A Pursuit of Identity and Sexuality

From a very young age, I had an almost instinctive set of norms and guidelines installed into my system without questioning or reasoning that I was expected to adhere to in the years to come. At the age of 4, I had to give up my denim shorts and sneakers for a ride to the kindergarten in my pink Sunday dress with a pair of white Mary Janes to match with. I hated pink and white. Not long after, I had to beg my mom for a revamp of my toy collection; I traded all of my toy cars and stuffed animals for Barbies and dollhouses. I gave up my blue bunny, a stuffed bunny that I grew up with. My mom used to make up stories for me about the blue bunny—which by the way, was called The Blue Bunny—and I going on adventures, nothing else mattered in the world. Those were some of the best days of my life. At six, I got into school. The boys and the girls no longer sat together during lunch breaks, which I later came to realize as a way to not only draw boundaries between us but to also emphasize our differences. Differences that were later on expected to become attractions; after all, opposites attract, don’t they? At the time, 7 year old me couldn’t think or do much except to follow suit. Before the start of my third year in school, my father took me school shopping. I went into the store and carefully picked out a beautiful red bag with the picture of Spiderman doing a somersault in the air sewn on to it. I was very proud and pleased with my purchase that I carried it around the house for days before school had even started. When school did start though, I didn’t get such positive feedbacks from neither of my female nor male colleagues. I was so angry and frustrated; I didn’t know which or whom I wanted to throw out: my friends or my precious bag? It was agonizing to hear my female friends laugh at my choice of bag when all of theirs were pink Disney bags. I kept the bag. But this had me thinking, like really thinking, why do I like things I am not supposed to like? Why do I want to be a superhero when I should want to be a princess? That’s when the questions started flowing into my head like a never-ending river. 

By thirteen, my hormones started fluctuating and puberty hit close and hard. I started getting the tingles and the stomach butterflies every time a cute guy or girl would smile in my direction. The guy part was not so much an issue, but when I would share with my friends how I feel towards girls, I got more looks of disapproval than approval. One girl, who was a few years older than me, seemed to understand me. It turned out she was better at empathizing than judging, and for this I was thankful. She took me by the hand and showed me a world I had not seen before. With her, I discovered more about my sexuality and my gender than I had ever known. We were unstoppable. I will always love her. But that is too much to say about two girls in a society that is very indignant about any relationship that is not heterosexual. I got a bad reputation for it. I was known as the dyke. In the hallways and cafeteria, I got stares that made me want to cave in and hide in a corner.

I remember a girl that was at the time a senior in my high school, once cornered me and asked me if I were gay. She said that she had heard from everyone that there is something going on between that one girl and I, I always hangout with, and then left with saying that I better not be gay, for my own good. At the time, I was taken aback by her inquisitions about my personal life, and I wasn’t sure if it was a threat or an advice. I had only talked to the girl once before in my life, and given that I went to one of the best private schools in the city, I expected more, better, from my colleagues. But now I don’t frown upon it too much. After all, she didn’t know any better, and really; she was just trying to look out for a schoolmate in a very hostile situation. At least, I think, she was kind enough to come and talk about it with me, and not with others, which everyone else resorted to in a very unkind way. 

When teenagers are being unkind to each other, they do not understand the kind of damage they inflict upon one another. They do not account for the pain and hatred they invite into each other’s lives. I was not treated with kindness; I was not welcomed with open arms. I was treated with slashing words of anger and derogative behavior, so much so that I started reciprocating their ways. My first home was good home; I was born into a family filled with love. My parents always did their best at loving me and protecting me. But there comes a time and place, where your parent’s assurance doesn’t reach anymore. How do you shield your child from a place you’ve only known as cheerful and holy? You can’t, and you don’t. School is supposed to be our second home, a place we feel secure at; a place to call our safe haven. When your safe haven turns into a landmark of fear and torment, what does that look like exactly? If you don’t know already, I will fill you in. It looks like a maze with hedges built on terror, anxiety, ambiguity, animosity, grief, and spitefulness.

My school life had turned into a living nightmare that drove me into dark places that I have never been to before. I was a young and fragile girl in a world that was not very warm and welcoming when I opened myself up to show my pieces. This led to my shutting down and running deep into the closet. For a long time, I hid my real shades and masked them with layers that were more appealing to everyone but me. I too was lead to believe in fairytale endings: girls waiting on their princes in shining armors, and boys in search of their lost princesses. I had my fair share of the fairytale romance. Mind you, it didn’t last a lifetime. But I did pick up quite a few important things while I was in a perfectly acceptable and stable heterosexual relationship. I was so invested in the relationship that I lost my sense of identity and I fell out of love with myself. He had become my purpose and my center. My life basically revolved around him, just as it is expected from a commitment partner. So when prince charming left, I lost my purpose. I was shaken off my ground, and I had lost my center. I didn’t know who I was, where I was headed, and how to move forward.  Not long ago, I had the privilege of meeting someone else that changed my outlook on life and identity for good. I became friends with a guy that accepted me for my differences so much so that I wasn’t scared to creep out of my dark box anymore. I was showed real love and acceptance from a friend for the first time, and in the process I learned to not only accept myself but everyone else. So I have come out to myself. 

Ten years has past since the first time I ever questioned my identity and where I stand in my community, and I can tell you that I have discovered far more than I had anticipated at the time. Grateful for my parents, my books, my circle of friends, my mentors, and the Internet, I have gotten far in discovering who am I.  Through the years, here is what I have learned: My sexuality isn’t something I chose or something that is relevant to everyone else; you choose your lunch on the menu, your handbag, your stiletto shoes, your haircut, but you don’t choose something that you know will result in difficult outcomes, not if you had the power to change it. Even if I had chosen to be different at first, I would have back out to reverse those differences a long time ago. For they have brought over me more bad than good. Just like how I never reordered that jalapeño sauce on my meal again, and just like how I never bought another pair of pointy stilettoes because I got blisters the first time I wore them. I would have changed my choice to one that is preferred and favored by everyone and puts me in a safer zone. It would’ve saved us all the trouble, but I can’t. On the contrary, I was, at some point choosing against the unique sides of me. I chose to neglect the parts of me that were real and genuine because I feared rejection and exclusion. But not anymore, even though I live in a country like Iraq in which differences as such are not very acceptable, my fear of not being accepted and approved by everyone is long gone. Partially because I have found people who accept me for who am I and make me feel like it is absolutely okay to live in my true colors. It shouldn’t really matter to everyone what my sexual orientation is, and I don’t owe any explanation to anyone on that matter. My relationship to a guy wasn’t anymore significant than my relationship to a girl and that is why I have chosen to not specify whom I am attracted to. I have learned to not put a label on myself in times and places that are not relevant. My different shades will only appear when they need to, but never all together. These are things I was born with, and I refuse to apologize for the way I was born. But mostly, I have grown to learn that what we are into doesn’t define who we are. It is the choices we make that define us, and as far as I am concerned, my sexuality wasn’t and isn’t a choice. Everyday, I am discovering more things about myself; everyday I get to know myself a little better. This alone, has been the greatest blessing of all. I am not finished in life, I have a long way to go, and I have so much more to live for, but I know I am in a good place.