My Life, Newly Queer
At the outset of this school year, I would have never thought to draw a correlation between my mental health and my sexuality. Those two elements seemed mostly unrelated, and it wasn’t until I began to seek solutions with regards to mental illness that I was able to make the connection. The two, unfortunately, are very often related, and this is due to the developmental trauma that those who are queer experience, sometimes unknowingly.
Though many books, essays, and articles have been written on this subject, I imagine that many queer youth share in my experience of not having proper access or guidance to this information. This means that many grow up in the dark, without the knowledge required to situate themselves in a social or historical context, which can be damaging if you are trying to construct a complete understanding of self. I’m sure that for most of us, identifying and understanding sexuality and gender is an ever-evolving process of discovery and re-discovery, which is what makes it both challenging and beautiful. The problem being that with regards to our systems of education and social support, this process is most times carried out alone and in many cases secretly.
That’s exactly where I found myself, in a state of inner turmoil, without any sort of a lifeline to grab onto. It took many months and a lot of reflection to align myself with any sort of concrete identity, and even now I have moments of doubt and difficulty involving the person I present to the world. It takes strength to be yourself unabashedly, in whatever circumstance you’re in, and this is what I was ultimately afraid to do. I had to realize that it was internalized homophobia that kept me from presenting as anything other than masculine, and it also has led me to see how courageous you are if you have only ever worn the skin that is truly yours. Equally courageous are those who join or rely on whatever form of queer community they take solidarity with, despite the fact that many of those communities usually impose the problems of any group; in addition to the suppression and self-destructive behavior which many gay men have to deal with as a consequence of a complicated childhood and adolescence.
It wasn’t until I was 18 that I began expressing my sexuality outwardly and semi-publicly, and it took me until 20 to really be comfortable with intimacy and accepting my sexuality as a fundamental part of who I am. In fact, this past year I made a film in my second year productions program, involving two closeted high school students who engage in an intimacy but aren’t able to pursue a relationship due to perceived social influences and the pressure to maintain their masculinity. This is close to the experience that I had growing up, and I assume that I’m not the only one.
What can be equally problematic however, are the identity politics and superficial fixations that await you once you do decide to take the brave step and come out. As a closeted youth, I felt insecure about Pride because I didn’t feel like I fit the version of gay that I had idealized in my mind, and there weren’t as many alternatives as there are now, which offer less commercialized representations of the gay community.
I think as gay men we often get caught up with appearance, which is very difficult to avoid in a culture that is becoming progressively more image based. Outward appearance and style can be a phenomenal tool in expressing one’s personality and identity, the trick however is finding a balance between developing an inner and outer self, because I know in my heart that being queer is about so much more than what we present on the surface.
These, among others, were the discoveries that I made which allowed me to understand myself in a context and also understand that there weren’t a prescribed set of principles that I had to adhere to in order to be gay. Although I still struggle with my mental health, I can confidently say that I have taken steps to separate my sexuality from this struggle by continually trying to be accepting and prideful towards myself and my community.
As a concept, queer is about antiquating gender norms, and subverting any cultural constructs that are prejudicial or outdated. It is an invitation to anyone, whether you are queer or straight, cis or femme-identifying, to question and reform any political, cultural, or social ideology that is phobic or exclusive towards any demographic. This includes gay men or queer women who may be trans-exclusionary or ableist. Everyone should subject themselves to skepticism because we all have the ability to grow. This is what I offer to any queer youth who is struggling. Don’t worry about conforming to any preordained ideas about what it means to be gay or queer. It is your time, and you have the chance to be an originator of your own style and express yourself in a way that is unique to you. This doesn’t only mean expressing yourself as masculine or feminine, which are going out of fashion anyway, but understanding that there is something within you that remains in opposition to the mainstream consciousness that is predominantly heterosexist (although hopefully this won’t be the case forever), and that is both the curse and the blessing that you are given to run with.