The following piece was written for a reading at Peanut Gallery in Humboldt Park, Chicago on March 4, 2017. It includes mention of LGBTQ+ youth suicides and homophobia.
My sister told me I would go to hell if I was gay. At 12 years old I had many concerns: my mother’s insistence on buying bedazzled jeans instead of the young adult fiction books I requested, whether or not the questionable school lunches would kill me, how much candy I could stomach before barfing. Going to hell for having a crush on the soccer player with the long, flowy hair and fantastic butt was not one of them.
Because, to be quite honest, Queerness saved my life.
Growing up in the Bay Area gave me opportunities to indulge in queerness and queer spaces without revealing more about myself than possible. You could find me at Pride in San Francisco, hanging out with my peers who came out in high school—some by force, some by choice—and flirting with soft butch girls at friends’ parties and shows at small music venues.
My friends and classmates knew I was bisexual. I didn’t care what they thought and figured liking multiple genders wasn’t the worst thing to happen when I already spent too much time on Livejournal, loved pop punk bands, and developed an anxiety disorder. I was already a weird kid. And I wasn’t concerned with sharing my identity with my classmates, most of them wouldn’t be talking to me in the next five to eight years. It was coming out to my family that made me make myself smaller and go unnoticed so my queerness would too.
My mother swears by Lifetime movies and assures me it is accurate nearly every film is based on a true story.
Throughout my childhood I glued myself in front of the TV whenever The Truth About Jane aired. Every single time, for years, I would be sitting down, engrossed in this story about Jane, the main character, a 15-year-old middle-class, suburban white girl. Normally, her type wouldn’t be relevant to my life. But Jane was gay. She was in love with a brunette from an unstable home and broken family; a free spirit, Taylor taught Jane how to kiss and make love. She also broke Jane’s heart when their relationship was relegated to stolen glances in the halls of their school and quick kisses behind closed doors. She wanted, and deserved so much more than what Jane could offer. Devastated, without a girlfriend, without friends, with a mother who refuses to accept her, Jane confides in a high school counselor who inspires her to keep going. It gets better, she tells her. Jane was out to her family despite their reluctance. She didn’t hesitate to punch homophobes in hallways. She was still heartbroken, pinning after a girl who challenged her, but she learned it can get better. The counselor was a living, breathing lesbian well into adulthood with a cute house and even cuter partner.
The Truth About Jane was my shit. And I figured being a true story meant it could happen to anyone. My mother, like Jane’s mother, would get incredibly upset, send me to a traumatizing therapy office, fight with my father about my sexual orientation, but eventually, at some point—hopefully not too late—join a chapter of PFLAG, go to a rally and share in front of the crowd, “My daughter loves girls.”
Oh. That’s not how it goes.
The same family members who said they believed I was special from birth taught me how to recognize the ways I didn’t belong. I will always have to carve out space to share my piece.
There was a string of LGBTQ youth suicides in 2010. Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence, but this time, there was plenty of media coverage to sensationalize these young people’s deaths. The coverage was following Proposition 8 in California and the country’s fight for marriage equality. If the bluest state couldn’t pass it, what chance did the rest have? There was a closer eye on LGBTQ stories during this time, and as many of us know, suicides are an important part of our narrative.
My mom was sitting on her bed, folding yesterday’s laundry with the news playing in the background. She stopped me as I left my room. With one eye on her television set, she asked me, “How could anyone take their own life?”
“Sometimes the world drives you to it. Bullying, families disowning you,” I responded without hesitation.
“For being gay.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know how anyone could give up their child for being gay.”
We’d been here before. In this same room. Same spot. Same topic. Only she previously told me she’d disown her child if they told her they were gay. I remember it well and how I reminded myself the end of high school wasn’t too far off, I only had to stay until then.
To pass the time, I wrote and wrote—short stories, poems, journal entries; I even started a couple of novels—anything that allowed me to explore my feelings about loving girls and let my imagination create a world in which I could hold the hand of a partner without shame.
In middle school, my backpack was filled with spiral notebooks, mechanical pencils, and YA fiction books. It was your average bookbag until you looked inside the notebooks and read short stories and the workings of novels I was crafting. I never excelled at math because I spent Algebra class passing around one of those notebooks to my biggest fans: fellow brown girls eager for an escape.
Years before, I was a flight attendant. Then I was a famous writer in love with someone who lived far, far away. Then I was eight years old, stuffing my pink Barbie suitcase with toys and books, sitting in a small chair doubled as a seat on an airline flight taking me as far as it could.
Then I am 21 years old and dancing in a club. It’s my birthday. My date is a genderfluid person dressed as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am Buffy, of course, wearing a blonde wig and pink prom dress. Spike moves their body toward mine, puts their arm around my waist. The hem of my dress covers the top of our thighs.
The year before, my eyes are closed as B, a girl I lusted after for years, kisses me in front of her car parked near my parents’ apartment. My eyes are closed to keep the moment safe, to erase the home that tried to take me from this exact moment, this exact feeling of settling into a body with a heart ready to love.
Now I’m here, a month before 25, in front of you. Nine years after one of many attempts to end my life, I am here.