“Queer People Don’t Grow Up As Ourselves”

Over the last few days, I needed a break from blogging and social media for my own mental and emotional well-being. The wildfires in Australia and the devastation they are bringing, combined with the shit-show going on between Trump and Iran, pressed me into my own little safe cocoon. While it has been a break, it was also more of a passive use of social media than being as active as I normally am.

One tweet that grabbed my attention on Twitter — and from what I have seen, it has grabbed a lot of attention from others as well — is a thread from Alexander Leon on Tuesday, 7 January 2020. He wrote:

Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation & prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.

It’s massive and existential and difficult. But I’m convinced that being confronted with the need for profound self-discovery so explicitly (and often early in life!) is a gift in disguise. We come out the other end wiser & truer to ourselves. Some cis/het people never get there.

All of this is to say – be kind to yourself. Discovering who you really are is an enormous task it doesn’t happen overnight, nor does it happen without some hiccups along the way. Be patient, be compassionate, be vulnerable and exist loudly. And most of all – be proud!

The contents of the first tweet especially spoke to me. With my journey through depersonalization and the associated counseling, this has been a prevailing theme, although I haven’t been able to express it in words as eloquently and succinctly as this tweet has.

With depersonalization, it feels as if many parts of me have been chipped away. I’ve been wearing this mask for a long time, editing, chiselling, chipping all the facets of me painted on there away until, now, there is no longer anything much left except a blank face-piece. This is what I present a lot of the time to the world now: blankness.

It’s easy for everyone to like you and get along with you if there is nothing there of you to show. Just a mask to imprint another person’s own feelings and emotions and likes and dislikes on.

This started way before the depersonalization. I cut away parts of me, that I enjoyed, that felt comfortable, from a very young age. Not playing with dolls, because that wasn’t what boys do. Not being Princess Leia, because boys should want to be Luke Skywalker. Not crying when I was sad, or hurt, or frustrated, because boys were strong and tough.

And, over the years, I just kept snipping away, trying to throw everyone off the scent that I was gay, and probably too “soft” as a boy, and then a man.

I became more and more cautious in many areas of my life. I denied myself many different opportunities and my own happiness to make sure that I didn’t get hurt in the process.

Creativity and imagination started to slacken. For many years, I was always writing down and drawing ideas in notebooks, or on pads of paper, and that then gradually disappeared. Hours I spent daydreaming and creating scenes for one story or another in my mind became an hour, then minutes, then barely here or there.

Fast forward to 2014: I went through an absolutely amazing time of being creative in my life. Some fire lit within me, and I started writing and creating like I never had before, or, if I had, it hadn’t been for a long time. This part — where I create, where I imagine, where I dream — is when I am at one of the happiest points in my life.

Then, towards the end of the year, everything caught up with me, and depersonalization took over, and my creativity was gone. It felt like I was fighting fires in every aspect of my life, and it was exhausting.

As we spoke about in counseling today, creativity is putting ourselves out there. It can be a risky, but rewarding, thing. But when I was feeling vulnerable, especially when I felt so many things retreating in my life, one risk I couldn’t face was being ridiculed for my creativity.

The last shred of myself I could clutch on to with any certainty was my work. That seemed to be at least a solid ground I had left to keep me anchored in some sort of reality. And then, NZQA came rampaging through with no regard for facts or reality (or, in fact, my safety or mental illness) and washed that away as well.

Nothing. I had really nothing of myself any more.

Black was white, up was down, and all that.

I said to my counselor today, the analogy I could think of was this: the ship was sinking, and I got on to a lifeboat, but I felt too safe in the lifeboat to look for solid ground. Eventually, the lifeboat won’t be enough; that safety would be a false sense of security in the end as the lifeboat broke apart and I’d drown in the sea of anxiety and depersonalization.

This journey has been extremely difficult. And the issue now is, and continues to be, finding those parts of me that were manufactured and jettison them out of my life, while rediscovering those authentic parts of me, to embrace and hold tight.

As things stand now, I even deflect myself from acknowledging my own feelings at times. Any little bit of self-care I begin to engage in, I either deflect that energy to someone else I perceive is in need, or the critic in my head yanks me away from feelings and immerses me in logic or anxiety, or both.

It’s sometimes hard to be kind to myself. That critic in my head, or some of his friends, love to whittle away at any kindness I show myself.

Having a bit of a cry because I’m sad? It’s a pity party. Poor Scott.

Enjoying something on TV? People are fighting for their lives in wildfires in Australia, and you’re sitting here enjoying yourself instead of helping.

Feeling inspired and writing up a storm? It’s all been done before. What can you write that’s new, that’ll be a hit, that’ll get your message across?

I spent a lot of my session today with tears in my eyes, because I felt engaged with myself again. And when the depersonalization is gone and I’m in touch with my emotions, I feel whole. I feel human again. I don’t care if I am sad, I told my counselor, because I actually feel complete. I feel like I used to feel before all the depersonalization kicked in.

Authenticity. Being present. Finding the edges of who I am again.

I feel like I still have so far to go, to get back to where I was, to find happiness and wholeness and me again.

It is a massive existential shift. Some days, I feel very lost. And some days, I feel like I’ve found parts of myself again.

The more I know, the more I acknowledge those things in the past that triggered the actions I take in the present, and the more I work towards dismantling those traps so I can be happier and healthier going forward, are powerful weapons to have in the struggle to be more authentic.