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, as well as the Orlando gay nightclub shooting, which may be triggering for some readers.
“I am in Mourning,” Anonymous
Note: All survivors who reach out to The Art of Survival are given the option to remain anonymous in sharing their story. Any specific details about the survivor are shared at their discretion, and not the creators of the page.
The first time I came out was over a decade ago. As a scared, confused 13 year old, I told my mother I was bisexual, and that I’m sorry if this information hurt her. My mother rounded on me, anger in her eyes, and told me that I was stupid to even think that and that she raised me to know that she loved me, no matter what. Since then I have come out as gay, as queer, as trans*-adjacent and genderqueer. The language I use to describe my identities has shifted over the years as I have learned more about myself, the world around me, and I want those two ideas to interact.
Most people know about my queer identity, very few know about my genderqueer identity. I am privileged in that I often have the opportunity for my gender expression to be consistent with the sex I was assigned at birth. I have no desire to engage in any sort of medical transition at this time, and most often I am comfortable wearing “masculine” clothing and artifacts. However, there are still plenty of times that I find myself checking my mannerisms, the way I talk, or the way I present myself physically to dilute the femininity that I sometimes long to express.
When I do take up space and talk about this with trusted friends, family, and colleagues, I am often told, “you do you.” Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Most often I am given these “sagely” words of advice from people who will never know what it means to fear for your safety simply because of who you are. These people will never know the anxiety of secretly touching your partner’s hand on the bus because you are both being called, “faggots,” by drunk college students and have no idea whether their words will turn into physical violence. These people will never know what it is like to have their own father ask them, “Why are you walking like a sissy?” as he gives you a look of obvious disdain. I love these people, I know that they support me and will continue to do so, but there is so much they will never know.
That being said, I am well aware of the limits of my own understanding.
As a white person, I will never know what it is to experience the pain and burden of racism. As someone with cis-passing privilege, I have the ability to choose what individuals and spaces I present my full self to. I do have a disability, but one that is invisible and I only have to disclose when I choose. In light of the recent attack on Latinx LGBTQ+ individuals in Orlando, Florida, I am feeling the intersectionality of my identities in a whole new way.
Right now, I am in mourning. I mourn for my LGBTQ+ siblings that were taken far too soon. I mourn for the fact that their Latinx identities have been taken from them and whitewashed by the media time and time again. I mourn for the families, friends, and communities that will never be the same.
I am also angry. I am angry that the institution I work at has remained silent about this issue. I am angry that people I know, friends and family members, have tried to tell me that this was not a hate crime, or that it was not an attack on queer and trans* communities. I am angry that people continue to refer to this as a “senseless” tragedy, as if they cannot fathom what could have led to this. I am angry that we continue to let hegemonic masculinity dictate that a man’s only emotional response should be anger, that we continue to normalize hate, and that we continue to perpetuate violence against marginalized communities in this country.
As a solution-oriented person, I have wracked my brain trying to think of what I would like others to take away from my words. The following are only a few things I would like to see, and will be working towards myself:
1. Be curious. I genuinely believe that getting to know others creates capacity for empathy. Additionally, curiosity is the catalyst to growth. Question everything you know. Question how you know it. Question the questions you are questioning. Never stop.
2. Call in. Sometimes a teachable moment is just that, and approaching someone with kindness and compassion will make a much more lasting impact than with force.
3. Call out. Sometimes kindness and compassion won’t work and calling that person/action is necessary. By calling that individual or behavior out, you are still creating change, be it momentary or lasting. Someone will appreciate it.
4. Make space. So many people never get a chance to share their story. Make room for them to do so. Chances are that when you need it, someone will do the same for you.
5. Embrace your unfinishedness. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for this one. My professor and mentor in graduate school constantly said this to me. There is always more to learn, and that is OK. Embracing unfinishedness also means taking responsibility for your own learning.
6. Allow for others to be unfinished as well. Just as you are on a journey, so is everyone around you.
7. Live bravely. This can be one of the most difficult tasks in life. For so many of us, and for so many reasons, simply existing is a challenge.
8. Love freely. Above all else, I think we could change this world with a little bit more love. What that looks like may be different depending on the relationship or circumstances, but please practice love.
About the art:
In emails with this survivor, after reading his story, and getting a sense of his perspective and message to others, all he asked was that I create a piece that evoked peace, kindness, and compassion. I decided to paint the image of a cairn on a beach.
Traditionally, a cairn is a stacked pile of stones built as a memorial or landmark.
So, as a memorial to those who died in the Orlando shooting, as a reminder to all, and as a symbol to represent peace and hope for this survivor, I painted this cairn with the addition of the quote, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”