25 January, 2011

safety is not the worst

Since I haven't been posting that much I figured a desire to say anything is probably a good one even though this isn't related to disability (on the surface). It's sort of hard to remember being this enraged gay person to whom everything was really cut and dry, and I think some of my beliefs were wrongheaded but I also find them important. I was talking to a friend about high school the other day and I just found myself kind of buried in my old trains of thought.

Brief background (embarrassing to even talk about): I came out as questioning to my parents when I was 10, came out as bisexual when I was 13, came out as gay when I was 16 and that's when the realizations were occurring to me. But this doesn't actually line up with what I was identified as at school. When I started high school I found myself in an environment that was much less aggressive than middle school, but I was still really affected by my experiences being bullied. I was scared very easily and withdrawn from everyone but the friends I made at the very beginning of school; I could speak when I was with them. I really didn't like this about myself and because my school was so small I felt that it would be important for me to be openly queer because I thought it would make queerness more visible and acceptable to people if they knew someone who was queer. So I had a rainbow sticker on my notebook and when I was in ninth grade (when I was 14) a girl asked me if I was gay and I said yes. I didn't identify as gay at the time but I thought it was a simpler way to answer than saying I was bisexual (remember, trouble talking).

Over the course of ninth grade I spent a lot of time with Joan, a girl who wasn't very popular, and we were semi-dating for a little while, but I think that it wouldn't have made a difference even if we hadn't been dating. My school was really small and my admission that I was gay had kind of traveled around, and I found out that kids had discussed the rainbow button on my backpack, and discussed whether I was dating Joan. Joan would get really angry at me for hugging my female friends in public, following her around in an obsessive way, or saying in public that I thought girls were attractive, because she said I was making things worse for her. We stopped "dating" pretty soon for various reasons, but everyone still thought we were dating.

In tenth grade I cut my hair short and started dressing in a boyish way, and had another kind of clingy relationship with a girl (I guess we were technically open about it, but I don't know if people thought of her as being queer; she was very quiet but not unpopular in the same way as Joan). We also went to prom together. I became withdrawn from my friends because I was on Adderall which kind of fucked up my support network for eleventh grade combined with the fact that two of my best friends moved away and my best friend and girlfriend graduated. Our relationship was pretty dumb, and she broke up with me very reasonably at the beginning of the summer, but she did it by telling me she thought she was actually straight, which sent me into a huge spiral of feeling like I was the only person in the world who was queer. For a long time I thought of that summer and the months that followed as being a really defining period in my life, because I was really depressed but channeled it well and officially quit various things (any medication prescribed to me, self-injury, letting myself withdraw or obsess over one person) that had been controlling my life.

On my first day of eleventh grade, Joan and I skipped the morning assembly as we often did to go for a walk. She told me about the training trip for the soccer team that she'd just been on, and told me that most of the people on the team spent a lot of time talking about my supposed relationship with her. It was too bad because I was a lot more clear-headed than I had ever been before, but it was kind of too late to stop this stuff from happening. I also didn't know exactly how bad it was.


So, there was this girl, let's call her Martha, who was starting at my school as a sophomore. I was assigned to be her mentor who would introduce her to school, and I hung out with her and her friends once that summer. She knew Joan a little because she played soccer, but I didn't really see Martha much once school started. She made a lot of friends immediately, and didn't really make an effort to hang out with me or talk to me. But bizarrely, whenever my mom picked me up from school, Martha would be standing by the car carrying on a friendly conversation with her, and she would also occasionally, out of the blue, be very friendly and familiar with me. She found my livejournal and would comment on it. She also was close with Ms. H., a teacher who was really supportive of me re: queer and disability things, and would visit Ms. H. and talk to her several afternoons a week (which Joan also did).

Martha and my mom kept talking and eventually it was decided that my parents were going to drive me to Martha's house one Friday night after school. Kind of weird since Martha and I didn't really spend time together, but whatever. Because my school was so small (and probably because of the high percentage of kids with learning and emotional disabilities) it was pretty normal for kids to wander into random classes before they started, or even while they were going on, to say hi to teachers and students. So the day I was supposed to go to Martha's house, she wandered into my Latin class and said, "I'm excited for you to come to my house, we have a lot to talk about--something we have in common." She sort of laughed at me affectionately, as she usually did.

So, I'm sure you can guess from the buildup that what Martha told me when I got to her house was that she was gay, that she had been out at her old school, but that during soccer training it became immediately obvious to her from the way people treated Joan that there was no way she could be out at school. She freaked out and confided in Joan, at soccer training. She also came out to a friend in the dorms (she lived at school) who was the person who told her, "everyone always knew Amanda was different and then when they found out she was gay they had something." And one of her other friends immediately realized Martha was gay because she saw that Martha would be friendly to me but only when certain people weren't watching.

I guess I hadn't been--well, I had kind of known, but I hadn't really been sure if I was really The Gay Person At My School or not. But it became obvious from the way Martha talked about talking to me, that it was what defined me and that it was a reason for people not to talk to me. After that night at her house, we became good Internet friends but would barely talk at school, which she'd always pretend I was imagining. I was trying not to obsess over people, and I was starting to get really depressed and obsessive about our friendship, so I kind of detached myself from her. I really, really hated her in a way, even though I also liked talking to her and spending time with her.

I just remember that being gay felt really cold to me then. Like, I associated it with this almost physical sense of coldness, of wanting to drown, of drowning, of picking up things from the sidewalk and having to put them in my pocket because I'd have them, because I needed to have them. I kind of just thought that's what being gay was.

Anyway, I remember realizing, that night and the next day, that my mom of course had known about Martha being gay and had been talking to Martha's mom on the phone a lot about Martha being gay and other issues; that Joan, my only good friend remaining at school, had known Martha was gay; that Ms. H. knew; and that even though Joan and my mom presumably should have some kind of loyalty to me, and they'd known that I was really really isolated and lonely, they hadn't told me that there was another gay person at school, because it wouldn't be fair to Martha to tell.

And it all came down to this thing Martha said to me at her house on the Friday night: "Amanda, if you only knew how many people there are who really want to talk to you and be friends with you, but are just scared to--"

"Really? Like, who?"

"Well, it wouldn't be right to tell you. It's not fair to them."

Gosh, I'm sorry, and I don't know if this is coming out clear, but I remember that at that age I read Lockpick Pornography and I just took it completely straight. And I just remember this feeling that I was being used as a bulletproof vest for Martha and whoever these other people were.

Martha had this secret greatestjournal (I know, we're old, greatestjournal doesn't exist anymore) where she would pour out everything she was feeling about being closeted at school and how hard it was for her. I read it and I cared but I also would see her walking around school with her friends, when I didn't have any friends, and I'd feel like crying that she got to be close to people, and I'd just want her to shut up about her stupid problem of being safe.

Sometimes I just feel like I have nothing in common with people who were closeted in high school, or passed for some reason or another. It's not exactly the same as being radical--that seems like saying queerness is universal when that's the opposite of what I mean. For me, especially when I was in high school or very closely out of high school (a year or two) it just felt like, this is MINE. You can't have it, you can't fuzz it up, you can't make it different, you can't say it belongs to everyone, because I was by myself. I was like a warning.

So if you're going to take me as a warning (I felt) of what not to be like, you don't get to just turn around years later, or when you're alone, and say that you really are like me after all, that we're the same inside. You are NOT like me. We are not the same. Outsides fucking matter.

...Can someone tell me what I'm feeling or what I mean, by spending the last few hours typing this up?


  1. Sort of related, but this post makes me think on how some people can't pass, whether it's for straight, or white, or abled, or cis, or whatever.

    That line can be blurry as well though. Like some people don't pass, but what's "off" about them isn't obvious, so they just get shunted off to the "weird" category. Which is what happened to me.

    I didn't think of myself as bi or realize I was neurologically different in anyway in high school though. But I think the kids sure knew I wasn't "normal."

    Oh hell. I'm not even sure what kind of point I'm trying to make here. I think I'll shut up now.

  2. no, it's cool :)

    you like Mad Men, right? I just love Don's girlfriend's brother with epilepsy, to whom Don makes his usual "move forward, start over" speech, and the guy is just like, I can't do that you asshole I have epilepsy.

    that's not really 100% on topic either. I am just sorting out what I'm thinking about so I welcome off-topic-ness even more than usual.

  3. I actually thought that bit with guy with epilepsy was awesome. I remember not believing they actually went there. It seemed like a much more realistic and gritty portrayal of disability than usual for television.

    As for my off-topic-topic, I think right now I'm caught up in thinking about my own situation, since of course I'm right on that fuzzy passing/no passing line, which I really want to post about as soon as I procure a Shiny Diagnosis That Will Make Peeps Take Me Srsly™

  4. Oh and do you ever think we have much more satisfying conversations in blog comments than we do in IM?

  5. gosh...I thought they were okay

    sometimes I'm distracted?

    I'm sorry.

  6. Okay, so this makes me think of something that's totally tangiential but kind of similar as well? And you said you'd welcome off-topic-ness here so here goes:

    At my school, but I've seen this other places too, there's a culture of being "awkward," but fake-awkward, awkward in an amazingly calculated, semi-ironic way. In my opinion you pretty much have to be NT to take part in this socially acceptable awkwardness, because the line between Good Awkward and Bad Awkward is thin and zig-zaggy and unmarked.

    I have seen these people proclaim that they are "so awkward" and then get really nasty about people who are awkward for reasons of disability, whose clumsiness is not an affectation.

    I get really mad at these people because I feel like they're the people who bullied me in elementary/middle/high school, dressed up in different clothes and pretending to share my experience. And they don't.

    Does that make sense?

  7. although I do feel it's a little different from what I'm talking about because there definitely is reason to say that I'm being an asshole and I'm denying space/identity/sympathy to queer people who have been closeted or realized they were queer later. like, for me it's weird because I know I'm on the edge of saying something that I really think is offensive and untrue. but I also feel like...there has to be some place where it makes sense for me to say, "you are not like me, I experienced oppression you did not experience, and, in some cases, I feel you sold me out (like the song, if you remember that song) and you're appropriating my identity"--except I don't mean they're appropriating my identity because it is theirs too but I used to feel that way.

  8. Absolutely remember the song. It's still pretty important to me, actually.

    I think being out and being subjected to bullying/othering/isolation is definitely a different level of oppression than being closeted and a bystander to/participator in bullying/othering/isolation. At the same time the closetedness, and the fear of stigma, and the internalized homophobia also come from oppression, so I can see what you're saying, and I agree there's probably a way to acknowledge those two things at the same time.

  9. I don't know you that well having just recently started reading your blog, but it seems to me that the issue with Martha has to do with her not being a good friend to you, regardless of anything else.

    It wasn't fair of her to be open and friendly with you sometimes and not others because it suited her, no matter what the reason was. And not excusing her behavior doesn't mean you are being unfair to people who were in the closet during high school, it just means that she wasn't being a good friend to you.

    The way I see you, someone is either your friend or they aren't. They don't get to pick and choose whether to acknowledge you or ignore you.

  10. Oh, I'm sorry Amanda. I hope I didn't make you feel bad. :(

  11. I think I understand what you are saying. I'm having a hard time following things right now.

    I think that what you are saying is that because you didn't cover (whether because you couldn't cover or chose not to) when you were younger, you were a target for a particular kind of bullshit that people who were able to or chose to cover did not have to experience. So there is part of you that feels pain that those people who had/have safety now claim the same identity as you.

    If that'd what you are saying, I TOTALLY feel you. I know it's fucked up, but I also think it's an okay way to feel. Not a great thing to do or to make another person's problem, but I think you feel what you feel, and that feeling makes a lot of sense.

    (I feel like there are a few sites in my own life where I feel like this, but I'm having trouble accessing them right now.)