I am a lesbian. I’ve spent years trying to find ways to explain myself that felt true. I went from ‘I’m sexually attracted to women’ (untrue, at the age of eleven, and not at all the point I wanted to make) to ‘I have crushes on girls’ (true, at times, but I am no less a lesbian at times when I don’t have a crush) to ‘I love women’ (not specific enough; I love men as well, and everyone else. Also, by this age, sexual attraction was no longer irrelevant). Recently, I’ve realized that I don’t need to explain myself to anyone, not even myself. No straight person is required to define what it means to be straight. No queer person has ever asked me to explain what it means to be a lesbian. It is not my job to spoon feed my daily life to straight people.
Queerness is too often dictated by mostly derogatory stereotypes. Being queer is always too sexual, or not sexual at all, or a lifestyle, or a choice, or a perversion, or a trend, or a punishment. The one thing all these stereotypes have in common is treating queerness like a spectacle. To me, it is not a spectacle, simply because I have lived it my whole life. I am sexually attracted to women. I have crushes on girls. I love women. These are all true, and they are not anywhere near enough to explain what queerness means to me. Queerness means community. It means love, and hope, and finding a way of life I never knew existed. It means pain, and oppression, and the fear that I will never be able to live safely. But most of all it means truth.
The way the world sees queer people will always affect how I experience my own identity, but that doesn’t mean it defines me. Nothing defines me. Most importantly, I don’t have to be defined. We’re all figuring ourselves out, and I am only seventeen years old. I have time to create and experience love, and desire, and sex, and community. I have my whole life ahead of me, and I hope that when I am older, it will be easier for young people to discover and live their lives.
Pride does not mean we are the same as straight people. Pride does not mean we want to be the same as straight people. It doesn’t mean we want to be treated the same, because we are not the same. It means we want to be free to live our messy, complicated, glorious, honest lives. It means love is love, but it also means so much more. Pride means I am not you, and I don’t want to be. I am a lesbian, and I am proud.
Today’s recommendations are all by queer poets I look up to immensely, and they are about love, safety, community, belonging, fear, and above all, the world we create for ourselves. Keep your minds and hearts open. Happy pride month, everyone!
[Didn’t Sappho say her guts clutched up like this?] by Marilyn Hacker
Marilyn Hacker is an award-winning poet best known for formal poems that mix high culture and colloquial speech. The dazzling variety of verse forms on display in Presentation Piece includes sonnets, sestinas, villanelles, blank verse, and heroic couplets—all forms that Hacker uses in subsequent work. Within a traditional poetics, Hacker couches the urgency of love, desire and alienation in brash, up-to-the minute language, writing from her perspective as a feminist, a lesbian, and someone who has suffered from cancer. (Poetry Foundation)
Home Wrecker by Ocean Vuong
Born in Saigon, poet and editor Ocean Vuong was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned a BA at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In his poems, he often explores transformation, desire, and violent loss. His work has been translated into Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese. His honors include fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Poets House, Kundiman, and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize, an American Poetry Review Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, a Pushcart Prize, and a Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Poetry Prize. (Poetry Foundation)
A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde
A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia. Her experiences with teaching and pedagogy—as well as her place as a Black, queer woman in white academia—went on to inform her life and work. Indeed, Lorde’s contributions to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory intertwine her personal experiences with broader political aims. (Poetry Foundation)
A Poem for Pulse by Jameson Ftizpatrick
Jameson Fitzpatrick is the author of Pricks in the Tapestry (Birds, LLC, 2020), and the chapbooks Mr. & (Indolent Books, 2018) and Morrisroe: Erasures (89plus/LUMA Publications, 2014). Fitzpatrick teaches at New York University. (Poetry Foundation)
Winter by Timothy Liu
The son of Chinese immigrants, poet Timothy Liu was born in San Jose, California. He earned a BA at Brigham Young University and an MA at the University of Houston. He spent two years as a missionary in Hong Kong, though he no longer practices Mormonism. Liu counts as early mentors Welsh poet Leslie Norris, poet Richard Howard, and writer Gordon Lish. Paying attention to formal constraints such as syllabics, Liu’s poetry explores identity, violence, sexuality, and the power of witness. (Poetry Foundation)
Summering in Wildwood, NJ by Kayleb Rae Candrilli
Kayleb Rae Candrilli is author of Water I Won't Touch (Copper Canyon, 2021), All the Gay Saints (Saturnalia Books, 2020), and What Runs Over (YesYes Books, 2017). They are the recipient of a Whiting Award and of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In September 2021, Candrilli was a guest blogger for Harriet. (Poetry Foundation)
RAINBOWS AND MORE
I was always in love with rainbows. Everywhere I looked, I wanted things to be colourful - like a rainbow. Rainbow pastries, rainbow cakes, rainbow coloured keychains on my bag, rainbow coloured tabs for sections in my maths notebook, you name it. My mom always used to chide me for this habit, for the fact that I didn’t have a colour taste and just put all the colour I could fathom into anything I saw. Immaturity.
But then I grew up. And I also developed an astute sense of colour (our Duchess of Design breathes a sigh of relief). The urge of putting a rainbow into everything went away. And so did my childhood.
During that period, though, the rainbow came to symbolise something else, something more universal, something that spurred what can only be called a paradigm shift in the course of history. I learnt it to also be the pride flag. And I was flummoxed.
Rainbows used to symbolise childlike innocence. But now they symbolised pride, a concept I didn’t understand, and I don’t think I do till this day. It felt confusing to have the same symbol for two different things. Those two meanings couldn’t coexist, could they?
Here’s what I get when I think of the concept of pride. I think of it to be the freedom to love anyone you want to, irrespective of gender or sexuality. It means the ability to freely express your own gender or sexuality. There are no fixed categories one falls into when it comes to gender or sexual orientation - it’s more of a histogram rather than a bar graph (I couldn’t help myself, I’m sorry). And it has taken me a much longer time than I would have liked to get that completely. And I’ll give it to you, pride means so much more than that. It could mean something completely different for you, probably something I haven’t quite understood yet. But I’m learning, or at least trying to learn.
Gay marriage still isn’t legal in most countries in the world, and there’s a long way to go before that is fixed. People around the world haven’t come out to their friends and family about their gender and sexuality in the fear of being judged and ridiculed about it. Looking at the current situation, I have no doubt that it’ll take some time to be fixed. But what appals me is how these issues popped up in the first place.
As children, we never really cared about who people chose as their significant other. But as we grew up, that changed. It started to matter. It started to affect how we saw the things and people around us. And that change, those eyebrows we started to raise and those hushed voices we started to hear when we saw two girls holding hands, is everything pride stands against.
So the two symbols of the rainbow aren’t very different after all. Pride is a representation of freedom for anyone to love whoever they want - men, women, non-binary people, even rainbows.
Happy pride month.
QUEER SHIPPING AND STEREOTYPES
Going on social media and seeing users shipping characters (and real people) on there is a daily phenomenon. People rooting for their favourite people to get together seems harmless, right? Think about all the ships we see online, especially queer ships. The Minecraft YouTubers, Dream and George, who are shipped universally by their fans, are a prime example of this phenomenon. At first glance it all seems innocent. Just people online bonding over their mutual interest in two personalities getting together. However, this all quickly turns extremely problematic for several reasons.
First and foremost, people like the aforementioned YouTubers may not be out as queer to the public, or queer at all. When people write pages and pages of fan-fiction about them with intimate details and obsess over their non-existent relationship, it completely invades their right to privacy. It is extremely harmful to assume that two personalities are queer when they have not stated that they are. Who they like romantically and sexually is only their business and the culture of shipping them could make them extremely uncomfortable.
Someone like Harry Styles is only expressing himself the way he likes to; wearing a dress or wearing a shirt, it shouldn’t matter. The problem doesn’t come with him but with those who speculate about his sexuality and queerness. No one, for example, has the right to obsess over his fictional relationship with his ex-bandmate Louis. Even if Harry was queer, again, it would be none of the internet’s collective business to write explicit fan-fiction about him and ship him with other people. He is a real person who is living a very real life and that’s about all there is to it. Moreover, fetishising relationships between men is an extremely prevalent issue nowadays and I think we all need to realise they aren’t here for anyone to sensationalise.
And for the record, Harry Styles wasn’t revolutionary in breaking gender roles, all he did was a wear a dress; there’s not much he actually put forward to help break gender roles and help the queer community. In fact, several people have worn a dress before him. Billy Porter, a Black actor, for example, wore a dress several times before him the same year itself, and he didn’t get nearly half the people praising him for breaking gender roles. This is a clear example of the selective activism that comes with obsessing over celebrities’ sexual orientations. Because when people aren’t homophobic, they are racist, aren’t they?
The way someone expresses themselves is also not reflective of their sexuality. You can wear a dress, wear makeup, wear jeans, wear shirts, or have any length of hair no matter who you are. Thinking someone is queer because something they are doing isn’t considered typically “masculine” is just fundamentally flawed. It’s just playing into sadly prevalent homophobic steryotypes. In reality, you can wear whatever you like and do what you like regardless of who you are. Someone who is queer and non-binary can express themselves the way they like and still be non-binary. There is really no fixed way to express your gender identity at all.
Coming back to shipping, I feel like it is important to stress that real people cannot queerbait. Only characters produced by them have the chance of doing so. Corporations like Disney, for example, tease at characters being queer and being in relationships. For example, there was a point where the entire internet were shipping Sam and Bucky in Falcon and the Winter Soldier just because producers thought it would make the show more popular by capturing the queer audience. This is also extremely problematic and wrong as queer characters deserve their place in media without having to be shallowly teased at.
Online, usually we see what is supposedly to be extreme support for the queer community with shipping characters and people and breaking gender roles. But the thing we need to realise is that it isn’t “cool” to be queer in real life. When we get off our phones, being queer comes with struggles, discrimination, and insults. Homophobia is a real problem even today, especially today. Queer people’s mental health is severely affected by the hate our society still shows them.
As a society, we should stop shipping two real life people who are not queer in queer relationships because, as mentioned, it has the potential to be really dangerous. We should try being mindful about how much actually the people we follow are doing for the queer community. Sensationalising and fetishising queer relationships is not something that helps the queer community. We should also try to be more mindful about the media we watch and not feel entitled to a real person's sexual orientation.
Because DreamNotFound and Larry will not make things any better for the queer community.
FAMILY : A REVOLUTION
Last year, when writing for the Pride Month spotlight, I ended my article with words that gave me comfort and shook me to my core till today- “Family can be found.” So much has happened since then for most of us, and especially for me. my whole world, as I’m used to it, changed. I left school, a place I’ve been for as long as I can remember, a place that had & still has most of the family I’ve found, and I still have growing pains. So much has changed at home - I see my parents suddenly as human, and as people who don’t have all the answers, and to my very curious, very questioning brain [in the queer way too, yes] this frightens me. I’ve discovered so much about myself, my love languages, my comfort people, how long I can stand on a moving bus and sleep, that I can wake up before the sun is up, and so much more.
The me who wrote the pride month article last year wouldn’t know the person I am now, yet I have never felt her words more than I do today. Over the past few months I have found so much safety in my writing and I’ve realized how much of my family I’ve found because they’ve resonated with it.
I wrote about how Priyanka Paul’s art gave her freedom of expression, and I’ve come to see that mine has been more of a set of wings, along with a comfort blanket I pull everywhere.
Queer people often lose the support and comfort of their families as they come out to the world, when they let everyone know about their identity. Something that helps them come to terms with this new world that is open to them is finding other queer people, often in the same state as them.
This is probably the only time I will make a Sociology reference in one of my works [I hope] but it is important in this case: “Chosen families are nonbiological kinship bonds, whether legally recognized or not, deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love. The nuclear family unit was historically believed to include a husband, wife, and children.
However, modern definitions of family have become more expansive and may include any configuration of individuals who provide support for one another.”
In conventional families, you don’t get to choose who to love, and especially with blood relations, you’re pretty much stuck with them for life. The phrase “chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love” challenges this. you decide, you decide who to care for and who might choose to care for you, and you decide when to trust them. This eliminates so many toxic dynamics, and essentially changes generational trauma.
From my best friend, to the girls on the bus who will offer to hold my bag for me to the people I text when I’m anxious, my chosen family isn’t something who can be categorized into the conventional labels of mother, sister, or daughter. I’ve seen having big families as something every South Asian person relates to online, and that seems to be something almost impossible to achieve in a queer world that is still developing and changing, and a place where we are all still learning how to find family and who to trust. Unlike conventional families, where we’re told that we can find comfort in our grandparents' arms and love in our parents’, we don’t get those instructions and we don’t see those conventions in our families. Instead, every queer’s chosen family is a network, is a new permutation and combination and is surely something you’ve never seen before, and there is a certain breathlessness that comes with realizing the freedom that gives you.
“Modern definitions of family have become more expansive-” wraps around you like a hug. You aren’t nuclear anymore, you’re more like several sets of vines curling around each other, holding yourselves up. Changing the definition of family changes everything, since family is where we begin learning all we know: language, numbers, emotions, expressions, and most importantly, how to love.
Family is revolutionary.
P.S; the label part does not apply to every single friend who has sent me mom friend memes. I still love you & am not willing to part with that.
thank you to this paper