“You think everything’s gay,” said my classmate in primary school. I laughed then. I’m still laughing now, not because it’s true or particularly funny but because it must seem that way, to people who aren’t locked out of their histories: that LGBTQ+ people find every possible opportunity to shoehorn themselves into the conversation. That we treat biographies like ciphers, conspiracies to prevent us from recognizing ourselves in our precessors. That we snap up scraps, little details of historical queerness in a desperate attempt to find some frame of reference to who we are today.
Here we are, in the vestiges of a great empire, which, though describes heterosexual relationships to the minute detail, never made the same allowance for queer stories. And here we are, in the margins of a textbook which wrote us out, which whitewashed and straight-washed us, which misgendered and deadnamed us. And again, in the shuttered personal life of a reclusive author, and once more, in the shadow of a sworn bachelor’s eyelid, then once more, over and over, until they are sick of us claiming over and over what is not explicitly ours. You think everything’s gay. And what about it?
All our lives, LGBTQ+ people have had to make space for ourselves–in our homes and families, in workplaces, in creative and professional industries. When shows like She-Ra and films like Moonlight and Portrait of a Lady on Fire get the green light, it is not without years and years of tireless campaigning and unceasing resolve by own voices creators. At the helm of podcasts like Making Gay History and History is Gay are LGBTQ+ archivists, treasuring the pieces of our own stories, both historical and contemporary. This is not surprising in the least. If we don’t scream our names from the rooftops, who will? If we don’t write our own narratives, who will? Or at least, who will ingenuously, passionately, respectfully?
Legacy might not be the first word to come to mind when thinking about queer histories gone past, but it’s the one I think is most suitable. We have no legacy which has not been first written over. In dynastic China, love between men was normal and celebrated; in pre-colonial Southeast Asia, transgender and gender-non-conforming shamans were a highly revered class; in societies all over the world, queer people have existed openly for longer than we could possibly come to conceive, but hardly any of us are privy to this unless we go hunting.
The archives of our predecessors are inaccessible, obscure, difficult to reach if they exist at all. We make do with what scraps we have, constructing our identities around the holes in the collective memory. And we continually have to answer for the building blocks we use: There’s nothing explicitly saying that historical figure was gay. Those two women who never married, lived together, and said they loved each other in every breath were just really good friends. Being trans is a modern invention.
How do you explain the hunger for an arbitrary point of reference in the past to people who have never needed to search for it? As an “other,” I am afraid not of death, but the dying, how it will entrust my memory to people with an incomplete image of me. I am afraid of the complications of the legacy that it might disappear or, worse, be mutilated. I am afraid that the picture of me I’m still daily making and unmaking will freeze on a still that cannot be articulated by non-“others” except awkwardly. Those of us who are closeted have these complications compounded. Will we die with our stories never told like those who came before us, the names of which we will forever be struggling to remember? Will we be remembered faithfully?
As Pride Month draws to a close, please, remember that our fight is far from over. The LGBTQ+ community has survived not just centuries of physical, horrifically violent purgings, but also immaterial attempts at sanitization, censorship, and erasure. Days of visibility like these aren’t just celebrations of our lives; they’re commemorations of our deaths, too, and those of us who are still dying. Especially now, especially here, remember. Remember us and those who came before us, who were not provided the same podiums from which some of us can comfortably speak today. Remember, and reach out, and help move us along in the annals of history.
There is a room for us yet, at a time which is not as far away as you’d think. Don’t look away. Don’t look away.