Historically, light-skinned African-Americans have done it because they understood that living as a White person would give them economic and social advantages that they would miss out on for being Black. (As i write this, i imagine that plenty of ethnic minorities have done virtually the same thing, for essentially the same reasons.)
Womyn have done it during times when it was illegal for them to own property, hold jobs, go to war, or make legal decisions unless they were perceived to be men.
LGBT people have done it in order to avoid persistent acts of discrimination that range from inconvenient (less housing and job options) to lethal (violent hate crimes that lead to disfigurement and/or death).
These people essentially lived a lie because they knew better than to believe the hype that “the truth will set you free.” Day in and day out, these people convinced the world (and possibly themselves) that they were someone other than who they really were.
I don’t know how these people did it. I only have to do it for one day, and just planning it out is exhausting.
Tomorrow, i will attend a funeral. I have to watch a friend i love very much bury his wife-of-only-a-year, while the wife’s three surviving children (9, 7, and 1-week) bear witness to the tragedy that absolutely nobody saw coming. As of a week ago, i hadn’t spoken to this friend, Edwin Burundi Grier, in more than two years. We were coworkers, then friends, then lovers, then friends again … then nothing, when i cut him out of my life for a reason that clearly wasn’t that important, since i can’t even remember what it was. (I am known to do this.) It wasn’t until Friday that he popped back into my life, sending me a message through Facebook that dropped me to the floor crying the instant i read it.
I never even met his wife, but that was irrelevant to why i was on the hardwood floor crying. My poor Burundi. He just lost the love he finally found, after years of consciously refusing to commit to any womyn. He found love gradually, lost it quickly, and was left to take care of their newborn baby.
I called him the second i could choke back the rest of my tears and keep my voice level. I was the only friend of his who actually called. He straight up told me that, and it disgusted me how self-centered some people’s “friends” can be. It also reminded me, for the millionth time this year, how fucking incredible MY friends are. Wow, how i love each and every one of you so deeply, so uniquely.
For the past week, i have communicated with Burundi. He won’t see me – won’t leave his sister’s house, hardly – but he grieves to me through text messages and phone calls. And now, tomorrow, i will see what his grief looks like in person, when i go to his wife’s funeral. He doesn’t know i’m going. He would probably tell me not to; he’s convinced that he is of no use in my life unless he’s the happy-go-lucky, gotta-find-the-silver-lining friend I’ve known since 2008. But missing this funeral is not an option. He reached out to me specifically for a reason … and this is where Tarah’s true light shines, for if there is one thing i truly, absolutely, without a doubt know about myself, it’s that i have a special way of connecting and forming bonds with people who make themselves vulnerable to me. This is not bragging. This is acknowledgment of a gift that i have, one that i value and take seriously.
So tomorrow, i go to this viewing and service and burial, and i continue to support my Burundi as he starts a new, devastating, more lonely chapter of his life.
I know this part won’t be a problem. I can put my game face on, keeping my eyes filled with compassion, my body language mindfully present, and my face tear-free. For me, the problem is going to be hiding my cancer from a room full of grieving friends, former graduate school acquaintances, old coworkers, a previous roommate who did NOT leave our living condition amicably, and a room full of relatives – absolute strangers, to me – who are going to wonder who the heck i am and why i am there.
So tomorrow, when i put on my black dress and black shoes, i will also be putting on a brunette wig for the first time since January. The wig is obvious; every Black womyn in that room will know it’s not my real hair. The one black hat i have to cover the obvious roots from the wig is not suitable for a funeral, and a headband further accentuates that the hair on my head is a farce. Some of you are probably reading and wondering what the big fucking deal is. Here’s my explanation: I have this intense, Type A personality convincing me that i need to go to this funeral passing – passing as a healthy person who ISN’T going through chemo and radiation right now. Burundi and Evelyn (his sister, my college acquaintance) don’t know i have cancer. I am stressing the fuck out about showing up there, all cancered out and bringing unnecessary attention to myself when every single moment of tomorrow needs to be focused on the Griers’ and the Pipers’ mourning. Tomorrow, i have to make sure i get the dress and the wig and the bronzing make-up and the hat/hair accessory all right … because tomorrow i have to successfully pass as someone who doesn’t have some advanced, fucking, medical illness.
And as every single person who has ever met me will attest to, i find it very difficult trying to pretend to be someone i’m not.