Toronto
3 min

Pulling apart an identity

I have written this article before. I have written this article on paper, in my head, on wood, on canvas, on a bicycle, on a Go train, alone, with Andrea, with my family, in Grade 2, Grade 4, Grade 10. I have written this article in different stories, different voices, different outfits. The variables have changed but I have definitely written this article before.

I am afraid that I am not good enough.

I “came out” in high school — I was forced out after a confrontation with my mother about sneaking around with my supposed best friend. The aftermath was therapy (for mom), lots of photocopied articles from the church, painful scenes at family gatherings, weirded-out friends, overflowing sketchbooks and more sneaking around.

I came out in high school after a lifetime of hiding who I was — stealing away to read Harlequins and Victoria’s Secret catalogues, crushing on friends, burying early sexual memories, wearing bras to bed, masturbating. (Why is that word so ugly? They couldn’t have come up with a better word for something as harmless as touching yourself?!)

It turns out that what happened in high school was just the first of a thousand coming outs. Select bits of my truth came out then, while others got pushed further and further below the surface of both my public and private personae. At 29 I am embarrassed and/or disappointed to say that I am still, in essence, coming out.

Truth has two parts — knowing something about yourself and allowing someone else to know it too. But knowing and having people know I want to be with women is simple. Knowing and having people know why and how and when and with what kind of women and as what — that isn’t simple at all.

When I came out I found out what a “lesbian” was. I found out what a lesbian looked like, talked like, fucked like, got offended by, got excited about. I discovered the lesbian identity alongside the “feminist” identity — it was the “good” lesbian feminist of the ’80s and ’90s — anti-porn, anti-“feminine”, anti-men. So the message I got in coming out and finding “my” community was that I still had to hide some of who I was and in addition I had to add new things that I was not to the person I was presenting to the world. Evidently this process has fucked me up. The term “internalized homophobia” comes to mind, although that doesn’t wholly ring true — it’s internalized trans-phobia and internalized misogyny with a sprinkle of internalized racism and a dash of lord knows what else.

For example, I have never trusted boys. I would go so far as to say I am afraid of them, realizing now that I am afraid of them because they remind me of myself, specifically remind me of the parts of myself I judge most harshly, hate most, am afraid to admit are there at all because I did not see a place for those parts in my coming out, in “my” “community.” I am afraid of being accused of wanting to become a boy. Do I want to become a boy? Do I just want to fuck girls like a boy? As a boy? Why do I care what kind of a fucking “lesbian” that makes me? Why do I care what kind of a “girl” that makes me?

I am sick and tired of trying to be a girl, trying to be queer, trying to be smart, trying to be creative, trying to be compassionate, trying to be Julia Gonsalves. I am all of those things but not to the superhuman degree that I present — to the detriment of my self-confidence, my self-worth and, in a huge way, my mental health.

A version of “internalized homophobia” is included in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (It used to be called ego-dystonic homosexuality, but is now listed under the category of “sexual disorder not otherwise specified” including “persistent and marked distress about one’s sexual orientation.”) Numerous articles cite troubles with intimacy, self-esteem, depression, loneliness, sexual satisfaction, stability of self and the development of self-defeating personality traits/behaviours as a result of “internalized homo-phobia,” especially it seems if the individual came out early because they’d have had less-developed strategies and resources for coping with the process.

I have been working so hard to get people to love the version of me that I have created — carefully pieced together over the course of a lifetime of rejection and approval experiments, more than 20 years of coming out, someone I believe is better, morally superior, stronger, cooler — this ideal version of myself who, in actuality, looks suspiciously like someone else. I am cheating myself out of the chance to be loved exactly for me, and so continuing to feed the belief that who I am isn’t good enough, must always be supplemented with more or less of the truth.

I am afraid that I am not good enough.

This isn’t the last time I will write this article.