Traumatic House Fire Experience Leads Genderqueer Person To Accept Themselves: “The More I Go Down this Journey, the Happier I Become.”

by Emmet Hunker

Hi. My name is Emmet Hunker and I’m from Washington DC.

I had just gotten back from my solo travels around the world, and I was sitting on the couch of a friend who I was crashing with for an indefinite period of time. We were catching up about my travels and we started talking about different things like gender identity, gender queerness and I said to her, “I don’t understand why they can’t just choose one” in reference to people who identify as gender queer or non-binary. And I’ll never forget the look on her face.

She turned to me and she was like, “What are you talking about? Look at yourself!” Because at the time, I had half of my head shaved. I had a notable industrial piercing in my ear.

I could completely see where she was coming from. Not only where she was coming from, but I was floored that I hadn’t seen it after all of this time coming into my own. That really had me changing what I kind of thought about what it… what it meant to identify as a person who doesn’t live within the binary. And although that stirred some feelings within myself, I didn’t… I didn’t feel like I was one of those people. I just saw the validity in it.

So I’m going through this transitioning back to my life and Austin, after living through this transient period of my life. And I decided to actually make some roots. So I got a house on the east side. My brother visits. It’s in the winter of 2018. And right before Christmas, I’m in the house. I’m getting ready to sleep. My brother’s crashing on the couch and Vincent, my roommate, my dear friend, every night he goes out for an evening cigarette.

As I’m getting ready to go to sleep, I smell tobacco. So I’m looking for an open window. None of the windows are open. I open up the laundry door and there he is huddled in the corner trying to blow smoke out of the window. And I’m like, “Vince!”

And he was like, “I’m so sorry. Can you smell it?”

And I was like, “Yeah. It’s okay. I’ll light some sage. And so I lit some sage to cleanse the air and it did, you know, for the most part. And I go to sleep.

Then all of a sudden in the middle of the night, my brother barges in and he goes, “Em! Fire! Get out!”

And I spring up and I just yelled, “No!”

And he was like, “Yes! Get up! Let’s go!” I was in shock. I was in shock for what felt like a minute. It was probably five seconds. I got out of bed. I sleep naked. So the first thought in my head is I’m not getting out of this house naked with my brother present. So I get some pants on, I go outside my room and there it is. There’s the fire about six feet above from… a foot above our stove, six feet up on the wall. There’s just flames and there’s smoke.

And I started booking it for the front door, but I still don’t have my top one. So my brother’s outside. The last thing I grabbed before I get out is a jacket because I would rather die than my brothers see me naked. And I get outside and there he is. Vincent, very different instincts, butt naked on our front lawn. It’s freezing cold and he’s got the phone to his face and he’s dialed 911. He’s on the phone for 30 seconds or so. We already hear the fire… the fire department sirens. So they busted in the house. They get the fire hose hooked up and they put out the fire in the kitchen. It was a night that really shocked all of us, and had us all pretty close to death.

While our life was in literal shambles, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and we were trying to get our shit together. I was temporarily living in our dining room because my bedroom was quite damaged in terms of smoke. I get new bedding and one of my least favorite things in the world is replacing the duvet cover. I try it on one side and I got it the wrong way because it’s a rectangle. And so I take it out and I go ahead and put it on my comforter and I got inside of it. So I just had it over my head and I started crawling on my bed with the duvet cover on top of me, like a ghost.

And I put it over me and I just crumbled and I just started bawling. I realized it was rock bottom or what I wanted to be rock bottom. And I realized that there were things that I could do to be happier, to be more fulfilled, so that I had been putting to the back burner and not recognizing for years.

And literally in that moment, as I’m crumpled… I’m a crumbled ghost inside a duvet cover on top of my quilt on my bed that’s on the tile floor of our dining room, I decided that I’m gonna fucking express myself how I want to. I’m going to be who I’ve always dreamed I wanted to be and be openly genderqueer. I didn’t turn back. I didn’t turn back from my duvet ghost moment and I haven’t really been happier.

It’s a journey, but the more I… the more I go down this journey, really, the happier, the more fulfilled I become. One thing that I never let go of is that moment that I had with my friend on the couch, where I was speaking these transphobic thoughts because I realize the person that I proudly am today, being gender nonconforming, that those who have their… their minds closed today, that there is really hope for progress for their minds to be open for things to change. So that’s… that’s something that is really important to me and I want to keep hold of.


Photo credit: Bonica Ayala

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