My second article for Gaysi was going to be about my coming out to my parents. I will get to that. In some senses I’m not yet ready to talk about it. So in the meantime, I’ve been reading a lot of Fanon lately. For the uninitiated, Fanon was the bible of some civil rights movements for race equality in the 1960s and ‘70s. As I was reading his classic Black Skin, White Masks today, it occurred to me that a lot of what he is saying is very applicable to the LGBTQ community today. One particular line jumped at me. “Fault, guilt, refusal of guilt, paranoia”, he writes, “one is back in homosexual territory”.
I weigh the possibilities. I could make this a political story and talk about guilt complexes and the insecurities they cause. But I think I’m leaning instead towards telling, again, a real-life story that to me explains what is so hard about coming out and why those lines and much of Fanon’s work is so relevant to the sexual identity we are all coming to terms with. And I say “coming to terms with” because it’s an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
When I was about fourteen, a friend of mine passed away. It was a sad event in itself. I did love her quite a bit. I can never tell how I loved her – was it a crush? Was it just plain friendship? I don’t know. But we had a lot of affection for each other. What is more relevant to this story however, was what followed.
The time that this girl passed away was when I first realized I liked women. Yes, quite a while ago. At this point, homosexuality was still pathology with my family. It was often conflated with paedophilia and other sexual crimes when it came up in conversation. So, when my friend died, I was crushed. She suffered for months before it actually ended and I had prayed the previous night that if no one could do anything to help her, she should at least die. It was a desperate prayer. But it came true. I told no one. I was guilty. But what I felt worse about was that disease and death, if it had to pick someone at random had chosen her, rather than me. And what qualified me to be chosen? In my mind, the fact that I was, to put it bluntly, lusting after girls. Fault. Actually, the way I was thinking of it, capital crime.
So I began to feel guilty she had died, rather than actually grieve for her. Guilty it wasn’t me who was “taken away” as I then thought of it, rather than her. I was at the age when all girls are discovering their sexual selves. My dreams were filled with what I longed for – the love of another girl. I would wake up, sweating, afraid. So I made a pact with whatever forces there existed. If I felt this unsanctioned feeling of attraction again, if I felt homosexual, I’d have to be taken away too. It was not a pact of suicide – simply a teenager’s angst at the cosmos in general. Guilt
So I punished myself for a year. I overate and became fat. Nothing is wrong with a little weight if it comes from happiness. But I wanted to feel grotesque. People who felt the way I did about women didn’t deserve to feel beautiful. I wished every night that I would die. But instead I’d wake up at three am, afraid.
Then came denial of guilt – probably the first step to refusal of guilt. Note that neither refusal nor denial is actually solving the problem of the guilt. It’s merely displacing it, veiling it, putting other things on top of it and labelling it wrong on purpose. It’s not facing guilt. And finally came the paranoia and when I couldn’t take it in the stuffy closet anymore, I came out. But my experience with death and guilt as a teenager was a cautionary story – but here’s a question for everyone: are we really over the guilt though?
I wonder this most when I read essays and articles on whether being gay is a choice. To be honest, I don’t know. There isn’t enough medical and scientific research to tell for sure. And frankly, I don’t care. I certainly don’t remember at any point choosing to love girls but if it’s a subconscious choice, shaped by my environment or anything else that should still be acceptable in any liberal community. I told my parents it wasn’t a choice. The question that followed was, “so if you could help it, you’d be straight?” Would I? I think that’s immaterial but what we all say is, “yes of course”. It’s easier on them, and us, to say that. “I was born that way.” But it’s also apologetic and on some level, refusal of guilt, not getting over guilt.
Fanon ends his book with the line, “O my body, make of me always a man who questions!” That, in the end, is the most important thing. The conclusions don’t even have to emerge. But to put the guilt out there and to question it, is to acknowledge it and in the end, reduce its importance.