Growing up queer can be isolating. At least this is how I experienced it, the realization that you are “different” compared to other people.
Of course, being young and inexperienced (or green and gullible), you can’t quite put a finger on just what it is exactly that makes you “different”, or what that necessarily means, or what the repercussions of that might be. I’ve always known that I’m attracted to members of the same sex and I was never in denial to myself about this particular fact, but to acknowledge it to other people (let alone act on it) is a whole other story.
I’ve also always felt more kinship and relatability with the female and feminine side of things down to the smallest, most trivial details, like wrapping my towel around my torso instead of my waist. You are bound to find me tucking my hair behind my ears from time to time, a habit readily associated with the female. And, biologically, I am certainly not that.
The sheer confusion of identifying myself and explaining said identification to other people was always the biggest challenge – and still is to this day. It went from “I’m not like the other guys” to “I’m not like the other gay guys” within the span of a few years, and the isolation just does not seem to cease to persist. For a very long time, not only did I feel gravely misunderstood, I also did not understand the world that I was living in. Sure, compromising got me through and not all of it was entirely terrible, but it always felt like a survival mode, a hanging-by-the-thread mode and, whether I realized it or not, the thread was hanging loose and about to rip at any given time. And it did.
The idea of feminism and taking part in its advocacy always did pique my interest, but I suppose some growing up (and education) was necessary to equip and boost not only my knowledge, but also my mentality. My involvement in an LGBT-themed film festival a few years ago served as a major catalyst in making me – to use a certain millennial parlance – woke.
It started with an overwhelming desire to just be among my own people and fight the good fight for us. But then it became, borrowing the ultimate catchphrase of our modern times, intersectional. I never quite realized how intertwined the LGBT movement and the women’s movement truly are, the fact that these are two, by and large, oppressed communities in the general scheme of things of our civilization.
We are certainly the most immediate victims of patriarchy. I cannot count the many times my own mother would scold me for having feminine traits or displaying behaviors she deemed as feminine, casually neglecting the fact that she is, in fact, a woman and that there is actually nothing to be shameful about being a woman or being feminine (or that having a penis does not automatically translate to being superior – or having to be superior).
It was the first time ever in my life that I had gone out to the streets to join a rally and to do so alongside friends, acquaintances and notable public figures truly did feel like there was a higher power enveloping us and as if we were making history.
All these must-be’s are not only harmful, they’re damaging, and they damage everyone. They certainly damaged me in my formative years because I was never able to live up to “what boys must be like”: I was never into sports, video games or rock bands, I was timid and soft spoken and, most significantly, I was overweight and had a “swaying” body gesture. All of these certainly made me an easy target for bullying, and I was.
So joining the recent Women’s March on March 4 was not only monumental for the movement itself, but also for me, as a young adult and more momentously, as a queer person.
It was the first time ever in my life that I had gone out to the streets to join a rally and to do so alongside friends, acquaintances and notable public figures truly did feel like there was a higher power enveloping us and as if we were making history. To see all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds co-existing in one space, delivering messages of justice, unity, collectiveness, inclusiveness and empowerment, was symbolic in a sense that I was not simply getting back at my bullies, but I was also reaching out to them, saying, “You were as screwed, if not more, than I was. Let’s help each other figure this thing out.”
The fact that one of the march’s eight demands is to “eradicate the discrimination and violence against LGBT people,” after a particularly hostile and volatile year in 2016 as far as LGBT rights go, was certainly not lost on me. Seeing my fellow LGBT folks, many of whom are younger than me, go out and express themselves in this platform was nothing short of a sight to behold.
My adolescent self could not have dreamed up of such scenario even if he tried. For all my resistance to heteronormativity (before I even knew that the word existed), I still had my own trepidation about being an out, loud and proud queer person going into adulthood and eventually my old age – or even thought that it was a possibility, since I had a very much conformist upbringing. But there I was, making rounds near the State Palace under the scorching sun, green-haired in pigtails, soaking the magnificence of it all in, while smashing the patriarchy.
Just another day in the life of a queer! And it truly made me feel like I was a sum of such majestic parts. I felt like I was there not only for myself as a femme-identifying queer, but also for my mother (scolding and all, she doesn’t – and now must – know better), my sister and her daughter, my aunties, my nieces, my teachers, my co-workers… every other woman in my life whose encounters with me shaped me into the man and the woman that I am.
The fight is certainly far from over. Maybe it will never be completely over. There are still so many things to do and follow-up on (as fellow queer feminist and activist Kate Walton eloquently states in her Rappler piece), but now, even if emotional isolation may persist, I have been armed with the knowledge that I am not alone in this and neither are you. We truly are in this together.
Fajar Zakhri is a music lover, pop culture connoisseur, intense feeler, deep thinker and queer whatever. A Jakarta native since birth, he works as a linguistic consultant and is also on his way to rockstardom.