Updated: Nov 25, 2020
[seulement en anglais]
This is the original, unmodified work of the author.
Photo by Fabian Møller @fabimoe
This is part of my story, my heart on a page and a new bloom of the person I am becoming. This isn’t an easy story. I warn that for some it may be difficult to read. I am writing to defy the notions of rites of passage in our community: that we all must come out of the closet, experience the less than accepting family members and the constant devaluing of our love. I am writing to disallow myself and others from making the queer experience a joke. I often find myself laughing about a decade long experience of holding my breath, waiting for someone to figure out I was gay. But when the laughter stops, I am left with the thought “What happens when you hold your breath for a decade?” You forget how to breathe. What follows is my first meaningful exhale in years.
I remember the first time I realized “oh shit… I’m gay,” I was playing guitar hero and for a split second I saw beauty in the muscled male character. I was 8 and terrified. In the world of heterosexuals, love and attraction is often romanticized through a delicate and juvenile depiction of nerves and fear. From day one, my form of love was characterized by a very different kind of fear. For the past several years, my most difficult work– more taxing than getting into university, and later law school– has been addressing where that fear came from and how I can expel its lingering effects. I won’t bore you with another overview of societal perceptions of queer love, besides, for me this issue starts much closer to home. In fact, it starts in my home where I first found beauty in that muscled male avatar.
In the decade that followed, I listened to and even engaged in homophobic slurs, hatred and disgust at home, in school and pretty much everywhere I went. I thought that if I looked and sounded like them, maybe the straights wouldn’t catch that I was gay. In my home and town, this meant camouflaging myself through homophobia and ultimately self-hatred. It didn’t always work. For queer readers, I assume this will be a commonly shared experience. For the allies reading this, please sit with this thought a little longer before moving on. Now imagine what we do when we and others define significant portions of our lives as “in the closet.” You put a broom in a closet, your clothes or things you want out of sight. A closet is no place for a human; it is captivity. That is the experience we (myself most included) have a tendency to joke about or define as a rite of passage to being queer. Personally, I am done joking.
When I first uttered “I’m gay” to my mother, my words were met with instinctive tears. Both mine and hers. It didn’t feel liberating. Rather, the instinctiveness of our responses made it feel dehumanizing. She didn’t believe that I was gay but “loved me no matter what.” What does that even mean? To me it has always felt more like “I love you despite your queerness.” A mother’s love is strong, and my mother is no exception. I guess sometimes love is blinding. The tragedy of many of our experiences of denial, exclusion or ignorance is that our loved ones truly believe they are doing what is best for us. I have a hard time faulting my mother, but I also have a hard time forgiving. That is where I find myself today, with a whole lot of built up anger and trauma but nobody to really blame. It is a barrier to my familial relations that may never come down.
This barrier is one that required me to argue, defend and legitimize my love. In some ways, I have been practicing my oral arguments skills for years. I witnessed my friends experiencing their first love in heterosexual partnerships sans any denial. Why was my love any less real than theirs?
This all became more difficult when it was no longer my love coming into question but the very value of my life. I am a survivor of physical and verbal acts of violent homophobia. All within a close radius to where I live and study. I spare you the intimate details of these experiences mostly to remain anonymous but also because some stories are not meant to live in writing. I share the details I have because it was only after these experiences that I truly acknowledged the impact my less than accepting childhood has on me. I had all but forgotten the day in middle school where a classmate yelled from the bus window expressing that as a f*ggot, I was “a disgrace to this country.” My mind may have temporarily forgotten but my body reminded me. After all, as one trauma expert claims “The Body Keeps the Score.” I acknowledge my experience isn’t even remotely at the worst end of the spectrum. This scares me, because if the pain I feel is this debilitating, how do others cope?
I understand that I just unloaded a lot. My brief exhale is over, thank you for sticking with me. Now let me take a deep breath in and share something positive.
I wanted to share this small piece of myself in hopes that others may find the strength to do so too. Addressing our trauma is not easy, it requires safe spaces and support. Enter the power of community. In some ways, this is now a love letter to our community. I have found my family here. I am forever grateful for the strength, beauty and love of my queer and ally peers. This is what fuels me. When that lingering voice of self-hatred inside me says something negative, I only need to look around me, to reach out a hand and feel the strength of all forms of queer love. I hope others may find this same sense of comfort.
We are all nervous about entering the world and reliving fear about our identity. This is especially true when we picture a legal profession that has largely lacked meaningful queer representation. This is why it is important we start building community now, where we can. I think of queer youth who deserve to dream themselves into any life path. I think often of those who have not yet found the space to come into their identity, and those that never did. I envision a world that is free of this pain. This is no doubt a world that will require deeply painful work to create. I ask that we engage in this work together, lifting each other up as we go.