By ena ganguly
I was 15 years old when I came out to my mom. Well, when I tried to come out to my mom. Back then, I didn’t quite have the words for who I was or how I identified, so I tried my best to articulate to her my preferences in my own way. “I’m not straight…” I looked at her cautiously, expecting her to burst into tears. She made no eye contact with me, but looked straight ahead as she drove our steel gray SUV back home. We had just gotten done with running errands: grocery shopping, post office, getting a bite to eat, going by the library. It was one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday morning.
She remained calm. Too calm. I continued.
“I’m trying to say that I’m not just attracted to men. Or, I guess, that gender is not as important to me as some other aspects of a person.” Silence. “Which means that if I really like someone, and think they’re attractive, and if I think they’re kind, intelligent…” I shot her another glance. “…then I would be interested in dating them or getting to know them..you know, romantically.” I took a deep breath, feeling more comfortable after vomiting out a jumble of words, and having the truth be known.
Finally, she shrugged, “I mean, ena…” I stared at her expectantly, “…you love who you love.”
Huh??? “You love who you love.” What the hell kind of response is that?
Since then I’ve told my coming out story to many people, and every time I get to the part where my mother imparts to me that egregious knowledge, every one ‘aww’s and coos, as if it was a line straight out of some gushy mushy Lifetime movie. I tell them, “No! Not awww. I felt like her response was dismissive. Her energy during that conversation shifted to disinterested, almost annoyed that I would bring this up to her, and for a long time, I do think she was in denial.”
Even after coming out to her, I never really spoke about my love life to my mother, other than when I was crushing on or dating a man. That was the only time I felt comfortable, and felt that it was acceptable, for me to talk about who I dated and who that person was, in depth.
Because I have always been feminine presenting, attracted to men, and never spoke much about any other gender, every one in my family assumed I was heterosexual, even my mother, who knew, clearly, that I was not simply straight.
For a long time after my coming out moment, I identified as ‘pansexual’, or someone who is attracted to multiple genders. I felt that did justice to who I was and encompassed my fluid sexuality well. It wasn’t until I entered college, and understood more about the world, its isms and phobias, and my role in all of it that I transitioned into the word ‘queer’.
Initially, I really liked the word ‘queer’ because it encapsulated who I was: different, apart, strange, subversive. I thought it was edgy and I was, clearly, very edgy. I was in that space where I was learning so much about the world, so fast, and being around my peers amplified my learning experience. I experienced lots of highs and lows, moments of bonding and moments of trauma, correcting and unlearning my own stuff during college. While going through a myriad of experiences, I realized how strongly I invested in the word ‘queer’.
The word ‘queer’ was used against queer people of color for a long time. White colonizers described people of color as queer, as it literally meant, “strange, odd”. To the colonizers, people of color communities, what we wore, what we ate, how we managed our economies and our justice systems, our religions, were all deemed to be queer. Then of course, there are those homophobes who have been calling members of the LGBTQIA community ‘queer’, as a way to explicitly state that we are outsiders, and not welcome to ‘civil’ society. In many, many ways, queer people of color face the discrimination from both parties: the racists, and the homophobes.
For that reason, I deeply identify with the word queer. My people, straight or not, were lumped in as queer. My sexuality, whether I am with a man or not, is fluid, and I love the elasticity and space that the word ‘queer’ provides my sexual and romantic expressions.
Even if other people don’t get it, or don’t want to get it, I love many people. For me, it’s beyond gender, presentation, and all of that. I’m sure as hell informed by external systems, and I’m trying to unlearn those behaviors every day. But, maybe, in some way, my mother was right on the nose when describing my sexuality. I do love who I love.