On Queerness & Empathy

Photo by Francesca Smith.

There comes an inevitable moment when others will treat your differences like a jacket, as if it can be taken from your back and worn by others who have not lived with the real weight of it.

On my lunch break, I sat a table away as four men with camo themed articles of clothing discussed homosexuality; what it meant, what defines it. I fidgeted with my fake gold cuff and tucked my painted nails into my palm.

It took fourteen years to say I was gay, but twenty to say I was queer. I first refused to acknowledge my sexual desire for men, then in a pursuit of normalcy, I refused to acknowledge that that desire made me fundamentally different.

Not getting that haircut, not wearing that outfit at that time of night in this neighborhood. Looking at a picture frame, a television screen, a billboard hoping to see your difference, only to realize that when you do, you are equally disgusted.

But I’ve felt the loneliness of sitting in a chair in a room full of people who live a different reality than you. The way your throat closes as people you care about compartmentalize your feelings. To have the way you live challenged, theorized, and dictated on by those who don’t experience your reality. To try and explain it only to have your experience re-appropriated.

Everyone has a difference (sometimes more than one) that sets them apart. Some are bigger, some are more visible than others, but each is singular. Therefore when someone is sharing the truth of their difference I remember how mine can ache, and I do not try and guess the reasons for or redefine their ache in terms I can understand — I shut the fuck up, I listen, and I take them at their word.

*** originally published at SIDE II.

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