Identity in Separate Baubles

Art by Sachin Teng
Art by Sachin Teng

Being homosexual has consistently been present in my life, beginning when I was 9 years old when AIDS entered my consciousness, putting a dark stigma became attached to being homosexual.  The original facts I had about homosexuality came to me through knowledge about AIDS, gleamed from the deaths of Anthony Perkins and Robert Reed, effectively connecting homosexuality with death, separation, and sensationalism.  With limited exposure to healthy examples of homosexuality I stumbled into a stagnate malleable inauthentic identity, designed for avoidance.

As I grew up I struggled with the idea that there was something false and untrue about my place in the world.  In reaction, I created a false self that wasn’t defective or flawed.  I diluted or ignored parts of myself that I thought would alienate me from those around me.  When a false-self was created I ceased to be an authentic human being.  The psychologist, the late Alice Miller calls this “soul-murder” – shame that leads to believing that I was a failure. Self-contempt, isolation, and a strong sense that I was untrustworthy accompanied each other until I believed I was a failure. Shame became my core identity, shutting me down to human relationships, living in hopelessness, and locked in a set of very unhealthy beliefs. Continue reading “Identity in Separate Baubles”

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Felix Masquerade

I dreamed of super-powers to be like the mutant X-Men, just as I had dreamed about being like the other boys in school.  I didn’t understand why I had to feel alienated and alone from everyone in my school and home; why couldn’t what made me different be celebrated the way athleticism and super-powers were? The character, Felix, I created was originally purely escapism, a way to join my favorite mutants as I read their new issues.   Over time he developed as I grew, becoming a character that I armored myself with in new and boundary-pushing situations.

The original power I grafted onto Felix were my wish fulfillment, liberating me from the conflicts I had with homosexuality’s shame.  Originally, I gave Felix shapeshifting abilities because I’d be able to become anyone other than myself.  With shapeshifting, I’d reflect the popular students throughout middle and most of high school, avoiding the lonely and isolation prophesized by television and movies.  Changing my appearance, Felix could literally become or match anyone’s desire, gaining the perfection that I had desired.  Being able to shapeshift I’d have more tools at my disposal to make my goals and fantasies match my outside.

Felix was eventually given telepathy as I struggled to juggle the various facades I had created to navigate interactions.  Telepathy ensured that the forms I took would be ideal for whom I was interacting with, removing the guess work about how to be part of the group.  I’d know exactly what to say, be prepared for what others would say, and always have a funny quip to keep grace.  Having the correct words, I’d be able to give the illusion that I was known without having to go through the painful experience of not exposing my queerness.

As I began to fully explore what differentiated me from others, I added the final super-power: teleportation.  Felix would be able to truly escape any situation that was uncomfortable; I’d be free to be away from ticky-tacky suburbia and be where the different, foreign, and unique are celebrated –  New York City, home to many of Marvel’s superheroes and faraway from the mundane.  By this time Felix stopped becoming escapism and became the armor for every day, designed to masquerade as popular and fleeting.  Felix had become the mysterious character whose silent smile spoke, so that I didn’t have to expose myself to isolation and alienation.

School Homosexuality

Being homosexual has consistently been present in my life, beginning when I was 9 years old when AIDS entered my consciousness, putting a dark stigma became attached to being homosexual.  The original facts I had about homosexuality came to me through knowledge about AIDS, gleamed from the deaths of Anthony Perkins and Robert Reed, effectively connecting homosexuality with death, separation, and sensationalism.  With limited exposure to healthy examples of homosexuality I stumbled into a stagnate malleable inauthentic identity, designed for avoidance.

Feeling distant from classmates and peers, particularly the boys, began in elementary school when I didn’t want to participate in the same games and activities.  Middle school proved to be a more complicated time because as boys were discovering girls, I had no interest in them.  What I did find more appealing were the boys in my grade, who became the subject of fantasy and infatuation.  The more popular the better.  I equated popular-by-association with acceptance into the societal norms.  There were no boys to roleplay intimacy or boundaries; everyone’s burgeoning masculinity was too fragile.  Back then ‘gay’ was a pejorative for ‘stupid,’ ‘sissy,’ ‘girly,’ or ‘less than.’  With group acceptance as the primary goal being labeled the outsider was unacceptable, so I kept any suspicious ‘gay’ buried through comic books.  For other students, their exploration didn’t have many venturing far from home, keeping them safely in the group.  My search for identity would have had me travelling far into the realm of gay-other, which at that time was predominately found in the character Jodie Dallas, from Soap reruns on Comedy Central.  Jodie Dallas was a sad sack that never was taken seriously by his family, and was unable to find happiness with another person that was similar, whom he could divulge his thoughts and feelings to.  Jodie Dallas was ridiculed and dismissed every time he came out.  He was also constantly alone, single, and nearly friendless because his homosexuality separated him from his family.  This was still a typical and normal portrayal of homosexuality in the early & mid-1990s, and Soap was from the late 1970s.

Fearing the concept of isolation, I steered far from the queer identity, and built a wall safely hidden beneath goofball.  A lack of interest in sports was chalked up to geek, safely hiding within the group.  I ignored the adventure of exploring a gay identity, and embraced the descriptions that avoided me being ostracized into the group with the more flamboyant homosexual boys – the ones labeled “sissy.”  So, when a girl asked me to be their boyfriend I said yes, lacking the vocabulary and experiences to know that it would be an ill-fit.  I withdrew and couldn’t muster the interest to mimic boyfriends I saw modeled on TV, and waited for the inevitable implosion.  When she did call to break-up I didn’t feel relieved, or even numb – I simply went about my afternoon watching cartoons.

When I left school, I spent the rest of my life un-learning the group mentality.  I wondered what about who I was that was unacceptable.  My identity was separated into different baubles, guised with adjective-derived masks to fit in, and denying myself a confidante.  By refusing anyone I could divulge to because I am scared that if anyone knew my real fears, secrets, and thoughts, they’d not like me.  And that there is no possibility for repair. I felt punishment was warranted. I imitated to the expectations of others when I should have been fostering an identity to grow into.  Inclusion was predicated upon adopting various skins that brought me affection and attention.  My not being seen combined with its created a spiral of neglect and ignored are bound with being loved.  Compliance allowed me to go unseen, a self-imposed inability to label that I was homosexual.

Verve (January 2017)

Growing up I longed for a surprise party that was like what was seen on movies, where a home would be filled of people that wished to be there.  That dream has never come true, even in grade-school when it was mandatory to report to a classmate’s birthday.  I never enjoyed the idea of celebrating my birthday; I do enjoy getting older though.  What I feared was not getting older, but that no one would ever come to a birthday party for me.  My sister was unable to make time to celebrate my birthday, and since family waited for each other to acknowledge milestones, birthdays adhered to my sister’s schedule; my sixteenth birthday was two months late because my sister couldn’t be bothered to take time off from work.  Eventually, I stopped sending invitations out at all, choosing to ignore the celebration and take enjoyment only from cards – and then settle for Facebook birthday posts.

My birthday was where I learned to exist within the cracks, as typically during the school year it fell in the middle of Winter Recess.  Later, this became the excuse for why no one needed to hold a celebration for me.  I wanted to avoid any fuss that would draw attention from friends because if they were paying attention to me, I believed they’d peak beneath my mask and judge me inappropriate – or worse, inadequate.  Around friends, I remained shy as if they were strangers because facades kept everyone at an arm’s length.  It was simpler to cover my self-consciousness and inferiority beneath masks, that were fashioned for inclusion by adopting specific friend-interests, and sub-cultures, and abandoning my own.

Verve (5/08-5/12)

NERDSI exist in a state of constant heartbreak, longing to be within a cozy weekend bubble with another.  In the past I sunk under the weight of pursing others like a puppy only to not be selected; my authenticity – the interests, experiences, and beliefs – has always existed on the peripheral of popular.

An element of fear of abandonment became engrained in middle school when everyone began experimenting with relationship dynamics.  Every student appeared to pair-off, leaving me feeling alone.  During this delicate time, I turned to the people around me as models of domesticity, which did not perfectly reflect what felt natural to me.  In culture role-models were Ellen DeGeneres when she came out while I was in high school, but unfortunately her breezy character became heavy, angry, and hurt  The relationship her character presented was full of drama and bickering.  Queer as Folk on Showtime presented more of the same, but this time heavy drug use was included.  I was in college by that time and finally saw healthier homosexual relationships, through Will Graham, Will & Grace, was single through the majority of the show’s run, having serious relationships after the show found success.

The domesticity on Will & Grace was not perfection, but the characters created a bubble of playing house.  I wanted to emulate the relationships by running errands, sharing chores, and cooking together.  Our existence would be dictated by shared calendars and outings.  It would be teamwork and comradery.  I crafted doctored acceptable variations of myself, believing my exposed self would not be good enough.  The knowledge my authenticity granted was deferred to others in an effort to avoid insult and derision.  Receding behind partners’ goals I built up their hopes, while exploring how to play with the truth, creating chaos that would ultimately result in the relationship imploding.

The Extremist

The Extremist (ted mckeever)            The Extremist, written by Peter Milligan and artist Ted McKeever, was my first Vertigo comic book, a DC imprint of mature themed comic books.  The Extremist showed me that comic book books could be elevated from escapism to literature.

            The main character Judy Tanner surrenders herself into the identity of the assassin The Extremist.  Judy discovers The Extremist after her husband, Jack, is murdered and uncovers the costume and identity belonged to him, which he used as a patron of sex clubs and to work for The Order, a shadowy organization.  She is able to take her revenge on her husband’s murderer, but then learns she was manipulated by The Order’s Chief Hedonist, Patrick, who reveals he is the true killer.  He had manipulated Judy into murder because he wanted to liberate Judy from her bourgeois suburban code.

            The Extremist’s exploration of moral codes runs parallel to the homosexual search for identity because traditional gender roles can’t be applied to homosexual relationships.  Conversely, heteronormative gender roles are all that were modelled for homosexual relationships, which creates internal dissonance about behaviors.  The effect of this confusion is culture-identity dissension, when cultural-norms disconnect from a developing identity resulting in habitual painful feelings.

Queer Representation in Strangers in Paradise

d235b18528ee6f0669700298684570be           Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise volume 3’s representation of queerness became my first exposure to positive queer characters with agency.  I discovered Strangers in Paradise through stray copies of volume two in FYE, while in middle school.  The characters, through Moore’s work, was my first exposure to independent self-published comic books.  Strangers in Paradise had kinetic physical comedy balanced with brutal sudden violence, and strong characterization. I hunted down back issues and filled in volume one and two through local comic book stores and internet stores, when they became available.   Aside from great artwork, strong characterization and real relationships were the draw.  Francine’s attractiveness was not the basis for Katchoo’s love.  It was Francine’s empathy, kindness, and loyalty.  Francine valued Katchoo’s selflessness, honesty, and endless compassion.  The two characters had an authentic relationship rooted in appreciation and friendship.

Seeing a balanced queer relationship, and created agency, was a stark contrast to mainstream representation where homosexuality was rarely addressed, and when it was homosexuality was treated like a plot-device.  Katchoo was driven by her queer relationship with Francine, and inherent danger in queerness.  This is exemplified by Freddie Femur, Francine’s ex-boyfriend, who is jealous of the characters’ relationship and suffers embarrassment when he attempts to push his heterosexual expectations on Francine.  The other antagonist, Darcy Parker, represents the exploitation of women by other women, through an international prostitution ring, which pushed hetero-erotic gender-roles on an under-age runaway Katchoo.  Both adversaries’ suppression of queerness was a driving force, informing both character and plot development.

The Super-Powers I’d Want

If I was to be an X-Men there were two mutant powers that I wanted: shapeshifting and telepathy.

Shapeshifting to me represented liberation, a way to escape my conflict about homosexuality; freedom to explore queerness.  In middle and most of high school women were happy in their submissive role, reveled in the same fantasies about escape to a big city, a family of friends, and self-reliance.  With shapeshifting I’d be able to become that person, to become anyone other than myself.  I’d be able to avoid the lonely and isolation prophesized by television and movies.  By being able to shapeshift I’d have more tools at my disposal.  If only my goals and fantasies matched my outside.

Telepathy was a power that I wanted because it would ensure that the forms I took would be ideal for whom I was interacting with.  By having telepathy I’d know exactly what to say, be prepared for what others would say, and always have a funny quip to keep grace.  Having the correct words, I’d be able to give the illusion that I was known without having to go through the painful experience of not exposing my queerness.  Telepathy would remove the guess work about how to be part of the group.

Identity in Separate Baubles

Identity In Separate Baubles            My gay identity has never been known.  I have no formed queer identity, rooted in beliefs, attitudes, and values.  My identity has been separated into different baubles, adjectives that carry their own connotations.  Through critical analysis of my formative years, the books, celebrities, television, and movies, I will involve myself in crafting my gay identity.  Finding my cultural identity will provide a relationship to queerness; homosexuality is same-sex attraction, while queer is cultural practice.  By creating a tether to queer I will develop a critical lens, a tool that will aid in how I navigate and perceive the world and my relationship to it.

Gay culture is not similar appreciation for a single genre of music, literature, or way of dressing.  Queer culture is a set of shared perceptions that take heteronormative practices, beliefs, and arts, to repurpose for identification.  Self-classification as any one sexual category, such as heterosexual, does not eliminate one from participating in queer culture.  Rather, participation requires the ability to empathize with and perceive the world through the experiences of fringe and minority groups.

[To Read the Complete Personal Essay Click the PDF Below]

Identity in Separate Baubles [blog]