COLOURS OF MY RAINBOW

Cherisse Lauren Berkeley: A Coming Out Story.

This is the story of my journey thus far and some of the things that have made me who I am today. My aim for this is simply to help anyone who may be struggling, and can identify to know that they are not alone, in addition to helping those who don’t understand what it is to be LGBT have a better idea of what the struggle of self acceptance and societal pressure is like. deep breath… clicks post

Story In A Nutshell:

Though there are no protective laws for discrimination and/or hate crimes based on gender and/or sexual orientation, nor can we even begin to fathom the dream of same sex marriages in my country, I will forever be a nationalist, and will continue to fight for the equality of all regardless of creed, race, gender, and orientation. I believe we are all capable of contributing to the betterment of our country. At current, I identify as a Trinbagonian androgynous lesbian.

Even before I knew what gay was or even aware of it being a word, I knew I was attracted to women. I remember being not more than 5 years old, in early morning traffic in downtown Port Of Spain, in the backseat while dropping my brother to St. Mary’s college, I’d stare out the window, and a memory that still lingers for me today, is watching the ladies especially those bank tellers in their short, tight skirts. I remember once we paused in the traffic and a car pulled alongside us and blocked my view; I was so annoyed.

I was around eleven or twelve years old when it officially soaked in that I liked girls, at that time I thought I was bisexual, and to be honest, I thought it was the coolest sh!t ever. From eleven to about fourteen I went in and out of the closet identifying as bi, at that time I never thought I’d be a lesbian. When I started becoming comfortable with the concept of being with a girl, I started putting myself out there, talking to girls etc.

I remember the first time I kissed a girl, it was outside a rock show at Anchorage, we had been talking for a few months and suddenly the timing was perfect, we kissed, everything fell silent, I was in this magical world that I never knew existed, I felt ways I never knew I could feel… everything just felt right.

Halfway through my first real relationship with a girl, I was about sixteen at the time and she looked at me and said “I don’t think you’re bi, I think you’re a lesbian” to which, I looked her dead in the eye and said “You’re right, I think that too”. Young, in love, and full of pride, I was eager to tell just about everyone (except my family) that I was gay.

I am the lone child of my parents’ union, but I have two half brothers, both of which know how I identify, and support me on my quest for a happy life. One of my brothers always knew I was gay, probably even before I did. Growing up he’d tease me often but very light heartedly, in retrospect, I realised it was his way of getting me to come out to him, but telling me upfront that he was okay with it.

My parents come from two very staunch Catholic families, both with a touch of homophobia. I had an uncle who was openly gay till the time of his death, I often heard older members of my family say things after he left the room, or called on the phone. Thinking they’d do the same if I told them, I chose to keep my life hidden.

I planned to tell them when I was able to independently provide for myself, but of course this didn’t happen. Just after my seventeenth birthday, an acquaintance accompanied me as ‘security’ to a bathroom at an event, and proceeded to force himself onto me. While raping me he whispered in my ear “I’m sure you just need someone to f**k the gay out of you, all you need is some good dick”. I tried my best to keep this covered up, I knew if my parents found out everything would go downhill. Two days later, I became seriously ill as a result of ‘the incident’, my parents had to take me to the hospital. The doctors realised what happened and then informed my parents. A court case started, finally when it was two days before needing to appear in court, I wrote my parents a letter explaining that I was sorry to disappoint them, that I knew I was not the daughter they wanted me to be and that despite how hard I tried, no matter what I did I could not be straight. My dad read it and I understood why the Rainbow is our pride symbol, he literally changed every colour imaginable. He told me I ruined his life then hadn’t spoke to me for about a week, but still attended the court session. My mom on the other hand, said that no matter what I was her child, and though she couldn’t agree with it she couldn’t love me any less, I felt as though her actions were contradictory when she tried to take me to a ‘Healing Mass’ the next day… much to her surprise we got there just as it was over… I said to her “If this isn’t a sign, nothing will be” she didn’t reply.

After this, I tried as best as I could have to be attracted to men. I tried to tell myself “maybe if you find the right dick”, after many unsatisfying sexual experiences and male partners I decided to give up and accept myself for who I am. I stood in the doorway of the closet, meaning that I was no longer eager to tell the world I was gay and proud, in fear of history repeating itself, but depending on who asked, I’d deny or admit.

For many years my parents seemed to be in denial, and at the age of twenty-two I felt the need to address my mother one day and reaffirm my coming out and gay status. Since then, I feel as though the fact that I’m gay has soaked in enough. Now we talk about stuff, girls included on occasion.

Over time due to the small island life, many of my cousins either found out about me, or I told them directly. Some of my aunts and uncles know.

It was only in my most recent years that I started realising in my own experience that I never knew there were other ways to identify other than male, female, or trans. Like being gay, I’ve been androgynous long before I even realised there was a term/label for the way I identify. I remember when I learned what the word “unisex” meant, and I asked my dad, why can’t everything be unisex so boys and girls could have and wear all the things they wanted. He looked at me a little perplexed and that was it.

Unlike being gay, admittedly I tried to run from my androgyny, as I was very much afraid to embrace an outward masculine appearance despite my attraction and confidence I found for ‘sporty’ / ‘unisex’ / guys clothing.

Still in my earlier years, I remember the first pair of pants that my mom bought me that had a zipper, they were a navy blue pair of jeans and a matching denim jacket. I remember being fascinated at the fact that I had a zipper in my pants, I immediately put them on and pulled the fly down n said if I were a boy I could pee just like that, I made the motion, and I remember the look of horror on my mom’s face when she said “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?!”

I decided to shave my head, for many reasons, but the main one being that I never saw myself with any other hairstyle, either pulled back in one, or out on rare occasions. After shaving my head, through the support of my friends more than anything, I was able to express my personality in ways I never imagined, more so as my hair grew I was able to manipulate and sculpt in different ways that seemed to bring out a confidence I’ve never experienced before.

Friends:

My friends are very supportive, but I suppose that this is because having a life of acceptance and non-judgment is a prerequisite for my friendship. It is important to note that even though I do have some friends who do not agree or accept homosexuality, they treat me no different to any other friend… as far as I’m concerned, everyone is entitled to their beliefs and I will respect your belief once it isn’t forced on to me, and vice versa for myself. I have a few close individuals in my life who I could never adequately express how grateful I am for their love, support and genuine kindheartedness. These are the people who’ve helped me the most to be the person I am today.

Family:

I think I said enough about my family before. lol.

Religion:

I suppose retrospectively I can say I strived to find a religion that suited me because I felt as though Catholicism did not accept me nor make me feel comfortable, but rather hated and judged. Over time I experimented with various religious practices, till finally I settled in my own comfort or form of spirituality.

I believe in the power of the universe, and the energy emitted from the sun. I believe in doing as many good things as you can, and that self forgiveness is the most important type of forgiveness.

Future Family:

I have no idealistic dream or vision of my future family. I do know that when the time is right I will settle down with a woman. Kids… I guess that’d be discussed or seriously thought about at a later time… and what I mean by that is when I can financially support kids, I’ll start thinking about it.

Role Model:

I guess I have no ideal role model within the LGBT community. I do cherish the memory of my uncle, and I only wish that he and I could have spoken more about our lives, I’m sure he would have been both inspiring and comforting. For now I suppose I’ll just have to deal with idolising Ruby Rose and Beck Holladay.

Daily Life:

Now that I’ve grown to accept myself for who I am, more so now that my hair feels a lot more in-tune with my personality I can say that my general outlook on life has improved. I’ve come a long way in terms of my depression, a lot of which stemmed from not being able to accept nor comfortably express myself based on societal pressure and the extreme fear of not being accepted.

I spent more than 10 years of my life being depressed, to the point that when I looked in the mirror I saw someone who I felt was a complete stranger to me. I’ve survived many suicide attempts, I turned to self inflicted injuries; within my later years I was able (on occasion) to channel my emotions into art. The most liberating and exhilarating experience thus far was the day I looked myself in the mirror and said I accept you for who you are. From that day, my entire life changed.

School. Teachers. Authority Figures:

I’ve only ever had one unpleasant experience with a teacher (based on my LGBT identity), and it wasn’t even directly. A friend/ex-classmate of mine told me that he had seen our teacher and he asked about me. My friend said he then proceeded to say “I’m surprised that she’s doing so well, she lives a life that I certainly do not approve of”. Honestly I don’t care what he approves of, but I don’t see why he needed to share these views with my friend who is ironically also under our colourful umbrella.

I did feel the need to switch schools after form 2 though. When it first soaked in that I liked girls, I told a girl in my class; before I knew it the entire school seemed to be pointing fingers, calling me a lesbian, many offered prayers, others said I should repent etc. After a while I tried to convince them I ‘changed my ways’. Retrospectively I can say this is where a long dark road of depression began. When I switched schools, I was happier but I still had a lot of self acceptance and growth to do.

Visibility:

I wouldn’t say that I was always “visible” often people would confuse me, gays would think I was straight, straights would think I’m gay, and I never really knew where I was on the visibility spectrum. All this changed after I shaved my head, more so since it’s started growing back. I’ve gained a lot of confidence and comfort in my appearance. Now it’s kind of hard not to notice how gay I am.

Media & Culture:

I think the natural culture of Trinbagonians is to accept… we do it with just about everything, just look at our crime rate, the state of politics and the list goes on; on the other hand I believe there are a few who hold firm to christian beliefs (ironically a religion used to further oppress our ancestors) in the old testament, however we throw much of a blind eye to adultery,eating shrimp and pork etc.

As for our media, many radio stations, and DJs promote what I refer to as “bun dong batty man music”, I’m all for freedom of speech, I’m here doing it. But I’m very much against DJs and public figures who promote violence, no matter what it’s towards I don’t think violence and hate should be given any praise.

Healthcare:

I don’t think our healthcare adequately provides for the heterosexual community, far less for the LGBT community. As it is our mental health facilities and programs are very much lacking within the public sector. Depression, suicidal thoughts/tendencies, and anxiety are prevalent in the LGBT community and there are no public entities that can adequately address or assist persons suffering no matter what their gender/orientation is.

Preferred Pronoun:

It’s not something I’ve given much thought, but I suppose “Xx” or “they” is fitting as I don’t think that my mental is male or female. Androgyny is somewhat new to me, so I’d have to play around with it and see what feels most comfortable.

Hate Crime:

Where do I begin? Where do I end!?!? I’ve experienced it, I have friends that have experienced it. The law does not provide for us, most of the time the police officers are extra negligent with a case if they know your matter is LGBT related. Notwithstanding the aforementioned “incident” I did encounter another similar experience in 2015, where I was asked if I liked girls, trying to promote my new found confidence I said “yeah man”, the next thing I knew I was being pulled into what seemed/felt like a dark janitor’s closet, with the guy forcing himself onto me. To me, it matters not what is done to bring justice, especially seeing that in this situation I couldn’t properly identify the person if I saw him again. But for me, what needs to be done are putting protective laws in place, I’m of the strong opinion based on my own experiences added to what I’ve observed, we in the caribbean promote corrective rape. Many of us believe that people identify as gay based on lack of sexual experience. The first question I’m often asked is “have you ever had sex with a man?” to which I’ve started responding with “I’ve probably had sex with more men than you, but thanks for your concern.” At the first place I worked, my manager randomly turned to me and said “all you need is a good man!” then proceeded to show me pictures of her step-son.

Advice:

It’s a long… long… so very long process, and just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, something new is about to happen.

Be true to yourself, use the hate around you to motivate you to be the best you that you can be.
Keep your head high.
Do not be afraid.
Do not live your life in sadness.
Life’s a journey it’s better to be happy with what you do during your time alive than have regrets for never doing something you always wanted to.
Heart breaks are tough to handle, but with a support system even if it’s small, you’ll make it through.
Safe sex seminars… they freak you out, but you learn things that you never googled… really though.