Yesterday and today, I saw a lot of people linking to an “It Gets Better” video by the RCMP. A lot of people were clearly touched, and then I saw one person getting angry in their comments about it. His anger comes from the excessive use of force the RCMP has been deploying with increasing frequency since at least the Casseroles clashes with VPD. His anger is understandable. I finally gave in and clicked on the video, which you can watch here. Within a few moments, I was completely overwhelmed with sadness. The words that triggered it were those of the woman describing how she promised herself to “keep it all in” until the day she graduated from high school.
It hasn’t gotten better for me. I knew from the time my best childhood friend moved into my neighbourhood that I experience romantic feelings towards individuals who are assigned female at birth but who are not necessarily feminine. I was 7 years old, her mother is Metis, and I fell in love with her. But I didn’t dare tell anyone. I had already learned within my own home and at school and among neighbourhood boys, how dangerous a Thing™ it is to be perceived as anything other than straight. I decided to keep it all in, and I didn’t give myself a date to let it all out. My family moved away 5 years later, and we became estranged. I lived absolutely crippled with guilt for being different enough that I thought I made her mother and the rest of her family uncomfortable whenever I was around, because when we moved, the atmosphere I had to attend school in was even more intolerant. But there was a silver lining waiting for me, for over a decade: I found her on Facebook, wrote her a letter telling her how I’ve always felt and how sorry I was for making everyone uncomfortable, and she wrote back to tell me it was never like that. I didn’t know I ever had a true friend for all those years until she shared that with me.
But until all that time had passed, there I was, 12 years old and living in a new city, rapidly learning just how intolerant everyone in it was of any sort of difference. I wasn’t feminine enough. I didn’t act straight enough or interested in boys enough. I sat next to the one person in the entire school who was sitting alone staring at the floor during lunch hour, and I didn’t get up when people started verbally abusing her. I sat with her, and that signaled to everyone else that I’m a punching bag too. We became very close friends, primarily because we didn’t have anyone else but each other. Despite that, I still couldn’t tell her who I really was. I was so terrified of her rejection that I did everything I could to overcompensate for being non-normative in gender and sexuality. I fixated on my body, torturing myself with obsessive anxiety for not measuring up to what everyone else wanted me to be. I alienated her in the process, and I felt betrayed and alone. She moved away, and I sought a sense of belonging with a young man I decided would be an appropriate way to keep up the act. My parents adored him, and I resented that. They hated everyone else I tried to date when he was busy playing around between being coy and being defensive about his “reputation”.
In my second year of high school, I met women who were like me. Both had come out to their parents about being bisexual, and had their full support. I thought maybe if I come out as bisexual, it won’t be as bad as if I come out as queer. I thought somehow that bisexual made sense, the way I felt about my body being not the right kind and my romantic feelings always gravitating towards women who were more masculine or androgynous than feminine. I had figured out that the young men I gravitated towards were always a little… different… too. So at 16, while I was dating an older man for the second time, I came out to my boyfriend first. He said it was fine. When one of those women from my high school started to act interested in me, we started getting physically close, and all of a sudden, Boyfriend wasn’t fine with it any more. He wanted to be part of it, or I couldn’t touch another person’s body. I really resented that. My feelings towards that woman were nothing like my feelings towards him.
I tried to come out to my mother next. When I said the words “I think I’m bisexual”, she didn’t look up and didn’t say a word. I started crying and asked her, “Aren’t you going to say anything?” She told me that in that moment, she wanted to hit me. Then she asked me how I know. I couldn’t answer her. I wasn’t prepared to legitimate my sexuality to another person. Within a week at dinner, I said “Mom, Dad, I’m glad you’re sitting down. I have something to get off my chest.” And after taking a deep breath to keep myself from cracking a smile, I said “Mom. Dad. I’m coming out of the closet — I’m straight.” We all had a good chuckle. I remember that night, taking the only photo of my father in which he was smiling.
Legal drinking age was 18, and when I turned 18, I started trying to meet lesbian women. I met one at a school I attended for a single course, while I was upgrading my Grade 12 math. I met two bisexual women there, too. Somehow, I found out about a gay bar, and I went there alone to meet more lesbian women. There were approximately three actual lesbian women there — everyone else was either a gay/bisexual man or part of a group of straights who kept their distance. I kept it from my parents, even though I was still living with them. I tried to have phone conversations with these women, but was so afraid that my parents (especially my father) would pick up the phone at any moment, that I couldn’t be sincere. It wasn’t long before I would lose contact with all of them.
After I moved out, I finally went to an LGBTQ friendship centre a school counselor had referred me too while I was too afraid of being followed in or caught coming out by my father. I met a young woman I had been in school with — at the time we were in school together, she was an awkward young man, and the year after I graduated, she had been singled out and banned from attending her own prom because she made other students “uncomfortable”. Somehow, and this is one more silver lining, she had quickly blossomed into a bombshell after graduation, and was happily working in the women’s clothing section of a growing retail store (I had just become homeless for the first time; I tried not to rain on her parade).
After the first two times I was homeless, a bisexual femme started a chat with me, and we began a relationship. She was married, and her husband assumed that meant I had a relationship with him too. But it didn’t. But I didn’t know how to tell him that. And I didn’t know how to tell her that. I don’t even know how to gesture at how oppressive and blatantly abusive that dynamic was, but after three and a half months, I ran.
I started telling every subsequent partner after her that I was interested in women, but I wasn’t sure about how I felt towards men — and for the greater part of the last ten years, every one of the people I’ve explained this to has been a man. All but two insisted that they “get in on it” if I ever find a girlfriend or I can’t get it on with her myself; and one that didn’t make this extremely pig-headed and disgusting suggestion, long before I’ve even met a prospective girlfriend (hello, entitlement issue?), was in complete denial that I had been with such a woman, even though I had consulted him first and talked him about it after the fact (assuring him that I did not overstep the boundaries we previously agreed on, more than anything else). The remaining one gave me his blessing to do whatever makes me happy, but ultimately didn’t act like he wanted me to be happy without getting in on it himself after a certain amount of time in my new relationship with a bisexual genderfluid woman had passed. I have little doubt that this helped break her and I up.
I haven’t been with anyone since that last man and I mutually terminated our relationship, but I’ve been open and honest to everyone about the fact that I’m queer and trans, since the Summer of 2009. I felt like I had to gradually come out about being trans, because I didn’t think anyone would believe me if I just dropped it, so I tried coming out as genderfluid first. I finally started saying “I’m genderqueer” sometime later in 2009 (it took time to build the confidence to say it), and began injecting testosterone in the end of 2011 (I think it’s been a year now). In the mean time, I had become a part of a trans community and been alienated by it within the same month. I’ve become marginalized from a queer community too, because I didn’t know how to talk without offending other people — and I’ve apologized for it a lot since then, but not much has changed. I don’t feel like I belong in gay and lesbian events, because I pass for female in all of them and that makes me very uncomfortable.
I’ve also seen a transwoman of colour arrested and sentenced to life in prison for successfully defending her life when someone tried to kill her after she was outed as trans. I’ve lost a trans friend to aggravated suicide within the past year. And I’ve watched hundreds of people who I thought were my allies (or wanted to be) inappropriately co-opt LGBTQ oppression to legitimate their own frustrations, while just one or two people insist on bringing up the issue of marriage equality any time I vocalize my visceral offense — as if marriage equality is the only remaining barrier towards LGBTQs, and an illegitimate one at that. I also entered post-secondary for the second time, to try and become a dentist, and was met with discriminatory treatment in at least one class every semester for three years of full-time course loads, until the discriminatory treatment actually threatened my right to continue in an accelerated format course with a lab component. No matter how hard I would work my ass off in the classroom, if my lab partners wouldn’t allow me to contribute to the group work and my lab instructor wouldn’t allow me to turn in my own work for individual evaluation, I would automatically fail the entire course. I dropped the second half of the course and slipped into overwhelming grief, seeing my highest life-long aspirations trampled by homophobia and transphobia.
No, it doesn’t get better. Not for everyone. It hasn’t gotten better for me.
If You Feel As I Feel; If You See As I See
First of all, I want you to know that I love you with all my heart. And secondly, I need you to stay strong. Together, you and I can change the dialogue from “It Gets Better (Sometimes)” or “It Can Get Better” to “It Will Get Better (For Everyone)”. It is only by sharing our stories and standing up and saying “No, this is not ‘better’ and it’s not OK!” that we will find the people who will fight with us for real equality—not this fake version of “equality” that only applies to people who can pass for “normal”. When we are moved to tears and in our grief, are also moved to silence, we erase our pain and our concerns become invisible. We isolate ourselves from one another when what we most need is the support of someone who hears us and sees us, recognizes that we are still in pain, and wants to do something about it. So celebrate the joy other people have, when you can, and when you’re not able to — when you are remembering all the young men and women whose short lives inspired the “It Gets Better” project to begin with — don’t settle for a few soothing words and a pat on the head. Let your grief be known.