I want to tell you all a story. The year was 2005 and I was a high school freshmen at North Syracuse Junior High school. I was female, and known to be by most, but androgynous in appearance. I was under regular threat of assault, with varying degrees of ability to escape. Those who knew me called me a dyke. Strangers called me a fag. I don’t mean this as a metaphor. It literally happened on a semi-daily basis, in the halls of schools and on the streets of my town, a primarily white, working-class/middle-class, Irish and Italian neighborhood just north of the city of Syracuse. As far as I was a concerned, a battle zone.
I hadn’t heard of transitioning from female to male. I hadn’t heard the term transgender, or nonbinary, or genderqueer. I didn’t know some people identified as queer, or pansexual, or demisexual. I was a kid, and you were either a boy or a girl, gay or straight. I was neither. I insisted I was neither, and the world was continually punishing me for asserting such a nonsensical thing. But even without the language, I insisted. I corrected anyone who called me a lesbian, or gay, or a dyke, or a girl. Not because I thought there was something wrong with these things. It just wasn’t me.
I had the bravery in this atmosphere of intense, aggressive binary adherence to say, when asked, “I don’t know what I am. I’m just me.”
I had a girlfriend. Well, more of a partner in crime. Not even. Both of those terms would describe support, and that was something I did not have in the slightest. I had a person who we will call Amy, another genderfluidfuckedqueer teen. Sometimes Amy was more of an emo gay boy like me, with their plaid shirt and short cropped hair and love of Bright Eyes, the Cure, and Coheed and Cambria. Sometimes Amy was what I would now call a high fem lesbian, wearing a mini-skirt from Hot Topic and lots of pink and blue make-up, a tight fitting sleeveless top with no bra. I was mad for her.
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In her eyes I oscillated between best friend, perceived abuser/”just like her father,” an invisible ghost, and a plaything to emotionally torture. None of this had to do with how I behaved as far as I could tell. I stuck with all the abuse for the rare times of companionship. She was all I really had. She was sometimes brilliant, sensitive, mystical, mischievous. A part of me will always love a part of her.
Quite possibly the most damaging thing Amy did to me though, was insist I get over my fear of kissing in public.
Assaults from others, male and female, in the fluorescent lit halls of NSJH, occurred after we were affectionate. It was never safe, but when we dared touch, that’s when things got real ugly. The teachers watched, and even condoned. After all, we were breaking the rules- rules that supposedly applied to straight cis students, but were seldom enforced. Don’t want to be attacked? Their smug smiles seemed to say. Then don’t flaunt your freakish love.
Amy was one for a fight. Which was admirable, if self-destructive. She wanted to show the world that she was unafraid. I did too. But more importantly, I wanted to survive. Death threats were whispered to me in math class. Boys twice my size chased me on my bike on the way home, gesturing obscenely. I was suicidal, and it didn’t take much to push me over the edge to where I was cutting or seriously looking for ways to end my life. An escape plan, just in case, was always in the back of my mind. My PTSD is as real as any soldier, and I watched it happen to people I cared about as well. Gay boys, quite possibly transfeminine, without the words. Especially the rare youth of color.
And the most maddening thing was no one acknowledged it was happening, other than to say the Junior High had a “lesbian problem.” Like a rat infestation.
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But back to kissing, to public affection. Amy made me a pawn in her political demonstrations. I would reject her advances, not wanting to get detention, not wanting to get shoved, not wanting to get things thrown at me, not wanting the verbal abuse, and honestly, just not feelin’ the mood for some baffling reason.
“Why are you ashamed?” she would scold, hands on hips.“Why do you let them scare you, control you? You need to push yourself. You need to get past your fear.”
And then, sometimes with her mouth, but more often with her eyes, she would say, “Kiss me now, right here in this crowd, or I will abandon you.”
I acquiesced. Aggression usually followed. Trauma compounded upon trauma.
And so, “keep kissing” you now tell me.
In the light of all this violence, you tell me not to be afraid. Well, I am afraid. And it’s OK to be afraid.
It makes sense that many of us are afraid. We don’t want to die. I’m not saying we should be ashamed. There’s a big difference. And I’m not saying YOU shouldn’t keep kissing whoever you want wherever you want. I’m just saying mind your own business and drop the hashtag imperative.
Elliott is a transgender author and artist from upstate New York. Check out more of his work at elliottdeline.com and etsy.com/shop/elliottdeline .
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[Feature Image: A black and white portrait of an individual standing on a subway platform. They have short hair and a jacket staring straight ahead. Pexels.com]