Growing Up Queer: “We Don’t Use That Word”

By Kate Kane

When I was growing up, my mother read me 1 Peter 2:9, from the KJV: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”   Because my mother was focusing on my vocabulary that year, she asked me what I thought ‘peculiar’ meant.

“Oh, doesn’t it mean strange or queer?” I asked innocently.

“You can say strange, but you shouldn’t say queer,” she told me gently. “Some bad people have decided to call themselves queer, so we don’t use that word anymore.”

I asked her what people she was talking about, and she only said that the some of the same people had stolen the word “gay” and I couldn’t use it to refer to happiness any longer.

Later my dad pulled me aside to tell me that this same vaguely-defined “bad” group of people had been cursed with a disease because one of them had slept with a monkey. He was sick at the time he told me this, and I remember his fever making his eyes strangely bright as he hoarsely whispered this story.

What I did understand left me horrified, and that was the beginning of my internalized homophobia. I now consider myself pansexual and genderqueer, but back at the tender age of twelve, I was just confused.  To my flat-chested FAAB self, puberty was a betrayal. I was being forced into a body I did not want. When my mother asked if I wanted to be a boy instead, I said, “Of course not! I just want to be a person — not a boy or a girl.”

“Well, sweetheart,” she said. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to choose.”

Except I didn’t want to choose.

The presence of certain boys and girls began to leave me breathless and weak in the knees. I correctly recognized that those feelings about boys were crushes. But my feelings about girls? I just wanted to be really close friends with them, I told myself. I dreamed of having a double wedding with one of my best friends. The faces of the guys in this fantasy were hazy, but the vision of her in white was crystal clear.

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family, I did not even hear the word “lesbian” until high school. I did not hear the words “bisexual” and “pansexual” until I left for college.

A pastor at my church preached a sermon on how homosexuality was a result of demonic possession. He did not touch on any other portion of the queer spectrum. I was a firm believer in the spiritual realm, and my fear of demon possession caused me to reexamine my feelings for some girls.

One night, after tossing and turning for hours, I confessed to my sister that I was afraid of demon possession because I had crushes on girls. Alarmed, she told me she didn’t want me to sleep in the queen bed we shared any longer. In my depraved state, she said, I might commit incest with her. I fled the room and spent the rest of the night lying in the bathtub, crying.

I suppressed that aspect of myself for the next five years, until I began reexamining it at Patrick Henry College. I had so successfully blocked out the memory that I did not even remember telling my sister until I came out to her a few months ago, at which point she told me that she already knew this about me.

I was always told that homosexual attraction was a unique perversion that prevented those who suffered from it from having a relationship with God. However, my acute sense of loneliness and isolation, of queerness, made me identify more closely with Jesus. When he cries out that his father has forsaken him, I feel the pain in my own heart of knowing that someday I will tell my father, and he, too, may reject me. I may sometimes feel as if I’m too queer for the peculiar people, but I know when my Lord cried out in loneliness, he felt my loneliness too.

5 thoughts on “Growing Up Queer: “We Don’t Use That Word”

  1. Pingback: Here and Queer | queerphc

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  4. Pingback: Homosexuality: It’s an Orientation, Not an Action | queerphc

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