“And then, of course, there’s Bruce Jenner,” said Grandpa, seemingly out of nowhere. A collective outrage went around the table. “That’s disgusting,” said Aunt Irene. “Should be shot,” chimed Aunt Norma.
Dad tried to take the defensive side: “Well, that’s just it, to them it is normal.” This followed jeers and eye rolling.
“Every ten years or so, one of these guys comes along who thinks he’s a woman,” Grandpa continued, “they ought to just keep that to themselves and leave everyone else out of it.”
Brian’s cheeks were burning. Now he understood what they were all talking about. Having spent the last four years teaching English in China, he’d fallen behind on current events. He had no idea who Bruce Jenner was, but the family’s consternation was indication enough. Before he could find the courage to voice an opinion, the conversation had moved on.
Now to a telemarketer with a thick Indian accent who had called Grandpa’s car phone that afternoon. “He’s asking you for your name and address, Grandpa,” Brian said rather desperately from the backseat. But Grandpa hung up on him, unable to understand.
“You’d think before they gave those people jobs, they’d at least teach them to speak English,” he said now from his seat at the head of the table. Again, grumbling agreement from the family. They all seemed to have forgotten that Brian had been working with foreigners teaching English and that he was also gay.
His dad (whom he was there visiting with) had explained it to them years before, and now Brian was twenty-eight and had yet to bring home a girlfriend. So if they hadn’t gotten it by now…
He tried to justify their words in his mind. After all, they had not said being gay was disgusting, just that being trans was…
When the conversation jumped to Muslims and why they were even allowed in the U.S., Brian rose from his seat and slid quietly up the carpeted stairs to the guest room above.
He collapsed on the bed, looking around the room he’d played in as a child, decorated with Grandma’s antique dolls, doilies, and 1940’s kitsch. He hadn’t seen any of them in nearly four years. How many nights had he dreamed of, longed for this reunion with his extended family?
Before dinner, Uncle John went on a diatribe about the threat of China to the U.S. In the midst of which he’d turned to Brian and accused him of teaching English to the Chinese navy.
“Not the navy,” Brian explained calmly, “I taught university students preparing to work on cargo ships…”
“Same exact thing,” Uncle John snapped.
Brian wondered how on earth it was the same thing when cargo ships were unarmed, but he didn’t push it. He just felt stupid for having so wanting to visit with people who apparently saw him as a traitor to the Chinese. Even if they were his family.
They didn’t even know why he’d stayed there for so long. The never asked.
Parker Wang was the reason. His Parker, who named himself after his favorite NBA player from the San Antonio Spurs. Who was so different from Brian in so many ways, yet had become a better companion than he had ever hoped to find in the People’s Republic of China.
For three years, they were virtually inseparable. They traveled together, lived together, made love together. Parker introduced him to Chinese culture, to everything in the city of Dalian where they lived.
They decided that, eventually, they’d move to America. Parker had always dreamed of starting his own business there. And after all, same-sex marriage was now legal…
Once, they visited Parker’s family in the little farming village of Pingdingshan, where he introduced Brian as his hao peng you (good friend). They were humble, smiley people who Brian did his best to communicate with in broken Chinese. He and Parker shared the guest bedroom in his parents’ brick farmhouse. As friends, of course. But during the night, they found each other’s hands again and again.
What a fool Brian had been, he understood that now. “Just tell them you’re gay,” he insisted, “tell the truth. They’re your parents. Tell them you’re not going to marry a girl. They may not like it, but there it is.” Anyway, they were going to move to America together. What did it even matter?
“Yes,” Parker said with determination. Yes he would tell them. He would do it on his next visit back to Pingdingshan.
As far as Brian knew, he did tell them, and when he came back to Dalian, his friend all but disappeared from his life. He came back to the apartment, packed his clothes, and was gone.
After three months with barely a word, Parker showed up one night in his car. He only wanted to let Brian know that he was moving back to his village. His parents had found a girl there for him to marry. Brian could not see his face clearly, but he sounded strange and detached.
“No!” he exploded, “you don’t understand. This is China. You are not Chinese, what do you know about it? This was a mistake, all a mistake!” Brian watched him cry there in the driver’s seat.
A last hug. A kiss. The briefest spark of their previous intimacy. Then Parker was gone forever.
“Brian,” Grandma called from downstairs, “we’re going to watch a movie, do you want to join us?”
Looking at his family gathered around the TV, he thought to himself, I’ve just lost someone I loved very much. Someone I had hoped to marry. My heart is broken into pieces. I may have ruined his life, as well. But I’ll never be able to share that with any of you…
He looked at the 1950’s figures on the screen. He understood that he’d lost his home in China, but that this was no longer his home, either.
Jay Taggart is from Frisco, Texas. He currently teaches English in South Korea and writes poetry and short fiction in his spare time. You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org