I was born without a voice, one cold, overcast day in Brooklyn, New York. No one ever spoke of my condition. I did not know I was mute until years later, when I opened my mouth to ask for what I wanted and realized no one could hear me. Where I come from, voicelessness is the condition of my gender, as normal as the bosoms on a woman’s chest, as necessary as the next generation growing inside her belly. But we will never tell you this, of course. Where I come from, we’ve learned to conceal our condition. We’ve been taught to silence ourselves, that our silence will save us. It is only now, many years later, that I know this to be false. Only now, as I write this story, do I feel my voice coming.
You’ve never heard this story before. No matter how many books you’ve read, how many tales you know, believe me: no one has ever told you a story like this one. Where I come from, we keep these stories to ourselves. To tell them to the outside world is unheard of, dangerous, the ultimate shame.
But you have seen us. Take a walk in New York City on a sunny afternoon. Walk down the length of Manhattan until the streets become curved and tangled as they are in the Old World. Go east, over the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan’s skyline thinning behind you. There will be a heavy traffic jam on the other side. Hail a yellow cab and ride it down Flatbush Avenue, that central artery of south Brooklyn. You’ll go south on Third Avenue, where the buildings are smaller—only three, four stories high, with old faces. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge hovers on the horizon like a giant gull, wings spread, the sweeping view of the Manhattan skyline a distant mirage.