Reading Skylar Lee’s suicide post, I can’t help but feel like it could have been me, or my FTX trans-identified cousin. Every single day, as masculine-of-center women of color, we choose to be ourselves and legitimize our space by co-existing with a system that offers us the privilege to sit on the sidelines and watch as everyone else plays the game and wins or loses. For a long time, we watch. We have few chances to make the shot, but when we do, we give it our all. Sometimes we do well because we’ve run it again and again in our heads, and we know just how to handle it. Sometimes it feels like beginner’s luck. Other times, we miss because that’s just what happens when you don’t know how to deal with the situation.
I find myself running all over the court trying to find an opening so I can get the ball.
Lee was a leader in the fight against the mainstream, as well as the radical white, thought on gender and race , and I am beginning to consider whether such early encounters are helpful or harmful to queer youth of color.
This radical stuff wasn’t taught to me when I was in high school, and it helped me focus on what I wanted to do. Like the Japanese students I teach, I felt that college was going to get me to where I wanted my future to be, the video games industry. But being who I am, I had no role models or any mentor that I felt safe enough to approach. It didn’t matter so much to me at the time because I felt that it was just part of the learning process. I watched, learned, and created at my own pace, and I found my strengths to be listening and understanding the project and getting the team to function together. I didn’t have time to worry that my identity was holding me back or the privileges that came with it. I was open with what I liked and what I was studying, someone caught wind, and I was lucky to have been offered a chance to work at a video game company through a connection outside of school. I figured I didn’t need the professors at the school so much. I had experience and thought I was set on my way.
Once I got comfortable, I had time to participate in identity politics and contribute as a supporter, an extra body for a protest, a march, a parade, a flashmob. I had more than an identity; I had a job and I was financially independent.
When my cousin came out as queer, and then later as trans, I was happy for them that they discovered what would make them a whole person. But I also told them that family may not always be there when you want them to be, nor can they provide you the support that you might need. Focus on school, be financially independent, and have a chosen family. My cousin, though a small, even for an Asian-American, and not the typical white hyper-masculine transman, seems to be doing well these days as a nurse and living close to their family with their beautiful partner in hipster town Portland.
Just like any relationship, being co-dependent on a family is like holding them hostage against expectations that they may take a long time to, or may never meet at all. I think teenagers at Skylar’s age are still dependent on their families, even though they are living their own lives, and may be leaders in their communities. As leaders, one feels like their community expects more from them or wishes they could do more. But teenage leaders are just like any other teenager, just maturing too fast because their families aren’t ready or not sure how to support the cause they are fighting for. It’s a very lonesome experience to have to navigate the world with a radical mindset that’s so different from what you grew up with, and it takes time to endure and find the methods to cope and discover how every part of your identity intersects.
In the meantime, you have to worry about how to pay those bills, or how to take care of your parents when they can’t take care of themselves anymore.
Leaders need a break, and it’s difficult to find the right person to continue a legacy. I wish Skylar could have let go had a place they could have gone to for love and solace and rebuilding themselves.