How X-men , Queer as Folk (USA) and World of Warcraft help shape my (queer) identity?
As a small kid I remember watching the X-men cartoons on television. People who were born different and were oppressed because of it. When the first X-men movie was released, I was 9 and I was still a big fan. The X-men franchise thought me that there is nothing bad about being different. And being different meant you have to create your own path. The X-men movies gave power to a lot of young (LGBT) people (and/or autism) I met over the years. But in all those years I never accepted I was different aswell, I tried to fit in. In school, in my family, as a volunteer, as a student and so on.
Being somewhat different shaped me from even before kindergarten up till today. I was bullied the second I started going to school until I was 15. Because I didn’t really fit in, I wasn’t as skinny as average, had no interest in girls or sports whatsoever. I did play video games, watch a lot of films and series and I kept myself busy thinking, planning and reflecting.
Contact (also the movie)
When I was 10 I virtually met the first ever gay person in my life. We talked on a daily basis for some time. I didn’t realize it at the time until I asked (after some time) if anything was new in his life and he answered with “I have a relationship”. I asked “ what her name was” and he replied; “it’s a he”. I was so awestruck that I quit the chatroom until 1 year later. But he was gone. After some internal conflict I realized I was gay as well. It took me a few months to process of meeting someone who also had similar feelings. I’m sad to say I never knew who that boy was and we never chatted again. This person gave me the nudge of realizing there are other people like me. Another X-men, you might say.
Representation and early role models
In 2002 I discovered Queer As Folk (Usa). I was 11 years old at the time. It was broadcasted on a Belgian commercial network. It started late but I would be still awake when it started. I remember my mother diving to the remote control if she would see a glimpse of gayness on the television. So I would just continue watching in my room. While X-men empowered me to deal with my “being different”, Queer As Folk gave me hope and examples* and a sense of identity. Even when you re-watch Queer As folk today, it is still as relevant as it was in the past. Maybe even more so. Expect they totally left out trans subjects.
** I was shocked that the Belgian LGBT scene did not resemble my QAF filled imagination at my first gay party at the age of 16. Even at age of 27, I still retained a lot of that nativity which helped to see the smallest light in the most dark situations as a person, professional, friend, partner,…
At 14 I would be outed by classmates. At the time I thought denying it, would only make it worse. In a course of months I was bullied to such extent that I didn’t pass my grade, had to switch schools in a different city and my self-image ruined. My next school was more inclusive towards being different (in any form or way). I started studying photography and cinematography which gave me role models in movies, series, artists, art and games but also mentors in various teachers, other pupils.
Gaming, World of Warcraft and my early family of choice and school
I started retreating into the world… of Warcraft when I was 14 (2005). I started casual but when I ended up in a starting raiding guild and even some raiding! Fellow European players, usually a lot older than me, became friends and confidants and some of them even role models. I had one classmate and 1 cousin which I gamed with. It also gave me the chance to meet other LGBT people (by chance) and to realize I was not alone. Online I was appreciated and I talked with a lot of people. I would talk with people between 17-50 as there were my close friends. Most of them did not realise I was only 14 years old. Some of them were parents of their own children but I would enjoy their conversation untill late at night or even early mornings. And I still felt like an x-men, which I started enjoying more over time but also trying to force myself into the expectations, norms and values of the changing society. When I was 16 they organised a so called “Guild Meeting” in Amsterdam. I joined and stayed over at some sleazy hostel in the gay district of Amsterdam. I did not however book the hostel though! My guild mates took me under their wings for a few days. It was the first time since a long time I felt part of a family again. I ended up keeping in touch with alot of ex WoW people. And they enriched my life and gave me hope and care without even realizing it.
But it wasn’t enough. I ended up dropping out of school after I had to redo another year of high school. I dropped out because I was exhausted by my lack of confidence and positive outcomes. My parents were not able to take care of themselves properly, let alone their own children. They suffered from mental health problems, addictions, physical health issues, poverty,… And still X-men and Queer as folk gave me strength, prospects, insights and perspectives. And I used games to escape into a different word. I needed to pass on 2 more exams to get my high school degree. I would start working without a high school degree for a marketing company I helped found for about 1.5 year. I was still 2 courses short for my degree after that job due to lack of time, energy and resources. I ended up getting my high school degree in my second semester of my first year of university college at the age of 23. Just in time to get my scholarship for school, 10 days before the deadline.
The 22 year old social work student
A lot of people grow up with a hetero normative framework. Which works fine for most of us but it should never limit us being ourselves. Lack of representation and diversity but also role models forces people (not only queer people) to build their own frameworks to build their own identity. Mine were based on movies, series, cartoons, books and online interactions. These all shape your own identity, morals, values and person. They serve as a catalyst and building blocks.
At the age of 21 I realized I could look people in the eyes again and look straight while walking on the street. At the age of 22 I forced my way into a university college and after 1 semester of social work I was forced to live alone and temporarily keep my own parents out of my life. I was still the weird and different one. A white cisgender usually presumed male to have some privilege, gay in a predominantly female environment. I also started to do a even more volunteering for LGBTI and other causes. And I still used the framework of games, series, movies, my friends, my examples, my own values as a blueprint to create and force path.
As a social work student, living on welfare to finish his studies, I started to learn more about social work methods, sociology, psychology, social security and human rights. I would start implementing these frameworks in my own life, volunteering, work and later my own practice. I started seeing my own movies, series, games through a more evidence and practice based evidence perspective. During my studies I would try to become the best possible social worker out there and be there for my friends and family (of choice). I’d still listen to my favorite movie soundtracks and re-watch some movies over and over again. I’d binge watch Queer As Folk with friends contemplating about the series and my own life. And I still game on my pc (or Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 on the PS3).
Empowering myself, random strangers, friends, my work, my clients
In my personal life I had to empower myself to overcome the problems I faced: lack of money, no decent home, being (a lot more) different, no reliable parents and just a few friends supporting me. I created a family of choice which proved to be a great source of power for me to overcome adversity. Even other healthcare workers are amazed by the amount of energy I invested in improving my situation. And in all this time people entrusted me with their biggest fears, trauma’s, hopes, goals. Even from a very young boy, later as a teenager and for a 20 year old something (actually 27).
After my final internship I started working for a Rainbow House in Belgium while writing my bachelor paper to graduate. It started as a replacement but there was a big chance it would become a more permanent position. In my personal life I was struggling with a relationship combined with my work, studies and own problems. I ended up losing my job even because of some changes the organisation went through. Even though my work was fine and I tried hard to fit in. I finished my bachelor paper, did my presentation and after this I collapsed. On welfare and later unemployment I looked for work. Which proved to be hard without a car or driver license (or money to buy/get one). But I wasn’t planning to sit still so I started my own practice as a social worker while retaining some unemployment benefits (yes this is possible in Belgium).
Empowering and solution focused social work with a focus on human rights
My practice is a mix of evidence based and practice based evidence. I combined my social work studies with my volunteering and first work experiences in the non-profit and profit sector. Social work as a method combined with a solution focused, a human rights and empowerment approach. Because that’s what society need, that’s what my clients appreciate in me. And guess what I do in my downtime? I still watch the same and more movies and series (some on repeat). And i’m still inspired by X-men and Queer as folk but movies and series in general. And maybe along the way or even at the start, I was an X-men all along, even though I did not feel that way because I tried to fit in and blend into the crowd.
Develop your own role models, values, priorities an hopes
We all have our own role models, values, priorities, hopes and perspectives. Very different ones, based on the people we see, the stuff we witness, the chances and privileges we get, the conversations (we are forced to) have,… All these different aspects influence the way we think, perceive and act in this world. And I work with these theory’s of mind, change of a client or organisation. But this should be the default setting of every interaction instead of dividing each other because of differences, different backgrounds or morals. Let’s talk more about what drives us, what are role models and major influences are so we can enrich each other through diversity, dialog and consensus.
Thank you for listening to my story, hopes, perspectives. I did not tell my story correctly, only results, without (barely any) pain over all those years. Being different forced me to create my own path, methods, hopes and goals over the years. Not just for me but for almost every client, person, volunteer I met over the years. Through our setbacks, minority stress we develop the tools, attitudes, some form of education to navigate this world. And this is where the power of minority lies, to change the world of the better. Gamechangers, rule changers, hardworking people trying to survive and make the best of their lives. Empower yourself and let yourself be empowered. Seek guidance in trustworthy persons, social workers and institutions but not just any. Trust your intuition, your gut, your self and let your own stories be told to they can inspire other people aswell. Educate others and be patient with them and let them process things. We need to stay on course. This is my story so far. I’m hoping to hear more similar stories. I hope I contributed in some meaningful manner.