TW: Verbal Abuse, Homophobia
When I was a child, my aunt gave me two options for the school that she was going to enroll me in. I could either go to Bryn Mawr, a prestigious girls’ school or Friends, a Quaker co-ed. I said I wanted to go where the girls were.
It sounds like a lesbian indie film cliche, but I’ve always known I liked girls. Girls are familiar, girls are comfortable, girls are safe.
I was raised by aunts that never told me a story about a man that didn’t hurt them.
I have never had a positive male presence in my life that wasn’t White and a teacher. Any feelings I had for boys, I rejected. I witnessed the unbearable male chauvinism that my aunts either ignored or normalized as natural male behavior, and I concluded that being with a man would mean that I had to suffer.
I was fractured enough; I didn’t need a man to break me into pieces.
So I stayed with the girls, and I claimed lesbianism because that was an easy label to explain to straight people.
I didn’t confront my sexuality until I went to college, where I gained the courage to enter into my first relationship with a woman. The desire to take her home was one I knew would never come to fruition. I already knew who I could and could not tell, and all of my elders except for two aunts were on the “do not tell” list.
The aunt that raised me was surprisingly supportive. I have to give her credit because she did try.
She listened to me as I told her my secret between sobs.
She and everyone else in our family routinely spoke of homosexuality with vehement hatred.
My little foster child insecure self internalized that hatred until I hated myself for a thing that seemed natural to me. I didn’t speak it, not even to myself until I was an adult. My aunt was empathetic, but she did not apologize.
We have not talked about it since that night. I know better than to bring it up again.
When I graduated from college, my uncle and his wife invited me to stay with them in New York. I didn’t know them that well, but I felt just the right combination of liberated and desperate to take them up on their offer. I knew they were religious and devout, but I still believed that blood bonds would trump religious tendencies.
I was wrong.
I told them I was Queer on the car ride to New York, and my uncle told me not to speak of it again. I could taste the danger in his voice.
After two months, I realized why he had invited me into his home. I was a project for him, and when I resisted his attempts to make me into the pious Christian scholar he had envisioned, he unleashed his wrath.
He tried to close the door to my bedroom so that I couldn’t escape his rage and spit in my face as he pushed the full weight of his threat on me. He demanded I respect him as he stripped me of whatever fragile piece of safety I had felt in that house. He told me I was confused, that I was wrong and he didn’t even know if I could be saved as if I was in need of a savior. I remember being afraid that he was going to beat me.
I remember the realization that my Queerness could get me killed descending on my consciousness like a black veil that I will have to wear forever.
I started looking for new places to live that night.
When my cousin invited me to live with him, I insisted that I had to bring my girlfriend. I was still reeling from anger and fear, and I wanted to test him.
Did he love me, or did he only love the parts of me that his heteronormative upbringing told him were right and acceptable? He gave us three months to get out of his apartment.
My relation to him and the fact that my Stem girlfriend had no interest in him meant that we were useless fixtures in his home.
My cousin never spat in my face, but he was hard, and cold, and controlling.
I know he was trying, I know he was straining against everything he had been taught about sexuality, but he still distanced himself from me and he made us leave. I’ve forgiven him for that, and he still tries to understand, but trying to understand isn’t enough. I’ve stopped telling my truth to anyone else in my family. It has become just another secret I keep so that I don’t have to justify my existence at every family dinner.
My love for my family is deep, twisted, and sludging around in my bone marrow like a cancer that can never fully go into remission. My love for myself is still abstract and frail, a thing with no shape that I am still creating.
Keeping my sexuality from my family means that the two can coexist in the same body, a female body that loves other female bodies, that would love more if I hadn’t been taught to stay scared and straight.