Passing anniversary of my ma: cecilia ulanday barrett

Saturday, May 12, 2012

by kay ulanday barrett

i cannot watch video of myself, because i look far too much like you.

after every performance i thank my ancestors, graciously circle my pauses, my beats, the crowd’s laughter or held breath, re-tracing how i can innovate my tools, my limited gift to serve my people, serve youth, serve the person who looks at me with sideway glances, serve the strangers who fear our palm clasp held hands, our most intimate revolutions. i tell people as a joke how unmusical i am. there’s no singer in me, no piano virtuoso or drumming soul scale, only a few times do i beat box in the shower. confession: whatever music i had was all really you, the late night dancer, making heel to toe maps, hardwood jostled by human skin to cha-cha, to boogie, to your “one more time anak, just dance with me.”

during my first stab at puberty, i had flushed cheeks, harbored a resentment as thick as the rice served on tables just before the music came to speaker. embarassed as your dancing partner, the youngest person probably there, you never had any shame. genderfluid and unabashed, you taught me my transgender and queerness without theoretical basis or polysyllabic discourse, without you even meaning to. “here, is how you spin. by this, you come back to a solid position, now watch your feet. look down only if you have to, be firm and careful, you have to be careful with all your movements,” you’d say. “ay! ang galing mo, ah. ang anako is a dancer!” you’d say. so awkward in my body at the time, so dysphoric, your efforts would try. by habit, i learned explosion and loved my body only when it collided into something, a punching bag, a roundhouse kick to the under ribs of a stranger. definitely a choreography, a tact in martial arts, but where i was coming from, there was no room for compassion.

i never brace myself when i talk about being kicked out by you anymore, imagine your pointed fingers cursing me after i was unwrapped, couldn’t hold back, discovered kissing a girl. my tongue won’t censor your disgrace and i tell ones who look, maybe speak the same languages i speak, “i came out so many times, over and over, it took years.” it took fist throngs, prayers by a god i never believed, public gossip, another hungry child on the street. however, i understand your determination, how god didn’t have your back, and still, your ceaseless dedication had no wandering. this country asked you to be the worst of you, watch your homeland country from a staged distance, follow a script that never had intentions of happy endings. i was your only hope. i see this now, your mark on a world, how i came exactly from your making; from microscopic hair follicle to the love of tart foods to vehement beliefs. too similar for our own good, we make unbending fists on tables and in the air whenever pertinent.

i forgive you, you know that? 4 years honoring your passing this month and i can covet how i was pacing on sidewalks without food and how i lovingly understand my homeland, all by you. this is a complex place. a place of blood sting and bountiful songs on saturday nights. this is the smallest example of love of the colonized and struggling free, like my people, my homeland—- the wrath and the joy. my truths are on the microphone, keynote, conversation with comrades over pancit and solidarity movements. i can never deny my love for you, however have grown to distinguish the violence you’ve brought to me, how this parlays in the people i conduct meetings with, hold placards and poem with, how i adore stern women and queers who give it all up in uproarious ways but who may not take care of themselves, taxed by their organizations, flung from approval. how in spite of that, i lament them. how i may stay one meeting, one month too long for those who just need some time i’ll tell myself, they’ll change. you have made me a believer sometimes to my own demise.

you can’t help it can you? garnish all of my emotions, because yes i do miss you, but i’m also so thankful you are rested, kickin’ it with ancestors, probably playing pusoy to your favorite beatles songs. no longer are you bothered by my manly face on television screens, how i might embarrass you, how i talk too loudly, am too emotional, move so awkwardly and unacceptably by society, just like you, but so different, the remix. how i mourn your death and all it took, but cackle on how i don’t have to carry your malcontent as my own rhythm, your judgments into my ears, how i chose to shift my self-making in order appease you. It is complex enough with your body as ashes back home. it’s complex enough in my half chuckle and sigh, how i allow all parts to change this world in ways you never wanted to imagine, but eventually accepted step-by-step, song by song, until you could no longer move.

A CAMPUS PRIDE 2009 Hot List artist, Kay Ulanday Barrett is a poet, performer, educator, and martial artist navigating life as a pin@y transgender queer in the U.S. Contributions include: make/shift, Kicked Out Anthology and Philippine American Psychology. Follow Kay on twitter: @kulandaybarrett or see

This blog is part of Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.