The L Word
I used to think I was the only one who was iffy about this word. Was this some kind of a complex that lesbians have? Was it because for most of my life, it’s only ever been used in sentences drenched in condescension?
Some memories you’re unsure why you’re so easily able to recall and they linger on, ripe for picking in therapy. When I was eleven, I was at lunch with my mother, a few aunties, and their kids. For whatever outrageous reason, an auntie – a grown-ass woman – asked aloud my mother, “Is your daughter a lesbian?”
Although this was said in Chinese, “lesbian” was emphasized in English. And there was so much disgust in her voice as that noun left her mouth. I don’t even know where to begin with how many things are wrong with that scenario. Why is the sexuality of an eleven year-old important to you? Why did you feel the need to ask this in front of so many people?
But my mom responded, appalled at the idea: “Of course not!”
Because how dare you. How dare you question my daughter’s sexuality. How dare you think she is anything “less than” straight.
I remember tearing up when she asked that. I didn’t openly cry, but at eleven years old, completely oblivious to what sexuality was, to what the implications of that exchange meant, my eyes welled. I covered it up with my jaw dropping open and mimicked my mother’s shocked reaction. Across the table, one of my friends (and a daughter of one of the aunties) must’ve seen and laughed “that’s such a silly question, you’re going to make her cry!”.
At eleven, I learned (or, more accurately, deeply internalized) the outrageousness of me being a lesbian: how dare you think I’m anything less than straight.
I’m still struggling with understanding why I cringe at the word. I’ve equated my reaction to its ugly phonetics, like the word “moist”. And, compared to “gay”, it’s not convenient to say and a noun that conveys a sense of an identity that is “other”. It also sounds foreign, like an alien.
“She’s a lesbian.”
But phonetics are trivial. I refuse to use it as a scapegoat anymore.
The day that I’m able to use this word free of any emotional attachment will be so liberating. After 23-nearing-24 years of offloading baggage and any self-contempt onto this word, I have to reclaim and embrace this word. Like starting any new habit, it’ll be tough and every instance will be a conscious decision, but I owe it to myself. I am not less than straight. I am a lesbian.