Our Tragic Reality In society, we are heavily conditioned to obey even before we leave the womb. Our choices grow limited from being contained in this box that has already been predetermined for us by expectations. We don’t even have capability in the beginning of existence to speak out and say what we really want; we can only conform to the assumptions of others. Throughout our lives, we are forced to endure the ‘Cycle of Socialization’, it starts with the biases, history, and tradition that we are unconsciously, unknowingly born into. Next, we are taught on an individual level from people we love and trust that we must conform to what society deems normal. Bombarded by messages of segregation, we are told it is just our education. This cycle is so ingrained into our daily-life, it takes nine weeks of studying society just to pinpoint all of the ways our identity is shaped by outside forces. In the words of Bobbie Harro from The Cycle of Socialization, “We are innocents, falling into an already established system.” The society I want to live in doesn’t exist yet, but I am trying to search for answers to my identity, to destroy cisgender and heterosexual as the default, to teach myself that I am worthy of representation, to acknowledge that my identity does not rely on society’s comfort level, and to believe that my ability to conform has no correlation to my identity being valid.
Is it normal that I find myself scouring the internet to taste just a scrap of my history when you have a buffet because our education system deemed me the one of unimportance? The first time I heard about the Stonewall Riots, it was not from a college-educated teacher, it was briefly mentioned in a three-minute video about civil rights. In the article “It’s Time to Write LGBT History into the Textbooks,” David Carter stated, “The omission of LGBT history from the nation’s classrooms is a serious problem for a number of reasons, first and foremost of which is that a democracy requires tolerance, fairness and an informed society. This gap in history textbooks sends the message that our story is one of inferiority.” I had to learn what ‘gay’ was while hiding under the covers searching Tumblrfor a reason I felt so alone surrounded by those I considered friends. People all around me would talk about boys and wonder why I never had a crush; why I always felt so uncomfortable when the subject came up. I never knew I was different because everything I was supposed to be was all I knew, all I was taught; the possibility of something else had never been offered. If I had learned what I could be, that I could be, I would have so much more practice believing I was not insane for refusing to think that uncomfortable was my normal.
On a screen, you are not an afterthought, a means to get a starving audience attached to a stereotypical character that will eventually be buried for ‘shock value’. Queerbaiting is something very prominent in today’s film-industry. It happens when a queer person or couple is highly promoted in advertisements then given only a sliver of screen-time compared to their heterosexual counterpart. It happens when a powerful and important main-character is put through stereotypical trials and struggles because of their orientation. It happens when a very public and prominent queer character is killed abruptly for no reason other than ‘artistic integrity’. Lexa, a powerful, strong, and main character from The 100, held a very important role while I was identifying my queerness; I associated with her. She was a really big part in accepting myself. I thought that if she could exist in a place where the entire world was coated in radiation, I could do it in a borderline homophobic middle school. Then she was killed. "Episode 307(the episode of Lexa’s death) slapped me right back to reality, where LGBT people are killed for their sexuality, bullied, disowned by their parents.” Sarah Karlan points out in “How ‘Lexa Deserved Better’ Became A Rallying Cry For Positive LGBT Representation, “It reminded me of the Orlando Shooting, it reminded me of death. Death that I, a queer lady, deserve.", and for me, brought back all those emotions I bottled up over a year ago. The emotions of hatred for myself, fear that sent me right back into the closet. I would rewatch her death scene and cry because I felt so numb at that time, but watching that, even though it was heartbreaking and miserable, it made me feel something in a world that otherwise made me act like a robot. I would go through the motions of the day, maybe make a few jokes, laugh, but always in the back of my mind I kept thinking about how different I was, how I deserved some kind of punishment for this thing I had no control over. I kept everything compartmentalized, and people might call that unhealthy, but that was my reality; misery. I would talk about it sometimes, but I would either be ignored or told that she was “just a character”.“She wasn’t just a fictional character, she was far more. What is very much real is your own emotions and how you connect with someone and what they mean to you in your daily life. It becomes unimportant whether that’s a real or fictional character, because their impact is real.”, reasons Karlan. Lexa was the only person I connected to at the time; who had gotten what she wanted and then was murdered by someone she trusted for existing in a world where she, a woman living in a radioactive waste land, leading armies and stopping wars, wasn’t ‘allowed’ to love someone.
Ask me why I feel so adamant about this ‘coming out thing’, this thing that allows me to feel validated in my own skin and take a second to acknowledge your privilege of not having to. In the “Women of the World Poetry Slam 2013,” Denice Frohman observes in their poem “Dear Straight People”; “Dear Straight People: You’re the reason we stay in the closet. You’re the reason we even have a closet, I don’t like closets, but you made the living room an unshared space and now I feel like a guest in my own house.” You assume I like men just because I appear female, you assume I’m female because you have been taught by society to code everything into categories. You assume wrong. The reason we come out is because everything we are, based on how we appear, is assumed. Before we even join this world, our parents are painting our rooms, buying us toys, using pet names, based solely on our genitals. My parents were in no way against my enjoyment of dirt, toy cars, and elephants, but the whole issue lies in the mentality that I have to declare that I like them because it was just assumed that I would be satisfied with pink princesses and a play kitchen. We are straight and cisgender from the day we are born until the day we ‘declare’ otherwise. In just a split second judgement, you believe I am the opposite of everything I have fought tooth and glitter-painted nail to justify I am not.
“Dear Straight People, why do you make it so obvious I make you uncomfortable? Why do I make you uncomfortable? Do you know that makes me feel uncomfortable? Now we both uncomfortable”, Denice Frohman declares in their poem exactly what it’s like to walk down the sidewalk with a female assumed palm in one hand and a rainbow flag billowing around in the other. With a heterosexual couple, would people stop on the street to gawk, yell and overall express how disgusted they are? No, because it’s socially unacceptable and rude to act that way towards a completely ‘normal’ couple. Note that I use the word ‘normal’ loosely because it is a social construct to make the privileged feel better about themselves while they justify discrimination towards an already struggling group. We are taught to place other people’s needs ahead of ourselves, and while that is a good rule for life, it makes being different a whole lot more complicated. It makes correcting names and pronouns and sexuality so much harder because you feel rude when you interrupt someone to say, ‘use they’ and the person can only respond with a vaguely confused face. You feel bad, you contemplate whether it’s better to just suffer through the destruction of your confidence and validity or to correct them. The sad truth is, the latter usually wins. In a video by Ash Hardell, youtube personality, nonbinary person and LGBTQ advocate, ”Only 2 Genders”, they discuss the struggles of pronouns and names with ignorant cis-people, “I know what you would like me to do, but I don’t care, my feelings are more important than yours even though you experience this on a daily basis.”, and we do, constantly, “even if you don’t understand, even if you don’t get it, even if you think it’s trendy or weird or whatever, it’s still not hurting you.” It’s so simple to avoid, yet a touch of ignorance can completely destroy any surviving confidence.
It’s tiring, having to fight constantly to be acknowledged, to be validated, and sometimes we reach a point where we curl up and conform to what society decides to throw at us. In “Stop Coming Out’ by Ash Hardell, “Your she/her, him/his cisness goes unquestioned. Note that no one stutters at your pronouns. You were born with an orientation that happens to conform to social/sexual norms,” and mine was not, my orientation was treated as a disease, as something to be feared, contaminated, disgusting, wrong in every sense of the word. Don’t you dare try and compare your struggles to mine. Do not argue that ‘homophobia doesn’t exist anymore’ just because marriage is no longer illegal, while you refuse to acknowledge the people in Chechnya being murdered based on their dating preference. You never had to lie about your first crush around your questionably homophobic grandparents. You never had to imagine every situation after coming out, including but not limited to screaming, disgust, and eviction. You have never lived in fear of loving someone. So do not ask why I didn’t do it sooner, or why I chose to lie; it was for your comfort, not mine.
Ignorance; noun; the lack of knowledge or information. Discrimination is born out of fear, which comes from mis-education or no education. Ignorance is seen as this horrible group that only includes bigots and politicians; in reality it includes anyone who has ever assumed something, misspelled someone’s name or went to a class because they didn’t know everything about the universe. We enforce ignorance when we convince ourselves that assuming something about a person is better than asking a possibly uncomfortable question. The only way we will grow, is if we seek out the world to educate ourselves and others around us with perspective, knowledge and experience. “We must build coalitions with people who are like us and people who are different from us.” stated Bobbie Harro. We aren’t going to tear down our entire social system, an ongoing phenomenon since before mankind, in just a day with just one person. What we are going to do is fight expectations, assumptions, and the obligation to conform until the people enforcing segregation and hate are the minority (or preferably non-existent). This is not something that simply exists naturally in our world; we create it, we enforce it, we can change it.
My mask represents everything I have been expected of and everything I ever wanted. The base layer for my mask includes a night sky, symbolizing my need for escape, clouds, symbolizing the constant overhead of depression, and a plant-like object, symbolizing how everything is connected or the holistic mentality. That section has been partially covered up to symbolize the need to hide ourselves. On the lower half of the mask, I created a sort of demonized smile which is supposed to represent the evilness of words and how I have been silenced throughout my lifetime. That smile has also been sewn up to represent how our words can be twisted and how we are forced to hold a smile to our faces/not show when you are struggling. The broken shards of plaster on top of my mask represent what the world sees (happiness/normal) vs. reality (brokenness). It is also in the pattern of cell bars because the expectations and obligations of society are hard to escape. There is also a pride flag on the backside of my mask, it represents having to hide yourself and more specifically your orientation/pride and is scrambled with black lines to represent how confusing and challenging finding your identity is. The ‘clouds’ on the top part of the mask are to represent escape, whenever I was driving in a car and my family was arguing, I would look out at the clouds and countryside and just imagine myself somewhere else. The tree/branches are to represent growth and also entwinement.