Sitting in my dual-wooden seat with an empty space next to me – as a newly transferred grade four boy – I shyly surveyed my classroom. I glimpsed at the handmade arts and crafts plastered to the walls on both sides, and the weekly due dates scribbled in various coloured chalks on the blackboard. I watched the teacher shuffling through a mess of batched paper – scarily waiting for my introduction – all these seemingly big things that would slowly become part of my 8am-3pm life. The one thing I hesitatingly analysed was my 28 peers – all in the same outfits as me, more boisterous and confident in their place. I realised that these would be the faces I would see every day.
Time passed through the year – and years to come – and this shy boy had friends; had an identity. In primary school, there were two groups: Boys and/vs. Girls (which would gentrify in the worst way come high school – a story for another time). Now, I would like to believe that I knew myself more than the average Joe and Jennifer, but pressured into fitting in, I obviously went with the boys. However, the boys I aligned myself with expressed “similar” interests to me: choreography to every Britney Spears song in existence, the need to almost separate ourselves from the stipulated popular boy(s), and a covert appreciation for our female classmates’ choice in boyfriends. Yes, upon retrospection, we were the gay group of our peers.
I mentioned the word “similar” because we were not overtly interested in every single thing we shared, but rather learned to assimilate our different loathes to our shared loves – part of the “fitting in” process. Upon further retrospection, It was quite impressive to see how in a world prior to selfies, tagging, sharing, and universalised groupings, we managed to form and construct our identities – which now would be recognised as part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTQIA-)+ community.
Kyle Prinsloo (Me) in Grade four. (Pic: Thornton Primary School Photo Man)
Jumping 13 years to present day, Identity –and its construction – knows a seemingly simple, and paradoxically complex, space for conversation: the internet. But is it any easier to define yourself now then it was back then? With new genders and countering sexualities emerging every year or so, is it more frustrating or more liberating to assign yourself an identity with a specific role?
Youtube, Facebook and various other online platforms allow us to realise our “focus group-esque”, immediate surroundings are not all we have to construct our sexuality and define our gender. Sociologist and Feminist scholar, Suzanna Walters believes that “LGBTQ[IA+] visibility in the media means we are more widely seen.” Being more ‘widely seen’ means that our process of identity construction is to an extent more understood.
However, there seems to be a clash of past identity construction with neo-identity construction. Walters believes that, “Representations of online identities lead to an appropriation of queer identities, rather than the construction of the self’s authentic queer identify”.
I resonate and equally battle with what Walters says. Although I had the privilege of a non-computer-mediated form of interaction and communication – Which allowed for my establishment of an ‘authentic’ queer identity – I am also grateful for the World Wide Web in educating me on my community. Without my various echo chambers on Facebook, and without my access to explanations of bodies who identify with sexualities and genders I don’t – and am still ignorant to, I couldn’t call myself an holistic member of any society.
There’s a richness in hearing and reading personal accounts of what battles people face, how they overcame hate speech and how they willingly labelled themselves to be understood by a world still backwards in (needing to) understanding who I am, who we are, and how we’ve come to be who we are.
Kyle Prinsloo (still me) now – more tortured than ever. (Pic: Kyle Prinsloo)
[To read more on Suzanna Walters’standpoint, check out Mary Gray’s online journal article, Negotiating Identities/Queering Desires: Coming Out Online and the Remediation of the Coming-Out Story. It’s a full academic article, but it’s extremely interesting!]