2016 was one of the worst years of my life.
I was in the direct aftermath of a breakup. I was reeling from a sexual assault. Everyday the family that raised me and I became more and more estranged because of the political situation in America. I got a new job in Germany that turned out to be a form of modern-day enslavement.
Everything was shit.
I had already been questioning everything too. I guess, looking back at my life, I’ve always been questioning everything. But I remember 2016 in particular was a year of questions – likely stemming from the unbelievable circumstances I was dealing with.
Many of those questions made me feel depressed. Why did I attach my visa to a job? How did I not see the signs that guy was a predator? What is my family thinking to support Trump? Why am I so alone?
Like most millennials, I tried to answer some of these by using my Twitter account as a bucket for my brain vomit.
However, some questions, I began to try and confront IRL that had always been on my heart and mind, but I’d never had the language for it.
Am I monogamous? Am I cisgender? Am I heterosexual?
I found these three questions slowly creep up in 2015, but by 2016 they were on the forefront of my mind. I was thinking about them everyday, all day. I was reading anything I could get my hands on to give me some direction. And I was in a constant state of reflection.
I realized some things about myself by exploring these questions. No, I was not a “woman” in the traditional western sense of the word. I’m not white. I don’t want to be white. And striving for white womanhood always left me disappointed and disenchanted.
Who was I outside of the image I had been fed my entire life? Defining that brought me a sense of control during that chaotic time in my life. For me, that definition could only come from rejecting everything I had ever “known” about womanhood. I wanted to be as far away from the white-male gaze as I could, and I tried my very best.
I chopped my hair off. Myself. With a pair of scissors in the bathroom one day. I didn’t have a plan, I simply told myself, “Cut until it feels right.” Well, it ended somewhat like this:
I stopped trying to dress “feminine”. Things like the color pink, things like dresses – it all disgusted me. I would demand that the world see me as I am, not through some sexist digestible lens. I started shopping in the boys’ department at clothing stores. I wore colors I considered to be neutral. I explored with makeup in a way that felt more creative and “me”.
I don’t know why I took so many pictures in 2016. I think in a way, it was to prove to myself that I was still alive. So many terrible things happened… It scares me to look back and see my eyes. I hated mostly everyone. I wanted to leave Europe and go home. My family pressured me to stay in Europe. To make it. The truth is, I was dying.
The only thing that stopped me was some guy I’d met online. He’d talk to me late into the night via voice-notes. He took my mind off of my depression, and just listened to my thoughts. He listened to me talk about gender, and sexuality, and monogamy. And he talked back. He questioned.
I’ve written about this person before – how much I loved him, how much he saved me. It’s weird to write things like that. It sounds like such a wannabe-Repunzel fairytale. I wish I could say I did it myself, like the stereotypical woman we’re all supposed to try and be. STRONG! INDEPENDENT! But the truth is, I was weak and broken and lonely and lost. My immigration status shot my self-esteem and I didn’t see a way out. Dealing with the PTSD from the rape made me feel dirty and ashamed and unable to be truly intimate and vulnerable with another human being. The only thing that saved me was my queerness, and this voice on the other end of my phone.
– Fast forward 2 years –
The voice on the other end of the phone moved in with me. Now I’m never alone. And I’m still showered in so much love and support by him. We married, so I’m no longer chained to my employer in order to exist here. Not only that, but I’m free to do whatever I want. I’m free to be me. My whole self…. Right?
So isn’t it the Happily Ever After I always wanted? Isn’t this a story of perseverance?
Isn’t the truth always more complicated than that?
I will never forget what I went through in 2016. I’ve been on the verge of tears with every word of this I’ve written. Just thinking about it brings back all of the emotions. I should probably still seek therapy.
But I don’t know how to talk about the impact cruel-ass Western immigration had on my mental health to someone who has never actually been through it. And I don’t want to talk about my enslavement to someone who couldn’t understand. And in regards to the rape, it happened in such a way, that the truth is, there’s just never gonna be justice for that. With time, these are things that I’ve been able to “survive”. I still talk about all of them with people I trust. But I’ve also moved on as best as I’ve been able to.
Which leads to the point I’m trying to make.
I think in the last two years, and especially in the last year with the way my life has so drastically changed, the questions that kept me sane and gave me peace during 2016 are not as valuable to the functionality of my life at this point. My engagement was a catalyst for my reconciliation with my family. The friends and family members of my partner and I do nothing but praise our cishet-appearing relationship. And so while my life seems to flourish now, everyday I feel more and more disconnected from the person that I discovered in 2016 by questioning and exploring my sexuality and gender.
And it’s literally breaking my heart.
Despite all the confusion and pain I went through in 2016, I felt a clarity in the path I uncovered by questioning my sexuality and gender. I discovered that my gender identity is fluid. Sometimes I feel androgynous. Sometimes I feel femme. I learned not only how to identify how I felt, but also how to express it.
I also discovered that I am bisexual. Really, really bisexual. Like, have you ever seen that meme of bi-pie charts? Hold on, let me find it…
Yeah that one. I’m like the pie at the bottom right.
What an epiphany to understand this about myself after spending the first 18 years of my life raised in a white, fundamentalist Christian household. Seriously, discovering this may have made 2016 worth it. I felt, and continue to feel free because I know this about myself.
to end up with someone who is read as a cis-man is beautiful and fucking crazy to me. I know it’s because this guy is really, really, really on my side in a way that no one ever has been or probably ever will be, regardless of gender.
And regarding my gender, the one thing 2016 taught me is, no matter how short I cut my hair or how neutral I wear my colors, I’m always read by this society as “woman”.
Within our relationship, my partner knows all of this about me, the real me. But for the rest of society – from family to the public – our aesthetics don’t add up to how I feel inside, and I’m struggling with how deep the social rewards go for conforming.
There are so many conversations within the queer community about how to navigate friends and family in a way that feels safe. But as someone who feels comfortable in both realms in terms of both my gender and sexuality, it’s difficult to avoid getting sucked into the vortex.
How can I access my queerness anymore? I “fit” by this society’s standards, and to change that would not only be self-sabotage, it’d be disingenuous. I have to learn how to access all of me, but it’s hard right now.
My hair is still short. My pronouns are she/they. My partner is my partner. But sometimes these words feel superficial. I have to remind myself that I don’t need to have a certain aesthetic to still be valid. But it’s still hard. Because I was on my way. If someone had told me in 2016 that in 2 years I’d be married to a “man” and almost always presenting as “femme”, I would have laughed in their face. I could have never imagined this. And on one hand, I’m so relieved and thankful. But on the other, I’m really fucking confused and sad.
It’s like wanting my cake and to eat it too, or? I don’t want to feel that way about my existence, but that’s what it seems to be. I would never do anything to hurt my partner, but I miss being more openly queer. And I’m trying to hold onto it, but I feel like I’m always met with suspicion and that hurts so bad. I feel erased. I have such a story that no one could ever see by looking at me. It goes so much deeper than 2016. It goes beyond my own birth. I feel like what I’m feeling right now is ancestral. And it feels like even they didn’t find the answers.