This article was originally published by MoCha, the ANU Ethnocultural Department’s new online magazine, created by Men of Colour, for Men of Colour. Click this link to view the full site: themochamagazine.com.
I remember being twelve years old and sitting alone on a patch of grass by the library of my high school – books and schoolbag strewn in the space around me. I had no friends, but was happy being engulfed in my own little delusional world consisting of fictional books and fantasies of stardom. My innocent mind was highly imaginative, and I had huge plans for the future. I wanted to be a model or a highly successful businessman. I wanted to be adored and loved by all for my talents.
I remember vividly blasting Paris Hilton’s album through my cheap headphones as I daydreamed and read my books, thinking that her and I were so different and yet so the same. Just like her at the time, we were both ridiculed for being who we were. She was hated by many, and I kind of felt the same way in my high school. I didn’t have many friends, and being in such a toxic heteronormative environment, I found that not many people appreciated my interests in fashion, cinematography, music and design. Furthermore, people would make me feel terrible for straying from the “norm” by attempting to hurl homophobic and racist insults towards me. That initially affected me, but it got to a point where I had built a thick skin and immersed myself in my own little bubble of dreams and ambition. While all the other boys talked about dating girls, motorbikes, sports and so forth, I immersed myself in the world of high fashion, branding, marketing, pop culture and music. Without even realising it at the time, I had a strong passion for the dynamics of marketing and advertising. I adored the idea of being able to contort and twist the image of something to make it lust worthy by the public. I was fascinated by how people would clamour over products by a certain brand, or how people would blindly follow a particular celebrity. Because of this, I was fascinated and also frustrated at how the social structures of high school were formed. In my mind, I saw everyone in high school as one giant marketing ploy. Everyone were brands that tried to fit the current trends to gain more of a market share.
This one incident in particular made me suddenly realise how unfairly grotesque my predicament was as someone who was a queer person of colour. I was sitting with a group of “friends” who were all chatting while looking through trashy gossip magazines during the lunch break. They were all rating different celebrities and complaining about their apparent use of plastic surgeries to enhance their appearance. Being the imaginative and ambitious teen that I was, I immediately chimed in with “hopefully I won’t be pressured to get plastic surgery when I achieve something great.” At the mention of that last word, one of the girls turned to me and said, “when will you ever be famous or great?”
I remember that day so vividly. Being in an environment that was predominantly white and dominated by heteronormativity, I felt like an outcast with no one I could relate to or go to. I’m surprised I didn’t crack under the pressure and toxicity of that environment at the time, but it did affect me then and still does to this day. Ever since that day, I promised myself that I would do whatever it takes to achieve great things, even at the detriment of my own genuine self. If I want something, I would go for it. The more people tried to talk me out of a decision, it drove me to pursue it more. It was a burning desire – an itch – to prove myself worthy for whatever daunting obstacle was thrown at me. I felt the need to be better than everyone who wronged me; to play the game of life and win, so I would one day turn around and laugh in the faces of my enemies.
Fast forward a few years and I am now in a much better place in the sense that I’ve achieved everything I wanted in my early teen years. I study at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, intern as a social media marketer for a tech company, and model on the runway for the city’s biggest annual fashion event. I have had an amazing boyfriend, I have travelled the world, I have conquered my intense university classes, and built a tiny social media following around my cinematography. My world now consists of designer fashion, parties, stunning people, academics, travel and so much more that I once only dreamed of having. I built this life all on my own, and as much as I am thankful for what I’ve achieved so far in life, I will always remember that moment in the past that shaped me to be what I am today. Through what I’ve dealt with in terms of the discrimination and prejudice that I’ve faced, it has forcefully carved me into the person that I am now, whether I liked it or not.
I look back now and appreciate my younger self for being so strong and resilient, but wonder what would have been if I were brought up in a different environment, or if I were brought up with the privileges that others possess. As much as I am disgusted and thankful for the way my past has shaped me, I would never wish for such a predicament to happen to anyone. The issue here is that I shouldn’t have had to change myself. Rather, society has to change, so that one day in the future a version of me will be sitting on a grassy patch of land in high school, but this time with a group of friends and a sense of belonging. This ‘me’ will one day grow up in an environment where they don’t have to form a thick skin due to the unfair prejudices that they have to face every day. I hope that one day, this ‘me’ can walk into a cafe with his boyfriend and sit down with no care in the world. He’ll be smiling and laughing, as his boyfriend orders coffee. They’ll be reading a history book together for one of their university courses and wonder why any prejudices and negativity existed years ago.
For now, I imagine myself laughing at the faces of my enemies as I walk down the hallowed halls of my university, surrounded by the people I care about and pursuing the things I’m most passionate about. Paris Hilton still plays through my headphones from time-to-time; my little childhood idol and motivator through the toughest times of my adolescent life. Our similar predicaments in our early eras being my little secret as I walk past a sea of faces. I now head into class with the determination to succeed and do great things. Despite my personality and true self being so warped and fragmented due to my past, I am determined to bring justice and right all the wrongs in the world.