I’ve always hated the “tell us your unique story” prompt because most of the time, if I tell the “I’m a lesbian” story, I can see people click into assumption mode. That my life has probably followed some version of the time-tested coming out arc: Date a few boys. Hate the few boys. Kiss a girl (dealer’s choice if that girl is a best friend or drunken hook up). Gay panic come morning’s light. Rinse and repeat a few times until a full-fledged lesbian emerges from the wash.
And if I combine the lesbian story with the “I got kicked out of my family and haven’t spoken to them in over a decade” story, I watch people become certain they know how my story unfolded.
But they’re wrong.
I didn’t get kicked out for being a lesbian. I wasn’t even aware I was a lesbian when I got kicked out, because I’d spent so much energy trying to avoid getting kicked out that there wasn’t much time to process how I felt about girls.
It sounds sick, but it’d be a lot easier had that been my story. It’s a lot cleaner to say, “Yeah, I got disowned because I’m gay” than it is to say, “Yeah, my mom went completely off the rails after her hero firefighter husband died on 9/11 and took it all out on me, her own daughter, who also experienced loss that day.”
I’ve always had these two boxes I fit in looming over me. Lesbian. 9/11 kid. The narrative of these boxes has always felt a bit unwieldy and out of my control. That somehow, by marking my little boxes, you know who I am. No further questions.
Of course, I understand the benefit of boxes. I have a shorthand with my queer friends that I don’t have with my straight friends. And sometimes, man, it helps to know I can walk into my LBGT box and there will be people in there who get me.
But other times, it’s isolating, knowing that my tidy boxes—lesbian, 9/11 kid—erase all space for nuance. They’re my boxes, sure, but my experience isn’t as easily simplified and contained within those walls, or even within the story they make together.
Each box needs more than 500 words to capture the scope of what they mean to me. I’m positive what they mean to me is different from what you’d assume they mean to me: My coming out wasn’t all that noteworthy. The worst part of 9/11 wasn’t the dead dad.
In a society that loves succinct stories that hit buzzword-tested beats, it often feels like my story, and frankly everyone’s story, gets stripped down to the most easily digestible parts. All that matters is getting to the point, and getting to it quickly. Just: what’s your box?
Who cares about the mess getting there? Who cares about what comes next?
As someone who desperately wishes for bigger boxes to move my mess around
Me. I care.