You invited me to your 40th birthday party a few weeks later. You asked me if I would pick up your Italian rum cake from Dianda’s Bakery at 25th & Mission and bring it with me to your party in Oakland. I was honored to be the bringer of the cake. And I was so nervous to impress you that I ended up running late.
You threw your party at your ex-girlfriend’s house because it was bigger than your one-bedroom apartment. (And because the two of you are those kinds of dykes.) Her kitchen and living room and backyard were stuffed full of beautiful, freaky, tattooed & pierced queers & perverts & sex workers. I saw people I’ve known for years. I met people I had never met before. At 27, I was one of the younger folks in the room. I felt a little bit like I’d been invited to hang out at the Grown-Up Table.
I set the rum cake on your ex’s counter with an “Oomph” & a sigh, and I looked up at you. You grinned that unmistakable grin at me, your wide mouth just a little crooked at one corner. The tiny sparkles in your cat-eye glasses and the little gold star embedded in your upper lip glinted in the late afternoon sun. You held out a spoonful of caviar. You asked if you could have the honor hand-feeding me Sex With A Sturgeon. “Um…” I gulped, “Yes?”
I don’t remember what the caviar tasted like, but I still remember how delighted you looked to be feeding it to me. A little dirty, a little sweet. A little wicked, a little maternal.
You kept handing me tiny cups of exquisite booze – cognacs, and liqueurs, and grappa, and things I don’t remember & can’t pronounce. “I don’t usually drink, like, ever…” I remember saying somewhere around the fourth glass of whatever awesome thing it was you were handing to me. “Oh, then you should eat more,” you said, and you smiled that smile at me again, prepared me a plate full of all of the best foods of my childhood, every single Italian delicacy that I love, cured meats & salty cheeses, olives & artichokes, figs & apricots & cherries. Later, we drank hot chocolate with more cognac in it, roasted marshmallows & made s’mores by a roaring fire. That party felt like Christmas & Pride & Folsom all wrapped up together but without any of the bullshit of Christmas or Pride or Folsom. I slept better that night than I’d slept in months.
I woke up the next morning to an email from you entitled “Your Face.” It is still one of the best emails I have ever gotten. “You were the bringer of the cake,” you said. The cake was special. The cake was about family, a thread that tied your childhood in that neighborhood in South Phillie where you bought cannoli & capicola from the corner store & learned the Calabrese & Sicilian slang that you use with me, to the Jewish family of origin that you haven’t talked to in years, to the queer family that you’ve worked hard to build.
I know this story down to my bones. I spent the entirety of my twenties trying to figure out how to have a relationship with my big, fucked-up, broke & broken Paisano family full of drunk men & weary women. I know all too well the things about family that you hold dear, the things you want to keep alive, the ways you struggle to reconcile where you come from & where you can’t go back to, at least not without hardship, at least not without losing some important parts of yourself. The complicated choice of either getting to hang out with other outsiders who don’t understand the culture you come from, or hanging out with family of origin who don’t understand your other cultures – your queerness, your gender, your perversion, your politics.
This is a pain many people at the sexual & gender margins feel with their families, but it is a deeper pain for some of us than it is for others. For me, it’s about how I move my body in the world, what I choose to say & show, whom I choose to say & show it to. It is about my family of origin knowing a few things about my queerness & genderqueerness, information up to a very specific & limited point, but understanding absolutely nothing about my life or how I conduct my relationships with friends & lovers.
My friends know that I have a chronic illness. My friends know why I am sick & laid up & in pain a lot; my mother doesn’t. My friends know that my heart got shattered into a million pieces last year, that it took me months to recover; but I will never talk about my intimate relationships with my father. My friends know that I have struggled with eating disorders for my entire life; but I will never talk about anorexia with my viciously fatphobic grandmother. And. Still. Nobody else makes gnocchi or pizzelles like my Nana. Nobody else lights candles for me or prays for me like she does.
It is easier to hate your fucked-up family or your fucked-up friends when they are actually hateful, but humans are human. Humans fuck up. You can want to wring someone’s neck & still love them endlessly. You can be glad someone is out of your life & still miss them every single day.
I understood the rum cake, is what I’m trying to say. I know how important the connective tissue between very different & very precious worlds can be.”