Joy Lam – “No Sympathy for Something Queer”
Six years ago, I sat at the dinner table, looking down at my bowl of rich chicken broth and pho noodles. My dad asked what was wrong. I started to tell him about the end of my six-month love affair.
She was twice my age. I had met her through a mutual friend when I had newly arrived to San Francisco from the East Coast. It was karaoke night at my friend Mitet’s place. She had invited me the night before and said there were going to be Filipina lesbians. But, she added, most would be over forty. That didn’t matter; I missed my girlfriend and needed to get her off my mind. Being in the company of lesbians was a treat. We all arrived at seven. Her small studio held a party of ten. Mitet had a novel disco ball in her purple living room. There was so much great Filipino food! There was Kare Kare, Pancit, Chicharron, and other delicious dishes.
Mercedes was her name. Two inches shorter than me, bright red lipstick, wearing a long black leather jacket with grey office pants, she was singing to Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’. Mitet lead me to her and introduced us. I didn’t find her attractive at first, but I could tell I’d have fun with her. We sang the night away at classic rock songs. She told me about her career as a mortgage underwriter and where she grew up in the Philippines. Before the night was over, we had exchanged phone numbers, and before I knew it, we were regularly hanging out together. Gradually our mutual feelings for each other grew.
Our love affair went on for months. We shared the love of food. Every weekend, we ate at the most delicious restaurants in San Francisco. One night, months into our relationship, she told me that she was undergoing treatment for an illness and had been feeling very ill while under treatment. There were nights when she had a fever. There were also nights when she fell from dizziness caused by her medication. I watched her health deteriorate, guilty that I couldn’t do anything to make her feel better. I only hoped that my presence helped her to feel less lonely.
The last night I saw Mercedes was at her house on 42nd Street. We had gone out to dinner that night at Beach Chalet and went back to her home to watch some TV. At about 10:30pm, she walked me down to my car. She asked me to call in sick and spend the night with her. I thought about it but said that I couldn’t. I had a lot of work to do the next day. I turned over the ignition in my car. As I drove off, I could see her waving goodbye in the rear view mirror.
Within twenty-four hours, she was gone. I received a phone call from Mitet that Mercedes was in the intensive care unit. She had suffered a brain aneurysm and was being kept alive on life support until her family could make a decision to take her off.
As I was telling this story to my father, he continued eating his soup as if he hadn’t heard. I was trying to find any sign of sympathy from him, but there wasn’t any. Later I told him that I had lost my job as a loan processor. The company had shut down its entire operation nationwide. My father was sympathetic. He understood this. However, he made me feel that my relationships were not valid because they weren’t heteronormative.
As I was growing up, my father always encouraged me to talk to him as a friend. But when I told him about Mercedes, he was awkward and pretended that I had never shared my story. I was seeking comfort from him. At the time, I didn’t have anyone else to talk to. I didn’t have any friends since I was very new to the Bay. The rest of my family was on the East Coast. And after my affair with Mercedes, I had broken up with my girlfriend.
I can understand the struggle that lesbians have to be recognized as whole persons, not only in public, but more importantly, within our own families. It’s been a long struggle within our history and it’s still a struggle today. In every one of us, there’s a need to seek human compassion. We turn to our families for comfort and support. We were taught by society to depend on and trust them. But when our souls cry out for aid and love, we are turned away by what is supposedly our support group.
I can only imagine the hard times that lesbians from generations before me had to go through. The pain of not being accepted, of living under scrutiny. Society didn’t allow them their chosen family. The law didn’t allow lesbians to adopt and have custody of their children just because they were lesbians. It has been a long a fight. Today, the laws are different and I’m very thankful to the older generations for fighting for these changes.
I struggle today to be recognized as a lesbian in my family. Everyone in my family knows that I am a lesbian. I hear stories of my father’s relationships and of my uncles’ and cousins. But they turn away when I share mine. They also keep trying to set me up with men and they keep saying that I can always change my mind. Being a lesbian is a large part of who I am. If I were to live the heteronormative life, I would be lying to myself. I know I wouldn’t be happy. The way I see it, if my family really loves me, they will eventually grow to accept me for who I am as my mother and my older sisters accept me. I will continue to live my life the way I am. Why should I conform to society just to be acknowledged by others? Society has to deal with my lesbianism.
And with me.