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Why Representation Matters

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By Krista Ann Freego

 

I cannot begin to even describe why positive LGBTQ+ representation in movies TV shows, music, plays, musicals and web series is so ESSENTIAL, without sharing my story. I am currently typing this while sitting in my room in a very quaint B&B in Toronto. This is my first time really “seeing” Toronto, but not my first time ever being in the city limits. In 2002, I attended Toronto Trek. I went straight from the airport to the hotel the convention was in and then from the hotel back to the airport, never once taking a step to explore the rest of the city. So, when asked during this trip if I have ever been to Toronto before, I answer no; as the full answer is simply too long for polite and casual conversation. I don’t believe this is misleading because if all you see is the inside of a hotel and an airport, have you really been to Toronto? Currently, this is my last night in Toronto and, frankly, I am feeling very introspective. In a way, my trip to Toronto almost 15 years later to the day (give or take a week) from Toronto Trek 2002 has brought me full circle.

Before Toronto Trek, I never consciously allowed myself to entertain the notion that I was not straight. I was 22 years old when I went to the convention. I was scared and alone in life because I thought I was broken. I had dated boys in high school and college. I did it because that is what you are supposed to do. I was going through the motions. When they kissed me, my heart did not speed up, my breath did not catch in my throat, the answers to the world did not unveil themselves to me (or maybe in a way they did, just not in the way I was anticipating). Each time we kissed, I would think “Why can’t I feel? Why can everyone else feel and I can’t?” I kept going through the motions hoping that at some point something would trigger me awake. Over the years I just came to accept that I was broken and did what was expected of me; followed the rules and played my part.

I can honestly say that a kiss from a boy never awoken me. My first night in Toronto, 2002, a very confident, out-going, beautiful woman saw something in me, grabbed me and kissed me. Suddenly, I was awake. I wasn’t broken. My pulse quickened; like it had never before. My palms were sweaty and my brain was overwhelmed. From that moment on, my life would never be the same.

I wish I could say that from that night on I was confident and accepting and proud of who I am and I helped other people embrace themselves by my example, but that would be a lie.  was raised by Roman Catholic Republicans. Trump Supporting Roman Catholic Republicans, who even now try their best to ignore what I am so that we can carry on our relationship with one another. I also grew up in, and still live, in a very rural area where you did not/do not see diversity at every turn. In fact, if you want to see diversity, you have to get in your car, drive to the nearest airport and travel somewhere else.  Everything I saw in movies, in stories and on the streets that surround me reinforced that I was supposed to be with a man. I was not supposed to be with a woman. And, once again, I was broken. This form of broken was somehow even worse. Now, I knew that I could feel everything I envied in the stories, but I wasn’t allowed to feel it because I was feeling it for the wrong person, the wrong gender.

For the next fourteen years I struggled. I hid. I lied to others. I lied to myself. I tried so hard to convince others and myself that I was “normal” that I was just like everyone else and could find happiness and love with a man, like society showed me. Over those fourteen years, every once and a while a show or movie would surface that had an LGBTQ+ relationship. When I found such a gem, I clung to it as though it was a life preserver and I was stranded in the middle of the ocean out of breath and out of strength. Sadly, those life preservers were few and far between. I tried to date women, but I tried to keep it secret. No one deserves to be kept secret. While I was trying to keep the women I dated a secret, in the process I was keeping myself secret and could never have a full and healthy relationship with any of them. They all deserved so much more than I could give them.

I constantly lived in fear during those fourteen years that someone would figure it out and that my world would either crumble at the mere echo from the truth or spontaneously combust.  Since I was in fifth grade, I wanted to be a writer. Dreamt of being a writer. The catch, for me, with writing is that no matter how I may try a part of me always ends up on the page. During those fourteen years I could not risk someone seeing my secret behind the text and having to deal with the truth. As a result, I didn’t write, or what I did write was not very good, because it wasn’t authentic. It was filtered; edited and photoshopped.

Over the years, each show or movie or TV show that I saw that portrayed a female same sex relationship helped give me a nudge to be myself, brought me closer to the shore. They gave me hope that maybe I wasn’t broken. That maybe who I loved was normal. Each character, each episode, each story leant me strength and courage. The final push was when I discovered web series and watched web series such as Carmilla, Couple-ish and The Leslie Series. So, to those who are the creators, actors, actresses, directors and producers, writers and crew of these shows, movies and web series –  THANK YOU! If it wasn’t for all of you, I would not be sitting here right now typing out my coming out story. I would not be facing life with an open mind and a hopeful honest heart. I would still be lying and hiding and living a quarter of someone else’s life. I would like to think that if during the past fourteen years, positive LGBTQ+ representation was the norm rather than the exception, than I could have spent more of those years confident and accepting and proud of who I am and helping other people embrace themselves by my example. While I cannot change the last fourteen years, I can only learn from them and do better in the next 14.

Like I said earlier, I grew up and live in a rural area, very rural; there are Amish and buggies. My only window to diversity was through the stories I was able to watch. Without the stories that have positive LGBTQ+ representation, I would still be living someone else’s life. I would still be hiding, even from myself. My life would be so much less than what it is now. I am sure I am not the only one. I am certain that there are others drifting in the middle of the ocean just waiting for someone to tell them that they are not alone. This is why it is essential that these stories; these positive LGBTQ+ stories continue and increase in frequency!

“Four years of pretending. Being someone I’m not. Tonight those years are ending. Tonight the dream girl gets got. Zombies line up in their funny square hats. My graduation is bigger than that. Finally, I get to be me and tonight, I’m going for the girl.” These are the first word sang by Colby played by Gabrielle Christian in the movie/musical Girltrash All Night Long. These are also the words that would become my personal anthem, for many years to come.

When I first heard these words, I was in the closet – to the world and, to be honest, partly to myself. Upon hearing this verse, upon both seeing and hearing the optimism and hope and joy and freedom in Colby’s/Gabrielle’s voice and in these words, something in me awoken. I realized that I didn’t want to pretend anymore. I didn’t want to do everything that I thought everyone else wanted me to. I didn’t want to go through the motions in my relationships with men because it was what was expected. I did not want to pretend any more.  It was hearing these words and watching this character so carefree and fearless that I finally started the process of truly living my life. So, to all those out there who doubt the true impact a movie, a lyric or a character for even a single line of dialogue can have, please do not doubt any longer.

“Finally” is my personal anthem. Whenever I am going through a rough patch such as stuck in a red state area with no one else around me that is out and wonder if it is easier to just start pretending again, I hit play on my iTunes or sit in my car and play the cd in my player. I listen to Colby’s revelation again and again and again until I have the resolve to continue to be who I am. “It’s my turn, to finally do this”.

So, if you feel alone and isolated and wonder if the struggle is worth the possibility, the possibility of truly being yourself and finding YOUR happy ending and not the happy ending others may envision for you; it is.  The struggle is worth it and although you may feel alone, you are not.  There are so many other people out there in their own corner of the world struggling with the same issues. So, have faith, press play on Girltrash All Night Long and let the words strengthen and inspire you!

I hid for so long that now I refuse to hide. Now, I gladly and freely speak my truth to others; to strangers in our first conversation; to friends I have known for years; friends I have just met; to all of you. I started writing again. I am no longer timid to put myself on the page and I welcome any dialogue that results from that. I am a stronger, happier, braver person now than I have ever been.

It fills my heart with so much joy to see more positive LGBTQ+ representation. Each time I watch an episode of “Wynonna Earp,” Couple-ish, “Orange is the New Black,” “Sense8” or “Supergirl” I become stronger and more fearless in living my truth. If anyone who is associated with a project that has positive LGBTQ+ representation ever wonders if their work matters, it truly does! Your art gives us strength. It gives us the nudge to accept and embrace ourselves. It unites us and makes us part of a community. It normalizes us. It awakens us. It saves us and brings us to the shore!

This is why representation matters!

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