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Born This Way
For years, an argument has been circulating conservative news that certain things “turn” people gay. Sometimes the culprit is the internet, sometimes it’s the public education system. While the internet and schools have certainly exposed queer students to the information they needed to come out of the closet, some have always known their identity.
A.Z. is one such teen with an unwavering nature. Her inclination toward paintbrushes, fine pens, and all things art-related led to her lifelong dream of becoming an artist. Her innate curiosity was evident as she navigated news sites in primary school. And in terms of identity, A.Z. has always preferred femininity.
“From the start, I never liked men's aesthetic. I like dresses. I liked long hair and feminine things. I feel like I'm slowly starting to appreciate things that are butch but when I was a child, I just really liked hyperfeminine stuff.”
As an artist, A.Z.’s journey of discovering her identity went hand-in-hand with the animations and manga she was drawn to since kindergarten.
“I was exposed to overseas queer media from a really young age. I would be watching Mermaid Melody and a lot of the villains were very queer-coded. There was a lesbian couple and a trans woman,” she recalls. “I feel like a lot of them had depth to their character. The author wasn't trying to portray them as inherently evil, because I know the lesbian couple did become good people. And they had a whole arc where they turned away from the evil side because they made friends with one of the main characters. It was so sweet.”
A.Z. has also watched “a lot of magical girl anime,” including Sailor Moon with its canon lesbian pairing of Haruka and Michiru deemed too explicit to be translated into the English dub, and Puella Magi Madoka Magica with Homura’s devotion to Madoka resulting in the undisputed view of their relationship as romantic among fans.
She says, “There's a lot of people in the queer community that have discovered their identity through magical girl shows. It's kind of like that for me. I was really, really attracted to the pretty women, pretty dresses.”
Because of her time frequenting these accepting online spaces, A.Z. “didn’t have a negative opinion of the LGBTQ community” even when she “never thought much about sexuality or identity.”
“I feel like bigotry mainly stems from people being uninformed and not wanting to be informed,” A.Z. comments. With this attitude, she has fostered an open-minded perspective in her younger sister through the introduction of queer children’s cartoons, most notably She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
She-Ra, a 52-episode series created by N.D. Stevenson, follows the story of Adora and Catra who reconcile and become a canonical pairing in the final season.
“Before she watched She-Ra, she thought the concept of two girls kissing was really weird. Afterward, she was like, Oh my gosh, that's the best thing ever,” A.Z. laughs.
“I opened up her mind to inclusive media. The books we read when we were little, they're mostly about straight couples, right? Right now she's read a few comics—I didn't even recommend any books to her but she's checked out a few WLW books for children. And I was surprised that she was so interested in some of these, but honestly, children are always exposed to traditional stereotypes all the time, so if she wants to look into LGBTQ media from a young age, who am I to stop her?”
However, the rest of her family does not share A.Z. and her sister’s enthusiastic views toward diverse identities.
“My parents and I were having an argument of some sort—and I know it's bad to say this while you're angry. So we were arguing and then I was like, Yeah, but I'm gay. It was badly executed,” A.Z. reflected. “My parents are in denial. They didn't get mad at me and I think they just don't really care about who I’m attracted to. They're a mix between in denial and ‘You're going to change one day.’”
A.Z. finds that she has a safer environment at school thanks to her friends, teachers, and classmates.
“I think most of the people I know are pretty open. My teachers don't really talk about LGBTQ issues, but I do know a lot of teachers put rainbow flags in their classrooms. And honestly, it makes me happy.”
A.Z. is big on freedom of expression, as demonstrated through her sketchbooks filled with intricate fashion designs and her connection with the wide range of identities encapsulated with the word lesbian.
“The reason why we have labels is that people can openly find the best label for themselves. It makes them more comfortable in their own skin. It helps them find people who are like-minded and create communities together. It encompasses everything, like their way of portraying themselves to the world,” A.Z. notes. “People can express themselves however they want, and if they fall within traditional gender stereotypes, it doesn't mean that they’re still pandering to tradition.”
A.Z. has also come in contact with those who hold an opposite perspective to hers. “A lot of people have a negative view of LGBTQ+ people because they’re seen as being different from others. And with pride parades and such, they perceive it as threatening because they think [queer people] are disrupting society by being in the open. I feel like a lot of conservative news sources manipulated it that way. While we understand that we're just trying to promote free expression, a lot of people take it as we’re ruining society. Like how did they get to that conclusion?”
On a heavier note, A.Z. reminds us about the real consequences of villifying the LGBTQ+ community in which lives have been irrevocably changed or lost due to government-enforced hate toward LGBTQ+ individuals.
She cites the story of Xu Haoyang, a Chinese blogger living in Russia who was arrested in March for the social media accounts he shared with his boyfriend. Though the couple reunited in April, A.Z. and other netizens still fear for their safety and “pray that they don’t ‘mysteriously disappear’” in the upcoming months.
Additionally, A.Z. is incensed over the murder of the Hong Kong couple this June. Fong Hiutung and Lau Kaihei were stabbed by a man in the Plaza Hollywood Mall while they were on a date.
“It irks me because hate crimes happen and a lot of the news coverage is not even mentioning that they're a lesbian couple. So they're erasing the perpetrator’s main motive in the hate crime,” says A.Z. “There are many countless other murders that happened for these reasons, and because the news coverage is not willing to report on these things, they'll keep on happening and people will just forget about them. And that's just sad.”
With the knowledge of the range of injustices perpetuated against queer people, A.Z. mentions that she “would not do well moving to a conservative state.”
“It'll be like moving to another planet. It's dystopian.”
Thus, A.Z. is working to ensure that this dystopia does not become everyone’s reality. Whether she is drawing unapologetically queer characters, reading through international LGBTQ+ news, or working on sharing teen stories through this interview project, A.Z. exhibits the quality she was born with: the ability to care.
“As students, our best way to protest is through being very vocal about these issues and advocating against them. Having a voice really matters.”