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Hiding in the Closet and Watching TV

I’m 15 years old and it's around 11:00 pm. The whole house, except for me, is

asleep. I’ve been keeping something to myself and now it is stuck in my throat. I tried to push it down, make it go away, but it won’t. So, I wake up and wander around trying to ignore the urge to blurt it out. This has happened before, it goes away on its own. I turn on the lights and curl up onto a blue chair. I hug my knees, but now there is an ache. An ache that grows more painful the more I keep it in. I’ll make a voice memo then, yes, that is the solution. I’ll say what I am keeping inside in a recording and then I’ll delete it. No one will ever have to know. It starts smoothly, then gets rougher, and finally, it breaks me into pieces. I’m muttering the words “I just want to come out” as if I could magically wake up and have it be real. I hold my phone up to my mouth, saying the words over and over, trying my best to keep my crying to a minimum.

I’m queer. Maybe that isn’t very specific, but it’s all I choose to say for now. I’ve known

since I was 12. I’ve had crushes on guys and girls and people who don’t identify as either. I’m

currently in a relationship with a male partner, but that doesn’t erase my attraction to women. I

have gone through periods of wondering why I couldn’t just be “normal” to then being proud of myself and then back again. Naturally, I turned to my favorite TV shows for any kind of guidance or reassurance. Unfortunately for me, many of the shows I could find either pigeonholed their queer characters into the “gay best friend” trope, gave them an incredibly tragic story, or sometimes killed them off. Of course, as the years have gone by I have managed to find forms of representation that assured me that I could be understood and deserved love like everyone else.

One show that comes to mind is “Sex Education”. A British teen comedy-drama

that openly addresses the sex lives and sexualities of young people. Eric Efiong (Ncuti Gatwa)

is an openly gay character who embraces his femininity in the way that he dresses and his

makeup. However, as part of a religious family with a conservative father, he often feels out of

place and judged for the way he chooses to express himself. This leads to peers calling him

names and being bullied by Adam Groff (Connor Swindells). While walking home at night

dressed in drag, Eric is harassed by a group of men in a car. One of them gets out of the car

and assaults him. The attack leaves him deeply traumatized and pushes those around him

away. His father tells him to “toughen up” and the next day Eric stops dressing up and starts

wearing more toned-down, masculine-looking clothes. One of his sisters remarks that he looks “normal”. I’ve never gone through anything like that and I hope that neither I nor anyone close to me does either. However, being judged for not “properly performing” your gender is sadly something that I’ve heard a lot about, especially growing up in an Asian culture. When I first cut my hair short, it felt right. I had been wanting to cut my long, and extremely heat-damaged hair off for years. I was comfortable in my skin. I wouldn’t have to get up early to style it or bring extra hair ties for gym class. The long, wavy, feminine hair was like wearing a ridiculously heavy, hot wig every single day that broke bobby pins in half. Mostly, I enjoyed my

androgynous appearance. Of course, this came with being told “You look like a boy” in addition to relatives mistaking me for a boy. But it didn’t matter to me because, like Eric’s brightly colored wardrobe, my short, boyish hair was part of how I embraced myself.

As strange as it may sound, I had to practice saying the word “queer”. Something about

the “q” and “ee” sounds being so close together made me trip over the word. I would say “kee” instead of “quee”. My accent would switch back to British and pronounce the "r" too softly. I would hesitate to say it out loud. I would say it so stiffly, it wouldn’t sound natural. I knew my friends would accept me, but there was something about saying it out loud to other people that left me with mixed emotions. I would feel relieved, then scared, then ashamed, then regretful, then joyful, then unsure of what to do next. There’s no manual on how to come out to your loved ones. Believe me, I’ve tried to find one. Finding a label that worked for me and learning to accept myself was one thing, but then came the daunting task of telling people. As I watched Fabiola Torres (Lee Rodriguez) on the show “Never Have I Ever” navigate the same dilemma by herself, I saw that just being able to say it aloud was powerful. In the last scene of season 1, episode 3, Fabiola is programming her robot, Gears Brosnan. First, she starts with a “Hello. How are you?” command then “I am a robot”. She gets a text from her mom about going shopping for something to impress her “boyfriend” who she already broke up with. The last command she gives him is the phrase “I’m gay”. She looks at the robot and smiles. For a few seconds, she feels a sense of relief. In her way, she said it out loud and it felt right. In another episode when she comes out to her friend Eleanor, she says “That felt so great to say. I feel like I just solved an escape room I’ve been trapped in my entire life” and I couldn’t agree more. When I told my friends, it felt like I could breathe a bit easier and when they told me that they supported me, I felt even better.

Coming out to my friends wasn’t too bad. I knew they would accept me and support me,

but, like a lot of people, I have no idea how my family would react. I expect some questions

since “queer” can be interpreted as vague and indefinite. I expect to be told “You’re just

confused” even though I know I'm not. But, after the inevitable questions, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve played out my coming out multiple times in my head. I imagined myself sitting down with my parents and simply telling them. I would go back and forth between saying “I’m queer” or just mentioning in conversation that I had a crush on a girl before I started dating my boyfriend. Maybe I would pull an Emma Stone and make a PowerPoint presentation. I imagined my parents being supportive; hugging me and telling me that they love me no matter what. My dad might have a hard time with it at first but then my mother would talk to him and he would tell me he supports me. Maybe we would get a flag for Pride Month. I would have images of my family supporting me without question but then maybe I would get yelled at. Maybe I would be told that I was “confused” again. Maybe I would get called names. Maybe I would be sent away. Maybe I would get hurt. I don’t know which scenario is the most realistic.

Once more, I searched for a TV show that could help me solve this new puzzle. This

one was a show called “One Day at a Time”. In this case, it was two episodes of season 1; episode 11 and episode 13. In episode 11, Elena Alvarez (Isabella Gomez) comes out to her mother Penelope (Justina Machado). Afterward, Penelope spends the rest of the episode trying to come to terms with her daughter’s revelation. She admits that she feels “really weird” about it, but wants to show support to her daughter because she realizes just how impactful her reaction could be. Penelope’s reaction stands in contrast to Elena’s grandmother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), who quickly goes through the acceptance process. While this moment is somewhat played for laughs, her last statement concludes its meaning, “She is my granddaughter and I love her no matter what”. When Elena was shown this unwavering support she gleefully yells out “I love my family!”. In episode 13, she comes out to her father expecting the same reaction. She comes out during a sweet moment between the two of them while they are practicing a dance for her 15th birthday. She looks at him hopeful and he pulls away from her. Her father accusingly asks her “Why are you doing this?” and yes, tells her that she is “confused”. It’s the coming-out scenario that no kid ever wants to experience. Her parent doesn’t accept her, and he doesn’t want to. Penelope tells him “You’re going to have to find a way to be okay with this” but her father replies “I don’t have to be okay with anything”. To be honest, I found the parent trying their best to be supportive too romantic and this reaction to be more realistic.

I don’t know how my family would react. But I do know that if they loved me, they

would find a way to be okay with my queerness. Some angry part of me thinks that if I had to

hide who I am for 6 years while I hated myself, ashamed and afraid, then they can learn to live with me as I am. I don’t want to say “I’m still your daughter” because that should be a given. If my biggest fear is being discarded and unwanted by the people who brought me into this world while theirs is an embarrassment, then we are not the same. But, at the end of it, all I want is to know that the people closest to me will continue to love and care about me no matter what.

Isn’t that what all of us want? Don’t we deserve to take pride and live as we are?

Written by JD Valdepenas

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