Dancing in the Dark
“I am a girl. But I love girls.”
When this fact first struck me, I felt my heart sinking and my legs trembling before the computer screen, staring at the words “Lesbian” and “Queer” as if I had been diagnosed with an incurable disease.
It was about nine years ago, I was twelve years old. I still remember the day that the girl I adored and kept following after classes for a long time turned around and shouted at me ‘You are such a queer. Get away from me!’ As soon as I saw her disgusted expression, I froze. At that moment, I felt myself exposed to the searing sunshine and as if I had been struck by a lightning bolt on a sunny day. My mind went blank. The inner world collapsed. I stood, frozen in my stance for a long time until my friends dragged me home.
As soon as I arrived home, I could not wait to search the internet to find out the possible reason for my weird behavior concerning the girl. The word “homosexual” on the screen reminded me of a famous singer called Leslie Cheung, who committed suicide four years earlier. His coming out as a gay man was widely interpreted as the main reason for his depression and death. Thinking of his last words, “Why have I been tortured so, even though I am not a bad guy?”, I just could not help trembling. I kept telling myself that it was some kind of mistake and that I was not that kind of person. The world was spinning.
Even though I was born in a big and rather progressive city called Shenzhen, my family is quite conservative since we are rooted firmly in the traditional Chinese countryside where family always comes first. With my father being a small businessman and my mother being a housewife, I have been brought up to believe that I should one day be married to a man of a similar social position. And then I should have children, to preserve the bloodline. I never doubted what my parents told me, because everyone I knew shared the same beliefs.
Since my discovery, there had been a big and shameful secret rooted in my heart, I felt trapped in an endless darkness. Whether I walked alone or with my friends, I tended to lower my head and stay away from crowds as if I should not be exposed to the sun. Every time I walked in the streets, it felt like everyone was looking at me and regarding me as a queer. I felt shame. I felt pain. I felt abandoned. I wanted to sink into this darkness, burying myself in it, to escape from shame.
I was almost driven mad. I begged my parents to take me to a psychiatrist, giving them the impression that I was afraid of going outside. Because of course, I couldn’t tell them the real reason for my despair. But they didn’t take it seriously since no parent in China would admit that their child has mental problems. I had once been wandering around the school and looking at the psychological counseling room, still too afraid to enter.
Once, the girl I was infatuated with told me that she normally went to school at 5 a.m. I wanted to follow her and I happened to be sleepless at about 4 a.m. one morning. Having nothing to do, I decided to go to school before dawn. It was freezing cold. The moon acted like a big street lamp, indicating directions. All the roads and streets were empty except for a few cars and sanitation workers. The soft sound of the wind felt like a companion. It seemed that the whole city was still sunk in a sound sleep. It was the first time that I had seen a completely different aspect of this familiar city where I was born and grew up. But what surprised me most was that I felt extremely relaxed all the way to school. I held my head high and stepped in a brisk pace without worrying about people’s prejudice. Yes. I fell in love with this kind of darkness.
This morning brought me back to life. I adopted the habit of going to school before dawn. It was the happiest time of the day because I felt that I was an unlabeled person in such darkness. Though I was alone, I never felt lonely. The moment I left home, silence and peace came to fill my heart. I enjoyed talking to myself, listening to myself and even dancing with myself. Every time I walked in the dark, I felt my soul dancing. No one would tease me. No one would discriminate against me. No one would hurt me. My parents were proud of my new positive attitude towards school. They even bragged about it to some relatives. My teachers always praised me for being the first one in class. My friends always complained that I was not going out with them anymore. I became one of the top students in school. But only I knew the truth.
I had been living in the dark, and the illusion lasted for almost a year until my English teacher recommended me to take part in a speech competition, which meant that I had to stand in front of more than six hundred students and make myself seen and heard. It was really a hard task for me to overcome, not because of my abilities but because of my own struggle. There were two voices inside me: One tended to persuade me to go to the stage and make myself seen, while another tried hard to stop me from coming out of the darkness that had been my comfort zone. Though I was used to living in darkness and being unknown to the public, I strongly felt that it was the right time to come out and face the outer world. I ultimately listened to my heart. I took my first step with great courage. When I finally stood on the stage and made it through the whole speech, I brought myself back to the light. When I raised my head, I saw the spotlight, which was like the sun.
It has been a few years since I accepted my sexual orientation. Now I am an open girl who feels free to come out of the closet to friends and even to my younger sister. I do appreciate the darkness that I had been living in. It was the darkness that gave me courage to walk in the sun.
Yes. I am a girl. And I love girls.
Yes. I am born this way. I am comfortable with my nature. I am proud of being me.
Since the Chinese government announced in 2001 that homosexuality is not a disease anymore and the internet has become more and more available, people in China have become more tolerant. I still dare not tell my parents. But I will some day.
Every time I look back to my past, I will see a girl dancing in the dark, freely and happily.
Li Cuixin is currently a graduate student in English Language and Literature in the School of Foreign Languages, Sun-Yat-Sen University. She was a volunteer student in the 2016 Sun-Yat-Sen University Writers’ Residency, assisting with translation and working on creative writing. Now she mainly takes an interest in creative writing and gender studies.