where were you born?

“where are you visiting us from?” the man asked as i walked into the studio.
“here,” i said. “i live here in guadalajara.”
“yes, ok, but where were you born?”

this is a very important question in mexican culture.

i’m not totally sure why (and believe me, i’ve asked), but where you’re born is a pretty critical piece of information here in a way it isn’t in other places. for example, in the states, we might ask that, but we’d actually probably say, “where are you from?” the distinction is subtle, but it’s there.

and if i were to ask a friend in the states where they were from, they’d probably cite where they grew up. which may or may not be where they were born. if your family moved to ohio from alabama when you were three, you’d probably just say you were from ohio. but here in mexico, even if your family moved from oaxaca to veracruz when you were an infant, you would still say you were born in (and therefore from) oaxaca.

and because my spanish isn’t very good, and because polite conversation with strangers doesn’t typically extend beyond twenty seconds, i never give the answer i’d like to give.

but this is my house and my rules, so i’m going to give you the answer that i wish i could give every day when someone asks me where i was born.


where were you born?

  • i was born in youngstown, ohio at 6:36 am on december 23, 1986 to a woman i haven’t seen since.
  • i was born again in youngstown, ohio at pizza hut with my father when i was fifteen when he finally confirmed a long-held suspicion that my parents were not my parents biologically.
  • i was born in nearby boardman, ohio, when my boyfriend slapped me, hard, on the side of my face for leaving him. i left him anyway.
  • i was born in tallahassee, when i stood up to my acting teacher, refusing to work with my abuser on a scene.
  • i was born in london, when i found myself lying on my suitcase in the pouring rain, crying because the love of my life had left me.
  • i was born in los angeles, when i stopped using my legal first name and switched to rae (which is my middle name).
  • i was born in las vegas, when the aforementioned love of my life came back to me. in the warm desert night, when we sat by the pool and began to plan the rest of our lives together.
  • i was born in seoul, after a very long death in losing him. i was born on stage for the first time in years in a tiny basement theatre.
  • i was born again in seoul, carrying home a six-week-old puppy, wrapped like a fish & chips in paper. i named him henry VIII.
  • i was born in koh yao noi, the first time my teacher laid each of the seven singing bowls on each of my chakras, and i began to feel the unclaimed pieces of myself come back to me.
  • i was born in saigon. in the sun and the sweat and the motorbike smog. in a life that looked like everything i was and nothing like everything i was no longer.
  • i was born in otres, a beach in cambodia, on a moonless night. the stars shining above me, the bioluminescent plankton shining around me in the water. finally full. finally free.
  • i was born in ubud, on the shala floor, mourning the loss of a baby i never wanted.
  • i was born in cape town, bathing topless in the sun when a man i loved brought me slices of mango.
  • i was born in aspen, in a near-freezing lake, naked with my friends.
  • i was born in tulum, when a friend melted into a lover, and when i learned to be held without being fucked.
  • i was born and baptized in the lake of bacalar.
  • i was born in the empty expanse of baja’s desert. only after i left the love who couldn’t stop trying to kill me. only after i let all of the rotten, broken pieces of me die and decompose. only after i watched myself shed my skin like a snake. when i was sure there was nothing left of me. i was born.
  • i was born two weeks ago in guadalajara, face to face in the lap of a man i love. where every breath, every caress, every pause, was a question. and for the first time, every answer was a yes.

in every love, in every loss, in every risk, in every beginning, in every ending, in every transition, in every conscious inhale, in every conscious exhale, i was born. again and again, dying and rebirthing myself infinitely. across the carefully crafted constructs of time and space, the fabric woven together to create the tapestry of my life. i was born.

so you tell me. where were you born?

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