Sunday, 20 August 2017

Naming & Shaming: Beyond Sexuality

Bob McCune, Herb Lamm 1949, with superimposed text

Growing Pains

Are you... oh I just thought by...oh, never mind...but if you could just...sorry but we're full...yeah, sorry mate, maybe next time...or ...just silence. Going from family trouble-maker, to shamanic oyster via the domestic jungle fka the garden. Bear with me. Shit's going down. I thought I had washed my hands clean of this nearly 2 decades ago.

I resented 'coming out'. So much so that I moved out to live with my sister when I was 16, determined to just be myself and not have to share what I had considered such a private concern. I wasn't interested in the sex lives of those around me, so why was I being nudged towards the platform of what felt like brutal or humiliating honesty?

My mum cried. I remember vaguely her mentioning grandchildren. My dad was silent. And I was a jungle of conflicting emotion, muted. I had the reputation in my family as trouble-maker in my teenage years. Always curious, questioning. Was I creating more trouble now, even against my better judgement? Other shadows lurking around the household felt more pressing; the half-empty packet of something called Prozac in the bathroom cabinet. In earlier years, the episode where bedroom curtain were drawn, and doctors with bowed heads left rooms by closing the bedroom door so tenderly, as if any more force would shatter it;the force of my father's volcanic temper that smashed my sister's enormous CD player. According to the convention, those times warranted no conversation, no apology. Shame, rewarded and inflated by silence.

Trouble-making was the mere spotting that there was a rug to look under, and to consider to dare to lift it up, let alone look under it. And luckily I believed that there was so little there, in many respects, but in terms of nourishing emotional worlds, there were whole galaxies of missed opportunity. Shush-ed. Orbiting in silent space. I wanted to be a grown-up.

And so I did what every normal kid might do. I silenced the trouble-making. I found solace in my bedroom, in magazines, in my sewing machine, in songs. I tried to find my voice by imitating the greats of jazz and blues. I wore my headphones as I screeched, badly, with knocks underneath my bedroom floor. Silence was preferred, was the reminder, regardless of the sound.

My ticket out of this shrink-wrapped world of ultra domesticity of 3 warm meals a day (2 of which were fed to Tara, our Rottweiler) and an annual sojourn to DisneyWorld was fashion college, I tallied. I worked such long hours that summer to pay for my fees and rent in central London. I had been accepted to LCF and my dressmaking teacher, who had created costumes for Danny LaRue (or was it RuPaul?) was thrilled. I was thrilled, in retrospect because it was the the necessity of the piercing of the shrink wrap. It was new breath after the hypersleep of suburbia. I imagined. It turns out that imagination can be so precariously balanced when it sits on top of the landfill of dismissed feelings.

Am I exaggerating? Maybe a little. But the kaleidoscope of the past and the emotional distance it affords allows one to see, in the context of something considered more normal, the true micro-horrors of a childhood or adolescence in which a potential wasn't able to be realised. Not through lack of good parenting - my folks did all within their power to make my sister and my lives comfortable - but through having a gift that I didn't recognise. The gift of causing trouble, it seemed.

Two situations happened this week that have pushed me to re-consider my relationship to responsibility to my emotional well-being. That might be a long-winded way of just saying, I wanna feel OK. And when people heckle insults at me, despite my belief that it is them who are wounded somehow, it's me whose internal playing cards collapse. Insults, specifically insults about my sexuality, are Kryptonite. Why?

The years I've spent attempting to inhabit the freedom I lacked as a shrink-wrapped screwed up teen allowed me to feel a sense of ease. I've been travelling, learned some basics in gardening, taken every course that has appealed to me...eaten everything that seemed good in my path. My mind has an insatiable desire to learn, to experience, to bring more understanding. So what's this sticking point? Why do I breakdown when some idiot calls me a name?

I have kept the same attitude as a teen to not wish to discuss or name my sexuality. Extended family conversations don't include my current love situation. Thank God. In all the places I have travelled, including many villages in the UK, for me the topic wasn't worth being on the discussion table; I was exploring this new thing and so like a thesis writer at the beginning of his investigations, my results were private. I never go to Pride, or really understood why it existed.

And yet, the tables turned when trouble makers looked under the carpet as soon as they sensed and felt and perceived that I wasn't one of them. Who were they? Mostly, but not solely, heterosexual men. They avoided eye-contact. Or just insulted me. And when you're swimming for your school team and the banter happens when you are virtually naked, your body dramatically changing...telling me I was to become a man, and the trauma escalated beyond measure.

To find my tribe, I would sneakily watch TV programmes on gays and transsexuals. I was always fascinated especially with transsexuals reported to feel wrong in their bodies. I strongly identified with that as girls were my homies. My big sister was my best friend and in sleepy suburbia, we played with the other girls. We made yucky faces when boys went past. We thought they were dirty and silly. The horror that hair grew on my legs and face as I past 12 years old is something I fail to find the words for. My physicality defied my inner sense of sorority.

A recent story of a trans chap (from female-to-male) attracted attention because his male look was criticised as too cis-gendered, a term which describes a man born a man who has the archetypal look. Say, a jock. This guy got pumped at the gym, he wore a baseball cap. He had that kinda James Dean raised-eyebrow look in photos. A year ago, I too opted for a baseball cap in TK Maxx. Red. Flattering to the shape of my face. And something under which I could approach cis-gendered. As much as possible. So I could walk anywhere and not be 'seen'. Until last Monday. "Oh, guy in the red hat..." and you know the rest. The same yesterday in a supermarket car park.

After all my yoga and body work, after all my readings into emotional intelligence, after all my supposed ease in my body, mind...after years of working on communication and smoothing the lines of family ties...I shatter. Right there. In fact, I felt so overwhelmed on Monday that I couldn't bear to cry because crying was admitting not only did I suffer but I was still resource-less to handle it. And I was confounded to remember that my first reaction to the comment, had I been closer to the source of insult and armed in some way, would have been to attack and maybe even kill him. As if that would resolve it.

Violence doesn't solve the emotions raging in me during and after these situations. I know logically that this guy's outburst is a result of something unresolved within himself. And my inability to hear and dismiss it as a silly comment, points to something unresolved in me. Hence the fireworks and imagined homicide. What am I not naming? And by not naming it, am I shaming myself?

As I look for work next month in a new town, I realise that I have a stark choice before me; carry on as always, or actually name this. Be creative with it. I have to name what people perceive me as. And while I am happy in my own world and see beauty in colours, flowers, trees, music, lyricism, song, movement, pattern ... as well as find men sexually attractive, it's the former things that shape my manner, my gait, my melody of voice... and point to the assumptions of my sexuality. The logic defies my reasoning. Except I know that it's true. and who it better to be kind, or right? I'm choosing kindness.

My logic now is this - if I own this perception of my sexuality, it has the consequence of showing others that I have confidence in who I am (or supposed to be..?!) and tells me that it's true. I used to find this way of thinking over-looped and ridiculous. Like the outfits that I wore to fashion college. But these 2 incidents are showing me that my lack of assertiveness around my sexuality allows a barbed and confused narrative to go on within me. Are other people interested in who I sleep with? No. Are they signalled that I am 'different' to them? Absolutely. And so far, I can't articulate those differences but they obviously exist to the extent to which they are visible and almost physical.

How will I choose to use this? Ideas so far? I am going to find out how to make a Queer Garden in my new town. Why? Because for those people who are visibly or perceptibly different to whatever the norm is perceived to be, they need a safe space. I never thought I would think that; I dismissed it as a cliche that they should just 'get over it' - surely, it's 2017 and no-one cares any more? And if they did, that's their problem. But those things are only true in a place that has finally come to terms with indifference around differences. The journey for that isn't over. Evolution, emotional, spiritual...hasn't reached some parts of people, some parts of the country; entitlement rages around people who consider it their right to not only notice something then to remark on it, and remark in a way that is intended to deride, humiliate and offend the person on the receiving end. This is beyond is a basic human right. We all want peace, safety, loveliness and to accomplish those things, we need an equal starting point.

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