I’m leaving Nantucket Island tomorrow. I’ve been here a week with my partner at an old family house. I hesitate to talk about it, the whole business makes me very uncomfortable.
I few days ago I mentioned it on a call and someone joking added, “Sounds fancy.” No, no, I wanted to say, you don’t understand, I’m not one of those people. I said something about my family having had land here since the mid 1800s. “Still sounds fancy," they said.
Today we walked around town and there were people everywhere, fancy people. Last weekend the place was deserted. It was wonderful. We sat down on the wharf and watched the cormorants wheel above empty slips. You could almost imagine what this place was years ago, what it could be again.
Whenever anyone finds out that I grew up on Cape Cod, an hour boat ride and 45 minute drive from where I sit writing this, they say “Ooh, I’ve been there once! It’s so beautiful!” My well rehearsed response now is “Yea, it’s a beautiful place to grow up if you like sitting on rocky outcropping starring wistfully at the gray and white-capped ocean and thinking about throwing yourself off while your friends shoot heroin in the parking lot.” .... “Oh,” they say.
I haven’t been home in 10 years except to Nantucket twice, in September and again this week. We walked in town today, and oh, it is fancy. Every 10 feet we passed a new group of immaculate coiffed porcelain dolls. The white of their linens are so bright it just managed to take the focus away from the shine of their perfect teeth. The men's hair is gelled with expensive product, individual strands separating at a precise distance apart. They sit looking perfect and composed at expensive dockside restaurants until they get wasted enough to yell loudly about their investments, boat houses, and the lately gossip.
I can only imagine what their houses look like. Actually, I don’t have to imagine. Their houses have grown up around the cottage my grandfather built in the middle of the century. My family first bought land here in the mid 1800s. My 2nd great grandfather was the principle of the nantucket high school. There’s a picture of my great grandmother Ruth Dame Coolidge standing on the beach with a parasol behind her in a white lace dress looking wistfully out into the gray white-capped ocean. Oh great grandmother, I know that look. I feel connected to those people, enough so that when I took the name Scarlet I took her maiden name, a connection to my family as well as a way forward in my own identity.
But when I walk in town, I am clearly not one of these people. We look at each other like aliens from different planets. Me, a queer trans women with my floor-length pinstripe suit jacket, slanted half fedora, velvet jumpsuit, tattooed hands, and white stiletto acrylic nails - them in their variations of white, blue, nantucket red, boat shoes and Rolex watches and large groups of cishet nuclear families.
Who are you, I want to yell? Who are you to look at me like I don’t belong here?
And yet wealth seems to have decided who belongs here. The place is, indeed, fancy. And it disgusts me, while on some level still speaking to me. And on another level I have to respect what the wealth has done for me.
This fancy land put me through college. Through the sales of pieces of the land discussed through endless conversations at myriad family gathering that made the children flee and groan, the land has given the family some degree of wealth. What was purchased by my grandfather for $10,000 was sold for enough split three ways among my Dad’s siblings to put me and my cousins through private universities.
But I look at the houses that replaced the empty lots, and the chasm is impassable. Next door now lives (during a small portion of the summer only) the ex-CEO of AOL/Time Warner. We wave politely at each other. I wonder what he thinks of me. Surely something. One man driving up from the beach said my partner and I looked like “a picture.” Of what I wonder?
I’ve often felt I live in the cracks between worlds. Wealthy enough to go to a good school, to be supported in times of need, but not to participate in their world, not to ever speak their language (nor do I wish to). And on the other side, the chasm between my privilege, my whiteness, my access to education, health care, safety, security, is massive.
I’ve said before that every trans woman is an island, each living in our own world of unique experience with little shared reference. I am especially struck by this now, sitting on this island that is both ancestral and absolute anathema to my current nature.
I am a part of this earth, sand, and water. And although I have strived to carve my own style, class, and charm, I am not one of them.
But that still sounds fancy, doesn't it?