Pride Month Blogathon: Day 11 – Introduction to Pride Month Blogathon
When I’m asked what it’s like being a queer teen in today’s age I kind of want to counter with: “Well, what’s it like having two eyes and a nose?” You know, something snarky and light-hearted that makes it clear queerness is perfectly normal without having to go too much into my own experience. It’s something I’ve always shied away from; sometimes I can’t find any words and other times there aren’t enough words in the world for me to even begin to explain. But, hey, here goes nothing.
Unfortunately, we’re pretty much all familiar with varying degrees of homophobia and often when it surfaces people’s first instinct is to say something along the lines of ‘It’s 2017.’ Which is supposed to mean blatant homophobia is a thing of the past and perhaps to the average, young, privileged, white American it is. A lot of them can, at least, have some small shred of hope that their loved ones won’t disown them if they ever knew the truth. That their grandmas could knit them pride sweaters and rainbow blankets. That they could truly be free.
But I’m not that average, young, privileged, white American.
My culture is very homophobic, my parents are as anti-gay as you can get, and I was raised with an extremely conservative interpretation of Islam. You couldn’t even imagine the amount of ingrained homophobia I had to battle growing up, and still grapple with today; it’s the reason why my instant reaction to queer couples kissing is to look away and I almost always hesitate when picking up queer books. In discussions about queerness, the impact of race, ethnicity, and (non-Christian) faith is often ignored as most people only look at queer identity through a white and/or Christian lens. This alienates the significant portion of the gay community that – like me – exist outside of that bubble and only serves to further marginalise us within our marginalisation as our experiences aren’t reflected anywhere and so we have no one to relate to.
I felt like I had nowhere to turn to and the weight of my own self-loathing was almost unbearable at times (and would completely demolish any tall, dark, and handsome brooding YA hero’s, can I just say) but the journey of self-acceptance is a long and torturous one. At least, for me it is. There aren’t just bumps – God, what I would’ve given for simple bumps – there are gaping pot holes you feel like you’ll never get past and quick-sand that damn near swallows you whole before you manage to escape its grasp. And at each turn and every pot hole, you have to choose yourself and force your legs to push on.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds, believe me.
I think I’m doing good now, though. I started university last September and almost mustered the courage to sign up for the LGBT society, albeit I took three steps in the general direction of their stand before making a giant U-turn back in the direction I came, it’s still progress to me. That’s three steps more than I would’ve taken a few months before that. I know I’m nowhere near done with my personal journey (I have eighteen years of Sodom and Gomorrah lectures and divine smiting of the wicked imagery to thank for that) but I’ve developed my own interpretation of my faith with a kinder, loving God and He’s with me every step of the way. I can now say that I’m bisexual with a new-found confidence and that’s progress. It’s okay to take a little longer than others when it comes to accepting who you are.
We all have our own struggles.
If you’d have asked me two years ago about my sexuality, I would’ve lied. Default-straightness was all I knew back then. It was my shield, protecting me from having to accept a part of myself I wasn’t ready for while poisoning me slowly with every lie I had to tell to keep it up. It was only until I found the online YA community and saw all the wonderful queer people who were open and educational that I understood that not being straight wasn’t something to be ashamed of. I’m grateful to so many people who’ll never know how much they did for me simply by existing. Living an openly queer life is a revolutionary act and, my God, am I thankful there are so many that dare to do so.
I learn new things about myself and others all the time because of all these amazing people and I’m better for it. I’ve known for a while that I exist in the intersection of a Venn diagram with many rings: my sexuality, romantic orientation, race, religion, gender, and mental illnesses. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that if there were ever a character like me in a book, she’d be called check-box diversity by a certain loud minority within the community and that sucks. While I’m well aware that every single one of my rings is despised by someone somewhere in the world and they bleed so much into one another it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins – they’re mine and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
There’s a poem I like to read often when I feel my foundations beginning to crumble called Invictus by William Ernest Henley; Nelson Mandela once said it helped get him through his twenty-seven-year prison sentence in the movie about his life, also called Invictus. I watched it years ago and the poem has stuck with me ever since. It reads:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
The last two lines are my personal favourites and I repeat them to myself when my anxiety is too loud to handle and my depression is too heavy to bear. That’s the thing about words, you see. Within their array of curved letters and strings of soft and plosive syllables, they hold the power to destroy as well as the power to fortify and strengthen. I think it’s an almost poetic juxtaposition.
Sometimes it feels as though all the different parts that make me who I am are at war and I have to decide where I stand and pledge allegiance to one or the other. Other times, I feel like a fraud, that I’m not and will never be enough to lay claim to any of my identities, and what I thought were sturdy cogs and screws keeping me together become paper-thin and feather-light, I swear I try my hardest to keep it together, but it doesn’t always work. That’s okay, I realise. You don’t always have to be strong and keep a stiff upper lip when everything is on fire and there’s no water or extinguisher in sight. We all have our own ways of dealing with things and mine is this poem, it keeps me afloat on my worst of days and for that I’m thankful.
I guess my hope for the future with regards to books is that YA writers use their words to fortify and strengthen rather than to – knowingly or unknowingly – destroy. Saying things like a character is ‘too diverse’ or that there is ‘forced diversity’ in a book is one of the most destructive things an author can say as regardless of what your personal opinion is, intersections are real and vital in understanding who we are as people, and while you may have none or only a few, there are others who have so many they lose count and they are equally deserving of representation. I also hope that YA writers keep the kids they’re writing for at the forefront of their minds when doing so since a lot of people seem to be forgetting who their audience is nowadays. We make up the bulk of your readership and to see some of you sneering at us from the insurmountable walls of your own self-importance and arrogance isn’t doing you any favours. We see you.
To my fellow teens out there who are afraid and questioning their identities, I would say that whatever the label that fits you, or even if no label fits you, it’s okay. You’re perfectly fine just the way you are and I hope you get every single good thing life has to offer you because you deserve every star in the freaking cosmos.
You are the master of your fate and the captain of your soul.