by Anthony Escobar
I’m writing this for you, queer boys of color, who grew up without fathers to help support their single mothers, who saw them maybe once or twice or even a few years of your lives and then didn’t, who looked for your father’s arms and held your own when his were no longer offered. It’s that time of year again, when social media is overrun with pictures of children hanging from arms thick as tree trunks or thin as twigs, always bearing the weight of them. Fathers supporting their children. When you see these pretty pictures, you either sort through the one or two photos of him that you stole from mom or think instead of your fiercely independent mother.
Even if you do both, or neither, you still refuse everything for a moment. The pain, memories, or the lack thereof that comes with forcing yourself to forget. Sometimes, you allow your imagination to take you to tree-trunk arms, but when the pain hits too close you reject it. You reject the men in your life who so much as imply the tiniest bit of paternalistic love. You reject the friendships offered by other boys. You reject loving anyone who identifies with maleness.
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Because when he wasn’t here, your mom was always there: in videos with you and your siblings all swinging from resilient limbs that had bore the weight on their own for too long. In pictures that denied what you felt because your two smiles filled picture frames. In person, when you finally let the pain in for just a few minutes and used your mother’s shoulders to dry your tears and block him out, when she shared her own pain and tears with you too.
Displaying her brilliance, beauty, and strength, your mother always seems to be there so you told yourself not to be weak because she always seemed so strong without him, that your tears didn’t matter because he would never be there to dry them, to beat them back with the fists you tell yourself he would have used on you had he ever been there. You tell yourself his love could only have been toxic, that all men’s love is toxic, so that you can avoid the risk of loving them. So you decide not to love them, to keep your tears of joy and fury for the women who told you stories of struggle and love and pain, and of men who she left behind to survive, even when she was told the only way she could was with them. You told all men to fuck off before you ever met them until you realized that, as a queer boy of color, it is impossible for you to exist in this world without loving men.
For years, I reshifted the focus of Father’s Day. As a child, when it came time to carve the love for our fathers into silly and delicate pieces of art, I rewrote history, gluing mom’s name onto cards instead. Father’s Day was a day I’d ignore, instead celebrating the resilience, strength, and love of a woman raising two kids independently. I refused to make space in my life for the pain of growing up as a young queer brown boy without a father to help me understand my experiences. But, if there is one day to reflect on his absence, even as capitalistic a construction as Father’s Day is, it is this one.
I don’t know how to love men. And, as a queer boy of color attracted to men, I need to learn. I know it isn’t just me, it can’t be when we exist in a world that allows young boys to grow up with images of stone-faced, toxic masculinity. To this day, I have trouble finding positive, affirming relationships between men that don’t rely on misogyny or homophobia, and I haven’t found any positive representations of relationships between queer men of color and their fathers. With no models of loving relationships between men of color, I hadn’t learned how to love men. All I knew was that my father wasn’t there to teach me, and I internalized that as a reflection of my self-worth and ability to be loved. The absence of that love made it that much more confusing as I became conscious of my queerness, and would later become part of a struggle with my gender identity. I couldn’t envision what love between men looked like, and my opinions of men became part of the reason I recoiled from that label.
I learned only what I taught myself: to distrust, dislike, and keep men from accessing those parts of me that are vulnerable and necessary to access in order for me to love them. So when I turned away from Father’s Day, I was turning away from my inability to love men.
It took days of intense introspection during Get Free, a summer program for QTPOC youth offered by BGD, for me to realize that my father’s absence had nothing to do with me, and that the pain I’d refused to explore had kept me from being abandoned by men, but also denied opportunities to be loved by them. It’s hard enough for queer boys of color to love each other in a world that so viciously punishes us for reclaiming our racialized bodies on a daily basis, and for sharing them with each other. Queer boys of color can’t afford to turn away, punish, and abuse each other, when we so desperately need each other’s support, love, and understanding to survive. It’s been a year long process of understanding that, and I’m still fighting to let queer boys of color into my life. And honestly, that fight has been very painful.
Don’t refuse that pain. Let it in. Understand it. Know it in all its nuance and depth. And while I don’t know whether or not love can heal all, I do know that pain unexamined can inhibit that ability to love and be loved. Know it. Share it. With a boy, even. I do know it can heal.
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Anthony is a queer brown Salvi boy(?) with far too many feelings. He copes with this by writing poems and short stories. He’s a first generation transfer student at UC Berkeley and interns for BGD’s Get Free program. His hobbies include throwing subtle shade and agonizing way too much over bios.