Queer Shame

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My sexual preference wasn’t something I allowed myself to realise or explore until I turned seventeen. Nevertheless, my attraction to women was something I accepted relatively easily and within a couple of months of silently voicing the fact to myself, I found myself coming out to my friends. It wasn’t until a year later, having spent half a year of uni in London, that told my father that I was seeing a girl. It was mid-April and I’d travelled to Athens for Easter break. My dad and I had just been to dinner, had some wine, and were driving back home and conversing pleasantly between us. The sudden desire to tell him rose to my lips and spilled out and hung between us for a moment. He took it surprisingly well, was quiet and contemplative and asked a few questions. These he issued calmly and was for the most part extremely measured and reassuring. He had one specification, and in voicing this he grew urgent. He insisted that I not let people in Athens know about my sexuality. He stressed that his concern was not due to his being ashamed of me in any way, but because he feared how I would be treated if I made my preferences known. This bothered me greatly for a reason that I couldn’t at the time articulate, but I hesitantly headed his advice. I was young and nervous about coming out and simply assumed that my father knew best. And from that moment on I remember feeling ashamed of my sexuality whenever I was back in Greece.

When coming out to my dad I was reluctant to label myself. My initial gateway into my queer identity was through the term bisexual. However, through the years I felt most of my attraction towards men waning. I was also made to feel very uncomfortable by male reactions towards me coming out as bisexual. Often, I would sense an insidious attitude of ownership towards myself and my body. Men often seemed to perceive my mention of my sexual identity as some sort of personal invitation and responded to any of my public shows of affection towards a woman as if they were happening for their own personal benefit. This is not my experience with all men in terms of my sexuality, but I would say it is a predominant one. Even in London, a city which I thought of as much more accepting and open than my home city of Athens. As a result, I gradually transitioned out of the identity of bisexual and searched for words or terms which felt right to me. I sought to carve out my own space of personal comfort. Conversely, labelling myself as lesbian – though perhaps closer to what I felt my identity to be – seemed too rigid. This is why the word queer appeals to me, a previously homophobic slur reclaimed as umbrella term for anyone who doesn’t fit into the heteronormative binary of sexuality and gender. The broadness of the term allows for my continually shifting perception of my own sexual identity. Although the term belongs to many, my use of it feels personal and powerful because of its’ connotations of appropriation.

Greece no longer felt like a home to me, owing greatly to the fact that I felt that I couldn’t openly be myself and fully display my sexuality. Although out and proud in London, my queer identity almost didn’t seem to exist when I went back to the city which I grew up in. I suppose I felt myself to be in enemy territory, mainly because I had no one like me to interact with. It was an occurrence never made possible due to my father’s advice. At some point last year, a friend from school reached out to me and said she admired how open I was about my sexuality. This resonated with me because it seemed to be only half true. I felt somehow divided. I never experienced any overt discrimination that would justify my apprehension in exhibiting my queerness in Greece. I remember bringing my girlfriend to a bar I used to frequent when I was at school, and giving her a kiss while we were ordering drinks. A woman standing next to us clearly did a double take, glared and said something under her breath. This action in itself was absolutely nothing compared to the prejudice, discrimination and violence that queer people like myself face on a daily basis. And it lead me to wonder at the reasoning behind my father’s instruction and the reasoning behind my own fear.

In my case, a sense of difference obviously bread timidity rather than empowerment. This state of mind persisted until the occurrence of two seemingly minor events, which over time radically shifted the relationship between myself, my queer identity and my feeling of dislocation in my birthplace. The first of these was the decision to shave my head. I decided to do it one night towards the end of my second year at uni. I got it done the next morning and then went straight to class. I felt naked, yet at the same time completely at home with myself. While getting a buzzcut wasn’t something I did with specific intentions in mind, I seemed to follow that much-documented arc of queer women cutting their hair. My change in appearance created a space for me in which I felt truly comfortable, in which I felt myself translated to others in a way I chose. It was like carving out my own personal space in which to create my unique image. I felt myself worthy of (female) desire and brave enough to rebuke unwanted male approaches. I enjoy the way my hair now places me on the balance between femininity and masculinity and I enjoy tapping into this imbalance and dressing according to how I feel (masculine or feminine).

The latter of the two influential events was attending Gay Pride Parade in Athens this past June. I had attended Pride in London the summer after my first year of uni. However, watching a physical celebration of queerness in Athens felt different. It located my identity in a space in which I had thought it couldn’t be exhibited or acknowledged. That in itself was revelatory to me. I found myself letting my guard down over my summer in Greece and mentioning the fact that I was queer with more casualness than I could ever have mustered barely a year ago.

Next week I will be going back to Athens. And for the first time in three years it will feel like coming home.

My preoccupation with the translation of my identity certainly elucidates the fact that I am intensely socially conscious. This is perhaps something that I need to work on, in terms of defining myself irrespective of others and their approval and to not to only seek safe social interactions. I am additionally intensely aware of my own privilege, which manifests in the control I am able to exert over my own self-definition and on how the image of myself that I cultivate translates itself socially. This privilege arises due to the fact that I am a white woman with access to education and living in a liberal minded city. If what I wrote resonated with you, I urge to examine your own fears and hesitations, to work out ways to carve out your own space. And I urge to examine how your own privilege, or lack of, allows you to do that. Most of all, I urge you to write and to make use of the platforms available to you.

Text by Eliza Loukou 

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