On July 5, I will turn 34. But this year, there is a birthday that feels more important. In a few hours, it will be June 17, or the day that my uncle would be turning 62 years old. His birthday is a lot more important than mine, because it's more important to remember him than to just turn 34. I'll be in my thirties for a while. It's not that big of a deal.
Robert is a big deal. He's a big deal to our family, and he's a big deal to me. I really only barely knew him as a person, because he wasn't around a lot. It was a different time, and there were a lot of things that weren't talked about. What I figured out about Robert, I mainly did through piecing things together on my own. But there are a few things I do know.
When I was born, in 1981, Robert tried to give blood for me in case there was an emergency, and he wasn't allowed. Gay men were banned from giving blood and they still are banned today. (ETA: Actually, any man who sleeps with men is banned from giving blood so that includes bisexual/pansexual men as well.)
Later in my life, my mother and father decided that with the wrong, gay, influences, I was going to "decide to turn," so I wasn't allowed to be around my uncle (or my father's gay sister) very much.
I can pretty much count the number of times I was arouund Robert at a family thing on my hands, and that's it. I only remember a few times I was with him, but the times I remember, I've probably played a thousand times each in my head.
Most of the times I was with Robert, he was organizing. Handing out leaflets in a park, making voting reminder calls. Pretty much any time I saw him he had some political goal he was working toward, and we never talked directly about those things, but I never, ever forgot them.
I'm not the organizer that he was. I'm not the politician that he was either. I'm not very good at long range planning (I don't think life allows me to long-range plan either). But I think the most important part of any of it is just remembering.
Remembering so that I can ask myself what he would do pretty much every day. Remembering so that I can imagine the pep talk he would give me right before I explain, AGAIN, what human dignity is supposed to look like, and that as a disabled, queer, trans person, I am still allowed it. Remembering that anything that he did, I am allowed to continue-and expand on. Remembering so I can imagine that if I explained what being trans, what being non-binary, what being a disabled adult is like, I can walk myself through what he might say (the good and bad). Even remembering so I can confront my family history, also the good and bad.
I don't have to tell you a lot of detail about him. Some of those things are for my family, some are in a museum in Queens, some are embedded into the history of ACT UP NY, the St. Patrick's Day Parade For All (also in Queens), where he was an honoree this year, and some things I'll just never know. Sometimes that last part is really horrible, and sometimes it's just how things are. Some things I was there for and don't remember, and I hate those things the most.
Sometimes I'm known as the really argumentative one. (Okay, that's all the time.) Sometimes I know that I'm probably way more argumentative than he ever was. To be an organizer, you have to deal with way more people than I am good at dealing with. So, you know, I'll never be him, but that's okay. I carry him in the back of my head and he gives the best pep talks in the world--way better than anything I could come up with by myself.
Happy birthday, Robert. I love you.