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Nov 6, 2008

Moving Forward

I received a comment on my last post- someone I hadn't heard from before and while I don't always respond to each commenter I do read and appreciate them.

I took a visit to Erika's blog and stumbled on this piece. This isn't it in its entirety. I edited some of her more personal details out- I asked her permission to post her words here- but please take a visit to her blog. Be Gay About It Her eloquence is wonderful.

These words resonated for me. They speak of an experience that some of us have gone through in a remarkably similar way. Enjoy the read.

"I made it through my primary and secondary school years like every other normal girl, chasing boys on the playground, even “going out” with them in the milk line or cafeteria. In high school, I continued to crush outwardly on boys, but I invested every atom of my being into adoring my best friend. At the height of this adoration, I raised over $2,000 so that she could go to opera camp in California. It was in high school that the something small & heavy returned to the pit of my stomach, this time with a throatier growl.

In college, my high school best friend and I grew apart. (More likely, I scared her away with my intense, quasi courting rituals.) Enter: new best friend. My new best friend was different than anyone I’d ever known. Her outsides were beef jerky and her insides were marshmallow. We spent a lot of time together and, before long, our symbiotic bond had me quoting Rilke. What I didn’t realize at the time was that once one reaches the point where she can articulate her feelings only by reciting the verse of a dead, German, existentialist poet, she’s pretty much in love with a girl.

The plotline we shared surged and died abruptly and she and I stopped communicating altogether. The troll in my gut flailed and moaned. Left alone to collect the shards of our story, I tried to confront the troll once and for all. I bought a stack of gay-themed books, thinking I could negotiate with shame. After a month, though, I picked up the books and threw them into the large, green garbage can behind our house.

For the next few years, the troll remained with me, a parasite to my true self, an alter ego with a conscience. Alternately, I dated a boy, hung out at a few lesbian dinner parties (nearly vomiting at each one), dated another boy, and crushed really hard on a girl or two. I knew who I was through all of this, but I couldn’t tell myself the truth about who I was through all of this. I knew the words existed, but I would not speak them. Speaking them would’ve meant that I did not fit, that every message I had received through observations of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, through television shows, through magazine ads, through every soft rock ballad, through greeting cards — through everything — did not apply to me. I was different and, while I didn’t see anything wrong with how I was different, I knew that others did.

Ken Hardy captures my experience perfectly in his book Teens Who Hurt. He wrote “For adolescents who are in a state of questioning with regard to their sexual orientation, there is no breathing room, no space to take a deep breath and reflect. There is no margin for error. In a society that promotes heterosexuality, simply expressing doubt about one’s sexuality can be quite painful and costly.” I would extend his observation to include adults, too, as I remained shoulder to shoulder with my troll in this airless space well into my late 20s.

Because I live in a culture that promotes heterosexuality over any other sexuality, I have been marginalized my entire life. I felt butterflies for my friend who slept over in 1st grade, but I knew that expressing that would mean ridicule and isolation. I doted on my best friend in high school, but I knew that verbalizing that would have meant being ostracized by my peers. I dreamed of growing old with my best friend in college, but confessing that to her devastated our relationship and propelled me into a tailspin of self-loathing. Hardy remarked, “No matter how complex the difficulties with devaluation are for gay, lesbian, bisexual and questioning youth, a firm declaration of their heterosexuality is believed to be the best remedy.” In other words, the dominant discourse is clear:

be straight, be straight, be straight.

In my mid-20s, the stress of suppressing my authentic self stifled me. In a desperate effort to create space in my life, I moved to Denver where, while working in a law office, I became friends with one of the female attorneys and her life partner. I spent time with them and their lesbian friends and attended the neighborhood open & affirming church a few times, broadening my exposure to people like me and people who accepted people like me. I acquired a new stack of books and read them without throwing them away. Narrative after narrative resonated. Through my conversations with my new friends and through reading, my troll quieted, the shame receded. I came out to my family, then to my friends back home. Each time I divulged my truth, waves of liberated panic flushed through me.

The society in which I live–our society, this society, here and now– ignores the possibility of me, disregards the reality of me, and limits the potential of me through its government, its laws, its media, its marketed portrait of family, and its sociocultural definition of normal. Three years ago, barely out of the closet and single, I did not understand the girth of this injustice. I did not address it with the passion that I do now because, now, as my partner Jenn and I build our future together, it’s personal.

Knowing that I am precluded the basic rights, benefits, and protections granted to my heterosexual counterparts elicits in me anger and sadness. But anger and sadness are emotions I can overcome. What really haunts me about the discriminatory social infrastructure that brands me as a derelict without taking into account my personhood is the argument made by opponents to homosexuality (also known as proponents of marriage)— that I have a choice. They simplify the issue of sexual orientation by implying that if I want the same rights, benefits, and protections that my heterosexual counterparts enjoy, all I have to do is choose the orientation that will grant me those rights. But even the mere fact that they are offering me this option proves that I am disenfranchised, that I am the second class citizen. (Not to mention, as my grandmother points out, they never had to choose heterosexuality). The only real choice I am able to make within this rigid, exclusive system is whether or not to live a genuine, authentic life and this violates our Constitutional promise of freedom and equality for all."


"Each and every time I meet someone new, I come face to face with possible rejection. Even with those who accept me for who I am, including my sexual orientation, I have a hard time stifling what little remains of the troll. I wonder, Do they really accept me? or What are they thinking? or Is this another case of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’?. Over the years, I have mastered the arts of detecting nuances and bracing myself. One might argue that this is a stressful way to live; I would agree, but add that it is a necessary way to live when there is little to no recourse in preserving my safety and the security of my family.

One of my favorite musicians wrote, “There is so much to know and so little to fear in love.” This is what I believe to be truth. My greatest hope is that by speaking this truth every chance I get, I will be able to let down my guard. My greatest hope is that I will be evaluated by my personhood and citizenship, not by some mythical interpreation of what my partner and I do in our bedroom, or by superstitious beliefs about how that might impact our ability to parent, to file taxes together, or to share health insurance.

My greatest hope is that 7 year old girls and boys will not know what it feels like to be demonized.

My greatest hope is that we all will live, really live, genuine, authentic lives."

The inner troll, the crushes, the crushes on boys and girls, the attempt, the pressure to be straight, act straight, live in a straight world, be more feminine, more of a straight girl, the suppression of self, moments of panic, the idea that I have chosen this, the possibility of rejection...

And this-

"Over the years, I have mastered the arts of detecting nuances and bracing myself. One might argue that this is a stressful way to live; I would agree, but add that it is a necessary way to live when there is little to no recourse in preserving my safety and the security of my family."

These things that I imagine many straight people do not encounter. That are, perhaps, akin to the coming out experience, of identifying as queer. I don't know. I can't ever be sure because I am not straight. I can't walk in a straight person's shoes, if you will. In the same way I can't know, really know what it's like to grow up with a different skin color, or as a boy.

I can only make careful educated assumptions, inquire, wonder, read, and learn. And mostly most importantly, respect. Respect others that aren't me.

Be careful, be honest, move forward.

And Erika? Please forgive my crude editing- I wanted to let readers know that there was more to your post than what I put here- thus the "...". Your words felt healing to me today- I thank you.

1 comment:

Tracey said...

She sounds eloquent and beautiful. Thank you for posting her words so that I may go to her blog!