feature image via littlemiu.tumblr.com
If you’re at all like me, it is possible that you have been in a situation at some point where it is appropriate to compare your life to The Chronicles of Narnia.
I recognize that there could be a variety of reasons for this to happen, so to clear it up real quick here are three examples of Narnia-like scenarios that I am NOT going to talk about right now:
1. “OMG the animals are talking!” Or: that time you got high with your best friend in the middle of the woods.
2. “DUDE! The main characters in The Chronicles of Narnia have to come out of a wardrobe to get to Narnia at some point and a wardrobe is basically like a pretentious version of a closet!” Or: that time you came out of the closet.
3. “Why the fuck am I surrounded by people who constantly feel the need to make questionable religious allusions for no reason?” Or: that time you accidentally wandered into a Bible study when you were looking for the student-athlete luncheon, but then you realized that this Bible study and the student-athlete luncheon were actually the same thing and no one told you that you were supposed to have a working knowledge of the Bible in order to play basketball at this school.
(Ok, so maybe that last thing just happened to me.)
No. What I’m talking about here has a lot more to do with feelings. Specifically, the feeling that the world that I am currently living in, much like Narnia, cannot possibly be real. Also, the feeling that any comfort or safety I may have right now is only temporary; the feeling that I can be thrust out of this fake world at any minute without warning.
I am a twenty-something queer kid who grew up in a conservative, south-Texas town, now lives in a sheltered but liberal college environment in New York, and is about to graduate into a reality of rampant unemployment that – if I’m not so lucky – could possibly send me hurtling back into the conservative Texas world I’ve so vehemently renounced. Simply put, I exist in two different planes; my past in Texas, and my dreams of a future in New York. And I’m terrified that the one that I currently exist in will suddenly disappear.
Once upon a time it was just Texas, and that was okay for some time. But then I moved to this place – New York – where everything feels so much more vibrant and accepting and hopeful and inspiring and exciting! There’s no reason why I would ever want to leave this place, but the truth is that sometimes I have to. Sometimes I have to go back to the place where I came from. Because I still have financial and emotional ties to my family. Because it’s where I had sex with my first girlfriend. Because it’s where I fell in love with my best friend when I was sixteen. Because it’s where I got drunk for the first time and got stuck in a pecan tree. Because it’s warm there.
Let me tell you a little about the Texas that I grew up with.
I know there are really wonderful, open, positive parts of Texas, but where I lived, those horror stories you’ve heard are unfortunately true. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back it all seems incredibly backwards.
During the fifteen years I lived in Texas, I saw a state take “conservative” to a suffocating elevated level of personal identity. There’s a type of Texan particular to my town (and a few others like it) who blindly accepts gender roles and identifies with nationalism, guns, SUVs, and football. For this type, it’s best to “save yourself” for marriage, marry young and wealthy, settle down in the home you were raised in, send your kids to the Bible camp that grandfather founded and go to the same church your parents got married in. “Saving yourself for marriage” is key -- if you can’t do that, then you’re unwholesome and (more importantly) “un-Texan.”
It was everything you’ve heard: the captain of the football team was crowned homecoming king, the head cheerleader homecoming queen. Their families threw a big fancy party replete with custom-printed water bottles featuring the royal couple’s faces. When they got married last year I’m pretty sure the world stopped spinning for second. But underneath the surface things weren’t quite so picturesque. We had sixteen-year-old rich white girls squandering their inheritance dealing heroine out of their Suburbans. We had classes which favored white cultural capital and dismissed people of color altogether. We had rednecks ramming their jacked-up trucks into softball bleachers and police station buildings, stay-at-home moms covering their children’s asses by paying off the deputy, and everyone else turning a blind eye. “Kids will be kids,” after all.
I tried to be a good Texan. I went to church once and bible camp for two summers, but by junior year of high school I’d lost faith in “talking to Jesus” as a problem-solving method. Plus I could feel my political views veer liberal and my sexuality veer obviously queer, which was a tough way to feel, totally surrounded by this school’s conservative curriculum.
Around this time my parents, inspired by an incriminating email they’d seen pasted in my journal, hacked into my email account and found the coming out email I’d sent to my best friend. It was an email address I’d secretly created to avoid my parents’ watchful eyes, and they printed out the entirety of my account and brought it to the local Behavioral Health Specialist. The Specialist told my parents I was “acting out of a need for attention and an inability to grasp certain 'important mature concepts' due to my youth and social ineptitude.”
So they put their printed-out emails in a folder and locked the drawer. Later, I’d pick the lock, remove the email that had gotten me in trouble, and flush it down the toilet so I could deny ever saying: “Sometimes I think I might be a lesbian…”
The only out gay kid in my high school committed suicide two days before graduation, and after briefly blaming the parents, the entire community proceeded as if nothing had happened. It was back to BMW-boyfriend-backstab-bitchslap chatter. Needless to say, I felt like a stranger in my town, my home, and even in my room. I kept MapQuest directions to Albuquerque in the glove compartment of my car, just in case I needed to run away. When I graduated, I moved to upstate New York for college.
To suddenly go from outright discrimination to open-hearted acceptance is confusing as hell because there is no way something that seems this RIGHT could last forever. It was getting increasingly impossible for me to masquerade in Texas like I was anything other than exactly what I was, which was queer. But in between, with my life the way it is now, it feels like a volatile middle ground, and I'm not sure how much to trust it.
The shit really hit the fan this summer. When the semester ended, I didn’t go back to Texas. Instead I got in a jeep with my friend headed for New York City, sent a stupid email to my parents saying that I might not be getting on the plane, and turned my phone off for a week. I’d landed an internship at Logo, which I knew my parents wouldn’t approve of. They didn’t, but eventually (with some help from my school’s Dean of Students) I called my parents. I refused to go back but agreed to fly there every other weekend to discuss “the decisions I had been making.” The biggest of which, as far as they were concerned, was my sexuality.
Meanwhile at Logo, things were awesome! Some days it’d be admittedly hard to focus, but mostly it was straight up phenomenal and I felt like I was doing work I could see myself doing in the future. I was in the West Village when the NY Senate passed gay marriage, I went to Pride for the first time. I even met Dan Savage!
Obviously my parents couldn’t handle it. I was in some other world and they knew it. It was a manic summer: soaring all day, focused on all the things I had to write and videos to edit and then at night crying and smoking cigarettes on the steps of my downtown apartment building. And when I boarded plane after plane, LGA to SAT, I crawled into my shell and died. Each time.
By July 9th, my parents were officially uncomfortable enough with my life in New York that they’d decided either I’d quit my job at Logo or I woud not return to college in the fall. I received the following in an (actual) email from my father:
Notwithstanding, if we were to agree to your return [to college], it would need to be under the following conditions:
1. You leave your MTV job by 7/15.
2. You meet with Mom and me 2X per day to discuss issues. Need positive attitude with willingness to change!
3. You meet with [Behavioral Health Specialist] 2X per week
4. You work out 2X per day to improve health. Need to upgrade personal grooming for senior year. Would like for you to start now while still in NYC!
5. Stay away from Rainbow [school’s GSA], LGBT activism for senior year. Need proof that you are out of Rainbow and off the mailing list.
6. No contact with [people who we think are negatively influencing you]. No exceptions.
7. No Internet, blog participation under your name or alias.
8. No acceptance (written or verbal) should you get offer from Logo. Other MTV/Viacom areas ok.
9. Need open-minded discussion about sexuality, LGBT culture in light of recent issues.
10. Immediate withdrawal from [College] if found lying or non-compliant with our mutual agreement.
11. No return to [College] if parents feel [you are] not ready to handle things.
12. Open to regular visits from parents at [College].
13. Church every week. Perhaps join a church/prayer group at school.
14. Parents have active participation in course selection, thesis, job search, and graduate school selection.
I got that email and everything seemed over. I’d stay in Narnia forever and never go back to that other world where I was nothing. In Narnia, I could do anything I wanted.
When it came time to fly home on July 15th, I packed my suitcase and instead of taking a cab to LaGuardia, I took the express train to Harlem and crashed with my friends at Columbia. I let them paint my toenails all different colors while I stared at the ceiling and tried to forget everything.
On Monday at Logo I had to show up but I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t do any work. I just sat at my computer and cried. All I can remember feeling was guilty. Not lost or hopeless or scared or confused, just guilty. I hated myself for doing this to my parents again. But also, they’d send me a list of impossible demands. Who was really at fault?
That morning my Dad flew all the way to New York to “get” me. By then I felt so guilty that I’d lost my resolve. All I wanted was to forget it ever happened so I could return to school and my friends there. I wanted this shit to end and frankly, I didn’t have the guts to go through with it like KC Danger did. I spent the next three weeks convincing my parents that I was “well enough” to go back to school.
It’s been three months now and I’m here; I made it back. School is still like Narnia to me, and Texas – well, it still exists. And I still exist somewhere in the middle. I am still straddling the thickening line between these two strange realities. But now it’s more complicated, as once again I’m pretending to adhere to the rules laid out for me on July 9th: pretending to be straight again, pretending to be okay.
But this won’t last. Before long I’m gonna have to choose. But if I choose to stay in Narnia, I can’t go back to my other world anymore. It’s all or nothing. You can take the girl out of Texas, and you might even be able to take the Texas out of the girl. But once you have, where does she go from there?
Special Note: Autostraddle's "First Person" personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.