Love yourself and your words


Jacqui Haining, Staff Columnist

With all respect to The Vanguard’s editorial team, I hate writing this column. And not because of any fruitless brainstorming attempts or rapid turnaround times, but for a deeper reason: one due in no part to The Vanguard itself, but to my resentment toward the column topic I chose and, frankly, toward myself.

This has been a strange realization for me. After all, I love writing. I consider my qualities as an essayist, journalist, and short story creator to be some of my most defining. Writing conducts my emotions. But as much as I see writing as therapeutic, it can also cause a storm in my psyche, churning up painful and dark feelings.

When I applied for this position last year, I chose to relate all my columns to LGBTQ+ topics. I had come up with a title indicative of my alliterative artistry (“Queer Queries”) and was ready to create a platform for the LGBTQ+ representation I lacked as a younger student. But as each deadline drew closer, I began to falter. I couldn’t withstand the torrent of misery each brainstorming session induced, and that often led to a topic increasingly distant from my column’s focus.

And though I’ve managed to reel each column back to its queer focus so far, I can’t quite drift away from my own discomfort. I tried to write about my favorite show, “Pose,” but I couldn’t bring myself to analyze the importance the show’s transgender protagonists had in my younger years.

I tried to write about the LGBTQ+ experience at Bivouac, but I shuddered at the thought of revisiting my experience there. The inherent gender segregation and the machismo culture in boys’ groups were some of my personal complaints. But I was scared of criticizing this “rite of passage,” which many members of the school community look back on fondly. Even as a strong self-advocate, I struggled to put my own complaints forward at the risk of angering the community at large.

My fear of ostracization is so penetrating that I dread even standing out in the first place. In truth, all I want and have ever wanted was to fit in. I remember being in elementary school, feeling so abhorrently alien and offensively effeminate compared to the others in my class. These qualities weren’t problematic to me, of course, but it didn’t take long for peers and adults to scold me for them. To me, being myself meant leaning into the sensitivity and femininity I was born to embody.

But, of course, this uniqueness made me painfully conspicuous within an elementary school class of twenty naïve tweens. And so my desperate efforts to fit in continued well into middle and early high school…

I have the same problem when picking outfits. I cherish my self-expression through clothing but am acutely aware of my appearance, even though my style itself is not especially distinctive or flashy.

This begs the question: if I am going to feel self- conscious in any outfit, why not dress as I wish anyway?

Perhaps this question applies to my columns, too. Should I just hit send on my writing and ride the waves of discomfort with it? The problem isn’t in the sending phase, though; it’s in the very first steps of any column and any wardrobe decision.

And thus, I return to my mental blocks and self- questioning when coming up with column ideas.

It doesn’t feel right to give advice about living proudly when I retain the shame in my identity pervasive from many years in the closet. Other column ideas brought me back to a dark place: feeling misunderstood; enduring bullying; hiding who I was. In the closet, I hated myself for being trans and for how it made me stand out. And to some extent, that resentment lives on.

By no means am I insinuating that I regret becoming a columnist. And I hope you forgive me for whatever remaining self-hatred pokes through the page at times. I’m unlearning as fast as I can the internalized homophobia and transphobia that years of closeted life and other trauma taught me.

It’s a journey to make peace with the cards I’ve been dealt, and I have only now started. We are all learning to love ourselves, and I hope to get there within my columns and in my life someday soon.