Last year, I forgot Thanksgiving. Late that night, I plunged into a
pile of mindless administrative work. I brought up Reddit in search
of distraction, only to see the glum posts of the shop workers, techs,
police and firefighters who had to work on my former country’s
national day. So reminded, I felt the relief of having escaped, not
just from the holiday itself, that focusing lens for our colonialist
national myth, but also from a country -- and a family -- where I did
My family’s Thanksgivings sum us up very well. My mother was riddled with pain, addicted to drugs and full of anger and frustration that she took out on all of her four children, especially me, because of my social awkwardness and lack of coordination. Our normal lives weren’t enough to get her out of bed, but she would put on a performance for grandparents visiting for Thanksgiving, spending a week getting the house clean and preparing elaborate meals, even as she heaped guilt upon us if everything wasn’t perfect. The festive day itself was always a brittle and awkward performance, and I sat there in terror every year, hoping that my shammed enjoyment would be convincing enough for my mother, who would otherwise berate me for ruining everything.
Over and over, my family tried to make a Thanksgiving -- and after the reprieve of my mother’s death, we barely bothered; we invited no one, and we ate the turkey and overcooked vegetables in near silence, waiting until the meal would end and we could go back to our
respective computers. I am 35 now, and my mind has let me
forget most of the worst memories of my childhood, and it has held
onto a few of the good ones. But I cannot forget a moment of these
stilted celebrations, and their unspoken verdicts on our failed
I am old enough now to understand what must have fuelled the hate of my mother. Scarred by invasive childhood surgery, she was a woman besotted with the traditional image of femininity, with appearances, with the approval of others. When I was her victim, the beaten-up five-year-old or the berated 12-year-old who could not style my hair to her satisfaction, I could not see the social structures that built and broke her. She died, possibly by overdose, a week after she learned that her crumbling bones would put her in a wheelchair. I have forgiven her, but I cannot forgive Thanksgiving for bringing me back, every year, to my memories.
And so, I try to forget. I will never write the well-worn immigrant’s
essay, in which I reclaim Thanksgiving, hosting a dinner featuring
food from two countries and new traditions born out of the ashes of
the old ones. My choice to be a sex worker, and to write about it,
only widens the gulf between me and my family, and while my husband’s family has welcomed me warmly, I will never be able to share my life with them. I like to think that I keep quiet out of respect for their devotion to their religious beliefs, but at least some of my silence is the shame that, despite my politics, despite the searchlight I shine upon my own thoughts and beliefs, I still carry with me.
Susan Winemaker, a Canadian who emigrated to Britain and became a professional dominatrix (like me), closes her memoir, Concertina, with a vivid image of her motley collection of friends from the kink scene around a long table, eating, laughing and drinking. If I ever write a memoir, it will not have such a scene in it. I have many wonderful friends from all over the world, but even though I am as healthy and as comfortable in my own skin as I have ever been, I am still odd, awkward and difficult to know. My table is a small one, and it only has room for my husband and me.
But even though my chosen family does not fit around my table, it is real, and has outposts on five continents. Some of its members are close enough by to drop in for a cup of tea, and some are literally on the other side of the world from me and my husband.
We can’t draw our connections on a family tree. Our regard for one another cannot be summed up in a greeting card or a sentimental song, and our meaningful conversations are more likely to happen in the dead of night, in cases of blooming hope and crushing need, not around a feasting table.
And so, if you find yourself alone and disconnected this Thanksgiving, remember me, and know that you are not the only one. Drop me a tweet and say hello; I’m always looking for new friends.