One of my special interests is analyzing my DNA. I’m a GEDMatch junkie, compulsively running my numbers on a regular basis, then looking up the 200+ cultural influences that have helped make me what I am.
My family has always been interested in genealogy, especially my grandfather, who worked with a bunch of his cousins to compile as complete a genealogy of their family as they could, back to the earliest ancestor they could reliably identify. The book sits on the “Ancestry” section of my 5th bookshelf. It strikes me that the task is considerably easier if you’ve got a bunch of Aspie traits… all that work, all that focus, attention to detail… not just anybody can do that. There’s a reason why I never thought of myself as particularly weird when I was around my family — because we ALL were/are!
Someone asked me a few weeks ago why I’m so interested in my genetic history. They seemed befuddled by my exuberance about it… talking about my distant ancestors, like they were aunts and uncles I met with regularly. Why should it matter to me? they wanted to know. Isn’t being here, now, enough? Personally, I couldn’t fathom how they couldn’t be fascinated by their past, especially considering that they’re a refugee from their home country. Wouldn’t they want some connection with their past?
It seemed like they didn’t. It seemed like they just wanted to move on. And I had to really think about why I care as much as I do about my bloodline. I have no children. I’m on good terms with my biological family, but I don’t feel a strong sense of connectedness with them or their family traditions and ways. My grandfather passed away several years ago, so apparently only I — the only one in my family with no kids — is actually intensely interested in this “stuff”. Why does it matter so much to me?
Well, I’m not the only one. Every now and then, I’ll come across someone who’s as fascinated by history and cultural legacy as I am. One of my staunchest comrades in this regard was a guy I’ll call N, who I worked side-by-side with (literally) for a number of years at a pretty cool job. We were both fascinated by our European cultural legacy — I by my German, Italian, Swiss, French roots, and N by his Irish/Celtic roots. We compared a lot of notes over the years, and we’ve kept in touch, probably because that was such a strong connection we shared with each other — and with just about nobody else.
Thinking about our shared deep interests in genealogy and cultural heritage, I am struck by the ways in which we were both so similar, and yet so different. The same kinds of things drew us to connecting with our histories – however distant – and not until I sat down and thought about it, did it start to make sense.
Both of us had been rejected by our parents. Both of us had been erased from our legacies — not once by several times, not completely, but in a hundred different symbolic ways.
You see, N was one of the former altar boys who had been abused by Catholic priests, so many years ago. He was one of the claimants who received a monetary settlement from the Catholic Church. He was one of the ones who was never believed as a boy, whose parents punished him for saying — even suggesting — that a priest would do such a thing. His father never forgave him for saying anything, let alone suing the Church. His life was an ongoing struggle for dignity and self-affirmation (not to mention trips to doctors for his entire life to manage the diseases the priests passed on to him).
As for me, I was in a different spot. I had chosen my separate path by myself. It was never foisted on me by a sick, twisted adult and then erased by denial and violence. I had simply chosen to live my life in a way that my parents could not accept. For years. Nor could they speak about me to others, because of the shame… and also the danger.
You see, my father was a founder of a struggling non-profit and the entire family was 95% dependent on my mother’s income as a public school teacher to survive. It was bad enough that I had married a man my parents didn’t approve of, and then divorced — my mother could not discuss my very existence in her own church and community, because of the shame and disgrace about my life choices. But when I came out as a lesbian, I wasn’t just threatening my own soul. I was threatening the well-being of my whole family.
My mother didn’t dare admit that I even existed to other people — not as I was. She could not introduce me in public to friends she ran into when she and I went out shopping during holiday gatherings. I’d stand off to the side, quietly waiting for her to finish talking, taking the cue from her turned back and her voice suddenly getting high and loud, that I needed to make myself scarce. If I was there, she’d have to admit that she had a lesbian daughter (who didn’t look very feminine, on top of it). And as a public school teacher, that put her job at risk. If she couldn’t be trusted as a mother to raise a heterosexual, straight-looking daughter, “What would she do to her students?!”
My presence put everything at risk. For her. For my family. For my parents’ retirement. For their safe and healthy future.
My parents’ refrigerator was always covered, top to bottom, with pictures of the kids and grandkids, friends, and other relatives. But not me. Not my partner. There was no sign of us in the photos, even though my mother always took a lot of pictures of us, when we got together. My partner and I were invisible. We didn’t even show up separate, in photos on different quadrants of the fridge. And even when we came to visit, there was never an attempt to change around the pictures to make us feel welcome. Or wanted.
My elderly relatives, who had always loved me so much, turned their back on me, when I demanded they acknowledge my long-time partner’s existence. After 20+ years together, great-aunts who had once been my favorite aunts, refused to acknowledge my legally married wife, and one of them literally turned her back on me at a family gathering and never said another word to me. I was told in no uncertain terms to not contact people who had once meant so much to me. Not after I’d left the only acceptable way of life they were convinced I should follow.
Family aside, I am out of place in general. And the subtle erasures happen constantly. The hetero-normative assumptions about what should and should not matter to me. The assumptions that my wedding ring means I’m married to a man. The assumptions that, as a female, I would want to wear dresses and behave like other women. My gender differences have been glossed over / erased, since I was a kid, surrounded by pink things, girls’ toys, forced segregation putting me in an oversized dollhouse to make tea and arrange pink household replica toys, while the boys all ran and played. I left my mark as who I really felt I was, as a kid — I took my Mom’s Magic Marker and penned my real name — Billy — on the wooden frame of the family bulletin board. It’s still there. Indelible ink. It was the one way I had to say, Nobody could erase Billy — the identity I wanted to live back then. Not ever.
Billy’s long since gone… dissipated into the ethers and integrated into the core of my being in myriad small yet pronounced ways. But the erasure continues… with subtle hints that maybe I really am interested in feminine things and pastimes, I’m just repressed and feeling pressure from the lesbian milieu I travel in. Because what woman wouldn’t want all those things — pretty dresses, nice shoes, jewelry, a hairstyle (not just a haircut)? What woman indeed? I must just be emotionally stunted or somesuch. How can you defend against that never-ending stream of pressure that masquerades as “gentle suggestion”? They mean well. I’m sure they do. They want me to have the kind of happiness they have. They just don’t realize they’ve erased a little more of me, with their assumptions, and I haven’t got the energy (or inclination) to restore that picture of me that may or may not make a bit of difference in their minds.
I have precious little space in the immediate world that actually appeals to me as it is. I must always modify it, edit it, tone it down, or amp it up, look for some redeeming quality that acts as a saving grace, in order to inhabit it. It’s too loud. It’s too bright. It’s too painful to the touch. It either smells like nothing, or it smells like too much of what it is. I either can’t taste it, or the taste is overwhelming. And the space I move in leaves me with bruises that I don’t remember getting — I bump into things, and move on. I barely feel it, half the time. Sometimes not at all. And the next morning after a long work session, I can see where I stumbled, where I slammed my knee against the door frame, where I misjudged the distance and marked up the insides of my forearms with the blunt ends of tool handles.
The world as it is — immediate and with its own set of ideas about how things should be — doesn’t exactly make room for me. And even as it erases me, it smiles in a friendly way, with supposed good nature — it’s all “for my own good”. Because it cares and it wants to help. It only wants me to be happy. But it knows precious little about me. And it doesn’t care to find out. Because ultimately, it really only cares for its own good. To be perpetually re-inforced and supported in all its flawed and dangerous assumptions.
And so I lift up my eyes and look to the distance — behind me, where are the patterns? Where is the place that people like me come from? Where is the place that the aggregate of history I call “mySelf”, comes from? I have no way of knowing where exactly life will take me. Unlike my siblings (and my friend N), I don’t follow the path laid out by my immediate predecessors. I have no children to add my existence as a meaningful part of the unfolding human experiment… No children to even prove I existed, generations from now. My own particular version of my bloodline ends with me. This is it. And there it is. My siblings have ensured that our line will continue with a bunch of kids. And I find comfort in the fact that — perhaps because my one sister and my brother and their respective marriages are near exact replicas of our parents’ — my niece and nephews are turning out so, so similar to me, with the same sorts of sensitivities, the same sorts of disturbances, the same sorts of convictions, the same sorts of in-your-face defiance that does what it feels is right. They’re much more like me, than they are their parents. And that comforts me in a disquieting way.
And that legacy will go on. Through them.
But that offers me nothing. Not personally. Not directly.
I lift up my eyes and look to the past — far, far into the past that most have forgotten about, because they can afford to. They don’t need it, so I’ll take it. I look to the legacies that were left behind by who-can-say how many influences. And I examine the parts of the world that each of the 200-some ethnic influences in my DNA hails from. I roam around the internet, uncovering independent researchers who geek out on this stuff for fun, saying online on their own sites and blogs, what the universities will never pay (or allow) them to say on the job. I find others looking through GEDMatch.com who are every bit as fascinated as I, and are overjoyed to connect with a clear distant cousin who shares so much of their genetic building blocks.
In the patterns, in the textures, in the warp and wend and weft of the fabric of all humanity, moving, moving, moving… without ceasing, without end… we weave, we weave, and sometimes we mend.
Of course, my friend N and I have always wanted to connect with our histories. Because our world has so often refused to fully accept us. Our own pasts sought to erase us, to tell us we were wrong, to subtly and grossly discount our lives and our versions of our lives, so that we wouldn’t upset the status quo… keep things progressing per usual. And our presents aren’t nearly as accommodating to us, as it would be if we would just behave and do as we’re told.
N married years ago. My partner was the DJ at his wedding, and he’s now got two sons. And he still has his legacy, his history behind him, to raise him up and move him forward.
I have my raw DNA data. I have my books. I have my bookmarked online tracks I have left, each of them providing markers that point me back to the North Atlantic, West Asia, the Baltic, Mediterranean (East and West), South Asia… and points beyond – even to the Red Sea.
Irish. Orcadian. French Basque. Catalunia. Galicia. Troublemakers, traditionally.
Algerian. Tadjik. Mozabite Berber. Chechen. Tunisian. Moroccan. Nogay. Afghan Pashtun. Ossetian. Punjabi Jat. Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh.
It’s all there. It places me. It grants me residence in territories where I could never belong in person, right now. In places where I’d be killed. Or worse. It places me. It gives me the right to be there. To be here.
And no one can deny it, or take that belonging from me.
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