Fear exists in many forms, in many places, all at once. It’s around more often than you probably realize, because for some, it exists every day, like a ghost or a recurring nightmare.
I grew up in a small city in central Florida, where I remained firmly in the closet. I was already a target, because being an Asian-American woman of color isn’t the easiest thing to hide. I kept my head down, always wary of anyone who could potentially threaten me or my family. We had already suffered from various issues of vandalism to our house and life, but my parents had done nothing for fear of ‘causing trouble.’ The fear that kept me in the darkness of the closet likewise kept me from cultivating what I loved and enjoyed about myself. I never thought to myself, “I feel more confident when I wear my hair this way,” or “the color black makes me feel sexy,” because I was too busy trying to fall asleep and failing.
Still, people seemed to know my secret. I remember a boy laughing at me behind my back as a teenager, the word “dyke” echoing off his lips. My fear of being exposed manifested itself in horrible depression and a host of unsustainable coping mechanisms, as it so often does. Even today, when I look in the mirror, I can’t help but scrutinize the way I look, the taunts and names I was called ringing back to me in sound waves from my memory. Every morning when I get ready, my first thought is, “What will people think of me?”
Only after I came out to a few friends at the end of high school, and here at Cornell, did I begin to rediscover myself—far beyond my sexual orientation. I had mirrored the image of what I thought other people wanted me to be for so long that I forgot what I looked like. Coming to Cornell, I learned how to function and thrive with these newly embraced aspects of my identity. Being openly queer gave me such a strong sense of self—it made me keenly aware of why I like everything I like, and why. Once I had stopped torturing myself for who I was, I started to matter to myself in a way I didn’t think was possible.
Every time I talk about being queer, I can’t help but think about those who can’t be as open as I try to be. Queer people, especially queer and trans people of color, live in fear daily. It’s difficult to be proud in a society that terrifies you.
It’s a well-known fact that Ivy League schools are PWIs (Predominately White Institutions). Until lately, I would often feel like an afterthought as a person of color at an educational institution like Cornell. Intersectionality was a word heard at meetings, at progressive conferences, but never in actual, day-to-day life. This underrepresentation and lack of social support is exacerbated by so-called ‘woke allies,’ or even other queer people in our community, who seem to understand the struggle we face, yet do nothing about it, do nothing to check their privilege, do nothing about the fact that they are perpetuating the very things they complain about. Sharing posts on Facebook or Instagram does only so much for the communities who face micro-aggressions daily.
Change requires intentional risk-taking and the courage to embrace non-heteronormative identities and go against the norm. Stand up, fight back, join the revolution. No more fear. We are capable of creating change for a progressive society and demanding a system that supports and believes in us.
It is important to realize and acknowledge, as we move forward, that knowing ourselves will not bring anyone back—it won’t do anything for those mercilessly slaughtered out of hatred or those who have lost all hope and taken their own lives. Knowing love when we see it won’t un-break the hearts and souls of queer teens who were kicked out of their families when they were accidentally outed. However, knowing love and knowing ourselves is essential in maintaining hope in the face of the difficulties that our desired change must overcome.
Therefore, I would like to say that being queer has given me great gifts. It has made me acutely self-aware, and far more perceptive of others. It has given me an overwhelming, powerful sense of empathy. It has given me the perspective to know that even when the world attempts to make me feel like less, it doesn’t have the power to succeed. Perspective enough to know that when bigots attempt to make me cower in fear, I’ll have no more left to give.
No more fear.