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  • Writer's pictureAlex Ritany

On Identity: The Truth

Content warnings: homophobia, transphobia, references to self harm and suicide.


I’ve been keeping secrets my whole life.

I’m 10 and I’m listening to my dad at the dinner table, who I know to be the most trustworthy person in the world. He talks about the legalization of marriage between two people of the same sex and asks us to consider the implications. Where do we draw the line in the sand? Legalizing gay marriage paves the way for legalizing pedophilia, after all. If a union between two men or two women isn’t disrespecting the sanctity of marriage, what’s next? Marriage between men and animals?

I’m 11 the first time I hear it: “It doesn’t matter how low I set the bar for you, you still can’t reach it.”

I’m confused and afraid—I’m trying so hard—but I hear it then, and again, and again, spoken low in disappointment, shouted with a vein popping in her forehead, cold like a fact, and it sinks in, bone deep.

I’m 12 with my first crush on a girl. I’m not confused, I know that’s what it is—I want to kiss my friend, and I already know not to talk about it. Never to talk about it. It isn’t safe.

I’m 13 and doubting. I throw myself into fitting in. I pick the right boys to like and I go overboard, and I do like them, I do, I do, I want them to like me, I want to be their friend. I want to be their equal, but that’s not quite how the story goes, so I settle for trying to hold hands with somebody I desperately crave respect from, but that’s wrong too, I learn. 

I’m 14 and convicted. How could this be wrong? I brush hands with a girl in choir and we meet eyes and I know. I watch a gay kiss on TV and I sob into my hands and I tell no one, no one, no one.

I’m 15 and I come out to my mom, haltingly, with the terminology that I have, because the thought of hiding forever—keeping quiet through one more dinner—kills me.

She tells me no. She tells me I’m wrong.

I look in her eyes and I understand: it’s not an option, and it never will be.

I’m 15 and I do my best to stop there.

It doesn’t work.

I’m 16 when I first hear my mom say that you can love someone and not approve of their lifestyle. I wonder what kind of love that is. I wonder how that kind of diluted, half-hearted, patronizing love can be enough for anyone. I wonder if she’s thought about how that feels, to be told that who you are—not by choice—is fundamentally wrong.

I’m 16 and a boyfriend is a shield. The right choice, so I make it, and it’s even almost fun. I love being his friend. I’m afraid of anything more.

I’m 17 and my youngest sibling whispers, “So am I.”

My heart breaks for the pain they’ll experience, as they too are taught, painstakingly, how to hate themself. Which parts of themself have to be kept hidden, which parts are shameful. They sit at that dinner table and hear the rhetoric that pushed me to the brink and over it, and I hope they’re stronger than I am.

They aren’t.

I’m 18 and my mom works at a college for the performing arts. I sit and curdle quietly while she talks about her genderqueer students. Misgenders them behind their backs. Deadnames used flippantly. She knows better, after all. She can be the expert on somebody else’s identity. They’re mentally ill, all of them. None of them are happy. They’re searching for something only God can provide.

I’m 19 and I come out as bisexual to the man I’m certain I’m going to marry, tearing the secret out like a bandage fused to skin. He tells me of course it’s fine, that he supports who I am. Of course people like me should have rights, of course. I laugh, relieved. Later, I find out this moment was almost a dealbreaker for him, and I wonder how much was ever real.

I’m 20 and I’m out. I’m 20 and I’m free. I’m 20 and I believe, because I’ve been told, that I am loved for who I am. All of who I am. I still flinch when I hear a car door slam.

I’m 21 and I’m searching for the connection to my womanhood. I’m searching for what makes a woman a woman. I’m reading gender theory and talking to friends around the world and wondering exactly what it is that I’m missing.

What does the rest of the world know that I don’t?

I’m 22 when my marriage ends because my body might not be attractive to my husband one day, and my parents email him in support and solidarity, expressing sympathy, and I’m not surprised.

I’m 22, and standing up for who I am has cost me everything. A spouse, two sets of parents, financial security, a city’s worth of community, more childhood friends than I can count. My parents tell me to go back in the closet so my ex-husband will love me. To them, his frustration is understandable, of course—by presenting androgynously, I’m betraying my marriage vows, after all.

I wonder, stunned into silence, where I promised to look like a woman.

I’m 23 when I come out to my parents for the third time; not as bisexual, not as trans, but as hurt

I lay out the pain of the last decade as succinctly as I can, hoping they’ll hear. When I assert that yes, to be in relationship with me, use of my name and pronouns is a requirement, my mother jokes, “Well, we don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

It’s not a joke.

I see the flash in her eyes, the instant regret as she laughs it off like it’s funny, but it isn’t.

The kid sitting at the dinner table knows it’s not a joke. The kid who listened to countless lectures on the morality of queerness knows it’s not a joke. The kid who stood with shaking hands and tried to bleed out the bad knows it’s not a joke. Years of casual bigotry taught me how to hate myself, which parts of myself I should cross out and ignore, which parts of myself I should be ashamed of.

I’m 23, and I have finally unlearned shame, and when I ask my parents to see me, the joke is that I’m a terrorist. I’m unreasonable.

The shock of it becomes a balm, later on.

Some jokes aren’t funny.

Some jokes aren’t jokes at all.

I’m 24 and I’m learning that it’s scary to be alone. Bigotry made me an orphan and made us strangers, and knowing that it’s the right choice to stand up for myself doesn’t make it any easier. I’m learning the only way out is through, if you’re not squeamish:

Cut off the part of yourself that’s 7 years old standing outside of their bedroom because the nightmare had teeth and claws and they are the heroes that will hold you close and make it warm again.



Don’t let them see you bleed.

I’m learning that the wound takes a long, long time to close.

I’m 25 as I write this, and I am proud of who I am, even if I’m still bleeding. All of who I am. It’s taken a long time for me to let that person see the sun, but here we are, basking in the glow. Those wounds are healing. I am visible for everyone else who whispers, “So am I.”

Your sunshine will come. Your sunshine will come. 

Your sunshine will come.

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