Exiliado: The Trenches
The bile of it always takes me by surprise. Random abuse has lost its capacity to stop me cold. There’s nothing anonymous words on the internet can do that a bottle thrown from a moving car for the fact of holding hands with another man hasn’t already done. You learn to dodge, to smile, to walk off. And then eventually, you learn to pity. What is it about your very existence, in the minutiae of your life, that makes someone so angry as to throw a bottle at you, or call out a name, scrawl something on your exercise book at school or in this case, write out a series of anonymous tweets on Christmas Day, of all days?
And it should go without saying that I am not seeking victimhood. And it should go without saying that I didn’t ball myself into a corner and decide to never write again. And it should absolutely go without saying that I’m not complaining about the fact that someone didn’t like what I wrote. Far from it, go ahead and tell me you don’t like something. Many things should go without saying, but when you live on the other side of the border, you’ve grown used to feeling like you have to justify everything.
So actually, what ran through my head when I came back to social media after a Christmas break and found tweets complaining about an article I had written, wasn’t the fact I was being accused of being talentless or mediocre or that it was a ‘mierda de articulo’. It was the bit about ideology, and how much it had whipped some anonymous person on Twitter into such a frenzy. But then again, when you write from these borders what I actually wondered was how it had taken someone so long to start sending things like that.
My festive troll had decided that where I was writing from was a cul de sac. They described it as the ideological trenches, which I suppose is meant to have some weight to it, but served to throw words at me like queer ideology and feminism, Marxism. All the things we’ve heard when people decide to march on the street and say enough is enough. All the things we’ve heard when people decide their story is just as deserving as everyone else’s. All the things we’ve heard when someone is simply trying to tell their truth.
The imagery of the ideological trenches is what I fixated on, because in fact where I live is the border. Or rather, several borders. As much as people would like this to be some form of socio-cultural war that people like me try and inflict upon the world, I don’t wake up in the morning and consider going to battle.
Where I live, where I exist, is a border. That fence that separates Gibraltar from the world is not simply a geographical one. It holds culture, society, language, and a way of life that people looking from the outside in often fail to understand. The irony being they’re the ones who put the fence up in the first place. Imagine then, that within that border there are other borders: ones of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Borders that people fail to see. Stories within them that go unheard and unspoken.
It’s easy to paint me as some sort of grenade-throwing troublemaker who is trying to rock the boat in order to overthrow Western Civilisation. If only I had that sort of power. I’d like to imagine my Twitter numbers would be slightly higher, at least. What’s harder to consider, is what my story is.
I don’t often see myself on the television. I often don’t read myself in books. Very few people understand, outside of the borders in which I live, what it takes to go outside and live life as your authentic self every day. I once heard it referred to as Survival Mathematics. There’s someone walking up to us, should I stop holding his hand now? Should I tell people at work I have a husband, or should I refer to him in abstract terms? Can I speak my mind or will I be referred to as a hysterical diva? Should I write a series of articles about my experience as a Queer Gibraltarian immigrant, or will I receive a torrent of abuse?
I grew up afraid. In an all-boys school where what was favoured was a rigid form of masculinity, I learned to keep quiet, to make as little noise and movement as possible. You learn to blend in, to adapt yourself for the sake of being ‘tolerated’. You hide your gifts and your light and your stories because you feel the consequences would be unbearable. You see braver people than you refuse to do the same, and you see them broken.
When you live on the borders you feel like you need to justify everything. I remember a tutor at university telling me I couldn’t write a story set in 1995 Gibraltar and have the main character like Nirvana, because Nirvana wasn’t ‘a thing’ in the UK anymore in 1995. Sweeping aside a story because of his own experiences, he never stopped to consider what people listened to in Gibraltar in 1995. I’ve been asked to not use as much Spanish, to use ‘proper’ Spanish/English, to change characters’ names, to cool it with the ‘gay stuff’, to discuss how ‘backwards’ Gibraltar is.
When you live on the borders there’s always someone there telling you to amend your behaviour for their benefit. Speak properly, act manly, don’t turn your head or roll your eyes that way, don’t be so flamboyant, that word you just said…we don’t say it that way in English, your food is weird, your clothes are weird, your hair is funny. I look back at so many times I’ve changed the way I am for the sake of not standing out, and for the benefit of who? Someone who, only in precise circumstances, is simply tolerating me. To stand up in your life and live your truth is not an ideology, it is a matter of choosing to live instead of simply surviving.
I made a decision early last year to write honestly, and to write bravely. What did I have to lose? That’s when I started getting published. At every moment of doubt, I’ve had a friend tell me ‘no, you need to put this out into the world’ and the results have been positive beyond description.
I can’t even begin to tell you about the people I’ve met, the opportunities I’ve had, the public and private messages I’ve received of thanks and of support. The reaction to this one anonymous troll on Twitter was dozens of posts in return telling me to ignore them, that they loved my work, to stay strong. That is everything I could hope for.
The thing about a border instead of a trench is that a border exists on the same level on the inside as what is outside. You can see the wider world, you can interact with it. You can open the gate and instead of walking out, you can draw people in. You can tell them your story, and if you’re lucky they’ll listen. The others are too busy in their own trenches, flinging grenades and hiding in the mud.
All I want to do is tell my story, and to tell you that I have as much of a right to tell it as anyone else. You can think I’m a terrible writer and you can disagree with me and you can choose not to read anything I write, that is absolutely your prerogative. You definitely know the spaces I inhabit and where to reach me. What I won’t be doing is shutting up or going away. In fact, I feel braver, and with a need to be more honest and open and louder than before.
Twitter is often maligned as a place of hatred, of people shouting at each other, and of untruths. Over the past year, and through my writing, I am happy to have been able to find a community of people who are not that way. Queer people, Gibraltarian people, immigrants, lovers of books and history. People who support and listen to each other.
One of the people in our online community, Ty Duarte (@ty_duarte), tweeted the other day after the terrorist attack on the US Capitol. He talked about calling out the ‘Little Trumps’ among us: the liars and conmen, the narcissists and sociopaths, the machistas and machotes. Summed up perfectly as ‘hay que plantarle cara.’ I think that’s a pretty good New Year’s resolution.
See you on the borders.
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