Asymmetrical We by Nick Mwaluko

Twist the doorknob, walk into the house and it’s,

“I’m holding a letter that says my daughter wants a sex change operation into a man. That true?”

Letter in one hand, at an angry five-foot three Mom stands taller than any building I can imagine.


I don’t answer.

“’If it’s true, watch me go pick up that fucking phone in the living room, call the police right now, tell them Come grab this bitch, lock her Black tail behind bars. And know what them cops’ll do to a masculine butch woman behind bars the minute her single mother turns her back on her? They will rape you—two, three, maybe ten times in who knows how long or how many. Because sexual assault is how people like that, people in power who know you mean nothing to nobody, that’s how Authority turns a masculine butch back into a lady—rape. Up against the wall, lights out, arch your back, then it’s one after another after another non-stop. Never mind the throbbing pain plugging your insides, never mind screaming your voice thin into the dark night, never mind the look of shameful terror you’ll wear on your face for the rest of your precious life. And you can forget teaming up with some progressive Jewish social justice lesbian lawyer hungry for an important cause who suggests filing a fucking complaint to somebody’s Superior. Superior couldn’t give two shits, not unless you’re dead and when dead, you don’t make the five o’clock, nine o’clock, eleven o’clock or next day’s news, why? You’re Black and masculine and Black women, we don’t get raped, not according to white America. According to white America, we have it coming to us since we’re sex starved whores looking for the next trick to get another baby for child support while on welfare sucking the system dry. Nobody talks about it, nobody assumes, nobody asks if you’ve been raped, not when you’re a Black woman. Trust me, it lives and dies in silence inside you. Or,” Mom takes a step so close her voice dips into a shallow whisper—“Or, do what’s easy—quit the fucked-up sex-change idea, put on a dress, earrings, make-up, get a decent job, get a boyfriend, get married, get a house, get a car, get pregnant, get kids, get fat, he’ll cheat, you’ll separate, he’ll lie, you’ll divorce, join a gym, fuck your Tai-Chi trainer at a block party during Black History month. It is thaaaaat fucking simple. Well?”

She’s less than two steps away about to smash something sharp over my head, make my world spin senseless all ‘cos I can’t be normal. Know what I’m thinking? Hit me. At least it shows you still care. W-W-W-Smack-Me-Down. So long as you don’t do Dad, up ‘n’ leave without a word ‘cause do that ‘n’ I won’t know what’ll happen when my tears dry and my head stops spinning for real.

She says, “Dress or no dress: Decide.”

“Mom,” I say, “what are you afraid of? That I’ll leave like Dad did?”

She’s so small, her breath so even and still as she stands motionless for what seems like time eternal.

“Why are you so scared, Mom? Tell me. Say, “Are you rejecting me as your mother? ‘Cause it feels like I’m losing my baby. It’s like you’re turning into someone else. I’m a single parent, you’re my only child, you’re all I’ve got.” Ask, “Will I get grandkids after you do this operation?” Say, “I’ve had to take control to put food on the table, clothes on your back, change in your pocket. You do this, I won’t know what to do and that scares me more than I care to admit, yeah, your calm cool collective wise mother is clueless and terrified.” Say, “What will God make of this change? What will happen to your soul and mine if I accept it?” Then I’ll say, “Mom, God is trans. Think about it. And trans people are gods. Think about it.” Then you’ll say this gently in a voice no louder than a whisper in the wind, “That dream inside my womb is slipping away.” Whispering back, I’ll say, “Mom, it was never there to begin with.” Then we’ll talk deep and real and honest and it’ll hurt like hell in the end. And at the end of that deep, real, honest, painful talk, I want you vulnerable. S’right, open up Mom, ask—without threatening to lock me up so I turn into someone I can’t ever be—just ask, look me in the eye with every contradiction in your heart, and the struggles that never end and life’s mysteries and secrets and failures and promises and unrealized dreams, knowing how hard it will be to forgive me for who I am—ask me Mom, say 'How can I support you in this?' That’s what I want you to say. ”

Mom is silent.

“Say it Mom.”

Silence, and in that silence everything she can’t say exists. How she blames herself because we couldn’t afford to move away from bad influences. How she blames herself for making choices she can’t unmake. How they pigeonholed her ten times more than me with stereotypes and labels. African Princess, Welfare Queen, bitch, ho, hoochY, sex-starved, churchgoing Baptist, homophobe, transphobe, victim, warrior, limited, too Black, not white enough, too poor, too ethnic, post-racial, too urban, too country, too southern, too uppity now down she’ll fall ‘cause she’s too proud, too empowered, too Black to be too freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, woman why are you so Black and so free? I know you know that’s dangerous, right?

Mom is silent.

“Please say you’ll support me in this, Mom.”

Mom opens her mouth.

“Say it.”

Mom closes her mouth. Mom shuts her eyes. I shut mine too, imagining my world bathed in sunshine yellow like in movie-mode when ideal families gather together at the table during meals, laughter echoing skyward against a backdrop of artificially sweet sounds. This movie is called “My Life” subtitle “XXYX”.

I emerge from a steamy hot shower radiant Black, towel round my waist. I sit at breakfast about to pour farm fresh cow milk on my heart-healthy, vitamin-rich, organic cereal when Mom reaches for my chin. She strokes my facial hair—beard, mustache, side burns. She touches my chest, her fingers running clear across my scars. Music suddenly stops. Time slows to a near halt and for a moment, maybe more, I believe in this imaginary world. It’s saying there’s a place, a universe where my mother understands me. I’m about to question if she thinks me being born with breasts makes me any less of a man when music begins. Subtitles rolling at the bottom of screen read as follows: “Son, I am so proud of you. You found your true self. How’d you do it?”

I tell her: “Mom, when God planted my assignment inside your womb, it was a mistake. Wrong. So I crawled into your womb to fix it. And to find God. I looked. God was missing. I looked harder. Dad was missing too, nowhere near your pleasure palace. But I found my assignment, read it.—“girl” , “lesbian”, “butch”. The labels never fit. I changed everything, planted new seeds based on faith, belief, hope. Faith in my hope and belief that I’m no butch-lesbian-woman but someone else. I put the seeds inside my own womb. Then I gave birth to my self. Transition. Now you’re looking at a god, flesh wounds and everything.”

Gently, slowly, sweetly, Mom’s fingers caress my scars. She celebrates my power to heal so I’m hoping she more than knows, she believes everything will be okay. So I celebrate the power in this terrified but beautiful Black mother to transcend her fear, to find beauty in the scars of a wounded freak like me.



Roll the credits.

End of movie magic.

End of tranny optics.

I open my eyes.

Mom is silent.

“Say it Mom. Say it’ll be ok. Doesn’t matter what you’re afraid of. Doesn’t matter what the past or future holds for us. Whatever the labels say we are, we’ve survived the flesh wounds, caressed the scars beyond movie magic in the here and now. So say you’ll support my transition.”

Silence eternal until this day.


Nick Mwaluko was born in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania but raised mostly in neighboring Kenya. Homelessness, shelter life, intense spiritual dislocation allowed Nick to renew efforts at writing. Nick hates pronouns.