I used to be afraid to write about my sister. At times I felt like her life had swallowed mine whole. When we were kids, she was constantly on the news and in the paper, people applauding her as a tennis player and a leader. And then for years after, she was the sole focus of my parents' concerns, their fears, their hurt. And for a long time, I did not want to say any of this out loud, because I did not want her to think I resented her talent or later, diminished her pain. As a sister, I did not want her to know sometimes she did make me feel small and overshadowed. As a writer, I did not want to take ownership of her stories; I was scared of appropriation, nervous about misremembering or misquoting something she once said. But I want to talk about my sister today, because the truth is when I read the news I think of her,
and everyone who wants to hurt her.
I remember my sister as a bad sleeper. Many nights she would wake me up, nudge her way into my bed, and throw her arm over me. Sometimes she would tell me she had a nightmare. Sometimes she didn't speak at all. Some nights I could smell alcohol on her breath and she'd be crying. Other nights she shared her stories with me, the good ones, her raspy voice soothing in the dark. She always thrashed around in her sleep, conquering the bed and forcing me into a corner, but I was too scared to move her. She never liked to be hugged, but on some of those silent nights we spent together, her fingers would graze mine-- always for only a second, and I hoped that was enough to comfort her.
I don't remember ever asking my sister, "What's the matter?" or "What's wrong?" I remember knowing that if I asked, her response could never be simple. Like I understood that her hurt came from a place deeper than a friend's betrayal or a teenager's broken heart, and maybe I wasn't ready for a complicated answer.
The four of us sat in the backyard after a carne asada when my sister told us she is gay. I don't know if she planned it that way, wanted my dad to come over to my mom's house so we could all be together. I don't know if it was something she'd been thinking about for years, about having to sit us down and explain something I never had to. I don't know if she woke up that morning and thought it was the right time, or if she simply blurted it out because she had enough.
I do know that my mother cried-- my mother, who loves her first daughter more than anything and still refers to her girlfriends as amigas. I remember my father said he was scared for her, scared about how much harder her life would be. At the time, my dad's comment felt like a cop-out, a way of justifying his true feelings.
The first time my sister visited me in Austin, we sat at a Starbucks when a couple walked by. Two young men, hand in hand, walking down a street in Texas. Seemingly calm. Seemingly unafraid. My sister commented on how shocking this was, she couldn't believe they were comfortable enough to do that. I think I said something like, "Well, this is Austin."
As if it all came down to time and place. As if absolute safety really did exist, anywhere. As if it were that simple.
Sometimes I have fooled myself into believing it is that simple. For that, I am sorry.
My sister is a public figure. Every year she grows, represents hope and strength in our country, México. She encourages people to find a voice. She educates students, police force, parents, and kids. She writes about violence against women. She writes about gender, identity, sexuality, law, and freedom of speech. She speaks of the issues most people are afraid to even think about. She is speaking out, online and on the streets. She does it all without victimizing herself, and with a stunning sense of humor.
I remember the first time I read a threat my sister received online. A man sent her a message that said he was going to rape her straight. I remember crying that night, pictured my sister walking home alone, pictured her waking up to a man raping her in her own bed, pictured him hitting her, calling her a dyke. Pinche lesbiana, all those tweets say. I wanted so badly to be with her again, to make room for her in my bed again. But this time I would not let her get away with a finger graze; I would grab her whole damn hand and hold it in mine.
I try to focus on the good comments. The comments, emails and tweets that read, gracias. The comments that tell her she's a beautiful writer, that recognize she is helping people. But on days like June 12, those comments are difficult to remember. They are too quiet, and are silenced by people's loud intolerance.
My sister has always been the tough one. Her glare is powerful, her intelligence imposing. When she writes, she focuses on cold, hard facts and short sentences that sometimes read like black and white-- she leaves the soft stuff, the long rambles, to her little sister.
I don't know if my sister still cries at night. I haven't shared a roof with her in almost 13 years. If we are lucky, we see each other once or twice a year. Our relationship depends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp. I read her articles, she reads my essays. We email each other for notes and edits.
When I think of my sister lying in bed at night, I picture her planning her next lecture or outlining tomorrow's article. I see her doing research, getting accepted into Yale, buying a new bow tie for her next TV appearance. I see her watching old Friends reruns and scarfing down a medium-rare steak, kissing her beautiful partner and laughing at a Leslie Knope gif. I see her eating salad in her underwear and helping me unwrap my Christmas presents when I was six. I see her in bed, MacBook burning on her lap, brow furrowed at a Catharine MacKinnon paper. I see her fighting the injustices so many have grown used to.
She is so many things, it's strange to think her liking women is what people choose to remember. But when I read about Orlando, that was the only thing I could think about.
To my beautiful sister, friends, family, acquaintances, and everyone I do not know in the LGBTQ community, I am sorry for those of us who have failed you. I am sorry there is still an "us" and "them". I am sorry we tend to oversimplify things and forget that when there is progress, many lag behind. I am sorry about every harmful comment that has been tweeted, texted, and yelled at you in the streets. I am sorry if you ever felt you had to explain yourself. I am sorry your love for another is constantly questioned. I am sorry if you have ever had to sacrifice your identity to make others feel more comfortable. I am sorry for all the things I will never fully understand because I do not have to deal with daily intolerance. I am sorry your safe spaces have been violated, yet again.
To you I say: Estoy contigo.
I stand with you. I will fight with you. I will speak out.
I will do everything I can to educate myself and others, because there is still so much to learn.
I will never again be scared to ask questions that might elicit complicated answers.
I will never again let you get away with a finger graze, if you ever need a hand.