by Mimi Khúc

This past weekend, I celebrated food and family with multiple feasts and gatherings, overlapping circles of relations and love — and wariness.

Almost 10 years after realizing I was in a closet and then coming out of it, I find myself back in one. Holding a secret tight to my chest.

The holidays can be bleak for many of us. A time supposedly to celebrate family and love, to be thankful for blessings. But some of us do not have happy families, some of us sorely need love, some of us are less “blessed” than others. Queer lives have always had to travel along alternative circuits, ones that skirt and go around and pierce through and run away from and burrow under and build on top of “family,” in all its forms.

My family is no stranger to secrets. A Vietnamese refugee family that never speaks of war or displacement or broken hearts. Of the kinds of racism one faces in this land of saviors and promises. Of the kinds of racism one learns and upholds and deploys, the backs crushed under the feet of an upwardly mobile entrepreneurial community marching determinedly, blindly, towards the American Dream. Of the legacies of violence that striate our lives and bodies, in our very homes. An amnesic journey of survival and compromised thriving.

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I am no stranger to holding my breath. I’ve ghosted through these family gatherings most of my life, at moments performing good daughterhood so well that I almost forget how much I have to hide and swallow in order to belong. But good daughterhood is a performance that must be continually enacted, reinforced, and that is where I fail. My hair too short, my body too fat, my clothing too sexual, my laugh too loud, my vocation too un-model-minority, my ideas always too different. I am endlessly transgressive, always outside the bounds of normal in ways uncomfortable for my striving-to-be-normal-at-all-costs family. “Why can’t you be normal, Mimi?” my dad pleads. A painful refrain that has constrained the shape of our relationship over the years. And that’s without even really knowing that I’m queer. I say I came out of the closet years ago, but the truth is my queerness is comfortably invisible to my family. For them, what does it matter to write, speak, teach about being queer when I’m married to a man, raising a child together in a “perfect” nuclear family? Swept under the gigantic family rug, like everything else.

My newest secret threatens that invisibility, that comfort, in ways that terrify me. I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed that comfortable invisibility over the years, a passing that has allowed me some semblance of belonging and family support. I may be transgressive in many ways, but most can be hidden, at least for a time. At least for the holidays. But this secret always threatens to reveal itself. So I hold it tight in my chest as I float through family gatherings exchanging smiles, nods, pleasantries. Like a knot, ready to burst, unravel. A grenade that would take out my whole family, decimate the tenuous ties that I’ve worked hard to rebuild and sustain. Our lines of connection would snap back at us, the shocking recoil whipping and stinging our faces and hearts.

I had almost forgotten what secrets of this magnitude were like. Secrets of my being, where the stakes are my self, all my relationships, my friends’ and family’s love and acceptance and support. Secrets that require the construction of entire closets around them, rooms in which to hide. The slow suffocation of holding one’s breath in a room that feels like it’s shrinking, faster and faster. The terror that keeps you in the shrinking box. Sometimes, we’d rather die of suffocation than step out into searing exposure, be seen in a nakedness, a vulnerability, that leaves us raw, open to the worst of woundings. Sometimes, either way is death, and we are forced to choose not whether we will die but in what way.

Right now I’m surrounded by family of all kinds: family of origin, extended blood relatives, an ever-expanding network of kin by marriage and birth — and of course, familiar to all queers, chosen family. Chosen fam, souls who have joined my path at some point, sharing hearts and minds, building intimacies and homes, affirming life together with me in this world that so furiously seeks our deaths. We queers like to uphold chosen fam as the alternative, the salve for our broken hearts and broken family relations. But even chosen fam is made of people, and all people are human, all people have histories and limits and challenges. This secret has been too much for some of my chosen family, a strain that exacerbated existing fissures, breaking open old wounds, snapping the strongest of ties. The recoil leaving deep gashes in all of us.

So, this is a secret that I cannot tell, not here, not yet. I’m too afraid, too alone. At least for these holidays, I’ll stay huddled in this closet, cloaked in its poisonous safety, gasping for what little air is left.

For my qtpoc family out there — for our secrets, that threaten to suffocate us, that we choke on as they fill our throats like sand, like gravel, especially around times of the year like this. For closets that both save and destroy us. May we find ways to breathe, homes in which to be safe, families to love and be loved by.  May we know ourselves and let others know us in our glorious fullness. May stepping out into the sun feel like coming home, flying free, being whole.

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mimipic2Mimi Khúc is a qwoc Viet Am writer, scholar, mother, doula, and foodie, based in the DC area. She is the East Coast Regional Editor for Black Girl Dangerous and loves curating work as much as writing her own pieces. Follow her regular contributions here, and if you’re on the East Coast, hit her up any time at mimikhucBGD at gmail with fabulous ideas for new pieces.


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