By Lee Ames
All of my life I’ve been surrounded by boxes. It doesn’t matter what, but weaved throughout our world as a whole, there are boxes upon boxes of stereotypes. It could be something as simple as deciding what sport to be a part of, or what job you want to do in the future, how you dress or cut your hair. Some think if you’re a sports kid, then you can’t be a theater kid, it just doesn’t work that way. However, all of these things aren’t necessarily a spoken truth, it’s just an unspoken fact many of us go about our days carrying. It’s what’s in our media, it’s in our day to day life, it’s in the way our school systems are set up. No matter the circumstances, we have been given a box that we must fit into.
I am a queer person who has grown up in a small town in the North Country. All my life I tried to fit into a box, one that never really fit me, one that was simply too tight and uncomfortable. The issue is, it’s the only box I was given. Everyone goes through it for different reasons. Whether you’re a kid on the debate team, a star football player, or even the smartest person in class. No matter who we are, we have all tried to fit into a box that simply labeled us incorrectly. For so long my identity was unknown to me, I had no idea that there was a group of people who just loved one another for who they were, one that is known as the Lgbtqia+ community. There was a lack of representation that I didn’t even know was missing in my life.
As a kid, I only knew of one gay couple who moved down the road from me, and the first time I sat down and saw a queer couple depicted in a movie was probably high school, around sophomore year. It was a movie called Love Simon, which is about a high school boy just trying to get through his senior year without anyone finding out his ‘big secret’. Even when I went through sex education I learned nothing about queer people. I was simply taught not to get pregnant and that STDs were bad, so to prevent them use protection. For the longest time I had no idea gay people even existed really, and to fit in I tried to suppress who I was as an individual. I would wear girly clothes, sporting a pair of wedged boots and sparkly makeup, but it never felt right. My box didn’t fit.
It took me years to figure myself out, and even now as I write this essay, I still don’t fully know who I am. The issue is, so many people are forced into something that doesn’t fit them as a person, normalized in our lives even if it isn’t right for them. I had to figure out for myself, through videos online and talking to a close friend, that it’s okay to just love who you love. It’s so funny looking back on it, as a nineteen year old adult, at all the things I did to hide, to stay ignorant, to attempt to stay in my little box as long as I could. It’s also shocking how much we are taught that doesn’t teach us a thing about the real world around us. About people of different gender identities, sexualities, and love as a whole. With the help of other struggling friends, theater kids and GSA club members alike, I found that I didn’t need to hide anymore. I could start to step out of my box, into this world as the she/they, queer woman that I am.
One foot outside of my box, I started to gravitate towards other people like me, and soon my eyes were opened to other queer people trying to get by in our community. People who were struggling with their boxes just as I was. It doesn’t help when you hear of all the stories: people getting called slurs on the streets, individuals getting disowned by their parents just because of who they love, and kids getting bullied in school for presenting how they feel most comfortable. It’s hard to want to exit that box and accept yourself, when everyone else around you looks at you with disgust. However, we have each other, which is the beauty of the queer community.
The Trevor Project predicted that over 1.8 million Lgbtqia+ identifying teens have struggled with suicide attempts and suicide ideation every year. This is 45% of the queer youth.
The sad truth is that the reason is not due to their sexuality or gender identity, but the way they are treated by their peers and stigmatized within our society. As of April 2023, over 417 anti-gay bills have been introduced into our legislation. The US Government wants to get rid of access to gender affirming care for Transgender youth, gain control over curriculums that are being taught in schools, and limit discussions of all things gender and sexuality. Not only are schools being targeted, but drag shows, a form of queer expression is also being heavily restricted. Same sex marriage was made legal in New York state in 2011, only 12 years since the monumental legislation was passed. We are now causing our country to move backwards in progress, after we thought we were making leaps and bounds for mankind. The issue with all of these new bills is that gay rights aren’t just gay rights, they are human rights. Access to health care, education, performances, identification, and public accommodations are all necessary to coexist in today’s world and are all the things that are at stake of being taken away from the Lgbtqia+ community. One could argue it’s the same as someone coming over to your house and telling you you can’t cook your food that way, or someone in the passenger seat telling the driver how to drive. No one has the right to look at an individual and tell them how to be their authentic selves, how to live their authentic lives.
In the end this could have been prevented if our world wasn’t so full of boxes. If the movies, books, magazines, sex education, politics, and the world just accepted the idea of fluidity and love into our lives. The Lgbtqia+ community is one full of pride and color, one of love and beauty, of kindness and compassion, and the idea of being openly true to yourself. If I hadn’t found this community, if I hadn’t been taken in with open arms, I don’t know where I’d be as a person. Knowing me, I would have stayed in a cramped box for as long as I could, hiding away from everyone, if I hadn’t been looked at and told one day senior year that I ‘don’t need to put myself into a box’. I had been changing in the team locker room before track practice, when my friend told me this, and I’ve carried it with me ever since. I was trying so hard to put a label on myself, because everyone was asking me too. I can’t tell you how many times someone I considered close looked at me and asked ‘what are you?’, ‘are you bi or…?’, and even told me that I confused them. All because I was questioning and didn’t know how to answer their questions of who I was attracted to. For a while it felt like very few people would really care about who I was as a person if I didn’t put a label to myself, constantly waiting for an answer I didn’t have. With the pressure, I tried to go from one box to another, one that felt slightly better but still didn’t fit. This idea of boxes, labels, identifying ourselves is a thing of the past. We are all humans just trying to figure out how to live our lives. In order to really make progress, we need to stop seeing the world as something to ‘label’, something to shove in an itty bitty box. It’s time to move on. If we threw out this idea of what our world is ‘supposed’ to look like, everyone could just live a little better. It doesn’t matter if you’re attracted to someone of the same sex or not, so why is everyone making such a big deal about two men being in love? If a woman marries another woman, the world isn’t going to implode. If someone was born into the wrong body, and wants to get surgery to adjust it, it’s not affecting anyone else. If a person is just a person, and not a boy or a girl, it’s not ‘poor grammar’ to abide by their preferred pronouns.
Life is too complicated and complex to try and fit everyone into a perfectly pretty box adorned with a bow. No, life is messy, something that cannot be contained, so neither should we.
As a people, we need to throw out our conceived ideas of what the world looks like, let people just be as loud and proud as they want too. There is so much space on this little floating rock that we call Earth to spend time wasting away, so fill it up. We need gender affirming health care to support Trans individuals. We need politicians to stop attempting to control how people show their pride, it’s our humanly right. We need safe spaces for children to figure out who they are, to express themselves freely whether that be by using different pronouns, or dressing however they’d like. We need proper education to teach every aspect of history, literature, and self understanding. It’s so important to be exposed to all kinds of love in our modern society. It’s time to get rid of these false ideas of what life is, what love is. It took me almost twenty years to figure this out, which is completely fine, however, I want to take what I’ve learned and help others to figure it out. We need to make it known in our world that it’s ok to step out of that box, and into something bigger than ourselves.
Lee Ames won 2nd place in the Young Adult category (Ages 19 – 25) in the Adirondack Center for Writing’s My Dreams for my Community Contest.
Thanks to Adirondack Center for Writing for sharing this essay. This essay contest was a collaboration between ACW and Adirondack Voters for Change.
Lee is from Canton, NY and is currently attending SUNY Fredonia as a Writing Major. First time published author of ‘In My Head’ found in the campus run Trident, and recipient of an English Award for the same short story submission. Hopeful writer, and creator of Lee’s Life Blog!
Trevor Project. ‘Facts About LGBTQ Youth Suicide.’ Trevor Project. December 15th,
2021.Facts About LGBTQ Youth Suicide | The Trevor Project
Choi, Annette. ‘Record Number of Anti-LGBTQ Bills Have Been Introduced This Year.’ CNN
Politics. April 6th, 2023. Record number of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this
year | CNN Politics