“CUB”: A SHORT, FICTIONAL STORY OF A PARENT’S LOVING AFFIRMATION OF THEIR TRANS CHILD By Lou Medina
“Ay!” Adriana stumbled. Her heel had caught in a crack on the cement floor of the tunnel, whose walls amplified the rattling of the glasses and plates inside the fancy picnic basket she was carrying.
“Cuidado! Careful!” Jose said in Spanish, as Adriana grabbed his arm for support. When she didn’t let go once they continued walking, he looked down at her girly nails, newly done in glittering red polish.
“You shouldn’t have worn those shoes.”
“I wanted to look nice for you.”
“You can do that without looking all hoochie,” he scolded, eyeing her up and down. “Honestly: a tight pink dress and red stilettos to go on a picnic by the river.”
“I’ve told you--”
“Yes, ‘It's my style,’” he mocked her. “But look at how you clash with my sneakers, jeans and T-shirt. And how are you going to get down the riverbank?”
“I’ll take off my shoes...And you’ll help me.” She kissed him on the cheek, making him smile.
This gesture—like her taking his arm—felt strange for both of them.
They were almost at the end of the pedestrian tunnel underneath the railroad tracks. There was the old dead tree on the other side, overgrown with crawling vines that had killed it, then dried up and died themselves.
“Our totem tree is still there,” Jose told her.
“Like the tree near that other tunnel,” she said, referring to the culvert between Mexicali and Calexico that Jose had crawled through to come to the United States a decade before, looking for something better for himself and his family. The same one she had come across five years later when he’d paid a coyote to bring her to him.
They had prayed together at that other tree, grateful for Adriana’s safe passage.
When she was still Jose’s son.
“Adrian, hijo! Que te han hecho?! What have they done to you, Son?!”
Adrian’s face when he arrived was still bruised and swollen from the last beating he’d taken at school in Guatemala. His ribs were sore and it hurt to breathe. He winced when his father hugged him tightly.
“Aqui no queremos maricones! We don’t want faggots here!” his classmates had screamed as they beat him to the ground and kicked him mercilessly.
His mother, Ana, didn’t want the 16 year-old at home, either. Too much trouble having “un hijo afeminado,” she told Jose on the phone while Adrian listened. She feared he might be a bad influence on his younger brothers, Fernando and Gabriel, she said.
Jose didn’t think twice about bringing him to be with him. He loved all his children but Adrian was the eldest, the first fruit of his loins. He had vowed to love the baby unconditionally—and to protect it—as soon as he’d found out Ana was pregnant and before he even knew whether he would have a son or a daughter. Or both.
He would finish raising Adrian in the U.S. while continuing to send money home to Ana and his other boys. There was more tolerance here: laws to shield his “effeminate son” from constant bullying. Maybe Adrian could even qualify for amnesty on the grounds of protection from persecution for his sexual orientation in his native country.
What Jose hadn’t expected, however, was Adrian’s tearful plea after he finished high school: “Papi, I’ve never really felt like a boy. I’m tired. I want to live as a girl.” The revelation had come three years ago, the last time they’d crossed the tunnel under the tracks to go fishing, a pastime Jose enjoyed but Adrian did not. Neither of them had gotten a nibble that day. They walked home weighted down with uncertainty and anxiety.
In the months that followed, Jose had come back often to fish and think alone, each time stopping at the totem tree to say a prayer: “Please, I just want my son to be happy. Give me the wisdom to help him.”
The answer came as he and Adrian were sitting on the couch one day watching a nature documentary about hyenas, that most vilified species of scavengers and pack hunters that Jose had somehow always liked. There was something about their laugh, their cunning, their strange appearance—not quite feline, not quite canine. What he learned about them this time, though, with great fascination, was that the females have an extended clitoris that looks uncannily like a male organ through which they mate and give birth.
“You see,” Adrian said, “nature itself celebrates sexual diversity. It’s only people who are all hung up with their prejudices and taboos.”
Jose listened without taking his eyes off the television screen. He spoke only after his voice caught up with his conscience: “If you want me to go with you to counseling before you start the hormone treatment, I’ll be there.”
Adrian hugged his father, then lay with his head on Jose’s lap for the rest of the show, just as he had liked to do as a child.
Witnessing the change from Adrian to Adriana was strange for Jose: the loss of facial hair and the heightened pitch of Adrian’s voice; a whole new wardrobe, especially following the growth of breasts that Adriana augmented with implants; the frequent tears that flowed easily, he thought, because of all the estrogen Adriana was taking.
She, however, knew her tears were torrents of love and gratitude for her father’s acceptance.
They were on the other side of the tunnel now, the totem tree before them, the river on the other side of a berm beyond.
Adriana stopped. Her transformation was finished. She had told her father the night before that she wouldn’t be having genital reassignment surgery and invited him on today’s picnic to celebrate. But there was something she still needed to know. She put down the picnic basket.
“What is it?”
“Are you disappointed in me? Do you have any regrets about being my father?”
Jose looked at Adriana, placed his hands on either side of her face, and leaned her downward so he could reach her forehead for a kiss.
“A daughter shouldn’t be taller than her father,” he said. “You are. And with those high heels you insist on wearing, you tower over me like a giantess.”
Adriana clung onto her father like a vine. The sobs, torrents of love, came gushing over her again, pure, loud and unstoppable.
Jose still wasn’t used to having Adrian’s—Adriana’s—breasts press up against him when they hugged.
Embarrassed, he looked toward the totem tree. For an instant, he thought he saw the comical face of a hyena with slightly rounded ears and dark, mask-like markings looking at him from underneath the tangle of dry vines encasing the dead tree trunk. But he blinked and his magical totem animal, a vision—but one that had birthed hope in him, nonetheless—was gone. What was real and remained was what he held in his arms: his son, his daughter, his cub, pressed up against his chest like the wailing newborn he had held for the first time in fatherly love and protection, in what now seemed like two lifetimes ago.