My last blog post was going to be all that I wrote for #GaytheFourth, but I have reconsidered. Since December 2015 when The Force Awakens premiered in theaters, Star Wars has been a significant part of my life in a way that I never anticipated, even given my history with it.
The unblinking faces of Darth Vader, a nameless stormtrooper, and Yoda staring out from my parents’ copy of the original trilogy box set was a staple of the movie shelf of my childhood, but I never picked them off the shelf. Vader and the stormtrooper were a bit frightening when I was five, six, seven years old. My potential interest in space battles was eclipsed by colorful cartoons and violin lessons–but that wouldn’t stop my mother.
My mother: a take-no-bullshit, wildly intelligent, awkward nerd of a woman who sat me on her lap as a toddler to watch new episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was so starstruck sitting next to Leonard Nimoy on a plane that she couldn’t say a single word to him the entire flight between Boston and New York City. When others talk of the concept of a super-mom, I think of her leading school fundraisers and setting records and every wonderful moment we shared at home that contradicted her sincere belief before my conception that she would be inadequate for the job.
In 1999, my mother and father went to see The Phantom Menace in theaters while I was at a friend’s house to spend the night; and the next morning, my mother wanted to take me to see it, insisting I would love it, and her enthusiasm was often a thick contagious cloud. She took me to see it–and being eight years old, I fell in love. I dragged her back to the theaters an additional six times until she said enough was enough, and by then I had already pulled the old intimidating VHS tapes off the shelf and worked my way to wear down the film inside.
In 1999, my mother was already sick.
I don’t think I have a single real memory of my mother where she has the shoulder-length dark blonde hair in the photo on my dresser. There’s my mother in an ill-fitting wig of the same color and my mother bald and my mother with course dark brown hair as it tried to grow back. And this was all normal to me, my age still in single digits–the chemotherapy and radiation, napping away the pain, the intense gaunt features, the summers spent in Omaha with last-ditch stem cell and bone marrow transplants.
By Thanksgiving the following year, the word “terminal” had long come out of the oncologist’s mouth, and a few days later my father found himself a single parent.
In the lead-up to The Force Awakens, I admittedly was not paying the most attention. I knew it was coming, that it was happening, but I was caught up in Marvel and my roommate–an enormous, life-long Star Wars fan–had recently moved across the country and taken his influence with him. Buying my Thursday-night ticket was almost an afterthought.
Waiting for the movie to start, I thought of my mother. The month before was the fifteenth anniversary of her death and I was sitting in a theater excited to see the latest installment in something she had wanted so badly to share with me–because that was what she did. She took me to The Phantom Menace. She practically shoved the first three Harry Potter novels in my arms and let me babble about all my theories while she got me ready for bed. After she passed, I learned this love extended to so many other things–Star Trek, The X-Files, Anne Rice novels–and as the theater darkened, it hit me for the first time how much was lost when the two of us were never allowed to live as adults at the same time.
After The Force Awakens, it was as if my eight-year-old self had reached through the years and punched my twenty-four-year-old self right in the heart. I locked myself in my car in the parking garage immediately after and screamed into my jacket, and thus began my re-descent into the galaxy far, far away.
At the same time, I also experienced a resurgence of grief that I thought had long been resolved–it had been fifteen years, but I found myself mourning my mother all over again in a different way. A child grieving the loss of a parent in the immediate wake of the event has one flavor but it burned coming back up. It tasted like bile, all the bitterness my nine-year-old self could never have hoped to process because I had just wanted for life to get back to its new normal, for the other kids to stop tiptoeing around me as the one with the dead mom. As an adult, I wanted her here. I wanted to share all the things she would have loved since her passing that I had to enjoy without her–The Force Awakens, the new Star Trek movies, the revival seasons of The X-Files, the comic-cons and superhero movies and graduations and marching band competitions and successful job interviews and, and, and.
I am my mother’s child. I can’t visit my hometown and our family friends without hearing how I look exactly like her, without noticing the sad glaze in her close friends’ eyes as they look at me and comment how we have the same speaking patterns and odd nervous tics. My mother and I grew up in the same house, went to the same schools from kindergarten through university, love the same things in the same enormous all-encompassing way. My entire life, I’ve mourned my mother but I hardly registered that to so many people I was her and not necessarily me, and I wanted her back to right the wrong the cancer had delivered to us but also to expel the ghost of her so many saw curled up in my chest.
Enter Poe Dameron.
Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the Resistance, an earnest idealist of a character I fell in love with upon my first viewing of The Force Awakens because of his charm and arguable gayness. As a queer fan, the arguable gayness would have been enough for me to claim him as favorite, but it went deeper the more I investigated into his character.
Poe Dameron’s mother, Shara Bey, was also a rebel pilot, flying an A-wing in the Battle of Endor and beyond–and Shara Bey died when Poe was eight.
Poe knew my pain. Poe as a child watched his mother die and then followed in her footsteps to work alongside veterans of the war with the Empire, veterans who had fought by her side. Did he struggle with the feeling of being in her shadow around them? Did he long for her advice and presence after a particularly hard dogfight? Canon doesn’t say, but the idea that he did, the potential for it, gave me a fictional hand to hold when I was alone and the grief came roaring back.
If he was gay, it would mean so much more.
My mother was born in the mid-1950s and had the same best friend since childhood–which isn’t a remarkable accomplishment, given that people have lifelong best friends. But my mother’s best friend is a lesbian and the time of her earlier years was so much more homophobic that it convinced me that my mother was one of the good ones. I never sought out confirmation for it, for fear of being disappointed. I, her apparent near-clone, am bisexual with a foot fairly solidly in some other queer labels I haven’t figured out yet, and the idea of her having that hate in that big heart of hers would ruin me. My father already had a difficult time making sense of it, choosing more to pretend it wasn’t a reality of my life than offering any sense of recognition.
In the wake of the Pulse shooting, on a night I was struggling, I called my mother’s friend and we spoke at length about queerness and my mother and how much we missed her. In the midst of it all, she assured me my mother loved people the way they are, whatever that meant for them.
The tears came back, and in the dark of my room I reached my hand out for Poe’s again. We were in this X-wing together, and these sorts of journeys are always better with a friend.