‘It took me a long time to accept who I was’

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Be loud, be proud, be you

Should loving someone of the same sex – or identifying as a different gender to the one you were assigned at birth – result in ridicule, harassment and discrimination?

Too many young people are still suffering stigma and self-shame due to their sexuality or gender nonconformity.

Today, Observer NewsCo launches the #BeYou campaign which aims to put a spotlight on LGBTQ matters with a series of stories over the next few weeks from local people courageous enough to share their personal journeys with the public – in the hope that others will be spared their pain. Because LGBTQ rights are human rights.
The #BeYou campaign is co-funded by the European Union and implemented by DECIDES AB in partnership with Women Against Rape and Observer NewsCo.

by Gemma Handy

[email protected]

“You know that expression – black people can’t be gay?” Quinn Simon is saying.

“And if they were, they were either the stud lesbian or the flamboyant gay guy on TV; there wasn’t that normal gay person who you’d walk past on the street and not know they were gay.”

Things might have progressed in recent years, “but there’s still a lot of catching up to do”, she adds.

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, we’re squeezed into the only private room at Observer’s offices and things have kicked off with a fairly bog-standard question when dealing with sensitive subject matter: are we speaking on or off the record here?

Antigua and Barbuda – like many of its regional neighbours – is not always an easy place to be open about one’s sexuality after all. And that’s why precisely why Quinn is eager for a candid, no-holds-barred discussion in the hope of helping normalise LGBTQ relationships in Caribbean society.

“I felt very alone at times, like I was the weird one; back then I didn’t see people like me,” she imparts.

With her sunny nature and self-assured persona, one would be forgiven for thinking Quinn – sometimes known as Sam – had never wrestled with issues of identity.

But that hasn’t always been the case she reveals, recalling the “isolation” she felt as a child.

‘Growing up, I felt like a disappointment’

“I felt very alone at times, like I was the weird one; back then I didn’t see people like me,” she imparts.

Now 24, she smiles as she refers to the “alphabet people”, referring to the often dizzyingly long initialisms assigned to the non-heterosexual and non-cisgender community.  

For her own part she identifies as demipansexual, the term used to describe those capable of feeling sexually attracted to anyone regardless of gender, provided there is a deep emotional connection.

“Romantic and emotional attraction comes first for me,” she explains. “I am also gender non-conforming but I do present as feminine, mainly because of stigma – I don’t want to be labelled as that ‘stud-chick’.

“I have a professional image to upkeep. I’m a youth parliamentarian, so I try to keep a more approachable image.”

As young as seven, Quinn remembers asking teachers why girls had to wear a dress instead of shorts.

Later, an all-girls environment – Antigua Girls’ High School – made talking about such things easier, she says.

Quinn is in fact engaged to a “lovely young woman” she met at school. A silver engagement ring hangs on a chain around her neck.

While Quinn has a hormone imbalance, she says it has no bearing on her sexuality.

“I come from a family of women who, by nature, have a lot of testosterone – and they’re all happily married,” she grins.

‘Who you are is something to be proud of – and you deserve love’

From the age of 14 to 17, she took an oestrogen enhancer to help regulate it.

“But, as much as I liked feeling, looking and behaving a bit more normally, after a while I stopped because I wanted to be my true self,” she says.

“I have always loved carpentry and building things and was often called on in school to help out with ‘guys’ stuff’ like moving heavy things.

“I think that helped me start to express myself more. I realised I could be a feminine girl who showed masculine traits.

“It took a long time to accept who I was.”

Quinn has been open with friends about her sexuality since she was 13.

Families, as many LGBTQ people will testify, can often be trickier.

“I am the black sheep of the family; I have two traditionally perfect youngers sisters,” she says. “It made it hard growing up; I was more or less a disappointment.”

Quinn grew up without her father – again, she says that played no part in her sexual preferences as some social commentators have historically alleged – but is close to her mother and siblings.

“I grew up surrounded by strong independent women; that’s why I’m so outspoken,” she laughs. “At the same time, it made it more difficult to be open with them as they’re also very traditional. My mother would say, ‘you won’t get married if your roti isn’t round’.

“They’re very Christian too; my mother says she loves me but doesn’t want to see me in hell. She once told me to go to a preacher and get myself dealt with.

“It does a lot of psychological damage.”

Quinn says she has never come out per se to her parents, because she’s not sure what the precise reaction would be.

“But I know they love me and accept a lot of wild things about me – they are not oblivious.

“My dad once told me he knew I was going through a lot and loved me no matter what,” she says, tearing up at the memory.

“It means a lot; you still want your parents’ approval.”

‘A lot of people are afraid to be allies because the stigma can be transferred’

Legal same-sex marriage may be some way off in Antigua and Barbuda. Quinn and her fiancée plan to eventually marry in Canada.

One major reason Quinn has become more open about her sexual preferences is to help her partner feel more comfortable with being ‘out’.

“She was afraid of holding hands but we have both now reached a place where we’re tired of hiding. I know too many people in the closet about their sexuality, their gender identity, or just their views because of stigma.

“A lot of people are even afraid to be allies because the stigma can be transferred,” she says.

One thing she’s grateful is for growing up in the age of the internet, “so I could see there were other people like me”.

“Now we are seeing them more, but seven to 10 years ago that wasn’t the case. And it’s even worse in the black community; some people still think black people can’t be gay.”

These days, Quinn says she’s more confident and happy than she’s ever been; switching her name from Samantha or Sam is in tribute to the shedding of her former, troubled self.

She takes a breath, considering her answer carefully, when asked what message she has for others struggling to deal with questions over identity and sexual preferences.

“You are not wrong, you are not broken and you are not selfish,” she says firmly. “Who you are is something to be proud of – and you deserve love.

“You will meet people who will hurt you with malicious intent and you’ll want to give up and run away and hate people, but you have to reach a point where you remember not everyone is evil. There are still good people in the world.”

She adds earnestly, “Someone, one day, will love you as you are – with all your scars and broken bits and make you feel accepted.

“It’s not always going to be night; it is going to get better.”

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