Finding freedom after living in forced suppression:
Identity is a complex thing ……
-Is it what you perceive yourself to be?
-Is it what others perceive you to be?
-Is it what you think others perceive you to be?
-Is it what you want others to perceive you to be?
And so on……and so on…….
As a gender-queer trans-masculine person of colour, it has been an interesting and often difficult road trying to establish my own identity.
Matters have not been helped by growing up in a culture that was as heavily homophobic as it was binary gendered.
As early as I can remember, I most definitely did not feel comfortable with my assigned gender and the anguish it brought me.
Specific roles were designated for men and women and there was certainly no safe space for those that existed outside these strict binaries.
I therefore grew up feeling isolated and conflicted, with an intense awareness of my otherness and an inevitable un-ease to who I was.
Living in the UK now, one might hope that all of this personal turmoil is all firmly in the past.
Sadly, not. The effects of such prolonged suppression never leave you completely.
While the UK has got wonderful laws and guidelines that fight discrimination and encourage equal opportunities for all, there are still visible pockets of homophobia, racism and unequal opportunities across the board.
For those who have fled here for safety, this is exacerbated by the fact that some of their communities that also now live in the UK have carried these prejudices along with them which has then ensured the continued cycle of discrimination/isolation from their own communities.
Family left back home (who are still at risk by association and relation) can also be a hindrance to fully embracing and celebrating one’s identity without putting them at risk.
It is, for example, not unusual for families of out LGBTQI people in some countries to be attacked or persecuted as direct result of their LGBTQI relatives openly living their lives abroad – with social media simplifying communication and opening up previously private spaces in peoples’ lives, the world is now truly a global village and it is not very difficult to connect relations between people (however geographically distanced they are).
There is certainly much benefit in living loud and proud, and the general LGBTQI community could really do with a few more open/happy role models – to encourage young LGBTQI people who are yet to come out and to encourage those who have had to live with forced suppression.
However, it is worth keeping in mind that whilst it is a good thing to encourage people who have faced this suppression of identity to embrace their new found freedom and be positive role models, for most it usually is a case of carefully treading the tight balance between enjoying new-found freedom whilst also consciously acknowledging past trauma and allowing for time and pace to heal.
While one might embrace their new freedom with un-stoppable gusto, the other might take a more cautious approach embracing bits and pieces as they get more comfortable.
In the end, there is no single right way, people react differently to circumstances depending on individual personalities and past experiences.
It only matters that the individual’s general well-being continues to improve and that they feel safe.
Sidney – African & Afro-Caribbean MSM, Sexual Health Outreach Worker, Birmingham LGBT