Canvassing my queerness

Views from the Outside

Emily Bi/Staff

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I paint my queerness with broad strokes, thick lines — imprecise and difficult to discern a clear picture from. I paint my queerness in the same complicated and unclear way that it revealed itself to me.

While I had always known about my attraction to girls, when I was young, I’d never really had crushes on them. I’d meet girls in passing, the kind who just had some kind of unplaceable magnetism, and be overcome with an overwhelming need to know them. Most of the time, this would lead to some of the most fulfilling friendships I’ve ever had. I’d befriend them and care deeply for them, but only in what I thought was a platonic way.

But then, hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?

One particular instance of this stands out. There was this girl, cooler than anyone I’d ever met. She was confident and had this unspeakable command of every room and every group of people. She called teachers by their first names and talked too loud. As she was close to a number of my friends, our introduction was natural, inevitable. Our friendship was the same.

High school can be trivial, but the strength of my feelings for her was not. She colored everything about that time of my life in golden hues of near unconditional affection. She gave me sunflowers and kissed my hands. She made me band merch for a band we started that no one listened to. We called ourselves, much to the disappointment and mortification of my parents, Sushi Cootchi. We sang together, we harmonized. She felt right like few things ever had for me. She was a she, and that was hardly the scariest thing about her.

And just like that, the image of my queerness became less vague lines and curious colors. Less abstract and more Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Abstraction White Rose.”

Falling in love with her was like chewing on ice. It was cool, soothing on a hot day. Slid down your throat easy if you could chew the pieces small enough. But I’ve always been ambitious, and those too-large ice cubes lodged themselves in the back of my throat. They took up too much space and cut off my air supply.

She made a playlist for me just before we stopped talking. She called it “Kevin,” after the name we’d given a squashed moth that stained a wall of her house. “Kevin” was a portrait of our ruin. It should have been hard to miss an omen that spelled out our demise as plainly as that did. But while I felt our end like an interloper watching me from across a room, hairs on the back of my neck stood up — nothing could have prepared me for it.

We had a sleepover. She held my hand, and we climbed to the roof of her house. The night drenched in sad blues. I bet the stars would’ve frowned on my delirious affection, and looking back on that night, it feels like they did. We kissed. We fucked. We ruined each other.

After that, our ending was quick. Complicated. Sex tends to do that. It was the crescendo in the symphony of our relationship. It was abrupt, but rather than petering out to a cathartic resolution, the song just stopped.

And then she outed me.

Which should’ve been painful enough on its own without adding the fact that I didn’t even know I was in the closet. The trauma of being outed wasn’t easy to cope with. I didn’t know who I was afterward. Everything was moving too fast, but I wasn’t moving at all. I was the same person, and I had the same life, except I didn’t. The colors of my queerness were muddied by the self-doubt that descended on my canvas like homophobic hawks. From what I’d seen, I was supposed to be proud and vocal. But my being queer didn’t feel like a revolt against societal norms; it felt like a revolt against me.

I suppose sometimes that that’s what it’s supposed to feel like. I was a tyrant, after all. I locked someone in a closet. It didn’t matter that that person was me.

If I hadn’t been so wrenched in there, under thick coats of heteronormativity and shame, no one would have had to open the door. That doesn’t excuse what happened, but it gives me some twisted sort of comfort. I still struggle with my queerness and what it looks like, and I do wonder if having had my story told before I even knew what that story was is a part of why. But it gets easier every time I do it. Hell, at the end of this week I’m going to perform an original song all about being gay, to an actual audience.

Laying fresh paint to the canvas of my identity still hurts, like new light entering a very dark room… or a closet.

Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].