After Orlando, 1,439 Years Of Life Still Echo

After Orlando, 1,439 Years Of Life Still Echo

We can never let them go silent.

When I was seventeen I held my girlfriends hand the way my grandmother holds her rosary beads- so close. Moments later, three men walked by screaming “faggots" so loud you could hear my shame echo off the hot summer tar. She punched six holes in the wall that night.

I stayed soft, numb. Quick retraction like a child who puts his hand on a stove or gets his mouth washed with soap. My mouth has tasted bitter ever since.

I think heaven is coming down in Orlando. It falls like sweet southern rain and sits on my skin. Candles shed light on dark crime scenes. Everything is quiet. Forty-nine people have died. Some of them look just like me. Each of them love just like me.

After my back became a cutting board for homophobia, my girlfriend’s hand turned sharper. My breath laid still in my chest- a graveyard of what I couldn't say. I closed my lips like a bible.

Held her hand tighter

Walked a bit closer

Watched a bit harder

Loved a bit softer-

so as not to be too heavy for the world’s broken knees.

When shots rained down on Sunday in Orlando, I felt my her hand again- this time around my neck, squeezing the words out.

My mouth became a dulled kitchen knife, afraid of chewing words that would condemn me. Afraid of holding hands that would condemn me. Not knowing that just living could condemn me.

Fear lives in the soles of my shoes. I walk off of high places, wishing to feel the crush of my bones. Wanting to see if I could still hold my heavy shame on top of a broken body- if the world could hold it’s heavy shame on top of a broken body.

I used to think words were a loaded gun until i realized I might actually face one.

The safety on the trigger has replaced actual safety. Warm bed and unpacked suitcase, safety. Don’t have to worry about being shot, safety. I worry my sexuality is sewn into my skin.

If you add the ages of each innocent person killed at the Pulse Night Club, you get 1,439 years. 1,439 years shot down with discrimination and fear-cased bullets.

1,439 years of words, of words, of words.

The tongue is the strongest muscle in the body. Built to break brick like bombs cannot. Cut skin like guns cannot. Words can’t be extinguished when the flame goes out- the oven in my throat still burns.

There are 1,439 years living under my tongue. My voice shakes, not from fear, but from gravity. The gravity of bullet wounds caused by words that couldn't heal quickly enough. I couldn't heal quickly enough.

My girlfriend told me to keep walking and not look fear in the eye. I think I have to look at it to know it was really there.

1,439 years of life were really there. They are still speaking to me.

They will never be silenced.

They live in the mouths of everyone who has ever kept quiet, ever made themselves soft, ever feared that their love was too heavy.

We all know how to hide behind who we are not. We hide each time we choose to be silent in the face of something so loud. Hate is something so loud.

We all know how to die and come back to life, we will always come back to life.

One day we will swell and not break. Bend and not buckle. One day the world will hold us up without making us feel small. One day we will sing songs with hope as the chorus.

1,439 years of life still echo the walls of my mouth, begging me to speak. When I scream they enter the world again. I will never stop screaming. We will never stop screaming.

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Top 5 Reasons Why "P/V" Sex Isn't Inherently Heterosexual

Some of these may surprise you!

Along with the rest of my school, I recently saw a piece of writing by a cis woman on campus declaring that, since she identifies as queer, she can confidently say that there will never be a penis involved in her sex life. Like many of my peers, I was troubled by the outright factual incorrectness of this statement, and I’m hoping that I can educate that woman (and people like her) with this handy little article.

Without further ado, here are the top five reasons why “P/V” or “penis/vagina” sex isn’t inherently heterosexual.

1. Trans People Exist.

Considering the broad spectrum of bodies and identities that exist, the types of sex that “qualify” as queer are virtually boundless. There is only one type of straight sex, and it isn’t between a penis and a vagina; it’s between a man and a woman.

2. Trans People Exist.

Still confused? Let me be clear: there are women with penises, men with vaginas, and people across the entire gender spectrum who may possess one, both, or neither of these sets of genitals. Bodies are a whole lot more varied than a lot of people think they are, and even a cis woman might have privates that resemble the “P” more than the “V” for any number of reasons (the use of steroids, a history of detransition, an intersex condition, and so on).

3. Trans People Exist.

A queer woman is a woman who loves other women (no, not just “as friends”). Maybe she also has feelings for people of other genders; maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she’s cis, maybe she’s trans. Maybe she also doesn’t experience any form of sexual attraction to the genitalia that she designates as “male,” regardless of whom they belong to. Needless to say, this is a discussion that belongs in a bedroom, not in a news article. There are myriad reasons why people may be in a relationship and choose not to engage in traditional sex acts. Genital revulsion is a legitimate reason to refrain from sleeping with your partner, but that alone does not constitute a form of queerness. No one is going to force you to have sex with a penis; we simply want you to understand that gender is not so simple that every woman you ever love will have the genitals that you prefer.

4. Trans People Exist.

Let me lay this out as clearly as possible: a scenario exists in which a cis lesbian -- let’s call her Jasmine -- starts a relationship with another woman, Vanessa. Jasmine and Vanessa go on several dates and decide that they like each other a lot. At one point, Jasmine invites Vanessa over for the night. Vanessa agrees, and while they’re talking privately that night, she explains that she hasn’t yet had bottom surgery. In layman’s terms, while Vanessa has thoroughly transitioned and is now living as a woman, she still has a penis.

At this point, Jasmine might be surprised. She might choose to refrain from having sex, she might suggest that they engage in a different sort of sexual activity (really, there are a lot more options than middle school health class textbooks suggest), or she might decide to go ahead and try out penis-vagina sex. This is an intimate decision between the two of them, and it depends on the closeness of their relationship, their histories with sex, and plain old preference. But it certainly isn’t something that they discuss on the first date as a factor in determining their romantic compatibility. Jasmine may or may not have already known that Vanessa is trans, but if she did, she likely assumed that Vanessa had already had bottom surgery. After all, there’s no easy way for Vanessa to lean over their hors d'oeuvres and inform Jasmine in the middle of a restaurant: “By the way, I have a penis. I hope that won’t be a problem!”

5. Trans People Exist.

By now, I hope it’s clear why it makes no sense at all for a cis lesbian to insist that she will never in her life engage with a penis solely due to her queer womanhood. There are lesbian women whose partners have penises, and there are straight women whose partners have vaginas. There are even couples like this remarkable duo who naturally conceived two children despite both being trans. There are women of any orientation who may decide that they will never have sex involving a certain type of genital, but that fact -- while it may have a correlation to orientation due to cultural indoctrination of cisnormativity -- does not define one’s sexuality, and vice versa.

And, you know, there are also strap-ons.

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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Representation Really Does Matter

Here's how one episode of 'Degrassi' changed my life forever.

I was watching "Degrassi" when I came across something that I truly felt changed me. Never before had I watched something that I truly felt I was able to relate to in regards to my gender identity. I had even spoken before with my therapist and felt moderately uncomfortable with it. I never truly felt like I could be myself or be comfortable in the skin I am in.

This changed one day when watching an episode of "Degrassi." On the screen, a young student was presented. Their name was Yael and I suddenly felt more connected with Yael than I had with any other character I had ever seen on television or cinema before. It was almost surreal to see the screen before me. It felt unnatural, almost like the person I was looking at from the comfort of behind my screen was actually me. I felt like I was watching my own life, or rather a representation of what my life could be if I dared to be who I truly wanted to be.

Yael first starts in her cisgender identity so I will be referring to her as in female terms for the beginning part of this article. As she begins to explore her journey in her non-binary/gender fluid identity she begins to feel more comfortable with they/them terminology.

At the beginning of the season, Yael starts to realize a change. Her breasts have grown bigger and this is a part of her body that she has a lot of trouble coping with. The beginning scene shows her evidently wearing ill-fitting undergarments against her rather tight shirt. She speaks in intimate detail with her friend about how this makes her feel and her friend tells her she most likely needs a bra that is better fitting for her. They go shopping and she is obviously incredibly uncomfortable doing so.

I felt every single emotion Yael was feeling during this time. As a matter of fact, as the episode progressed, I felt a lump in my throat. I heard once that maybe when you die a screen will show all the events of your life played out before you and you can watch them like a movie. This is exactly how I felt when I began watching this episode. I felt like I was watching events in my life or perhaps even getting a glimpse into my future. I have felt all the things Yael was feeling before, but I was never really able to properly put it into words. I didn't have any characters to point at and say "see? I'm like them."

When the cross-dressing and drag community first started up, it was grossly misunderstood. People thought drag queens were perverts or some sort of twisted animals. As shows like "Ru Paul's Drag Race" became popularized, awareness of what the drag community was and ultimately, LGBTQ, in general, became a lot more evident. You could pull up a video on Youtube and show it to someone if they didn't understand what you did as a drag artist. There was finally something that you could point to and say, "Yep, that's me."

As someone struggling with gender identity, I can really and truly say I've never experienced that before. I've never had a character that I could look at and explain my feelings with. I've never had anyone to look at or relate to or to help guide me in whatever direction I needed to go. However, as I sat alone in my room watching a show that had been recommended to me, I felt like I had been recognized. I was no longer overcome with isolation.

Yael buys a binder from a store and begins binding. Soon after, her boyfriend realizes that she has chosen not to shave her armpits or legs and is distraught. For the year of 2016, I decided I did not want to shave. The backlash I received was very similar to what Yael received in the episode both with her boyfriend and with the guys she hangs out with. She inquires why she needs to shave and the answer was an ignorant one that I have received an almost uncountable amount of times in my life, "You're a girl."

Just writing that made me groan.

I can almost hear the indignant, monotonous voice it is so often said in as well. A vast majority of my life has been spent with guys and Yael shares this in common with me. At a certain age, I began being told constantly by boys what I was and was not allowed to do. "You're a girl. You shave your legs. Ladies first. Girls are more sensitive. It's weird having a girl here."

My personal favorite was whenever I played Xbox Live and the pandemonium that ensued when a real-life girl began playing with them. I always felt sad, different, and outcast. The feeling was one that was often difficult to describe. However, I watched Yael go through all the things I had gone through for the vast majority of her teenage years.

Yael liked makeup. She did her hair and overall seemed like a feminine individual, however, she had extreme body dysphoria especially when it came to her chest. I felt exactly how she felt. She wore a better-fitted bra and the boys began to notice. The insecurity she experienced ran rampant. I felt for her. I really did. I watched it and realized how many times I had fallen victim to objectification and how it had only thrust me deeper into my body dysphoria. After she begins binding, she truly starts to feel how she should feel.

"I'm gender fluid." She says to her boyfriend and watches as his face falls.

"I like girls." He replies. She pauses for a moment, looking at him.

"I thought you liked me."

The truth behind these words was almost too much to bear.

I've always had to believe that whoever loves me will truly love me for me. As time has progressed, I have looked into my options of top surgery. I realize most men who identify as heterosexuals are quite attached to the idea of female anatomy, specifically breasts and not having them might make me less desirable.

However, I am also aware of the fact that my happiness is to be prioritized above all else. This is my body and it really and truly should be my choice. This insecurity that is rooted deeply within me is one I watched Yael experience, proving once again that I am not alone.

Yael cuts her hair to a length she finds comfortable which is yet another fantasy I have had. I see myself in the future with a shaved head and high fitting clothes that reveal nothing because there will be no lumps of fat on my chest, nothing to hold me down. I see that vision of myself. The only difference between Yael and I is that Yael actually took steps in order to be that vision of herself that she visualized. I have not. However, one day I would like to. One day I see myself being the person I've always desired to be.

I had never seen representation like that in TV or movies before. I have always felt so entirely alone in how I feel. The idea of be-ridding my breasts is one that almost everyone in my life has found to be so incredibly ludicrous, but as I watched Yael's journey, I saw that it wasn't. It was something that was completely ethical and something that people all over the world experience. It's just a matter of putting your story into the world so others can benefit and learn from it as well.

So I am Lizzie Bowen. I am gender queer and the concept of this was one it took me a long time to grasp. I wear makeup and do my hair, but wear big sweatshirts so that my figure can be hidden. I am not ashamed of my body or who I am, but I am ashamed that I feel the need to hide. I am ashamed that I would rather be uncomfortable in my own skin than to make changes in my life to better myself and be free of my dysphoria.

LGBTQ representation and really, representation, in general, is so so important. There are kids, teens, adults, and individuals of all ages who have never had their identity acknowledged. They live their lives in silence suffering, thinking that no one else in the world feels the way they feel. I was one of those people until I turned on an episode of "Degrassi" on a quiet weekend. No matter what your situation or identity is, know there is someone in the world who shares it. You are not alone.

You never are. Thanks, Yael, for teaching me that.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

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