Following a heated argument with my mother, I've decided to write a series of letters to her about my experience as a queer individual. If, or when, I choose to give them to her, I hope to resolve some of the disputes we've had over sexuality, gender, and identity, while fostering honest communication.
This letter is one of four. It's an introduction where I try to explain to my mother why I am the way I am, explaining larger concepts like heteronormativity and how they affected me as a young teenager, and continue to affect me today. It's got a lot of academic jargon - sorry. I promise the rest won't be like that, and won't be as long. And it's got
The second will relate the events recorded on an earlier Oasis account ('Magic Fantastic', for those who might still remember): coming out, what I now know to be sexual abuse, and its aftermath. The third letter is about summer 2012, the rave scene, pretending to belong. The fourth letter will be about my current relationship, overcoming addiction.
This is also a writing project specifically for Oasis. With the site closing later this year, I wanted to, at least once, give a full, honest, self-reflexive overview of my late teens and first year of twenty-dom which I've been sharing on this website, because I shared everything through (mostly bad) metaphors, and I feel like I owe it to you guys for all the support and confidence you all gave me in myself and my writing.
After these four texts, I'm going to leave with a last text about Oasis and why it's been important to me.. and maybe write a little bit about my friendship with Jeff, if he's okay with it, because I never shared anything on here about it, and he's been really important in my life. After that, I guess we'll all be 'leaving Oasis' for the last time... ;)
I'm writing to you today in order to explain some of the realities that I've been confronted with so far in my very young life. I'm only able to truly do this now, as I only now have the vocabulary and eloquence to express myself. A vocabulary to which I owe to you and my father for going through the painstaking task of providing me with an excellent education, which I will forever be thankful for. Likewise, I recognize that I was born into privilege, as white, middle-class, and biologically male. I cannot stress enough that this letter is not written to hurt or harm you - only to provide an understanding of a reality which transcends my own subjective position.
My sexuality - and if you're wondering, I prefer 'queer' as a term nowadays - has been the single-most determining aspect of my life. Without it, I would never call into question the heteronormative system, to use a wordy term. Without it, I would also never call into question other systems of oppression - capitalism, the patriarchy... the list goes on. In any case, this first letter is really about trying to explain how these things work, why they affect me, and how they did from a young age.
The position of a young, queer teenager is a difficult one. It's a time where I began to understand social realities - who fits into them, and who doesn't, how this affects them, and who comes out on top. At this point, a teenager quickly realizes the social bias towards men, wealth, whiteness, and - you've guessed it - heterosexuality. The distinction between sexuality and these other cultural factors is that sexuality is disclosed, and therefore involves choice. You can choose to keep it a secret, although this, of course, means lying to everyone, including your own self.
Have you ever had a time in your life where you lied to absolutely everyone around you? If not, as I'm sure you know, when you lie, it doesn't feel good. It's a tremendous amount of guilt to carry around all the time. So in a time in your life where you're supposed to be figuring yourself out, all you're putting out is deception. It takes a while before you realize the importance of self-determination, before you "come out of the closet" (to use the tired metaphor), and it's truly the greatest liberation I've experienced in my life.
At the same time, it comes with certain realizations. For one, the traditional temporal markers of a life in the Western world - birth, marriage, procreation, death - are no longer relevant. This was both a liberation from conventions for me, but also delineated my life as an intermittence segmented by life and death alone. Lack of positive queer representation at this time in my life reinforced this: the history of 'my' people is defined by the HIV/AIDS crisis, teen suicide rates, high prevalence of drug use, illegality of same-sex union, and near-impossibility of adoption for same-sex couples (and as an aspiring historian, I hope to redefine this temporality for future generations). Lack of positive representation also meant, for my teenage self, that I would always be a freak, and might always be unlovable (and catholic school didn't help at that particular moment in time, although, again, I am forever thankful for every opportunity). I can honestly say it was nineteen before I had the courage to determine myself otherwise.
The second realization I had is that I would never, ever fucking again put myself in a position where I had to deceive myself and others about who I was. My mission statement as a human being became to never compromise my own agency - my ability to make decisions independently from social conventions, institutions, or bodies of knowledge (and now, I include others in this 'mission statement'). I've figured out, so far, that visibility is a key way to enable agency, for myself and others. Visibility, for me, means being outspoken, without compromise, in identifying systems of power that limit agency, dismantling them, and figuring out new ways to do things, or encouraging others to do so. Further, claims to visibility in public space are also claims to political power, as exemplified by women's civil rights movements who took the cause to the streets. Even in my teenage years, I could recognize that simply being in a same-sex relationship in public, or dressing outside of gender binaries, had a political implication, although I didn't have the vocabulary to express that adequately.
But I do now, and so I want you to consider a conversation we had recently as an aside. To summarize, I was relating that I had been called a faggot on my way home, and your response was that if I did not present myself the way I do, I wouldn't have this issue. This is not the first time you have made comments such as these, and I understand that you do not intend them to be homophobic - but they are. These comments expect of me to live a tiny lie, to return into a little kind of "closet", to conform to a way of being which oppressed me. More than a denial of self-expression, it denies a social, cultural, and political reality that affects me and millions of people around the world every single day. Maybe it even denies someone else, who is maybe a young, questioning individual as I once was, a representation of the plurality of gender and sexuality.
Consider that my body - the queer body - is a battleground, and my inherent human right to do what I want with it, with whomever as long as they're consenting, is the subject of policy and debate around the world. If I don't use this right, and don't make it visible, there are those who can - and would - take it away from me, and from others who share my lived experience. That includes dressing outside of gender binaries, because I do also express my gender as queer, undetermined, or androgynous (reminder: gender is not the same as biological sex). On your end, you can choose to frame your inherently comment as a mere aesthetic preference, and you can also choose to ignore that your aesthetic preference perpetuates this heteronormative system that I've been talking about, and you can even choose to ignore isn't really necessarily your own aesthetic preference, only the one you've been conditioned to believe is "proper" in a classist, patriarchal system.
What I'm really trying to say, to cut out all the jargon, is that when stuff like that is said... to me, that voice is always on the side of whatever made me feel like I'd never fit in, never have a future, or never be loved. And ultimately, it's a part of something so much bigger than you and I, and it's a part of something I know should be taken down.