**Note from the author: This is a topic I’ve been pondering over for quite sometime. I believe it has a very big role of importance in the LGBTQ community. Personally it was what kept me in the closet for so long and something I rarely talk about in places other than my writing. As the short story series (Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable) I started months ago is coming slowly to an end I’m finding that the topics I have saved for last can get very real. This story particularly is vital for me to share and have these words available for those that are going through the same hardships I once did (and still continue to face on occasion). Remember first to find the love within yourself– that strength alone is guaranteed to get you through the hardest battles life may throw your way.
By- Traci Taylor
Live, Thrive, & Be Vulnerable series
At a young age I was sure of my attraction to girls, but somewhere along the way exposure to shame for those feelings forced me back in the closet. The power that shame has over individuals who are struggling with identity of any kind fuels unhealthy inner hatred. I remember as a kid how much of a tomboy I really was, and how that was viewed as acceptable. However those feelings I had towards girls that I mentioned earlier (and how much I perhaps enjoyed playing “house” a little more than the others) was frowned upon. It was seen as just a phase that was supposed to fade away. Looking back on the years of my adolescence I realize I was at one point “out of the closet” but quickly put back in due to shame that was enforced upon me.
Coming out of the closet was what I consider an important milestone in my life. The process of accepting years where there was a time I couldn’t even be okay with the person I truly was. For awhile I was in denial and full of shame for feeling like I knew deep down I was gay. Shame of being who you are is still a factor in the world today, regardless of how much progress has been made. There still are plenty of people that struggle to be comfortable in their own skin because of what they have been told or taught to believe. I know because I was that person from a very young age until my early twenties.
From my experience it isn’t just one particular thing that brings out this feeling of shame. There was the teasing from peers or side comments about being a “tomboy” or “bull dyke”. That the feelings at such a young age I was so sure of quickly turned into a self hatred, internalized homophobia. I began convincing myself that I had crushes on boys, and there was no possible way I could be gay. Somewhere along the way of being teased and hearing side commentary from my surroundings I persuaded myself to believe it was absolutely wrong to feel the way I felt.
Dealing with shame brought on a world of repressed feelings for me, and my rebellious behavior as a teen in turn. The overwhelming fear of being “found out” led me to maintain relationships with boys, which to me merely felt like friendships with really great guys instead of the puppy love my peers were feeling. Reflecting back I know there were times when I was in high school, maybe even junior high, that I had thoughts of “what if I am a lesbian?” and then quickly shutting off that part of my brain. It was like a piece of me wanted to be who I was, and the other was too afraid of what sort of rejection that would bring on. It was the result of years of hearing negative things about being gay that kept me in the closet and ashamed of the person I really was.
Even after I found the courage to proudly admit I was a lesbian without hesitation, there were still incidents that I encountered where shame tried to force its way back into my life. My sexual orientation does not make me less human or without emotion. Sometimes I’m convinced people that are homophobic forget that little bit of information when they deem it necessary to express their hatred. Each day I am faced with the possibility of getting catcalled for the way I dress (aka the way I am) or even holding hands with another woman in public. This is merely an example of society pressing shame back onto what I have taken many years to personally over come. It was years of fearing that sort of hate that kept me in the closet. Today I use it as fuel to stand proud for the person I am (even though truthfully hate does hurt, even in the “tiniest” of ways).
There was a particular incident about a year or so after I came out of the closet that I was faced with that still sticks with me today. I was on a date at a minor league ice hockey game with a couple of other girls as well. For the most part our conversation (among the women) was clean and sportsman like. With some sports (mixed with alcohol) foul language can tend to slip out from the spectators occasionally, this however was not the real problem I later learned. Next to our group there was a father and daughter watching the game. The father at one point asked one of the women in our group if we could cut out some of the language we were using. At the time we all figured he was referring to some cursing that had occurred and even warned the people behind us that there was a younger crowd among us (to be respectful). What happened next took me by surprise.
During a break in the game a security attendant tapped me on the shoulder informing me there had been complaints about language used and other inappropriate actions. Then he proceeded to inform me if we didn’t stop we would have to leave the game. I of course was sure he meant the foul language again and apologized immensely. Little did I know the father had complained that I was holding hands with my date and talking about “lesbian lifestyle” that he didn’t want his daughter to be exposed to. In that moment I felt all of those years of shame come rushing back. Something I had personally worked to overcome was being forced back onto me because of an outsider’s homophobia.
As a group my friends and I were almost kicked out of a public venue for our sexual orientation. The foul language from the crowd was never the problem it was my holding hands with another woman and discussing our daily lives that set this person full of hatred off. He was so merely offended by my friends and me to the point where he felt we were disturbing him and his daughter by simply being comfortable with who we are. This sort of shame that is being projected is the exact example of why people remain in the closet. These incidents are the reasons why so many people who are struggling to be who they are continue to fight through dark depression periods.
The truth is there has been progress in the LGBTQ community, but it is a battle that must continuously be fought every day. Shame, hatred, internalized homophobia are all very real feelings that exist and need to be spoken about. No one individual should ever have to experience such hatred for the way they identify themselves. Acceptance and understanding is the goal that needs to be reached in this society and the negativity needs to be pushed aside. I often wonder what my life would have been like if I felt comfortable enough to be who I was at a younger age without feeling that fear of rejection from the world I live in. That thought process (I guarantee) is going through at least one person’s mind who is at this exact moment struggling within themselves to accept who they are. It is imperative to be aware that hate of any form is hurtful, and it is harming the ones we love including ourselves. Eliminating shame is the key to the door of being able to feel comfortable with whom we are as individuals.