[Editor's Note : This is a re-published post with minor edits]
Here’s a story upside down. Expect drama but don’t be surprised that the usual suspects are missing.
I think it was the Emirates ad that cheerfully asked about the last time I did something new. I think that would have to be today. Today, I did something that I probably should or could and maybe even would have done years ago. My multinational employer launched its first LGBT Pride network in the country. I took a deep breath, felt that familiar sense of churning before a big interview or an exam and walked into that room in a manner that felt, if I might add, quite brave. Walking into that room closely reminded me of standing on stage as a 5th grader, make-up and ribbons in place, over-rehearsed paper crumpled in my hands, waiting…waiting for the curtains to open. The difference being that when the curtains did open this time around, no one could see me.
Let me explain. Reconstructing the past is a compelling thing and so I will comply. I’ve probably always known that I wasn’t quite going to fit in the box. My earliest memory of outrage (deconstructed to be shame in hindsight) was of being 13 and a friend yelling out at me and calling me a lesbian in a random fight. I remember distinctly that nothing had happened so far that could have led her to calling me that. We fought about who had delayed whom for a movie or something way more trivial.To get back at me though, she chose to call me a lesbian. I also remember everyone else ignoring the comment and quickly forgetting about it, dismissing it as baseless name-calling. I however, hung on to it for a long time after, deeply offended. I thought about that day years later and concluded that Eleanor Roosevelt was right. No one could make you feel inferior without your consent. I was offended because my friend had touched on a shred of truth even though it hadn’t set foot in my own realm of acknowledgement and she had dared to use it as an insult reinforcing all of society’s forced shame thrust on it.
My vivid memory has made several notes of such defining moments but I’ll cut to the chase now. You know how every coming-out story has a villain. And often it is a loved one trying to grapple with the reality of their own being different. Mine was an outlier even in this regard. Despite my 13 year old outrage, I grew up very comfortable discovering myself. My family and close friends have been witness to my moments of joy and heartbreaks, with both boys and girls, and have simply been supportive. There’ve obviously been a few moments with people implicitly hoping that it was otherwise. Despite those, I’ve been at the receiving end of extraordinary acceptance. Yet, over the years, I grew to be gripped with more fear than when I was younger. Socialization has a twisted way of getting to you. Graced with a liberal arts education, I never shied from making my presence felt at any event that marked activism for the better. Yet, for my own construct of public identity, I continue to fear.
Walking into that room today, I took a big step, a new leap of faith over my much too familiar fear. I’m still hugely guilty though of having stood there and allowed some people to think that I was merely there to show support, from the outside.
Ironical as it is, truth be told, I fear not the people who form the core of my world but those that dot the periphery. I have no answers to how long I’ll sail this ship of safety (thanks Indigo Girls) but I’m attempting to stop now, in this space. With this, I’m betting my money on the hope that one day, when those curtains are raised, I’ll look at all of them in the eye and will choose to be seen.