As this is my blog and I can do what I want, I’ve decided to lead off with a guest post. This comes from an older friend of mine, Susan. That’s not her name – it’s not even close to her name – but we love our Internet anonymity here, and so it will do.
I’m a lesbian. It’s easy to say now, under a pseudonym, typing to people I’ll never meet face to face, but it hasn’t always been.
I grew up in a time and place where homosexuality simply wasn’t discussed. Nobody, either in person or the media, told me it existed. If I opened up a textbook, it wasn’t mentioned. If I turned on the TV, I never saw anyone like me. There were no books I read about the kinds of relationships I wanted; no movies I saw with gay characters. There was, in fact, no indication to me that I wasn’t entirely alone in the world, or that what I was feeling was even possible. I had no words for myself.
Though I was always certain enough of my feelings to know I didn’t want to date boys, I was otherwise lost. Without any even halfway accurate framework in which to put my experiences, I simply tried to ignore my feelings, or dismissed them as some sort of odd delusion. As a teenager, more nights of the week than not, I would shut myself in my room and cry for hours, believing I was uniquely defective and destined to be alone forever.
I found a few other lesbians in time, and learned that I was neither alone nor impossible. It helped, a bit, and I gradually began to incorporate their opinions in my worldview. One of my victories, I suppose, is that I can look back now and marvel that I ever thought my feelings weren’t real.
But my triumphs were few and far between. I fell into an awful depression in my twenties, brought on in large part by my homosexuality. Although I no longer felt utterly alone, I continued to be terribly alienated, stuck in a culture that mostly denied the existence of people like me, and had little room for us when it didn’t. Mentions of lesbians in textbooks, on TV, in books, in movies – these were still nearly nonexistent. What I had was a disease, I was inevitably told. It was unnatural. It was a phase. It was a flaw. It was a symbol of immaturity. It was a cover for something truly unsavory. Worse, I internalized many of these beliefs. Intellectually, I didn’t believe them, but they wrapped myself around my heart and slithered into my brain, and I felt worse than ever. I cannot recall the number of times I seriously considered downing an entire bottle of pain pills.
I looked for a therapist. It was harder, in those days, not least because homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. I had to find someone who both didn’t believe this and would know how to help me accept myself. It was a tall order, and I was lucky in that I found someone who at least fulfilled the first criterion. Medical doctors I was more hesitant to tell, as they had less reason to know, and cost-benefit analysis didn’t bear out. Wanting to be responsible, I tried to research sexual health on my own. The vast majority of the literature assumed women simply weren’t sexually active with other women; thus, this task proved tricky but thankfully not impossible.
And then, of course, there is the matter of the closet. I do not often come out. I’ve never told my family, but they must suspect something’s up. Some of my friends have known; some haven’t. I’ve only rarely been able to work, due to my psychiatric issues, and have never had a boss that needed to know the slightest thing about my personal life. Half of the reason I’m not particularly out is because I’m shy, and a touch reclusive: there simply are not many people for me to come out to. The other half, of course, is fear. I’ve never been in a situation where I feared violence, thank goodness, but I worry about the reactions such an announcement would garner. What if they say something disbelieving or hurtful? What if their response reignites my depression? What if they become uncomfortable around me, thinking I’m unsettlingly weird or covering up some truly distasteful proclivities? What if they, simply, don’t want to spend time with me anymore?
These days, medication helps me, but I’ve yet to pluck every last tendril of internalized homophobia from my psyche, yet to come to true self-acceptance. I’m still regularly wounded by things I see in society around me, and I have my bad nights where the pill bottle again looks tempting. It’s a long road to pride, a long road out of hell, and I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the end. But I try to keep moving forward, and perhaps that will have to be enough.
Forgive me, reader: if you haven’t already guessed, I’ve fibbed. There is no guest poster. That’s my life story, except the events described are more recent and, of course, I’m not a homoromantic homosexual. I’m asexual, and not particularly sure about my romantic orientation. But try not to be too angry; there was a point to my deception.
There’s been talk lately (as there sometimes is) about whether or not asexuals are oppressed, and if they’re sufficiently oppressed to be considered queer. My question to those who believe they’re not, on either count: what of my story, both the real and fictional versions? Although my story’s unique, as all are, I’m sure I could find plenty of similar ones if I asked my fellow aces.
If you were making a face of sympathy or fighting back anger at Susan’s story, what changed when you realized it was really about an asexual? Is the issue that Susan could have lost her job, been assaulted, or been kept out of the military, while I don’t have to worry about those things*? If so, then what of the rest of the homophobia she faced? Does it not matter that her orientation was considered a mental disorder? Does it not matter that she had no role models and barely any information about what she was? Does it not matter that mainstream society ignored and dismissed her? Does it not matter that she was made miserable? Do these things not count as oppression**?
And if they count for her, then why not for me?
* Although, considering the lack of studies, perhaps I do have to worry about some of them.
** I don’t actually care for using the word “oppression” in this manner, because I feel like the connotation is a bit too strong. But that’s the word typically used, so that’s what I’m typing.