The Word I Still Have Trouble Hearing
I can’t help it.
I sat there, a drink in my hand and a smile. Internally, my stomach dropped and my heart sank a bit.
Growing up as a young, fairly effeminate male was always a challenge. I was taught from childhood to deepen my own voice, watch my hand gestures and show interest in traditional masculine activities.
I remember the days I sat at soccer practice, counting down the hours until I could go home and dance in my room. Or the hours I spent looking at my watch in gym class until I could finally head off to my figure skating lessons. Each day, something stung. A comment on my body or a push from another boy.
God, grade school was a nightmare.
As time went on,
I grew into my body and my gender expression. Became more comfortable with my own masculine and feminine energies. Early in college I realized that I could be as authentically me as I wanted to be. Nobody really seemed to care. Especially as a white, middle-class cis-gendered male at a liberal arts college.
That last sentence might make you groan, but liberal arts colleges, despite their faults, are safe havens for so many members of the LGBTQ community.
Mine was a second home. Loving. Safe.
And absolutely freeing.
Regardless, here I am at this social gathering the other day.
And for whatever reason, in the least offensive way possible, someone dropped the word “gay”
All of this work. My time, energy and inclusiveness I preach and live by every day disintegrated. For the next hour I kept shaking off the feeling, wondering why I felt this way.
It took me a few days of thinking and reading posts by Trans folk on Medium to realize my own lingering internalized homophobia. How years of hiding myself from my family has conditioned me to jump at the very sound of the word.
There was so much I didn’t realize.
I didn’t realize how much my childhood stuck.
I didn’t realize how much I was taught to hate my own femininity.
I didn’t realize how much I still beat myself up.
I didn’t realize how much it impacted my sexual preferences.
I didn’t realize how much internal judgement I hold onto.
For you darling Allies
I think you’re a critical part of this conversation. We need allies who understand and accept gender expressions in all forms. It’s critical to empower our youth so they can express their authentic selves.
The damaging effects of my upbringing still rear their ugly head. I hope to one day raise children who are free to explore themselves without boundaries set by their parents. I want them to play with the toys, colors or kids they feel most comfortable with.
I can’t let them feel like I felt.
I know why these things happened.
But as an adult, it brings a whole other world of emotions. There’s mental work I do every day to break down the rigid gender expectations all around me.
Self-acceptance has become one of my biggest passions.
It’s something I try to bring to my cousins.
It’s something I try to bring to the world.
But more importantly,
It’s something I bring to myself.