I always knew that I was different. I didn’t quite understand it, but I knew instinctively that there was something about me that was wrong. When I found myself daydreaming about boys and their various parts, I figured it out. I can’t recall a specific moment, but more like a slow awareness setting in, and a strong desire to hide it. I remember hanging out with a friend one warm Arizona summer day, and he took his shirt off. I felt something that confronted me in a very immediate way, so I jumped out of the treehouse. No time for a ladder.
What drives us to fear something so simple as the biological attraction to a given set of stimuli? It makes no sense, but to someone at eight or ten or younger, there isn’t a biology textbook close at hand to explain that everything is actually quite alright. We look instead to the only method of learning that we have access to as children. The story. The one our parents tell us. The one our friends tell us. The one all the fairytales, and tv shows, and movies talk about again and again. In at least my experience, there was one narrative, told over and again.
You see, you just aren’t a real person until you meet that magical prince or princess. That’s what they all say. Even crocodiles and penguins marched onto cruise ships two by two.
True love, as it turns out, works like this. There is a girl you see. She is weak and demure and has but one purpose. She is to find her other half and reproduce. She will find this boy, ideally the possessor of great wealth or power. The two will live happily ever after, or at least this is stated, but usually the story never continues past the point where the wedding bells play and they stumble to the edge of a balcony to observe their joint kingdom, well his kingdom.
The story ends anyway, before either of them realize what “till death do us part means.” I could write a thousand pages on all the ways that this one fallacy destroys lives, and erodes the individual, but let’s focus on the actors of our performance.
- One female. Completely feminine, vacuous. Shoes, personality, and independent thinking not required.
- One male. Robust, virile, masculine to the point of mental fragility. Money is a plus.
- Codependency. The glue that binds.
It is no wonder that many adults find themselves in serially monogamous relationships, searching like a mad person, approaching strangers and babbling on about the other half of their heart-shaped locket, beggin completion. But we will leave the issues of monogamy embedded in this tale for another time and move right into the more pressing issue of identity.
Let us assume a little boy dreams of meeting another boy. Or a young girl, another girl of compatible futures. What of the boy who dreams of two boys, or two boys and a girl. What about a non-binary child, dreaming of a boy, or a girl, or both, or not really caring what the gender of their future soulmate might have. What about the child who doesn’t want to be completed by anyone. What about the kid that just wants to talk about submarines and space? What of them? What of the ones I haven’t mentioned?
For these children, they are snuggled into bed, and read a story each night that tells them what normal should look like, and with their open trusting spongecake minds, they sup up the recipe for happiness, or so they think. Not because it does them any benefit, not because it is what they want to hear, but because it is culturally the thing with which we have come to indoctrinate small children. It is what grandma read to me, so sit down and listen to a grim horrifying tale of misogyny, patriarchy, classism, racism, and usually, exploitation of magical creatures, sometimes murder. How quaint.
We are born without sexual interest, without much understanding of our gender. When a child exits a uterus, we can generally agree that finding a sexual partner is not the first thing they have on their mind. They are not contemplating what style of dress, hair, or affect to take on. They are probably not even operating under the pretense that they need anyone to complete them, just perhaps, to feed them. While we understand that a child must learn to walk, to speak, to master the dexterity of their fingers and the intricacies of continence, to discover what flavor of popsicle is their favorite, we have for some bizarre reason come to assume that their genitals alone will aptly prognosticate their personality, vocation, style of dress, mannerism, and sexual interests with 100% confidence in perpetuity.
The parent or caregiver is the center of the universe. They are a child’s only connection to a semblance of understanding how the universe works. As children we rely on them to make sense of things, to stay safe, to navigate the world. Story is the way we learn. That’s why we tell children fairy tales, and when we are in our bed, snuggled up safe, and this person tells us that there is one way to be happy, you can bet your ass we are going to believe it.
For many kids, the ones who are lucky to have identities which align well enough with the fairytale, they get along fine. The model works well enough to keep them from having the kind of crisis of identity that makes one leap from a tree house without attention to unimportant things like personal safety. For those that don’t align, our own nostalgia for the stories of our childhood is an insufficient reason to poison children against themselves.
This fear of who we are is internal, it is external, it is pervasive and systemic, and it is found in the thousand subtle ways in which perpetuations of the gender binary, heteronormativity, and compulsory monogamy all act as inputs that teach us we are wrong.
But we are creatures of story, creatures of myth and narrative, and we can learn new truths. We can force new images into our minds and reprogram ourselves to embrace that which we have been taught to despise. We can dismantle our own fear of self.
To do that we need media, we need pictures, stories, art, and dreamscapes. We need content to pour into our hearts and minds to dilute and combat the internalized fairytale we were sold when we were most vulnerable and that is validated day after day with cultural bias.
It is for this purpose that this blog, and its accompanying zine are established; to stand as a space for the non-conforming, to source and promote the narratives of a more inclusive vision of what it is to be human in the hope that through the power of story, we can unlearn the falsehood that any person can be wrong in their existence.
This is Queer Fear.