Trigger warning - anxiety, self harm
Being queer is funny sometimes. I’ve been spending a lot of time outside of London in the past week, and it really is like some people have never seen a butch lesbian in a zebra striped tie reading the sex issue of Diva magazine before. I love watching people’s facial expressions, but most of all I love the absolute horror some people express when I ask them a simple question, like where the toilets are, or where I can get a cup of hot chocolate. I mean, I know being approached by a gay woman can seem like speaking to an alien, but realistically, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like I’ve got gay germs I can spread to you and all of your children…
I’m writing this while on a bus to the shops where I’m going to buy a bow tie. I’ve never owned a bow tie before... I feel like a bit of a traitor to the lesbians. I’m getting my first just in time for an LGBTQ+ event tonight. And I'm excited - about the bow tie, yes... but also because I can’t wait to be surrounded by queer people. Because as much as I joke about other people being weird about my gayness, sometimes it really does affect me. This week has been one of those weeks.
The thing is, I have anxiety. It has its pluses – I’m never, ever late for a train - and as a Londoner, I’m pretty proud of that. However… anxiety’s a real struggle more than anything, and something that is both pronounced and defined by my queerness.
One of the more unpleasant symptoms of my anxiety is the panic attacks. There are loads of different types of panic attacks – it generally varies from person to person. My kind come most often in very early hours of the morning. I wake up – my head is pounding and my thoughts become inseparable from one another, and more than anything – I just feel hot. My body reaches temperatures I’m sure must be unnatural – my insides feel like they’re being boiled in the tight wrap of my body. My skin writhes and pulses with heat. I feel trapped.
I’ve been having quite a few nights like that recently – Saturday night was the hardest. I was on a weekend where I was meeting new people. New people who weren't campaigners, or feminists, or activists, or queer... it made me realise how long I've been avoiding spaces where people aren't at least one of these things.
I was sharing a room with 7 young women. It was 1am in the morning when they all got in from the pub. This was not the time for my skin to start boiling - but it did. I lay still in bed, faced the wall, eyes open, focusing on not losing track of time, trying my hardest to pretend I was asleep. This is what intense social anxiety looks like. I couldn't move - not even for air.
It's not just shyness - if I was just shy I would have been able to go to the pub in the first place, not be lying in bed. If I was just shy I wouldn't be terrified to let them know I was awake, in case they spoke to me. If I was just shy I wouldn't be planning ways to escape through the window...
I often wonder how my anxiety would be different if I wasn't queer - or if it would even exist at all. I'm by no means saying that queerness causes social anxiety, or that social anxiety can't be felt by people who aren't queer... because that's just bullshit. But I wonder about myself - as an individual. Because my queerness and my anxiety feed off of one another. They are like two inseparable friends.
As soon as I entered the group at the start of this weekend I was terrified. Some of my thoughts:
They all know I'm gay
What if they're homophobic
What if they hate me because I'm gay
What if I make the women uncomfortable because I'm gay
They won't want to share a room with me because I'm gay
What if they find out I wear men's underwear
They all know I'm gay
They're probably homophobic
They definitely hate me
I'm making everyone uncomfortable
They are uncomfortable in their own room because of me
I just make things hard for people
They hate me
They think I'm disgusting
I was with the group for less than 24 hours in total. After the first few, I made an excuse not to go to the pub, I hid in the room while everyone else was out, and I read poetry aloud. I always carry a copy of Kate Tempest's "Everything speaks in it's own way" in my bag. So I showered, got into bed, and read the whole thing from start to finish. If I was just shy, I wouldn't need to read 72 pages of words just to keep myself breathing enough not to pass out. Then I read some of my poems. Then I read Geeked magazine.
I couldn't sleep. I battled in and out of dreams. My body jolted me awake earlier than everyone else the next morning, telling me to use the bathroom and leave before they woke up, screaming get out get out. But I didn't get out on time. I couldn't think, just knew that I had to I had to get out of that room. I kept asking myself as they chatted amongst themselves, how do I, just leave?
If I was just shy, I would have been shy, not petrified. And if I was just shy, I wouldn't have been thinking of ways to break my limbs so that I could go to A&E because at least it would mean I wouldn't have to talk to anyone...
I was terrified this weekend - and maybe I wasn't anxious because I was queer - but my queerness fostered feelings of anxiety.
Having said that, my anxiety has made me more queer still. I keep thinking of ways to make myself more visibly feminist - more visibly gay - more visibly vegan - more visibly gender fluid - more visibly everything that I am. Because in a world where it feels like everyone is potentially a threat, it's the easiest way to make friends. I am so visible as a defence mechanism - because if people are hateful, they will undoubtedly say something - this tells me who to avoid. And if people are really open to these things - or identify similarly - they are more likely to talk to me. So I automatically avoid getting to know people who will hurt me because they don't understand my identity. In some cases, that means I just don't communicate with anyone - I'd rather hide from social situations than get hurt.
On Sunday morning, I fled the room. I got to breakfast long before everyone else, and I sat on my own, and I tried to recite Kate Tempest's poetry in my head. And half way through eating, when more people arrived, they sat on another table. It felt like being at college again, I left college for lots of reasons...
I can't wait to wear my bow tie this evening.