This piece comes with a trigger warning for suicide/death of LGBT youth, hate crimes/violence (that result in death), homophobia, and general mental health talk. This piece was not edited or proofread in order to keep it as raw as it came out of me.
This one is for all the kids who, like me, at the ripe old age of ten, had to figure out how to download Queer as Folk onto their family computer without their parents noticing, even if it was in a quality that looked like it had been shot through a potato moreso than a camera lens and had Mandarin subtitles that took up half the screen.
This one is for the ones who have that weird crush that they think is ‘just jealousy’ on the girl they carpool with, because she is objectively pretty, right, but you also have a crush on the guy who plays guitar in your homeroom and that has to mean you’re straight, right?
And it’s for those who hide that revelation that comes sometime in your teen years that maybe, just maybe, your dad won’t walk you down the aisle, because you maybe, just maybe, will fall in love with someone who is the same gender as you are, and you give up on that dream, you watch that future with the family you were supposed to have die.
This is for those who start the fight young, and those who start the fight old, and those who are just starting the fight, and those ready to tap out of the ring.
And this one, as much as I will embarrass myself typing this, is for Hale Appleman.
I know that hope in your chest that crackles into life every time someone gently prods it, a starved fire begging for the fuel to continue, just warm enough to keep you going. I know that fear that tries to put it out every single damn day. I know that it has survived rain, and thunderstorms, and tsunamis, and on days when the sun is out and the grass is dry, it soars higher and higher. I know that those days feel few and far between.
I know what it’s like when that notification hits your phone and time stops on the MTA and you feel the light leave the earth even though it’s midday. I know that every time you hear the words a teen was found dead from an apparent suicide you can hear your name at the end of the sentence, because it’s almost been there a million times.
I know that the stories you have been told have never been hopeful, and those that have so infrequently that you often feel as if they feverishly never happened. I know of all the stories that have been erased, taken from you; I know how history has written you out of its books and its people. I know how you have been made to be taboo, and unholy, and unclean.
I know that you have been taught that death is a close friend. That diseases are our plagues, that suicide is our fate, that when we are tied to fence posts and left for dead it is never the person securing the knot that’s at fault. I know it waits around corners for you, raises its eyebrow when your fingers find themselves holding the hands of another woman, waits for the wrong person to show up at the right time.
I know that the stories we tell say that, too.
I know that our happiness is thought of as an exception. I know that we are still, to this day, given scraps of it and told that we are feasting. I know the generations of our siblings that have starved, that have died, that have thrown bricks and fists and scattered their lovers’ ashes on the White House lawn, who would have been stunned to see what we have, and yet still, still, know it is not enough. I know of the survivors who had to wait until they were in their elderly years to marry the person they had loved since they were young.
I know that we are often a fodder for someone else’s development. I know that we are side characters, even sometimes within our own stories. I know that people deny our existence because they don’t want us to exist.
I know that, when we see ourselves in media, we often are wont to cling to what little we get, because we are so used to getting nothing. I know what it’s like to watch a German soap opera just because there’s a gay couple on there and there aren’t any on your TV. I know what it’s like to cling to a character that only appears in two episodes because they are the only one who is explicitly coded as non-heterosexual.
And I know what it’s like when the only stories they want to tell about us are the ones in which we suffer. When the only stories we ever get to see are the ones in which we die, in which we lose the love we fight for every day, in which we hurt and cry and scream because our pain is real life for “people like us”, as if we don’t live those stories every single time we see one of our own lose the fight.
Today, my therapist told me about mirror neurons. They are a part of our brain that is only active when we see and are seen by other people.
As with all brain science, there are conflicting views, theories, and discussions as to what the functionality of these neurons is.
But the reason my therapist told me about them was because I kept looking away, closing my eyes, looking down when talking about things that make me feel vulnerable. I did it when I told him I hadn’t eaten in three days; I did it because I was crying my eyes out, run ragged, exhausted to the bone, because I had just saw someone else like me lose the fight, and another person like me that I love so dearly lose the potential for love in spite of trauma.
He told me about them because they produce empathy. When you look at another person, and another person looks at you, you allow yourself to accept their emotions and, in turn, give your own over. In this way, breaking up via text message is intrinsically easier (if not more morally, for lack of a better term, stupid) than doing it in person, because you don’t have to give yourself over to that vulnerability. It’s why executioners are often not in the room of death row patients during their final moments.
But that empathy isn’t just produced for the other person. It allows you to give yourself compassion, too.
When we see ourselves in other people — when we look at people who look like us, who feel like us, who talk like us — and we relate to them, and we feel them looking back, our feelings of fondness and passion and affection for them reflect back onto us. We mirror that kindness we have for other people like us onto ourselves.
And, in that way, we are in danger of mirroring those negative messages onto ourselves, too.
We’ve had this mirror up to ourselves for a long time, haven’t we? The one that shows us our pain, the one that shows us our death, the one that shows us losing love and losing friends and losing family over and over again. Even the mirrors that seem pretty, that give us hope, have taken from us. Even the ones that show us surviving often don’t show us surviving with hope.
I want to be able to say that there is a day when the mirrors we line our walls with aren’t cracked and broken. I want to be able to say there is a day where we get to tell stories of people like us and we don’t have to end them in tragedy. I want to be able to say that our happiness won’t be a surprise, that our survival won’t be a twist, that our love won’t have an asterisk at the end of it.
I don’t know that.
But here is my mirror. Here is my love. Here is my life, my work.
Here is what I have survived. Here is what I live with. Here is my truth.
And here is what I know of you.
I know you love and you love fiercely and the love you have is as unique as your DNA. I know that the world is better off for your specific type of love. I know that the world spins a little gentler because you are in it.
I know that the fight is long, and it is harsh, and it is tiring. I know what it’s like to want to put down the fight, because most of the time, it feels like a losing battle. I know that you see those battles lost and feel the statistics piling up against you and I know that you sometimes believe that even the biggest of victories are not enough to weather the storm.
But I know that you fight alongside heroes. You fight alongside centuries of people who were fighting for you long before that fire got passed to you. You fight alongside the Sacred Band of Thebes. You fight alongside Wilde, and Lorde (Audre, but the singer works, too), and Haring, and Johnson. You fight alongside those who learned how to kiss in private, those who dared to kiss in public, those who never got the opportunity to kiss at all. You fight alongside the tortured, and the imprisoned, and the beaten, and the condemned.
And you fight with me.
I know that the world is unrelenting in its pursuit of proving our own mortality to us. I know that life sometimes feels like something we don’t get to live. I know of lost childhoods, and scared adulthoods, and those who don’t make it past the first into the second.
But I know that our stories aren’t over.
I know that we don’t get to tell the ones that end happily all the time. I know that we don’t get to see them that often, either.
But this is what I know, more than anything.
I know that does not, and can not, mean that we don’t deserve them.
I know that you deserve them.
I know that you deserve them.
I know that you deserve them.
So. Hey, you.
I’m a tiny mirror, probably a bit broken, not that pretty. But I’m holding up this sign, and I hope you can read it.
I want you to have that happy ending.
All my love.