If you have been following me on Facebook, you will be aware of the issue I have taken with the Summerside Community Church over an unfortunate decision they made to share an event of a homophobic nature. Their post has since been removed, but I briefly looked on their website and quickly found enough information to know that folks from the 2SLGBTQAI+ community would not be welcome. This post is going to take me back a “few” years.
I want to tell you what it was like to be a queer person in the 80s and 90s on Prince Edward Island. I grew up in a very Catholic family. As a young person, I learned that being gay was a sin. I knew it was wrong. It wasn’t explicitly said that way, but I heard it whenever a queer person was referenced. I saw it whenever a queer person was referenced. There were jokes; gestures and words meaning gay were only ever used negatively.
The set-up is taking more words than I expected, perhaps, because it brings back difficult and painful memories for me. I am sharing this now with the hope of helping one person who may be going through this so that they know they are not alone.
I remember being in Elementary school. I was shy; I was quiet. I didn’t want to be noticed by anyone. I was very sensitive. I worried about others. I was scared of saying or doing the wrong thing. I knew I was different, but I didn’t understand what that meant or why. I remember one day, I was being teased about liking a boy. I was horrified at the thought. I knew I had to show that I did not like this boy, at least not in the romantic sense. I may have gone a little too far when I deliberately pushed him hard into a puddle of icy water in the playground. (Sorry, Scott) He was younger than me, and when confronted, I first denied pushing him, then said someone else had pushed me when pressed on the issue. It bothered me so much that they might think I liked a boy. I didn’t know why. He was (and is) a very sweet guy.
Later that same year, I wore a dress to school one day, and a boy older than me pushed me up against a wall, put his hand inside my underwear and touched my vagina. I was horrified and hoped no one would ever find out. I also vowed never to wear a dress again. I knew I had done something wrong to deserve this. I should not have worn the dress. I learned from these incidents that I needed to protect myself from what others might do or what they might think of me.
In seventh grade, I started to realize I was queer. I didn’t know what my feelings meant. I knew that when I was around a certain girl, my stomach was in knots, and I wanted badly to be friends with her. I gradually came to an understanding of what this did mean. By eighth grade, I knew I was gay. I was 12 years old. It took until I was in my twenties to share this with anyone. I lived with this secret for more than ten years. During those ten years, I did not know any other gay people. There may have been one or two that I suspected, but they were not out. No one talked about it except to make fun of or shame them. This became my shame. I took it in and took it on.
My good friend Carl once said to me, “of course, we’re good at hiding things; we’re gay.” I made sure that no one knew. I laughed at countless gay jokes. I nodded in agreement when friends suggested another person must be gay in a tone that dripped with pity and disdain. I stayed silent.
I stayed silent. I dated boys and later men. I tried to be like everyone else. I tried to pretend I could change. I wanted to pretend it was a choice. I did these things knowing full well that I would never be happy. I was willing to accept that I would never be truly happy. It was a melancholic time for me. I was always fascinated by nature and changing seasons. I could watch the waves for hours. I could find peace when I was alone and didn’t have to pretend. I searched for beauty in nature to ground me and save me from the judgement I felt around others.
Of course, things have changed for me. My partner of 21 years is a loving and understanding woman. I have many, many good things in my life but being queer is an experience that has shaped who I am. In good ways and bad. It is 2022, and I still have to think twice before outing myself. From work settings to social gatherings and idle chit-chat, straight people don’t think twice when someone asks if they are married or seeing someone. I realize there are exceptions and sometimes women need to protect themselves for other reasons. Occasionally, I will out myself early on in a conversation with someone new because I need to know how they will react. I don’t want to invest time if my sexual orientation is a problem for them.
I wasn’t sure where I would be going with this post, and I think I will stop here. The story I have shared today is an attempt to explain why I can’t see a post on Facebook such as the homophobic one making the rounds now and not act. I just can’t. I didn’t do or say anything for so many years. I laughed at gay jokes and went home and cried. I wondered why others let this happen. I still hear the jokes; I still hear homophobic comments. It still hurts every single time. I don’t always have the strength, and I don’t always know what to do, but when I can, I act.
I need you to act too. Please call out homophobia when you see it. A significant number of you have been incredible allies these last few days. Sharing your own words and mine to show we do not accept this in our community. I appreciate every single one of you who did or said something. There is no other way to bring change. The fight isn’t over, and we need you to keep showing up.