Me vs Roanoke

December 19, 2022 /

I’ve lived in Roanoke for nearly three months now. After a lifetime of living in Merced and being submerged in Californian culture, I can wholeheartedly say, without a shadow of a doubt, that coming here was the best decision I could have ever made. Within a month of moving here I got my first full time job, I never miss a rent payment and my workplace is going to cover my tuition to a four year college starting next fall.

An illustration of the author and his friends.

(Illustration by Malachi Sanchez)

Whenever I send pictures to my older sister she says that I look happier. She says she can see it in my eyes and in my smile.

Even though I’m on the other side of the country, I do stay in contact with my family. I call my mom and dad every few days, my sisters nearly every day, and my grandparents every few weeks. They’ve all dealt with me being gone differently; my youngest sister used to have me FaceTime her at 9 p.m. (midnight my time) to sing her to sleep. My older sister calls me anytime she even slightly misses my voice. My parents make sure I have enough money to buy myself groceries. I think the time apart has actually improved my relationship with my immediate family; maybe the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” has some weight to it after all. The only thing that isn’t ideal is when my parents ask if I’ve been going to church since moving here. I haven’t, and I don’t plan to start.

Parts of Virginia is along the United States Bible Belt, which is a bit ironic seeing as I moved here to escape the religious community I grew up in. There’s two different Baptist churches within a five minute walk of my neighborhood, and a chapel on Klaus’ college campus. But the difference now is that when someone looks at me funnily for holding my boyfriend’s hand, I have my boyfriend to lean on for support. I moved all the way across the country to escape the church culture I grew up in, I wasn’t going to force myself back into it when I didn’t have to. But realizing that I didn’t have to force myself to go to church wasn’t the only realization I had over the first month of my arrival.

After a few weeks it fully sunk in that I had complete control over my life in a way I never did before, that my parents weren’t there to tell me what is and isn’t allowed. I decided I needed to commemorate my newfound freedom somehow. The first thing I thought of was to shave my head. I’ve wanted to for years, and had always wondered if it would be a good style for me. Anytime I would bring it up with my parents while I was living with them the answer was a resounding, “no.” They called it “too masculine” of a style, completely disregarding the fact that that’s exactly what I needed. But once I had fully shed my inhibitions, when I fully let myself step into adulthood and embrace the fact I was on my own, Klaus took a razor to my head and fulfilled the dream I’ve had since sophomore year of high school. 

Some of the biggest supporters of my new look were my friends. They form a better support system than I ever dreamed of having in my hometown. Most of them have had to deal with gender dysphoria, and understand what it’s like to have a religious family. More than just the sense of community, the feeling of being understood satiated a craving I didn’t even realize I had. The fact I can walk from my to my friend’s room to talk about how stifling it was to grow up Christian being closeted at any time of the day  is something I’ve never had before. It’s something I never knew I needed until I had it. Now that I have it I never want to let it go. 

On my first day in Virginia, when I went to eat with Klaus, an older man yelled at us as we left. “Queers!” he shouted at us. Without batting an eye, Klaus lifted his hand and flipped him the bird. It came as easily to him as saying “thank you” to the waitress did; I was awestruck. One time, on my walk to work, someone rolled down the window of their car and called me a slur as they drove past me. I had to lock myself in the bathroom for fifteen minutes before I could calm down enough to start my shift. But then I started embracing it. My friends and I will go out dressed as queer as we can and would how many times people look offended at our existence. People being upset at me for being myself doesn’t get under my skin the way it used to. In less than three months I’ve gained a new sense of confidence I never thought it was possible for me to have. I know that, no matter how many uptight people I upset, I’ll always have people to lean back on and laugh with; people who understand me, and who like me just the way I am.

Next year I’m planning on getting an apartment with a friend of mine. We both needed a new place to stay, and rent is always cheaper when you’re splitting it between roommates. It’ll be my first time ever having an entire place to call my own; one with a separate bedroom, bathroom and kitchen that I’d have complete control over. Klaus will be spending a lot of time there with me pretty much any chance he gets. I’m so excited to fulfill another landmark of adulthood in my cozy corner of Virginia. There’s nowhere I would rather be than exactly where I am.