You’re 9 years old – a wide-eyed, little girl with bushy eyebrows and curly hair. When you laugh, uninhibited – it’s obvious that your front tooth is missing.
You like being around people – you like the way their hair curls when it grows too long, and the crinkles that make themselves at home around the corners of their eyes when they smile wide enough.
But somehow, they never seem to smile at you.
Your teachers don’t think much of you. Could you blame them? They don’t know that you’re terrified to look people in the eye – hands trembling under your tattered grey jacket, unable to breathe, drenched in cold sweat and plagued by monstrous pangs of nausea.
You know the answer to the question the teacher just posed, of course you do. But your hand trembles on its way up, and you swallow your words – keeping them stowed inside of you, until your intestines are a soggy clump of tissues, words, missed opportunities, regret and blood.
Lazy: that’s what they called you – not realizing that the silent 9 year old girl they glared at with utter distaste, would someday, learn to equate her feelings of crippling social fear and panic to mere laziness.
“She’s just shy”, your parents explain to their friends, who look confused when you stutter over your words and refuse to make eye contact. They smile and look away, thankful that their children are loud and obnoxious, as kids should be.
You grow up feeling like a disappointment.
A weak, incompetent mass of flesh that couldn’t ask a waiter for a napkin.
You’re 14 years old. You meet a blue-haired girl on a rainy July evening, and as the wind howls outside – you fall in love. It’s a strange concoction: a teaspoon of exhilaration, a tablespoon of relief, a pinch of fear, and a generous splash of guilt.
You taste the word on your lips for the first time: bisexuality. It feels good. You say it over and over again, until it leaves a bloody imprint on your brain – and you try to wash it away each time you glance at your mother’s unsuspecting face, but maybe Lady Macbeth was wrong when she said that a little water would clear them off their deeds – for the blood remains, a reminder that you’re a pathetic mutation and little else.
You want to share your secret with the world– this heavy burden that weighs down on your shoulders; but each time you spell out the godforsaken word, a chill runs down your spine until your body turns into a frigid block of ice.
Coming out is one of the most taxing, heart-wrenching events a queer individual can experience, and god forbid you’re born a mutated hybrid between social anxiety and queerness.
God forbid you’re born with sticky rainbow glue between your lips, jamming your mouth shut – the tempestuous turmoil of your identity locked in for what seems like an eternity.
You grow up with popular cinema and heterosexual friends – both of whom, encourage you to kiss men whilst intoxicated. You’re force-fed large spoonfuls of the ideal life – which hurt the back of your throat and make you gag.
According to the Extrovert Rulebook; when you’re a teenager,
a) Have a densely-populated social circle
b) Consume alcohol (illegally, of course)
c) Visit extravagant restaurants and bars, and take Aesthetic™ pictures of your smoked salmon
d) Hook up with men.
e) And in the rare scenario that you hook up with women, it must occur during a round of spin-the-bottle – accompanied by surreptitious giggles, and forgotten soon after.
But when you’re a socially anxious queer teenager, you do none of the above.
You merely stand by and watch, wondering where you went wrong. Why do you never want to go for parties? Why does your skin crave the touch of a woman, but never that of a man? Why do your hands tremble after every social interaction?
You watch your friends recycle girlfriend after girlfriend, boyfriend after boyfriend – while you sit and wait and hope that someday, the endless lull will cease.
Social anxiety takes everything away from you. It snatches away your self-esteem, your pride, your sense of humour, and the light in your eyes; but most importantly, it snatches away your chance at living a queer life to its fullest.
You drape sickly-sweet dreams of visiting gay clubs and drag shows – over your shoulders, in the hopes that they’ll conceal your quivering wrists. You dream of kissing pretty girls underneath the stars, but did you know that pretty girls like confidence and charm? Not you. You – with your glassy, downcast eyes, racing heartbeat and empty tongue.
You long to feel a sense of belonging to the queer community – but a side-effect of social anxiety is a lingering sense of isolation and loneliness that kisses your neck and chest, leaving hickeys, but the painful kind. Not queer enough, not bisexual enough, not activist enough, not good enough, not extrovert enough, not loud and fierce enough. Not enough.
Cast aside, and isolated by the venomous thoughts in your head.
But you’ll grow used to it soon.
To being an outcast in your own body.
You’re 18 years old.
And you’ve made peace with being a socially anxious queer person.
You’ve made peace with the idea that you won’t ever go to night clubs and get tipsy, or do any of the things that popular culture expects you to. You won’t ever hold your bisexual girlfriend’s hand as you shop for groceries, or wave a pride flag at August Kranti Maidan on 3rd February.
Perhaps, you’ll always feel lonely and lost and miserable and confused.
Maybe that’s just what being the intersection of a Venn diagram feels like, when you’re an outcast.
Dear socially anxious queer person,
You – with your racing heartbeat, trembling hands and shaky voice.
I see you. I hear you.
I’m not much. I’m just like you.
I hope it’s enough that I’m here for you.