Someone Like Me

If you think having a role model and seeing people who are like you when you are growing up is not essential, you are wrong. The power of the media is strong and whatever the message is you receive when you grow up is the one that can either help you or damage you.

Growing up as an Afro-Jewish lesbian asexual I had no role models.

Seeing mixed raced people were rare. I heard about lesbians once in a while, but I never saw them on TV shows. I never heard about asexuals, and I never saw them on TV shows (I still don’t.)

The fact that I was mixed held no secret to me, I was raised in a black-Jewish tradition. But I was only aware of what it meant when people at school started asking about it: “What are you? You don’t look white.” And bullying me about “looking different.” The older I got, the more my visible difference mattered.

Being in a school with mainly white children I stood out: my body looked different. “Not real” one of the girls said. And playtime changed, I was suddenly asked to play a “slave girl” and once, “Jewish girl in a gas-chamber.” That quickly ended when I told my mum, and she called the headmaster.

Being mixed race became more difficult through the years. Sometimes you feel that people are expecting you to “pick a side” or that they can’t trust you as you can switch your loyalties in times of trouble. It also means having to work twice as hard, you belong to two communities that are often targeted with racial hatred.

It’s something that isn’t discussed much. But I have learned that it isn’t easier and that there is no such thing as passing. In fact, you are judged more. You are expected to be ‘better,’ more tolerant, a bridge between races, to know, to explain. Being mixed raced can even mean being double lonely as you are excluded from both groups, as they feel you don’t belong.

But, as said before, that wasn’t my only difference.

I discovered my lesbian feelings long before I knew that I was an asexual. It happened when watching “The New Statesman” (a British comedy series with Rik Mayall as Alan B’stard a very evil politician and Marsha Fitzalan as his wife, Sarah.) In this series, Sarah was bisexual and shared some loving lesbian scenes in the show. No sex scenes, but true loving scenes, that were a contrast to the other things that happened in this series. These scenes made me realize that I felt the same about women.

But after that, there was nothing. I never really saw a lesbian again for ages, except for stereotypical butches in prison dramas and as the but of jokes in comedy shows. This made me doubt myself again. When I realized my asexuality things got worse, it was the start of decades full of pain.

According to the media: All the things I am: a woman, Afro-Jewish, and part of the LGBTA are the worse you could be. There wasn’t a part of me that wasn’t worthy of either mocking or ignoring.

Because there was no-one like me, I lived through an awkward puberty and then locked myself away for the best part of a decade. I tried changing who I was. I never felt good enough as a mixed raced woman, as a lesbian and as an asexual.

There was a time where I wanted to be a comedian. But one of the reasons I gave it up was because of bullying by other comics – male comics, true. Saying I didn’t fit in, they kept telling me“women couldn’t be comedians,” belittling me every day. And sadly there were some racist, sexist remarks as well.

I started dying my hair blonde or red and used pancake to look white, trying to deny my entire heritage. I went through years of self-loathing, to the point I started to mentally deny my existence. I wasted so many years, chances and even a career, only because, the media brainwashed me into thinking I was worthless, nothing.

Subtle messages can harm you if you are exposed to them long enough. They can weaken you, break down your self-respect and worth. The saddest thing is that often you are not even aware of it happening to you. You only realize what happened when you look back.

Growing up without role models has left me confused and insecure. To this day I often think; Am I doing this right? What should I feel about this? Is there anyone like me?

The internet has taught me that there are millions of people like me around the world. Well, not exactly like me, but we all have similar problems.

It’s a funny thing, but it was a TV show about four men that helped me. The British TV show Red Dwarf touched me and made a compelling case in psychology – all the guys on the ship were misfits and they were all different: one was mixed raced (which meant a lot), one was a Cat, one was an android, and there was Arnold Rimmer, a hologram, played by Chris Barrie, who always felt alone and different, not good enough, unsure of who he was and he was bullied, like I was. The show used a lot of psychology, stirring my interest in the subject and understanding someone’s mind and psyche. If only to understand me. The usage of actual psychological research is very cleverly weaved into the storylines of both shows to explain the characters and their behavior. TV shows so very well researched, written and performed are hard to come by these days.

Realizing I wasn’t alone was the most significant break-through I ever had. I read and read and found women like me: confused and hurt because the media told them that they were not good enough, that they had to change their core being to fit in.

I went on a journey of self-discovery and also started to do a study in psychology, at first to help find peace and self- acceptance and later to help others.

Healing my inner self before starting to help others was vital, as I needed strength for me to have strength for everyone else. Slowly I remembered who I was and who I always wanted to be. One day I woke up and found I was fed up with it all, I didn’t want to live like this anymore. I am who I am, and no one can change me: not even me. I wanted to be part of the world, learn, rebuild myself and catch up on so much lost time. This is what happens when your inner you is ignored. When you have to live without visibility and role models. This is why I decided to help others by reaching out.

There is still a long road ahead of us where acceptance is concerned. Reading about rising violence against women and minorities it sometimes looks as if we’re going backward. This is so disheartening sometimes, but it should also be fuel for us to fight back harder.

And when I say fight, I don’t mean we should be violent, as we all know by now, that doesn’t work. Educate, get our story, our movies, ourselves seen and heard. Already, on the internet, there is a treasure trove of work made by people to raise visibility for those who are ‘different,’ exposed through music, stories, videos, and art. Finding this is a wonderful comfort for those feeling as if they are not part of society.

I want to help where I can to raise awareness of the LGBT AND A (!) community, fight racism and bullying, to put myself out there so others can see they are not alone. I want to show that no matter what, one day you will find yourself and things will get better. True, the pain never wholly leaves, but there is hope!

 

Photo Credit: Ramona.Forcella Flickr via Compfight cc

Dannii Cohen is a former stand-up comedian and comedy writer turned author, psychologist, professional counselor, life coach and self-help expert. She is specialized in LGBT issues, anxiety, women’s issues, female empowerment, and bullying. Dannii is an agony aunt for The Gay UK. Her books; When Clouds Hide The Sun, Christopher The Lonely Bear and 50 Things To Know To Have A Better Life, are all on Amazon.

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