal Democrat. She’d voted Democrat reliably all her life. Wherever the party stood, so did she. But, when it came to queer identified folx, it was different. She would never vote against same-sex marriage, never harass a same-sex couple in the street, or anything explicitly homophobic.

It was always small things. Things that I wasn’t always able to detect as homophobia, but they made me uncomfortable nonetheless. Things like hitting fast forward whenever a same-sex couple exchanged a kiss on the screen, expressing complete disgust, claiming that all PDA made her feel sick even though she only ever fast forwarded through this particular kind.

I’d been listening to my mother’s tangent about how “people can choose to be gay, but” and “I don’t understand why every television character has to be gay” and “I support same-sex marriage so” for several minutes, when suddenly I interrupted her.

“I – I’ve thought that I was gay,” I whispered.

So much for controlling my heart rate. My chest tightened.

“But now you know that you’re not?”

Though she said it as if it were a question, I was smart enough to know that it wasn’t. I was smart enough to pick up on this thing she does where she says things like they’re questions, but really they’re answers – final answers.

“I – I could be bi, though?”

“You’re not. Everyone in this stupid town just thinks they’re bi. It’s ‘cool’ to be bi right now and have girlfriends when you’re girl. It’s just some phase a lot of kids go through. They think they’re cooler or more grown -”

My ears started ringing.

Everything sounded muffled.

I felt my heart beat move from the back of my throat to the tip of my tongue.

I felt my eyes well up with tears.

“You won’t feel that way once you get out of this town and experience life.”

I nodded at her and somehow managed to smile.

I never brought it up again.

In that moment, my mother made me a liar—and at the same time, I understood that my mother was also a liar.

She would not rather be told the ugly, painful, uncomfortable truth. She wanted the lies. She wanted the fairy tales and the pretty, painless stories. More than that, she wanted us to recite these pretty, painless, easy stories until we couldn’t decipher those stories from reality.

And so, I accommodated my mother.

It was easy to be the accommodating, easy daughter right up until this past year when I realized that I’m not the accommodating, easy daughter.

I’m not a daughter at all, actually. I’m someone else entirely. I’m not quite sure who that is yet, but I do know who they are not.

I know that they are not a girl and therefore not a daughter, but I also know that they are not a boy therefore not a son.

I also know that whoever they are, they are not part of my mother’s pretty, painless story.

This year, my mother stood in the kitchen. She was loading the dishwasher while she spoke aloud about what she referred to as this “transgender thing going on right now.”

I tried to keep myself together. I tapped my nails against the kitchen countertop and stared straight at the wall.

Challenging her never did me any good.  

And yet before I could stop the words from pouring  out of my mouth I said, “Gender is a social construct. We’re told that there are only two. That’s not true, mom.”

She stop loading the dishwasher to look up at me. I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and turned around to exit the kitchen, but she was there boxing me in.

“Listen, here. If people want to be transgender,” she began, “I don’t care. Dress however you want or whatever. But God made men and God made women.”

“Everything we are socialized into accepting about gender and sex stems from these stupid, colonial constructions. All of this is insignificant, arbitrary,” I told her.

“Are you a girl?”

Again, I knew it wasn’t really a question.

For a split second though, I thought about pretending that it was.

For a split second, I thought about telling her no.

For a split second, I thought about telling her that I’m non-binary and have been using they, them, and theirs for the past few months.

For a split second, I thought about cutting the bullshit and just telling the truth and ripping her heart out.

“Y-yes. Of course I am, mom.”

But of course I didn’t and again, I’d let her make me a liar.

I couldn’t say it, not out loud, not without being prepared to give up my financial security, and in turn my education, in turn my place of residence, in turn my healthcare, in turn my food and my water and the clothes on my back, in turn my life.

“That’s some white people shit. They wanna be all kinds of genders. Fine. But there’s men and there’s women. There’s no third option, JaLoni.”

I wanted to fire back that I was living the third option and that I’m not the only one and that none of us are going away.

I could hear my 16-year-old brother laughing from the hallway.

I turned to see my father sat in his chair watching TV.

I conceded and walked over to the same couch and sat down in the same spot I’d told my mother I was bisexual years earlier.

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I’d always believed that it was liars that my mother hated the most and that it was her fault that I became what she so deeply despises.

That thought, in some way, was comforting.

Now I realize that I was—that I am—what she hates the most, but not because I lied to her. It’s because I tried to tell the truth.

Indigo, who uses both they, them and he, him gender pronouns, is a Black Puerto Rican lesbian essayist and recovering community organizer. While pursuing their undergraduate degree, Indigo served as the inaugural president of their campus’ Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, organizing educational program on social, economic, and political issues impacting primarily Black and Latinx queer and/or trans persons. Currently, Indigo is pursuing a juris doctorate degree at CUNY School of Law.