Guest article by Erin Ammon. Erin is first and foremost a romantic, often found swooning in parks, saving bugs, browsing art galleries after hours, and engaging in intellectual banter over milkshakes.
I’ve spent most of my life hiding, wearing a smile, and reasoning with myself. “Maybe you’re just not doing it right,” I would say. I tried every form of self-delusion in order to convince myself that there was something wrong with me the way I naturally existed, and that if I tried hard enough, I could weave my way through the world half-fulfilled, embroiled in a lie. Every day for at least a decade, I’ve had the same circular conversation with myself. Every time, I come to the same truth and back away, telling myself “Try a little harder. This is just how it is.”
Growing up, I knew I liked girls. This seemed natural to me, but I felt pressure from every angle to feign some kind of interest in the opposite sex, because there must be something positively alluring about them. I knew definitively that I was gay when I was eleven years old, although I still didn’t have the language to express my feelings, had no example to look to. I understood the word “gay” to be an insult thrown around on the bus and during recess, and realized that everyone around me was doing something different than what I felt the urge to do. Which, at this already confusing age, was to notice the changes in other girls’ bodies and become hopelessly infatuated with a beautiful and talented girl in my class. All of these external and internal factors led me to curl into myself with shame.
It’s not that people expressly told me that being gay was wrong, or that it was a sin (although, I’m sure I picked that up somewhere). The disgusting nature of my being was more subtly reinforced. It was in casual, scornful jokes about how people dressed or adorned themselves. It was in the implication that being queer was ok for some people, but not for us. That queerness could exist, as long as no one had to deal with it or become uncomfortable. It was made clear with thick, garish caricatures of gay culture.
I grew into womanhood in a box, while someone else comported herself in my body. I misguidedly dated members of the opposite sex, searching for some depth. I’m not discrediting my past relationships or saying they weren’t meaningful to me. I’m so grateful to the people I’ve formed intimate relationships with. It’s just that with every attempt, I’ve been more thoroughly convinced of my inability to give myself fully to something I know innately to be wrong. So many people I’ve confided in have assured me that I simply haven’t found the right person yet. I contend that that is true, simply because I have confined myself to an erroneous dating pool out of fear of rejection.
When the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, I had seen it on the horizon for a while. That’s not to say the battle wasn’t hard-fought and hard-won. I don’t discount its significance as a paramount victory. I had written essays on its behalf, marched the nation’s capital, and voted for candidates who I believed would be “sympathetic” to the cause. But I was wary to celebrate too much. Not only did it feel like there were still huge obstacles yet to face, but I felt that I didn’t have the right.
I hadn’t struggled to be accepted by a world that hated me. I had been hiding in the comfort of heteronormativity. I didn’t have to deal with the raised eyebrows and long stares, and mothers clutching their children in defense upon the sight of me embracing another woman in the most innocuous way. What’s more, I’ve never had to deal with unabashed violence against me because of my sexual orientation, like the people in Orlando who simply sought safety and community with each other last Sunday, only to be encountered by unadulterated hatred and disgust.
I couldn’t share openly in this grief, because I was watching silently, through the tiny keyhole on my self-created closet door.
I’m continuing to learn what it means to be me as I grow. I’ve learned that being gay is more than who you have sex with, or whose ass you casually, not-so-casually check out. It’s an attitude. It’s a community. It’s about noticing the tiny little things that comprise the person you love. It’s cherishing and curating their smiles, thoughts, and dreams, and every line of their body and being. It’s carving out a home with someone who understands you, and being proud of the person who stands next to you through all of life’s struggles and joys. It’s about feeling fully and comfortably you.
I hope to achieve this one day, and I hope that sharing my experience with you is one small step in that direction.