LGBTQ People Are Experts at Wearing Masks
Ripping them off to see ourselves? That hurts.
All us humans wear masks. We LGBTQ people are especially good at learning to don them
I think most of us wear different masks for different occasions. With our intimate friends or lovers, we may strip down closer to the skin than we do with others, but we’re never naked.
Even with ourselves and by ourselves, we hide. Only the rare human can long endure a direct, unwavering gaze at their own soul.
If you’ve read much of my writing, and if you were to then meet me at some point, I doubt you’d be very surprised. I wear my mask of impassioned storyteller almost always, online and off.
Even when I’m alone, my internal monologue is working on stories.
The personality that would surprise you is the one that even surprises me, so rarely do I ever let it out to play.
Without any masks, I’m an easily frightened, self-loathing introvert who’d love nothing more than to hide in a dark cave and never come out.
Good for me that I keep that guy very well hidden — even from myself.
LGBTQ youth learn early to lie and hide
I’ve written before about some of the process that led to the construction of my personal masks. I’ve written about internalized homophobia, about habits of shame and opacity that so many of us LGBTQ people grow up with.
I’ve written about how having to lie to everyone we love has toxic effects on us as we grow and develop. Some of us are better than others at recovering from those effects.
Some of us are very fortunate, especially young people growing up today, in that they have much less shame to internalize than queer people did in the past.
I get frustrated, however, when people, especially very many progressive people, assume that everything is just fine these days in the world of us LGBTQ folks.
Here’s an example of progressive privilege leading to myopia
Some time ago, I read a review of the film Love, Simon, penned by a popular young writer — a popular young, progressive, cisgender, straight woman who considers herself to be an LGBTQ ally. And — to be fair — she is an ally in many ways.
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Her review distressed me, though, given how it echoes sentiment I hear so often.
If you didn’t know, the film is a high school romance featuring a gay male protagonist. It’s supposed to be a sweet, gentle, romantic story.
Lots of LGBTQ teens and young adults flocked to it, delighted that Hollywood made a movie for them, made a movie specifically about them. They were delighted that it was a mainstream film playing at the local multiplex, the first of its kind.
I think mostly they were delighted because they felt acknowledged and validated. Seen and respected.
But what did our young, progressive, straight reviewer have to say about it? “Ho Hum,” is what she said. And I’m paraphrasing here, because my point is not to show her any disrespect. I don’t want people googling the text, looking her up, and getting into fights.
She essentially said that people need to start realizing that being LGBTQ isn’t a big deal and that we need to start acting like it. Stop pretending that being a gay teen is a big enough hook to hang a movie plot on.
And you know? In her insular, upper-middle-class, progressive world, that might even be true. Her gay friends really might have grown up with no significant sense of self loathing. Maybe in her milieu, being trans, bi, lesbian, or gay is just so ordinary that it’s not a burden that attracts any serious toxins.
Or maybe she just imagined that her LGBTQ friends were OK, because she was OK, and she had no pain-filled experiences to give her a frame of reference to understand other people’s lives.
Whatever her reasons, as an LGBTQ person, I can’t relate. Ordinary is outside my lived experiences and outside my world. We LGBTQ people simply aren’t ordinary. Not yet. It’s certainly the world so many of us are working for, of course.
In the world I grew up in and the world that so many queer kids continue to grow up in, being queer can really suck. It can mean our family and friends are likely to reject us. It can mean we internalize homophobia whether we want to or not.
It means we construct thick papier-mâché masks that we’re loathe to remove, even to look at our own faces in the mirror.
If we pretend otherwise, as our young film reviewer might want us to, then how do we spy out the road to healing? I don’t know. I don’t think we do spy it out.
In one of my fiction pieces, I explore this theme.
In Running Toward Hope, Luke, a 20-year-old gay man, rips his mask off very briefly and unintentionally, motivated by empathy and love.
He’s so frightened and disoriented by his naked gaze at both the world and himself that he loses track of his identity for a few moments. He finds himself flung whirling into an ego-free state that shocks and changes him.
It’s always good to remember that we’re wearing masks, to understand that we’re more than we appear to be.
Sometimes it’s good to rip our masks off and peer into our naked souls. It’s good to look closely at who we are and to tell at least ourselves the truth, to break free of the early habit of lying to the world to seek safety and security.
Even if what we see behind the mask frightens us, I think we’re better off than we’d be accepting the well meant insistence of friends and allies who would rather believe that everything is OK.
Embracing pain and trauma is the only way to get past it.
Maybe that’s why some of my friends who went to see Love, Simon ended up crying at the end. You’re not supposed to cry at happy endings, but maybe ripping off masks hurts enough to summon a few tears.