There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside youMaya Angelou, Black-American poet, singer, and civil rights activist
I write this as an open letter to myself to look back on and see the journey that I’ve taken; reflect on how much I have changed as a person and use this platform to speak my truth and advocate for those who feel silenced. I hope this may help the people I know understand me more and also bring comfort to those reading who may be facing similar problems.
Trigger Warning – this post includes suicidality and eating disorders
In light of recent events there has been a brighter spotlight on the #BlackLivesMatter movement after the murder of George Floyd, a recent victim of the long-lasting issue of police brutality. There has also been an attack on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community as President Trump quietly removed anti-discrimination laws in the health care sector during a global pandemic, as well as made it legal for same-sex couples to be denied access to adoption.
In the UK we have seen hundreds of thousands of people unite to protest and echo the grievances of racial inequality and have witnessed the toppling of controversial statues which honour and glorify Britain’s bleak history of slavery and colonialism. These events have exacerbated the polarisation of our society as both the left and right combat each other and themselves.
As a child I always felt different from others, whether that was due to my race or my sexual orientation. Navigating a world where you are treated less than everyone else because of your skin colour and face prejudice for loving who you love hasn’t and will not ever be easy for me, or for anyone else. But over time I’ve realised that I will be okay.
I spent a portion of my childhood living in a predominantly white neighbourhood and I’m not afraid to admit that I loathed being black. Whether it was because I detested the way I looked or the way I was treated, I hated being different and was desperate to fit in with everyone else. As a child I would lied habitually to make myself seem more ‘white’. I would often claim I did things like go on fishing/camping trips on the weekends, or took classical music lessons and only ate ‘white’ food. These habits subconsciously manifested themselves in different ways as I got older.
I would also go on to do things like dressing ‘white’ and lightening my skin. I was eventually educated about the idealised view of light skin being superior and beautiful, and came to the realisation that it had been embedded in me; a toxic generational belief among ethnic communities since European colonisation centuries ago. In addition, the acceptance of my ethnic background was obstructed by the media’s representation of the black communities.
The media portrays the ethnic youth as disruptive delinquents and an uneducated dependent mass who all come from families with degenerate cultures and traditions – it all made me view myself as inferior. Being able to have a greater objective lens and take in account my own experience, I was able to formulate my own opinions on my background.
The media needs to be held accountable, as it can be vastly subjective, and support selective narratives with underlying political motives that chase monetary gain. This bipartisan approach to news delivery creates a toxic ‘them vs us’ relationship, festers hostility, and breeds an environment where racism is acceptable, producing a self-fulfilling prophecy (a sociopsychological phenomenon which occurs when a person’s behaviours align to fulfil a belief or a label placed upon them).
It wasn’t till I was older that I embraced and loved my blackness and stopped viewing my own culture as ‘ghetto’ and ‘backwards’. I began listening to music created by black artists, which brought me comfort as I could relate to their personal experiences. Educating myself about the ancestral and brutal colonial history of my country of heritage opened my eyes to the bloody foundations of the first world countries. I began proudly speaking about my experiences of injustice and advocating for #BlackLivesMatter amongst other movements.
Many young POC struggle with accepting their appearance due to the promotion of ‘white’ and Eurocentric beauty as superior, and the disparagement of ethnic beauty. One way in which I learned to embrace my ethnic features was realising that people wanted them; we see people get lip fillers, lash extensions, butt lifts and so-called influencers even ‘black-fish’. It took a while to accept my blackness but I finally got there.
Accepting my sexual orientation was another huge obstacle in my life because it was intertwined with other struggles like mental illness. As a child I used to cope with my depression by stress-eating as it became one of my only comforts, and it resulted in me gaining astronomical amounts of weight. I was moved around a lot across the city and I was never in one place for too long to make it feel like home. The lack of stability, amalgamated with my lack of identity exacerbated my mental and emotional woes. Developing body dysmorphia in my early teens resulted in the drastic loss of large amounts of weight and my exercise and eating habits became extremely unhealthy. While struggling with my sexuality, I became suicidal as I thought my life wasn’t worth living if people wouldn’t accept or love me for who I was. My attempts were fortunately foiled by vomiting out the pills I tried to overdose with and my fear of heights stopped me from jumping from a bridge into the canal.
I found my own tribe of people that would love me unconditionally I was finally put at ease and my mental health slowly recovered to the point where I’m now happy. RuPaul says to the contestants at the end of every Drag Race episode “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?!” which on the surface is a simple slogan but when put in practice it transforms into something life changing. Learning to love myself was a long journey and it took time to heal from my pain. To the people reading this who may be struggling, I want to remind you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel: everyone’s light is different and the journey through the tunnel is different, but you can and will make it.
One beautiful thing I find about children is that they are unapologetically themselves. Even though they don’t understand the world that surrounds them or themselves, they speak their mind with such philosophical truthfulness. They have no shame attached or societal expectations. In hindsight there are many things that screamed “this boy is gay”. I once ran around my nursery in a purple princess dress, I have embarrassing memories of me singing, acting and dancing publicly, and I had mostly female friends.
However, unapologetically being myself made me an open target for people who bullied me for most of my childhood which tremendously impacted my mental health throughout childhood along with trying to figure out my sexuality. I was called every derogatory name under the sun, and people expressed that they wished I would die of HIV. I was beaten up, nearly drowned in the school swimming pool and even had footballs and hockey balls aimed at me. I then ended up building a wall around me and I became the perfect example of ‘hurt people hurt people’. However, small acts of kindness always stood out and helped me see light in humanity.
At the time of all this happening I was quite religious and I tried to ‘pray the gay away’, and became more religious and very self-loathing. A song that really helped me during my time was ‘Heaven’ by Troye Sivan. His song resonated with someone like me who comes from a strong Christian background as Troye himself comes from a Jewish family. The powerful lyrics “All my time is wasted, feeling like my heart’s mistaken, so if I’m losing a piece of me, maybe I don’t want heaven?”. I now identify as atheist due to the fact that I can never feel at ease with an institution that denies and detests my existence and uses faith to justify injustice within my family and community. However, I continue to have great respect for religions and people of fait – I am still somewhat spiritual and apply aspects and teachings of different religions in my life.
I was initially confused about how I would label myself. I didn’t fit into every stereotype that the media portrayed and there is a lack of different representations and perspectives of the gay community. The vast majority of what we see in films and TV are either the feminised men dressed in pink from head to toe or the hyper-masculine closeted ‘jocks’ who cheat on their girlfriends with another man. I found it hard to relate to many gay characters which caused greater confusion.
I didn’t want to wear make up, dress more fluidly in bright colours or adopt the gay cultural vernacular into my everyday vocabulary and I didn’t want to be a personal shopping assistant for my female friends. I love combat sports, gym sessions, watching typically violent ‘masculine’ shows and movies and I love to listen rap, hip-hop and RnB music. One thing that greatly helped me accept and understand myself was through the consumption of digital media. The gay YouTubers I watched were authentically themselves, and coming out videos from people I looked up to helped me realise that I wasn’t alone and that there were people like me. The juxtapositions in my identity made me question myself but I realised that I was just being myself and that I shouldn’t try to fit myself into boxes and labels of stereotypes about my orientation.
Although I’ve learnt how to accept my queerness and blackness, this isn’t the end of my story. My past was turbulent but I made it to the other side and I’m now on a new journey. By telling my story I hope that I can help someone else accept themselves, be better understood, and not feel like they’re alone.
Written by Obed Bhiziki