21

CW: mention of homophobia

When he asked me if I was –

I just laughed

because:

in the playground,

and in the classroom,

on the walk home from school,

from the TV to the big screens,

there was one very much spoken rule.

The rule meant

that all I heard, all I saw, and all I knew,

were crowds, angry crowds,

dousing the only view

with their angry teeth –

bared,

broken,

and bloody –

pointing fingers, with their hungry nails, always at something

ugly.

Something embarrassing, or decayed, always something to fear,

and as one wailing pair of lungs, they would scream,

“that’s queer!”.

So, of course, it came to be, that that word –

and whoever held its hand –

grew up dripping in

guilt,

in accusation,

in quicksand.

It sprayed the playground with its snot,

so little children ran for cover,

and whoever arrived last

was always branded a

dirty b*gger.

If it glossed girls’ lips at parties,

it was only ever meant for a laugh –   

*however, answers may vary

when using a polygraph* –  

because everyone knows

that girls kissing for show is a-okay

(but never do it alone because then

it’s just gay).

And then, after the playgrounds and the parties,

that word would search for a place to sleep.

And on the nights my mind wondered,

its company I would have to keep.  

It would sink to the pit of my stomach,

like a bug devoured by a warm bed,

and every time

I would upturn my mattress

just to get it out of my head.

So, when he asked me, I just laughed. What else was I meant to do?

When you don’t even know yourself, a chortle is the next go-to.

Because those questions, or jokes, or accusations – they have a heavy history,

a rotten one, tied to anchors, rusted and bloody with centuries of injury.

Abuse cast to punish the sinful pride of those before,

so it’s in your ancestry to shrug the question off

with eyes nailed to the floor.  

It’s an automatic response, baked into us from birth –

an evolutionary advantage

passed down from those who learnt how to earth

their love and their soul, to survive the years of hate

because those who survived, survived only

through a quiet, a guilt, a shame

wrapped with a bow full of a thousand papercuts,

delivered by hands, white knuckled and covered

in queer guts.

So, yes, it took me 21 years

to stop cringing at the questions,

to stop equating it to a punchline

or an eyebrow-raising suggestion.

It took me 21 years

to separate the word from

the worry,

it took me 21 years to realise

what I didn’t know was buried.

Today,

if the question was asked,

I’d like to think I wouldn’t sweep it with a sneer.

Instead:

I’d uncurl my spine,

raise my chin upward,

and reply,

Yes, I Am Queer.  

Image courtesy of Ruan Richard

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