Written for the class “Public Relations Advanced Writing”
The night is cold and finding the Blue Moon Lounge on the dark and deserted Gottingen Street has already proven to be an adventure. Entering the bar, we push down a narrow flight of stairs until finally reaching the coat check. What appears to be a hefty woman lumbers over greeting us and tells us to enjoy the show. She turns around and heads back to a group of rather tall women. On closer inspection, one notices strong jaw lines and Adams Apples on the women, which range in appearance from scary to oddly attractive. They are men in drag and they are proud of it. Before long the show starts.
Natasha, one of my high school friends, as well as my girlfriend and me, sit at a table with Dr. Chris Frazer, a professor of Latin American History. He is one of the last acts.
At one point in the night, a bald man in a blonde wig and black cocktail dress leans against my table and lip-syncs Beyoncé’s If I Were a Boy. The irony is striking, but the visual has the desired impact. I tense up. He slowly pulls off his large curly wig and his shaved head is revealed. The illusion of femininity is destroyed, but a new one takes its place. He is the epitome of accepting oneself no matter what people may think. He chooses to embrace his desires and his lifestyle and by removing his wig he also embraces himself. He is not hiding anything, but putting everything out there despite fear of judgement. The performer takes a step back and then returns to the stage where he collects tips from the line of individuals offering money. As the song ends he donates his collection to a local social rights organization fighting for gay rights in Halifax.
This act strikes a chord with me. More than anything else, I admire his bravery. He is being true to himself and though I find no desire to wear a cocktail dress, I can understand how he must be feeling: free, liberated, and perhaps a bit scared. In 2008, Statistics Canada found that one in 10 hate crimes were committed as a result of sexual orientation and of these 56% were violent. Considering a survey from the same organization reported that only 1.7% of Canadians were admittedly gay or bisexual, it seems that these individuals were being targeted. Despite Canada legalizing gay marriage in June 2005, homosexuals coming out to friends, family, and community still face the fear of discrimination. Their bravery in the face of this, present perfect examples of being true yourself in the face of oppression.
Throughout my life I have met many of these brave individuals, but I grew up with two of them and their stories remain ingrained in my mind. In high school, I had two groups of friends. The first were all agnostics and the second were all Baptists. I tried to avoid inviting these two groups to the same events as fights would regularly break out amongst them. Each group had one girl that stood out. In their own way, they were both leaders with strong personalities and stronger opinions.
The agnostics had Meagan. She was a guy’s girl, the kind that you could invite to the theatre knowing that you’d be able to watch an action movie, pay only for yourself, and not call anyone the next day. Her coming out story begins on our first Thanksgiving home from university. I had invited my agnostic friends over to reminisce and just before they left, Meagan brought me up to my bedroom, sat me down, and took a deep breath. The silence was deafening.
“I have something to tell you,” she said as she pushed her short brown hair out of her face. I leaned back in my desk chair for a moment and then leaned forward.
“You’re a lesbian,” I blurted out expecting the comment to break the awkward silence and garner either a laugh or a quick denial.
Unblinking, Meagan nodded with a smile. “Yes.”
I don’t remember my exact response, but it included five questions beginning with, “Did you kiss a girl before me?” and ending with, “What do you think about the girls in our graduating class?” She answered them in a good-natured way and then headed home leaving me astonished. That night I cried for the first time in five years.
I didn’t feel betrayed nor did I judge her in anyway. It was just an overwhelming realization that everything you knew was slightly different than you understood it to be. After learning something that carries so much magnitude, I was left to adjust my view of both personal history and social justice. That night, my view of homosexuality and all issues related to it were altered and solidified. Previously, I believed that compromise was necessary and gay civil unions were the right answer. But how could I believe that my friend, whom I had known since elementary school, didn’t have the same rights that I enjoyed. The idea seemed preposterous.
This was not the end of Meagan’s coming out story. Though I was the last of our friends that she had come out to, she still had to tell her parents. Months went by without any word between them until a rumour started to go around our small hometown. She went home that weekend and revealed her sexual preferences to shock and discomfort. Her father refused to talk to her until the following night when he came down from his bedroom and sat next to her on the couch.
“So, do you think Angelina Jolie is hot?” he asked testing the water.
She responded, “Hell, yeah.” He laughed and left. In his own way, he was showing that he accepted her. I know that Meagan was scared telling her parents and I admire her for facing that fear.
My Baptist group of high school friends had Natasha, the sort of no-nonsense Christian that growing up in a small town to very conservative parents created. Her faith was only eclipsed by her eccentricity, which regularly expressed itself in unconventional ways. Two years went by after Meagan came out and in May 2007 I went home for Easter. Natasha was bringing home a girl that resembled a surprisingly cute boy. When I arrived home after the three hour drive with the pair, I told my parents that I thought that Natasha was coming out of the closet this Easter break. They scoffed, suggesting that I was reading too much into her short hair cut and transgendered friend. There was no way that two of my best girl friends would come out. In a graduating class of 70, we had already had our 1.7%.
Natasha never mentioned her sexual preference on the trip and I lost interest. A few weeks later she messaged me on MSN. We talked idly for a while until she let me know that she would be visiting in a week. I asked the reason for the sudden trip and she explained that it was Halifax Pride Week and she would be attending with some friends. Our MSN conversation unfolded:
JEFF DEVILLER says: So… I have to ask. It doesn’t matter and if you want you can lie and a good person wouldn’t ask, but I’m a curious person… do u like girls?
NATASHA says: Lol. I was waiting for you to ask… and yes I do
JEFF DEVILLER says: I KNEW IT!!!
My response wasn’t ideal in hindsight and there is no justifying my less-than-sensitive reaction.She came that weekend and stayed the night. We talked and hung out like we were in high school. She explained that once she realized she wasn’t straight she had told a few of her ‘queer friends.’ She had waited until Easter to tell her parents. However, prior to coming home her mom called her and asked her outright.
“I was very startled and didn’t really answer,” she recalled, “which was an answer in itself.”
A day later her father called asking the same questions. “He told me that nothing was going to change the way they felt about me, and they were still very proud of me even though they don’t really agree with it.”
On the ride home for Easter she wasn’t worried that they would react poorly when she officially came out, but she felt the awkward silence that filled the car. Her friend provoked my suspicion, which was all part of her coming out plan. She is now the Vice President of the LGBT Society at Saint Francis Xavier University. Despite embracing her identity, she told me, she still worried that people would stereotype her.
“I still feel worried whenever I tell someone new that I’m queer,” Natasha explains. “You never know how people are going to react and it’s a good way to get instantly stereotyped. I want to be known as Natasha, who likes biology and hiking, not as Natasha, the queer girl. Being queer is only a part of who I am as a person.”
Natasha had to face her parents and conservative friends and tell them she was something that they felt was a sin against God. However Natasha never faltered and faced them with bravery, being loyal to her self identity. It was in support of Natasha that my girlfriend and I found ourselves at the Blue Moon Lounge. Months after she came out, she returned to Halifax for the Annual Coronation Ball, which is a large gala event in which two drag queens are named “Imperial Crown Prince and Princess.” Natasha invited my girlfriend and me to the pre-show.
This man singing Beyoncé reminds me of the importance of being who you are despite the world and reminds me of how brave my two closest friends are. Perhaps it wasn’t the song that inspired me, but the act of singing it. Truly embracing ones identity in the face of potential judgement is a sign of bravery that all homosexuals must have and all heterosexuals must aspire to. These two girls in my life are my inspiration as I see this bravery in both of them and aspire for my own bravery to be myself against the odds.