Trigger warning: mention of homophobia and mental illness
I grew up watching cinema depict the queer community in a particular light— characters wrapped with misinformed stereotypes and blatant homophobia. Reading about queer kids getting disowned by their parents because they weren’t “normal” enough or were a “disgrace” to the family. Consequently, this made me think of being queer as wrong, unforbidden, and just undeserving of any empathy. God forbid if you identify as anything but straight, this grants you a one-way ticket to hell. So rather than going to hell, most of us queer folks choose the closet.
The closet is a way to feel safe as an LGBTQIA person. With countries still carrying draconic laws of marking queer love as crime, it is challenging to feel secure or accepted. Even in places that have legalized gay marriage homophobia still prevails among certain groups of people. Regardless of where you are in the world— it is difficult being a queer person. The price that is paid for safety is the rejection of one's own self.
I remember watching Troye Sivan’s coming out video in 2013. Before this, I don’t think I even knew what the terms ‘coming out’, ‘in the closet’ or ‘bisexuality’ really meant. I remember crying while watching the video, it was this feeling of feeling seen and heard by this person who doesn’t even know I exist. That day, I realized two things, one, I am not alone and that there are others like me (which was exciting). Two, there is nothing wrong with my sexuality, I love who I love.
In a way watching that video pushed me a step closer to self-acceptance. Although I still had a long way to go. A few years later, during university, I began to be more vocal about my sexuality with my close friends. Telling someone that I identified as queer felt good, I felt free. It’s something I didn’t experience while living at home with my family. I had to tread lightly with subjects around LGBT+ popped up while watching a movie or during dinner. Mostly, it was me hoping no one said anything homophobic and then being disappointed by hearing my family’s opinions. Just when I thought I was stepping out of that lonely closet, I was pushed back in further, doors shut, locked.
Sometimes it dawns on me that I haven’t had many queer dating experiences due to where I live and the lack of putting myself out there. So am I any less queer compared to someone who has these experiences and gets to openly embrace their sexuality? No, but sometimes I do feel a bit invisible, this feeling of not existing. Let me explain, I am not straight although I have to pretend I am around people who I haven’t come out to. Neither do I have access — at least right now – to spaces that would help me embrace my sexuality, except for this lonely closet.
A few years into university, I started feeling very low, anxious, and had trouble doing coursework. It’s like I had no motivation— everything seemed bleak. This lasted for months, I tried to tell myself it’s just a phase that I don’t need professional help. Finally, during the winter, I gathered up my courage, threw away my pride, and called a doctor for an appointment. It was scary, I had so many thoughts rushing in saying ‘what if the doctor says it’s not depression and that it’s just all in my head?’, ‘how am I going to explain my symptoms to someone else?’, ‘will the doctor understand?’. The nurse called out my name, I went in alone, told them what I had been experiencing. They referred me to a mental health clinic. I felt a bit silly for panicking and also felt relief. Relief that someone knew what I was going through and did not judge me for it. Did not question my experience or invalidate my feelings. Relief that I will finally get help and I don’t have to do it all alone. Relief that I had finally accepted myself.
It’s a similar relief I felt while telling my close friends of my sexuality, a small step towards that locked door. Stepping into myself little by little with steadiness and growing self-compassion. Although I was met with ignorance regarding my mental illness and sexuality at times. It was not the end of the world– rejection of my experience did not make it any less real. I do exist, people of different sexualities and gender identities exist. Mental illness is real, just like a physical ailment. Seeking professional help can get you a step closer to healing and recovery— a choice everyone deserves.
In the end, you get to decide your narrative even when another story is forced upon you.