There are times when, in the middle of retelling a seemingly innocent childhood story, I realise how gay it sounds. I have moments where I go “Shit, how did I not realise earlier? How did I not see this coming?” And the truth is, I did. I saw it coming, honking, charging at me like a train. Yet, I stay there, tied to the track, sometimes wishing it hit me, but more often, praying it away.
I cannot be. I should not be.
I knew my prayers, I did not know who to pray to.
That’s when Callie Torres stood there, sleeves rolled up, and screamed at her father’s face on my screen. You can’t pray away the gay, she said. And even though she was the bisexual one, when she walked away, I felt like her father, not her.
I had an unexplainable discomfort when I heard her say that. Her character was what they call a ‘newborn’. She’d just opened her eyes to the possibility of same-sex partners, yet she sounded so sure of it that she could look her family in the eye and tell them she deserved better.
I couldn’t even look at myself in the mirror and whisper that I liked women too, and there she was, standing up for her feelings. For the first time, one seemed like too many people to confide my secret in, even if it was myself.
She was everything I wish I had the balls to be. She was everything I envied, and dreamed of.
A part of me wondered why I never hated Callie. She had it all, it shouldn’t be easy for a grown adult when it is so difficult for a 14 year old. I couldn’t even explain to myself why I was the way I was.
I’d always been fascinated by people of the LGBTQIA community, even when I didn’t identify with any part of it. I was in awe of the fierce way they loved themselves, so much so that they did not need validation from anybody else.
I was a coward, I believed my need to avoid the spotlight will overpower my identity crisis. I told myself something that every person with a non-cishet identity has heard: It is a phase.
I had to date, fall in love and break up with a girl before I could admit out loud that maybe I wasn’t as straight as I wish I was. I didn’t want a difficult life; I didn’t want to fight with my family, friends and society to be with someone I love.
Nobody should have to; I will always stand by it. But who would stand by me, when I do?
I saw Callie pay for her “mistakes”, when she was cut off by her family. I saw it drive a wedge between her and Arizona, when her finances were drained, when she had to pick up extra shifts to put food on her table, when a decent date seemed like a faraway dream.
I wondered how bad the turmoil must be, that she chose this life instead of silence. If it was that difficult for a badass fictional doctor with a house and a girlfriend, it could only be worse for me. I wondered if I would ever do it- sacrifice the life I know, for the one I want.
My mother often scrunched her nose when I voiced my support for the community. “Why do you care, are you like them?”.
I could not imagine the anxiety of living with the fear of losing everyone in my life. I had decided that I would not, I could not like women. I didn’t hate myself for being this way, but I pitied what would become of me, if all my truth brought me was hate from the ones I love.
I wondered why I couldn’t love myself the way I knew I’d love my friends, if they were to come out to me. I wondered why I sought acceptance when I couldn’t give myself my own. I wondered why I cried for Callie, but also felt like her father.
I did not know I had become the kind of person I would be afraid of.
It took me years to teach myself to love my bisexuality the same way I’d love somebody else’s. It took me years to stop holding myself to a different standard. It took me years to find acceptance in my own eyes. To be proud of my pride.
And I wouldn’t have come to that realization on my own. I am afraid of the thought that I’d have kept living in denial, hating myself, cornering a part of me into a cage, had a fictional character not slapped me with that realization.
It was even later in life that I came across the term Internalized Homophobia, and educated myself about it. Later, I saw ‘newborn’ friends put themselves through the same – a friend had suddenly stopped hugging her same-sex friends because she was afraid they would take it the wrong way. It hurt me to see that worry and shame on her face. It felt wrong.
In a society that is already so homophobic, internalized homophobia becomes an act of self-preservation: everything that can be said to you, say it to yourself, everything you can be accused of, stay away from it. Make it your mistake before somebody else will, correct yourself before you do any wrong. Punish yourself before the world can.
There aren’t enough Callies in the world to teach us all. We only have each other to love, each other to learn from.
And when you’re the only person you can admit your truth to, teach yourself to love it, so that the world has an example to follow.