Friend of Dolly


May 1, 2022 / Alexandra Evans


You can be a lot at once, I promise.



I grew up hick, hopelessly dirty. There are very few childhood pictures of me without the sticky residue of Bug Juice or an ant bite amalgamation that one could almost mistake for leprosy. Many of my high school memories involve Wild Turkey out of the bottle and waking up in a pasture. My family didn’t worry if I came home— there was not too much trouble to get into. The boys I dated would one day be men like their fathers. They drove well-kept old trucks, one callused hand on the wheel, the other navigating a stick shift and my thigh. I genuinely enjoyed their company, and oftentimes truly felt that I could love them for the rest of my life and forgo any romantic or sexual satisfaction. I would wither more and more and more, but at least I would not feel guilty for taking up too much space.

Queerness is more than sexual orientation, after all. When acted upon, it is an expression at odds with the norm, a marquee board or neon lights. In a city, the brightness of a building or a person blends with competing luminescence on busy streets. My hometown was an amalgamation of pastures and one story houses, nothing to distract, and I have never been someone comfortable being so seen. A boyfriend left me dull and anonymous. Sure, it took booze, weed, or masterful dissociation to let them touch me, none of the many were too interesting, and several were not safe. Everytime I talked about a college, one assured me he would work enough that I could stay home with the kids. Another drove too fast if he was angry or raised his voice to echo the roar of his daddy. There were many boys that I pretended I could love, and I tried, but eventually, the impression of security would fade, and my disdain crept in with every touch, kiss, and scream.

The other 16-year-old girls around me seemed so overwhelmed with affection to give their boyfriends that I constantly felt like a failure. How could I feel worthy to accept love from good men, knowing I would never reciprocate? Each night spent sobbing in my room because I had wasted months of my youth forcing puzzle pieces that would not fit, reducing love to obligation, myself to husk, I vowed to leave. When you exist in a binary, dichotomy is inevitable: I was gay, without question, but if I married a man, my parents would sit in the front row.

I came out for the first time when I was 11. My mother, normally a yeller, remained silent for days. My father comforted me amidst her ice, assuring that if I tried hard enough, if I cannibalized this strange part of me, it could eventually be forgiven and forgotten. For years, I did the best I could. Anything that raised my mother’s brow was thrown aside—- no short hair, no softball, less eyeliner, more blush. She blamed my father for working too much, herself for not being a shining example of femininity. I know now that the shame she gave me was hers, repackaged. To some, a child is just another limb. Before the word “lesbian” invaded my parent’s home, a betrayal from my mouth, I was pieces of my family, a mirror of my mama. A reflection was the safest thing to be.

However, there are parts of me that are too odd o serve this purpose. Each day, I forgive the child I was for seeking connection over authenticity. I did not know then I was maiming with each contortion, a surgeon far too eager to cut; I just thought I would be easier to love that way⁠ — straighter, prettier, sweeter. This conditional love left me simultaneously empty and too busy to seek anything truly fulfilling, but you cannot mold yourself palatable and be loved as you seek to be. However, any honesty felt like cutting the cord. I was so bound to my family. Where did I exist without them? Was it sacrificing an arm to a bear trap or self-mutilation?

Animal rescue has always been common ground between my mother and me. We are allies in arguing to my father that some random creature needs refuge in the house. What I have learned from desperate animals is this: Every creature wants to be loved. No critter has a chance without affection. The only way to put life back into a dying thing is with nourishment ⁠ —by water, by food, by kind, gentle hands.

If an animal becomes too tame, they are almost sure to die when released, but they will still be too wild to thrive in captivity. This is what compromising identity does to the soul. A wild animal that accepts love but refuses domestication is a miracle in itself, but a heartbreak to the person who took a chance on it. For many years, I was willing to sacrifice the wild if it meant no one was upset.

Docility seemed a small price for safety, until the bird. He was featherless and far too little when I found him. I thought I would hold him for a couple hours as he went stiff. The next morning, he used tiny lungs to scream in hunger. As he gulped down applesauce, I empathized with his pathetic fight. How hopeless it was, I thought, delaying the inevitable. I was wrong. Tweet grew quickly and within two months, he was about ready to fly away, but hesitant to leave. My mother and I were closer than ever nursing him. I returned home one day to her screaming, my father pacing, bright red. Tweet had found his way underfoot. It was an accident. They did not see or hear him and because of that, he died. It did not matter if I was loved. I would eventually find myself mangled if I remained invisible.




I thought 200 miles of distance would fix me, but I have never felt more queer (deragatory) than in Austin, and not because I’m gay. My accent is thick, even when I consciously mask it. My stories were not translating with my peers. No one liked my music or my jeans. I missed my family. I resented my family. I was far too scared to accept both as true.

As I began to stitch together everything once stifled, I thought I had to slice away more and more. I had spent a lifetime calculating how little room I deserved to occupy. It made sense to me that when I left, I had the same amount of space to take up. Cull the Dolly and the boots. If it looks white trash, it is. If it reminds you of where you have been, aren’t you terrified you will go running back?

This strategy worked until, once again, no one knew me. The same trailer in a different park. One drunken night, I relentlessly demanded my new friends play The Chicks’ “Wide Open Spaces.” That was a baby step. (Who doesn’t like The Chicks?)

As we danced and sang, “She needs wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes,” in unison, it hit me that I was safe enough to live in my fullest truth, if only I had the bravery to accompany it. I neither  need to be understood to be seen, nor small to be loved.

At this moment, I could not tell you the exact mechanisms of the ocean tide nor the anatomy of a butterfly. I am clueless to how so many beautiful things work and find them with wonder all the same. So if I am loud, obnoxious, bright, and contradicting, I must assume that these elements work in unison, not competition. For so long, I had strangled myself into stillness when all that was needed was harmony. In the same way that a lie is a creation, so is living in one’s own truth. I am overwhelmed by the city⁠ — I am overwhelmed with myself and my expansion, but what a privilege it is to live without hesitation. I am in my Renaissance, far too busy creating and becoming to worry about walls that are no longer closing in.


 

I carry the pieces of home with me, each part of myself on my sleeve.  The comforts I need are never far nor under the peril.  Healing is not as black and white as cutting off the rot (or throwing away your cowgirl boots). For so long, I have held my upbringing and all it encompassed in opposition to my queerness, to who I thought I actually was. No more.

Open the Natty Lite. Cue the country music. As singer Kacey Musgraves says, “Kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into.” 

Be here, right now, exactly as you are. ■




By: Alexandra Evans

Layout: Mateo Ontiveros

Photographer: Mateo Ontiervos

Stylist: Lily Jacaruso

Hmua: Ryan Velasquez

Model: Presley Simmons


View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 18 here.
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