[an article about loving yourself. always]
Why are we so afraid of feelings? Neil Gaiman wrote “wherever you go, you take yourself with you”, so you take your feelings too. I have tried to run away from myself. I’ve lived in Hong Kong, volunteered for months at a time in Africa and Nepal, and whilst I have great anecdotes for a dinner party, I now know that I did all that because I was running away from my feelings. And it worked, for a while. But after all that, here I am, back where I grew up trying to feel and find out who I am. Trying to work my way through cobwebs I created.
So, why? Why am I afraid of my feelings? If they aren’t able to manifest like some creepy ghost surely allowing them to exist is far healthier than repressing them. Resistance to our emotions is similar to resistance to our dreams, our career goals.Whilst we talk often as a society about how people get scared and give up on their dreams in order to pay the bills, in order to settle down, we talk far less about the other major dream killer: that we are afraid of what will happen if we *do* achieve our dreams. What happens on the other side? Will we be able to handle it? In the same way, we are terrified of what will happen if we feel that pain, listen to those thoughts and follow those passions. We don’t like the unknown, we like regulation and foreseeability. We don’t know how we will react if we admit to ourselves that we know that person we were dating for six months wasn’t right for us, or if we admit that there are some friendships that just don’t work for us anymore, sapping our energy rather than inspiring us. We don’t know what to expect when, like me, we have to admit to ourselves that we are gay.
In the past, I have treated my emotions like Goldilocks treated the house of the Three Bears, I either paid too much attention to my feelings (which meant that I had uncontrollable social anxiety) or I paid them no attention at all (so that I have for months on end found myself literally locked in my bedroom oddly paralysed and depressed). But it’s time to eat the porridge and feel the feelings (no euphemism).
Sexuality wasn’t something I ever defined myself by. Growing up British, I was taught that you shouldn’t overtly discuss your opinions or feelings – act politely, think politely and breathe politely. Not to discredit the entire British population, I must disclaim that my personal situation was further compounded by my illiberal, controlling, semi-narcissistic, and Roman Catholic mother who absolutely hates being embarrassed in public (children are a representation of mother remember!). Nevertheless, all throughout High School I didn’t question my sexuality. I didn’t question whether I was straight, bi, gay – it didn’t matter to me. At school, I didn’t like sex with boyfriend no. 1 or boyfriend no. 2 but I had read Cosmopolitan and knew that not all women had orgasms. I told myself I loved number one and two, which, in a way I did. But when I met my first girlfriend, I fell in love. I fell *all* the way. I can remember what she was wearing the first time I saw her and the first conversation we had. I remember our first kiss: I was wearing a bobble hat and we were making cupcakes. I remember how we had held hands on the way back to make the cupcakes and I didn’t think it was weird. I loved kissing her and making her smile. I knew the colour of her eyes, mainly brown with flecks of orange and green. I knew that she loved Spring Awakening. I knew her favourite passage from her favourite play and I learned it off by heart and recited it to her at a train station (cheesy but she was VERY mad at me). I loved everything she said and the way that she said it. She was the best person ever. Period.
At some point during the aforementioned honeymoon period, I began to question my sexuality – because it became clear that I could not and would not give her up. I was scared. I felt lonely and I worried about telling people. I cried on benches in oddly picturesque places and wrote in my overpriced leather diary. My sexuality became this thing, this secret that took on a life of its own, a horrible piece of luggage that I would take everywhere with me. Whilst I forgot it was there sometimes, sitting in a lecture concentrating or in a coffee shop, it soon returned when I was alone again. Heavy. Loaded.
Then things got worse. I accidentally came out to my mother while we were shoe shopping. I was just about to return to University for my second year and, whilst defending the sexuality of my brother, my face gave me away and somehow the truth came out. She was stunned and I was stunned. All of a sudden she knew when I hadn’t planned to tell her. I asked her not to tell my Dad. My mother then bullied me. She would come into my room and tell me how disgusting she thought I was. How she couldn’t bear to think of us “rolling around together in bed”. “What about the Church?” she asked one day. I phoned once, early in the morning, she then somehow convinced herself that my grogginess was actually me, breathless, in bed with my girlfriend. It wasn’t.
All of that took its toll and I didn’t go home for about a year and a half. It was rubbish. But oddly, with hindsight, I don’t believe my mother’s huge reaction is to blame for me essentially locking myself back in the closet for about five years. Instead, it is the disbelief and subtle homophobia of friends and family. People who remarked that I couldn’t be gay because of the way I looked, because I’d had boyfriends because of who I was. I just didn’t “fit” the mould. My mother said to me as we walked into my grandmother’s house, “I just don’t understand, you’re so pretty. You could have any man you want”. A friend, “Brie” said to me “I just don’t see it. I get it with <girlfriend> but not with you. You’re like me”. Or when I told my best friend from school I thought I was bisexual rather than gay, “Oh, thank GOD” she replied. I know I am my own person and I have to take responsibility for myself but these small comments crept into my psyche. It often seemed that they were giving me a backhanded compliment but they offended me deep inside.
But my girlfriend and I broke up. And when she wasn’t there I didn’t have anything to fight for anymore. It became far easier to be mistaken for a straight girl. But my sexuality is not only existent when under fire – it’s always there. A country doesn’t disappear when a war is won.
Once upon a time I may not have considered my sexuality to be at the crux of who I am, but repressing myself for many years has taught me that it is important. I have repressed part of “myself”. It doesn’t matter whether I originally saw it as something big or small, the truth is if you don’t let something out it grows anyway and closets always run out of space. Maybe I never thought it was important before I knew I was gay and I didn’t really want to be sexual with anyone anyway. But I had something to fight for when I met my girlfriend because I sat at tables and listened to “friends” talk about relationships with boyfriends who didn’t even set their hearts on fire. And it hurt when they knew about us and still didn’t ask how things were. Yes, our relationship was a shit show in the end but I fucking loved her the way that you are meant to love someone and I long for the day I learn a poem for someone again. But it’s also worth fighting for yourself and who you are even if you’re not with someone. I may have awakened my big rainbow soul when I met my girlfriend, but I’m still me even when I’m single, I’m still gay when I’m single and I owe it to myself to throw that information around like a glitter bomb for the rest of my life because you can still lie by omission. So, from now on, I am feeling my sexuality every fucking day and I’m not going to be embarrassed because love is love and love is life. And I am so ready to live again.