When I was a child my family and I went to Tuscany every summer for two weeks. There was a sleepy Italian town called San Vincenzo right by the sea where we stayed in a little beach hotel. From its terrace I could see all over the glittering water right across to the island Corse, standing grey on the horizon. I walked down the marble steps. When I reached the beach, my feet touched the hot sand, warmed up by the sun all day long. I sprinted to the water, stepped into the wet and white foam washed over my feet when a cool wave reached them. The wind tasted salty and I pictured mermaids playing out there, all sparkling gold and purple. The Tuscan beach houses and the cypress trees behind were all dipped in gold by the sinking sun. I loved the sound of the breaking waves. I was eleven years old and life was beautiful.
At the age of sixteen everyone in my year had a Facebook account except for me.
‘But why don’t you want to get Facebook? It’s so much fun!’, Maria had now asked me for the third time in two days.
Maria had dark brown hair, smooth rosy skin and eyes like Bambi. She has never had one pimple. She was one of the prettiest girls at school. She loved Facebook because she could post pictures of herself and her friends going out, get ‘likes’ from boys she liked and flattering comments from girls who wanted to be like her. She could simply express her identity as a teenage girl and wanted me to join in the fun. She thought I might miss out. Maria only wanted me to be part of it, to be included. However, she did not understand what she was asking me to do. I felt ashamed that I was unable to explain it, considering that she was one of my best friends for four years now. On Facebook I would be asked to sign up to an identity. Something I was not, something that would be there twenty-four/ seven, that was imposed over me by a society I did not fit into.
We were on our lunch break at school and I was going over my history notes not wanting to gossip about what happened on Facebook. I stared passed her out the window, trying to form an answer. It was a cool November day. The sky was dark grey, and the almost black skeletal trees created a ghostly contrast to the sky above, almost like spectres, not really there, not here. Most of the leaves had already fallen to the ground. They were now brown and muddy. I preferred the colours of summer. Like the colours of the ocean, they had always made me think clearer.
‘I just don’t think I need it. Maybe I will create an account soon though. But now I don’t really feel the need to have one.’
I was surprised by my honesty, superficial honesty at least, and how easy it was to stop and say no more. It was true that right now, I did not feel the need to have one. There was more but by that point I had realised, turning from a child into a teenager, it was essential to know what things I could say and what things I could not.
Juliet Jacques said in an interview after she had published ‘Trans, A Memoir’: What If we’re not trapped in the wrong body but trapped in the wrong society? Here she referred to transgender people, but you can extend this statement further. One could include all members of the LGBTQ+ community, women, people of colour, simply, every minority that has suffered under a straight, patriarchal, conservative society. She made a point here that expressed clarity and rung true to me. Her words acted like a clear ocean breeze on me which carried all the smells of a Tuscan summer, the salty sea, the scent of lemons and the tomato and basil on crisp thin Italian Pizza. I could taste and smell the truth of her words.
In all my years, I believed I had to fit in. Be gay but become an acceptable gay for the society I lived in. A society I had to live in because I was not given an alternative. Back then, the answer I had given Maria felt true because of something I did not yet understand. When Maria had heard my answer and thought about it for a second, she just sighed and nodded.
Being in the closet very often felt dangerous and Facebook could act like a catalyst. In real life among teenagers, I have always felt uncomfortable about spending a lot of time with my friends and their friends. I had a small group of friends, all of them girls, who I trusted and liked to talk to. Then, there were all the other teenagers at school, people I considered awful and stupid. Especially hormone driven straight boys expressed themselves very openly, calling girls ‘sluts’ or saying harassing and hurtful things to anyone they wanted to. They behaved as if the school belonged to them.
Most of the girls and boys also tried out alcohol and cigarettes. This I really did not care about in contrast to some of my friends and their parents who considered alcohol and cigarettes the gateway to drugs and worse. Most teenagers I knew simply wanted to experiment, wanted to fit in. After all, who did not want to fit in? The thing that was bugging me was that alcohol and cigarettes reminded me of parties and dates. A boy would get with a girl or a girl would get with a boy. But there was no other way.
It felt as if I was desperately looking for something, for an understanding. Something I had met before, but I could not remember where or how. Maybe it was in a dream or in a faraway place. Simultaneously, I was afraid to find it. I was mortified that, just around the corner, it would be there, a part of me. It could attack or look ugly and attach on to me for everyone else to see. I would be embarrassed forever.
By the time all this dating among my friends started, I had decided I would not take part in it. During most of my free time at school, I would revise for my favourite subjects, History and Biology, and I could go to the library and read. This way I was able to escape all the gossip, all the dating when it would get too much, but now it was unfolding in front of me on a different level. Everybody had a smart phone, including me. Texting and posting on Facebook was normal, except for me.
Whenever I spent too much time with my close friends and their friends, I feared they would notice something about me I was not ready to notice about myself. And being exposed to all of this would complicate things. Jeremy Atherton Lin once said: To be gay was a menace- or a sitting target. And to be gay and in the closet was even worse. I was scared that the friends of my friends would notice more about me, that they would mind, that they would take control over something I did not have control over yet. I truly felt like a sitting target.
I understood that the word ‘gay’ at my school and within my social life was not a word that described a man falling in love or desiring another man, but it was a swearword. It was used every day to degrade someone or something. My friends would say: ‘That looks gay’ or ‘Stop doing that, that’s so gay’. Not one of my friends were able to recognise that to one of their friends this word could have so much more meaning. Recognising that it could be the solution to an understanding which was growing inside of me.
Eventually, I gave in to Maria and I created a Facebook account. I put in a profile picture but left out everything else one could fill in or say about oneself. I was there but I was not. It was not the truth.
To be continued…