Content warning: The following story tells of a survivor's experience of what it was like to come out as a queer human being, the story contains references to homophobic bullying, which may be triggering for some readers.
"Fast Forward (a poem)," Steph Saindon-Kaneen
A four letter word that allowed you to take me to a place of unchartered waters, a place that goes deep to the roots of myself that I’ve polished and maintained to create a barrier of steel from people like you.
I wanted to stop, grip and rip the seat that embodied me, in order to find the source of your resentment and hate. Don’t you understand four letter words like that cause our nation to divide against our very pledge to no longer live in fear of discrimination amongst others.
Through all of the triumphs and achievements and giant strides towards equality you stopped the forward movement--pushed rewind and took me back to reality, the reality that is apparent we, as humankind, still have a poor lack of acceptance and value for people from different walks of life.
Your rage brought in the topic of God, throwing the word sin into play. If I might go out on a limb, wouldn’t you say the bible is a book about God? Since when did the Bible become a book about Human Sexuality? Last I checked, the Bible was a story about God’s love for the world and his people. Since when did this come down to condemning me for the person I’ve grown to embrace, aren’t we all supposed to ‘love your neighbor as thyself?’
But for two minutes and forty-six seconds I allowed you to take me to a state of vulnerability and helplessness that landed me with a burden of oppression on my shoulders weighing me down like heavy books in a backpack running me deep into the ground. I had to dig out of the hole you placed me in, much hard and much deeper.
But thank you--thank you for allowing me to realize how strong I truly am. The strength that isn’t embedded in heart muscles, but deeper in the heart that allows the mind to take the driver’s seat.
I guess I just had to give a little to feel a little.
Next time you use four letters to describe me how about making them about LOVE, instead of letting your intuitions take you to the place that hate is the only meaning you’ve become acquainted with, because while you’ve become close to hate, I’ve had to experience it through the four letters you used to describe me D-Y-K-E.
And just for your reference, I don’t blur the boundaries between masculinity and femininity, I constructed my own fucking lines. I define my own labels as a resilient, independent, GAY non-conforming individual who poses a challenge to society's standards of gender and sexuality.
Why don’t you practice your 1st amendment somewhere else, somewhere where hate doesn’t wrap its fingers around that nasty term, that I didn’t quite mind until you used it to belittle--scar--and oppress me, but then again, you just reminded me that I wasn’t living in reality, I was still in fast-forward.
I was a Resident Assistant my senior year in college. I was on duty rounds when I came across a fellow RA’s room that was on my staff--I heard what sounded like a loud party going on. We were a dry campus, and all alcohol was strictly against policy regardless of age. Upon approaching the room it became apparent that my fellow RA wasn’t in town and this was just their roommate throwing a party for their partner. Their partner, who happens to also be an RA in another hall on campus, also enforces these policies in their own hall.
Upon approaching this situation, the roommate and other RA were attempting to get myself and another RA to turn our backs and forget this ever happened. The other RA kept saying, “this is her 21st birthday, please we are just headed off campus.” We absolutely couldn’t pretend this didn’t happen, we had ethics and a job to do. After documenting the room, they left the room, enraged.
Moments later, from that RA’s phone number I began receiving text message after text message with large paragraphs expressing their hate for me and my “lifestyle”. I honestly feared for my life. I was afraid to go to sleep, because this person knew where I lived and they were repeatedly calling me a dyke, telling me I was going to rot in hell, I am the ultimate sinner, etc.
It was apparent that this hate stemmed from something much deeper. Only the next day did I get told that someone who was also in the room, a friend of the two, took the prior RA’s phone and wrote me these hateful paragraphs that forever altered how I felt about being Queer. That didn’t matter--I don’t care who wrote it, it was written and it was deeply hurtful. This was the first instance where I truly realized that I was seen as “less than” to cisgendered/heterosexual folks.
Prior to that day, I was just Steph, who had a girlfriend and dressed masculine. It didn’t define me, but now, since that day, I allow it to define me. I am proud of who I am. I don’t fit the “norm” and now I seek opportunities where I can defy societal norms with my gender and sexuality. I have a beautiful wife, a career I’ve found profound purpose in, and an identity that I define. Although I am still figuring out who I am and what it means to be Queer, I have so much support and I have learned to embrace the journey I’m on.
“Fast Forward” is the product of those weeks to follow this incident. My best friend, and fellow poet, always encouraged me to put my thoughts, tears and fears into writing. As my oppressor sat in the audience, I was able to spew my truth to him at the next Poetry Slam after the incident. It was there that I understood what it meant to be vulnerable and sit in your truth.
I’ve learned that the best pieces come from the heart and looking back on this piece, it was the purest form of the hearts hurt and words.
About the art:
This painting was inspired by Steph's story about Love vs Hate. The heart balloon in the painting represents how love rises above all else. Love is freeing and uplifting.
The rainbow in the background is tied to her queer identity and softly fades from color to color (instead of hard lines between each color) because sexual identity is not a hard line one way or the other. The quote is inspired by her message of "hope."
Steph shared with me that the word "hope" is very prevalent in her life and she thinks of it in every aspect of survival.