“I need support. I am in college and finally comfortable in my skin for the first time in my life and now have to go back home to my homophobic family. I am newly out to them and they’re not supportive of me being gay. I’ve come such a long way in accepting myself at school and am completely in love with my girlfriend. How do I handle all of this without taking ten steps backward?”
This was the first message I opened in my Facebook DMs on Monday morning. By Wednesday morning, I was heartbroken to discover I had well over fifteen messages of the same exact nature sitting in my inbox. Students who had finally, for the first time in their young lives, felt free in their sexual skin while in the safe haven of school, suddenly forced to return to their homophobic homes for the rest of the semester as a result of the Coronavirus quarantine.
While I absolutely understand and dutifully support the notion of colleges closing down their campuses due to this rapidly-spreading global health crisis (and also recognize the privilege of receiving higher education in the first place), holy-shit, do I empathize with anyone stuck in a repressive environment. Social distancing is hard, even when trapped indoors with a lover. Remaining stagnant in a household that doesn’t approve of the very core of who you are? A brutal fist through the soul.
As your lesbian big sister, it’s my sisterly-duty to offer guidance and support to anyone, not just college students, who are stuck in a place where they don’t feel comfortable in their queerness. I know this is tough, and my words are not enough to heal your wounds entirely, but I’m going to do my best to offer you my very best big-sister coping tools. Because, here is one of the many beautiful things about being queer: We’re a family. And this bond is made up of something thicker than blood, for we’re a collective of people who have slipped through the cracks in the floorboards of society — crawled our way through the dirt and the soil — only to find one another in the sun.
So before you do anything, take a deep breath. You’re under my big-sister wing now, and you’re safe here. I promise.
And the first tip I’m going to bestow upon your gay little head is the most *important* one of them all.
Remember: It’s in your DNA to be fierce in the face of adversity.
Whenever I’m in a place where I feel afraid to be my real self and can feel myself curling up inside of myself, I close my eyes and envision the faces of all the LGBTQ+ people throughout our history who fiercely planted their feet into the ground when their worlds were shaking with adversity.
I know, I know. I sound cheesy, like I’m delivering a poorly written speech for Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, but I promise this is the most sincere advice I’ll ever give you. Think about it like this: If LGBTQ+ people are one giant family, well then you’ve got some goddamn amazing ancestors. You stand with Marsha P. Johnson, the ground-breaking self-identified drag queen, activist, and art scene legend. She modeled for the late Andy Warhol and risked her life by serving as a leader in the Stonewall Riots, which, you know, only single-handedly sparked a little event known as the gay revolution.
You stand with Sylvia Rivera, a street kid who was homeless by eleven and taken in by the drag community in her teens and eventually went on to cofound Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a group dedicated to helping homeless young drag queens, gay youth, and trans women with fellow LGBTQ+ activist Marsha P. Johnson.
You stand with the HAGS, a gang made up of butch dykes who ruled the streets of San Francisco in the early ‘90s. Badass queer writer Michelle Tea says: “You knew a HAG was a HAG because they moved in a pack, as all wild animals do, and the backs of their motorcycle jackets and denim vests all proclaimed their affiliation.” You can read about these fearless, scrappy iconoclasts in this amazing essay written by Tea herself. Sometimes when I’m scared, I imagine the HAGS in all their leather-bound, tatted-up glory standing protectively in front of me, ready to fuck up anyone who dares to hurt me.
You stand with Freddy Mercury and David Bowie and Harvey Milk and Audre Lorde and Edie Windsor! All of these people were brave and rebellious and refused to snuff out their sparkly queer lights just because some people didn’t approve of them.
And these people — the incredible, artistic, creative, beautiful, powerful people — run through your bloodlines. Which means, dear ones, that it’s in your actual DNA to be brave and fierce and unique, regardless of life’s circumstance.
So anytime you feel yourself shrinking or questioning whether who you are is descent and valid, call on your ancestors for help. Envelop yourself in their badass energy. Think of them as your guardian angels. Ask them for strength! You’ll feel their strength, trust me. For they’re such powerhouses, it’s impossible not to.
And remember, you are never alone. You might be physically alone in the confines of your bedroom, but you’re sitting next to the undying love and good fortune of all the queers who came before you.
Tip 2: Do whatever you can do to stay connected to your free-spirited life.
While technology is no substitute for real, live human interaction, it can serve as your life raft when you feel as if you’re drowning. So I recommend putting together some sort of group chat, consisting of all the people who make you feel authentically loved. Check-in with each other every day! Organize Facetime dates with your partner or best friend. Pour some wine and put out a cheese board just for the occasion. It might feel silly for the first five minutes, but after fifteen minutes I’ll bet on the Ani Difranco songs I’ve memorized (and I’ve memorized them all) that you’ll forget you’re staring at each other through a static screen. Especially if you make an event out of it and get dressed up in your dykiest apparel (whatever dyke-y apparel means to you. A blazer, a muscle tee, a pink cocktail dress — the possibilities of looking like a dyke are endless!). Sometimes gossiping with your friends in the clothing that feels the most like you is just the tiny, lovely little jewel that can bring you back to life.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the black hole of hopelessness! The situation you’re in is temporary. This isn’t your actual life. You’ve built a beautiful life beyond these four walls. A life that you’re going to fiercely appreciate more than you ever thought possible, now that you know what it’s like outside your bubble of love and acceptance.
And honestly? The older I get, the more I realize it’s completely impossible to feel joy without feeling grateful. So maybe this awful situation will serve as the vessel that steers you into an endlessly joyful life.
One quick note: Beware of over-obsessing over the lives of LGBTQ+ influencers. I know it’s fun to see them looking all hot, having their small little gatherings in their super cool LA apartments, but that bullshit can also crawl into your brain and render it poisoned if you’re not careful. Remember a lot of these people are constantly curating an image of perfection and happiness and wealth that doesn’t actually exist. Plug into real people, people who allow you to see their raw, naked faces over these far away, aspirational creatures smiling at you through three different filters.
Do you know how I said there is no joy without gratitude? Well, there is also no connection without vulnerability. And you need to feel connected above anything else right now.
Tip 3: Be safe, but don’t apologize.
If you are not out to your blood family because you don’t feel safe being out in their presence, I fully support your choice. Sometimes for your own safety and sanity, you must withhold your real sexual identity from the people surrounding you.
The bottom line is this: You know who you are. I know who you are. And we both know that there is nothing in the world that is wrong with you. In fact, you’re blessed as f*ck to be queer; this is the glitteriest, fiercest, sickest family to be a part of. Our family dinners are fire. And you’re not betraying yourself by protecting yourself.
But don’t apologize for being you. What I mean by this is don’t apologize for your swag. Your quirks. Your haircut. That shiny bright gem inside of you that everyone around you might not be able to identify, but are somehow able to recognize glows differently than the rest. When I came out to my high school friend Nick, he said, “I always knew something was different about you. I didn’t know what it was, but it was there.” So even if you’re not shouting “I’m GAY,” from the rooftops in Manhattan, people can sometimes still sniff out “the different” in you. And if they’re not evolved humans or full of fear over that which they don’t understand, they might hold it against you. They might attempt to single you out and try to make you squirm in discomfort in order hide their own discomfort.
Don’t let them. Stand tall. Keep your gaze direct. Speak loudly.
And remember you are never alone. The energy of your utterly fabulous queer ancestors stands next to you all of the time.