As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature Brazilian artist, filmmaker, and photographer Asafe Ghalib.
Growing up, I had to silence my feelings for wanting to be loved and accepted by others, it became such a struggle to maintain a version of myself that did not fit. Lacking self-expression I didn’t know what life was meant to mean for me.
Growing up in Brazil is fairly conservative, but my home life was even more so. The youngest son of three boys, in a strict religious family. My father is a pastor and gospel singer, his life was the church and he was ruled by its religious views and values. Our home was full of it’s rules too. I was just a kid trying to understand myself, explore my own body, I didn’t consider myself as a male or a female, it didn’t seem relevant to me as a child. I was just being me.
I would never recognize it was me they were talking about, when somebody would say, “You are a boy behave as one.” I think they knew who i was, but rather than try to help me become who i am, they preferred to suppress me, as a way to deal with their fears of hostility and discrimination from our community.
Having undefined gender expression leaves so much more space for expressing my way of being, so I could never see myself in the perceived stereotype of either a masculine of feminine body image. I would express myself in private, pretending I had long hair by putting my T-shirt around my head. I used to put on high heels and lipstick locked up inside my mum’s room. In this environment I was a very sensitive kid and I used to cry easily. Trying to express myself, while living in fear of the constant repression and violence from my father.
I was forced to go to their church, never given the choice. I went through really hard moments of religious repression, being told how to be by my family. I was shown domestic violence. Religion was often the area of life that I found most difficult to reconcile with my identity. The way I walked, the way I talked, the way I moved with my hands. Everything seemed to be a target for those who were scared of seeing difference in others.
The things we take for granted about the world, the things that homonormativity navigates with ease, are things that I had to think about every second of the day. Gender has developed to be defined by biological, developmental, and cultural factors, which expect me to represent the difference between masculine and feminine. This is where I am expected to take my references to be who I am. I had to expend all my creative time and energy in covering up whatever it was that made me feel different.
At the beginning of my sexual exploration as a teenager, I started to have a fear of wanting something different. I couldn’t see any reference of something different that I could feel at ease with, male or female, a role model. I was thinking, “It feels that what I feel is wrong, they can’t or won’t accept me, maybe I should die.”
When my wishes started to materialize I wanted to express myself authentically. But I couldn’t talk and share with anybody. It was a forbidden topic in many places such as my house, church, school or swimming classes. I wasn’t comfortable with myself, and not talking about it with anyone was something that started to suffocate me. I remember my father and my brothers making fun of me. My father said that being gay was a problem, an illness, something that I should live with and not come out. In one of our fights he told me that he’d prefer to see me dead than gay. I couldn’t handle that by myself any longer.
I started to have feelings for other people at the same time as my friends. But they were free to explore, take their girlfriend to their homes, share stories, flirt. I could not. I had to silence my feelings for wanting to be loved by others, it became such a struggle to maintain a version of myself that did not fit. I didn’t know what life was meant to mean for me.
But now I know that I am my own creation, not tied to a specific segment or definition of gender.
There is a lot to process growing up in a society seemingly constructed by straight structure and pre-conceptions. But there are lesbian, gay, bi, trans people in every community, from every ethnic background and in every religion in Brazil and around the world.
There is a long established history of abuse and violence against the LGBTQ community in Brasil, we have lost a lot of people that refuse to comply with homonormative norms and values. I know my pain, and I bear my scars, but I’m here to resist and fight societies engrained history and attitudes, to resist an existence that almost feels sacred to some people.
The power I have in my mind was always here, but silenced. But now I have my voice to speak to the ones as privileged as me, and to give opportunity and hope for the ones ahead to come, for future generations to live and express themselves authentically and freely.
Children are created unique, free and self-expressed. We all have a responsibility to create an environment for our young people to carry on growing where they can be themselves, and not fear people who are different to them. Rather than fostering fear and confrontation, parents can show leadership by demonstrating that it’s ok to be yourself, we’re all unique and entitled to love who we want, the way we want.
I’ll never stop being me.
Images courtesy of Asafe Ghalib
Stay tuned to Milk for more Gender Diaries and see our previous installments here.