On “Queer” – Alena Weekes

Note: The above typeface in the header image is free and dedicated to Gilbert Baker, the creator of the iconic Rainbow Flag. https://www.typewithpride.com/

This is a slightly modified essay I submitted for my application for my Master’s in Social Work, limited to 500 words, and based on the following prompt. I thought it was worth sharing.

Describe a social problem of significance to you. Please discuss it in regard to societal contributions to the origin of the problem, experiences that have contributed to your identification and understanding of the problem, and possible ways of addressing the problem.

“Queer” is an important word for me. I enjoy employing its multiple meanings. It can be a noun or a descriptor, singular or plural, and comes with as many definitions as there are unique individuals that claim it. It speaks to an identity as well as a community, two things I’d never felt I had until just two months ago upon coming out. Of course, the word also has a loaded history, but I revel in its power.

Like many in the LGBTQ+ community, my mental health suffered greatly as a result of certain systems I’d grown up in that rejected anyone that differed from the norm. Thirteen years in a strict Catholic school system ingrained in me a sense that my body and mind were full of sin, and should be repented for, not celebrated in a Pride parade. Twelve years of competitive swimming taught me that pain was necessary, or meant that my technique was off, and that eventually I’d get it right if I just fixed myself enough.

Before coming to terms with my identity as a queer person, I went through years of introspection, questioning and stifling my differences at every turn. Done under the cover of tremendous privilege, this both kept me safe and took a toll on my mental health. In a way, I have been fortunate to present as a cisgender white woman, married to a cisgender white man, and pass as straight — all things I’d hid behind until I was ready to come out. These circumstances also meant I haven’t been a part of a community around this identity, which is an often-overlooked basic need. No matter how long I’ve known this about myself, I didn’t think I was allowed to have that — I didn’t think I was queer “enough”.

So unfortunately, I can’t yet write about historical contributions to the issue of LGBTQ+ mental health, nor the impact of the great LGBTQ+ folks who have come before me. I can’t yet write about those that created the space and the rights for me to even state that I am, in fact, queer, to anyone, but particularly to an academic institution. I can’t write from a place of truth about the cultural and socioeconomic impact that a lack of LGBTQ+ rights has had for us. I wish I could more deeply describe my gratitude for all the efforts of the activists and artists who have proudly voiced their existence despite the choking white, cis, hetero, and patriarchal systems. Ever the learner, I recognize I’m still only at the beginning of this experience.

What I do know, however, is that when an individual’s basic needs are met, and when they are seen, heard, known, and most importantly named, the ripple effects are far and wide. I am but one example. In working with four different LCSW’s over the past year, I have both come to know myself and my strong desire to help others. I am proof that the work of a social worker works.

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