At age 13 – old enough to tell I was gay, and switched-on or bullied enough to tell that my camp nature was not well-received, and would continue to be ill-received in later life – I would’ve done nearly anything to appear as straight.
Even though this was before my high-school bullying issues, I only wanted to appear straight, but not be straight – I wasn’t ashamed of my sexuality, only my femininity. Out of some deeply ingrained misogyny that lay deep in my person, and similarly out of some deep-seated fear of not ‘fitting in’, I would spend hours practicing in front of the mirror: if I grunt and don’t say much, the lilt in my voice won’t give me away. If my hands stay stuffed deep into my pockets, they won’t flap about. If I only devour books in the comfort of my own home, I can avoid the childhood maliciousness of those select few boys in my year level. Little did I realise, of course, when you’re young and not well liked books are gay, hands are gay, grunting is gay, indeed everything about your person is gay, where “gay” means “unpopular” or “shitty” because young boys who attend private schools are more often than not cruel and shitty themselves.
I remember distinctly one afternoon in my thirteenth year, I decided I would test myself. I would walk to the BP on the corner – a five minute’s traipse down the road – and purchase one (1) Maxibon ice-cream. It was a hot afternoon in Summer, or perhaps a particularly balmy Spring day, and the just-teenaged me would certainly have appreciated the creamed frozen delight as a weekend extravagance. Here was the catch, though: I was only going to allow myself to purchase said Maxibon (bought with money kept from my car-cleaning ‘job’, really a chore that my parents decided was worth $10 of my time) if I could ‘pass’. Passing, in this case, meant selecting the ice-cream, walking to the counter, and purchasing it without letting the cashier know that I was, as my father had sporadically called me, a “nancy boy”.
First off, I spent a half hour standing in front of the mirror practicing my vocals. I discovered if I spoke like a cowboy in a prolonged and hyper-confident drawl, my voice was likely to drop down a few octaves and hide the reality of my lisp. Next, a further ten minutes walking like I would when suffering from particularly bad inner-thigh chafing in the dead heat of Summer: widely and deliberately, as if each side of the concrete footpath were safety and the pavement below were lava.
I somehow managed to avoid another human being on my walk to the BP – I liked to take the backstreets to avoid human interaction as much as possible, and today was no exception – but hit the inevitable snags upon entering the servo. Though the woman behind the counter said nothing as I sauntered in, she must have had a million questions upon seeing my impressively wide gait make its way to the frozen section of the undersized supermarket. With aplomb, I selected the dessert, and made my way up to the counter. When I think about it now, I don’t remember much of her face or her features, but of course, my mind and the distance in years from the incident have added a quiet smirk to the side of her mouth; a not unkind but heartily bemused glimmer to her eyes.
“How can I help you?” she’d asked pleasantly enough.
“Ph-hew,” I replied, with perhaps more affectation than ever before. “I just want onna theeeese, puh-lease.”
Having never spoken like this before, and never since, I can’t quite speak as to what on earth I was thinking. The words, sprung from my childhood lips in my miscarried attempt at appearing heterosexual or indeed anything resembling ‘normal’, hung in the air, thick and damning, as my face turned slowly red with embarrassment.
Crap, I think. I’ve already started the transaction, I can’t leave now, that’s even worse.
“Bahah!” the cashier barks unintentionally, a manicured hand raising to her lips as if to protect herself from me, or perhaps me from her unintentional cruelty. A beat, then: “… Sorry.”
She meekly processes the ice-cream, gives me my change, and I walk off like a normal person, legs together and at a regular pace, clutching the Maxibon tightly in my hand.
I walk thirty metres away, not far into the alleyway I’d come out of. I am still clutching the Maxibon in my hand, and with the heat of my body and the heat of the day it has begun to melt saccharine milk solids all over my person and the ground below me.
I stand in the alleyway and the sun and I think about how much I hate the tone of my voice and that I can’t be normal, whatever “normal” may be.
Silently, angrily, I smash the ice-cream to the footpath where it explodes on impact, drenching my ankles and the surrounding dirt in four dollars worth of failed experiment.
I didn’t pass.
At age 28 – old enough to have held the dubious moniker of ‘disabled’ for two and a half years, but young enough to not have properly worked out a way to incorporate said moniker into my everyday life – I have often considered wearing a t-shirt that simply says: I HAVE A DISABILITY, perhaps with the medical evidence attached below.
As previously chronicled, I’ve been deemed too disabled to work a full 9 to 5 workload. or even look for work without the help of a disability-specific job-seeker agency to help me navigate this process. I have simultaneously been deemed not disabled enough for the disability support pension.
This isn’t about that – about me bitching about not receiving a paltry sum of money from a careless government, or indeed, anything else. Honestly, I could give two hoots about the pension, and truth told, I’m thankful to have the ability I still do have.
It’s the reminding that gets me – and of course, the reminding that’s necessary. For friends, family, partners, a constant reminder: I have a brain injury, which here stands for I have intermittent memory loss and word-searching problems, the inability to become incredibly overwhelmed very quickly, I’m always tired, I’ve got anxiety disorder and PTSD, and I get angry and frustrated at the drop of a hat and often over things that should remain insignificant.
Part of me thinks that people – friends, family, partners – should remember this. Maybe that’s unfair, but then maybe it’s unfair I have to live with it in the first place. I’m caught in this constant battle of wanting to explain and share my experience, and wanting to reprimand people for not caring enough to remember. (Drop of the hat, remember?)
I’m studying a Ph.D. and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to spend a workday – six to eight hours with breaks – immersed in academic material and structuring my arguments, particularly now my brain has decided that mid work-day naps are something absolutely necessary to my thought process. I’ve been asked about the process of writing creative things, and I can’t remember how I wrote them, only that I did. When I accidentally stumble upon the inevitably racist or homophobic comments section of a news article, I get so angry that I’ve punched a wall like a frat-boy cliché. I used to be quick-witted in my responses – to things, to work, to people – but now I’m sluggish, unless I’ve consumed the required amount of caffeine (and even then, only for a good half-hour period).
That’s the problem, making your way in the world: somebody has it worse, somebody always has it worse, so, what can you do? I want my hurt to be validated, but I simultaneously don’t want to take away from the experience of anybody else.
Silently, angrily, I’ve stood and stewed over the unintentional treatment I’ve received from friends and strangers alike, and I’ve not known what to do.
I don’t know what to do.
I do pass, and when I break it down, I’m thankful I’m not worse off, but still…