Guest Post: Emma Eden Ramos on Endurance, Resilience, and the Search for (Literary) Selfhood

My guest today is Emma Eden Ramos, here with a story of her own journeys through adolescence and literature, and the queer resilience that can arise out of both of these strange categories.  She’ll be reading at Word Up this Saturday, from 3-5 PM!

Adolescence is, for many of us, a time of pain, endurance and discovery. Pain, not only because our bodies and psyches are changing–our emotions in a constant state of flux– but because we are surrounded by others who are experiencing the same turbulent transformations. So much of adolescence is about being able not only to handle our own inner battles but to endure the fallout of others’.  When I look back on my own high school experience, I feel proud to have survived. My peers were cruel. I was called freak, ugly, bitch, loser. The most painful, however, was in the middle of my freshman year of high school when a boy I’d been friends with in middle school told the entire grade that I was a lesbian. At that time (2002), even in New York City, being labeled “gay” in some high schools could be dodgy. In my case it was like walking around with an “A” pinned to my shirt. People stopped talking to me, sent me cruel messages on AIM, badgered me with prying questions — “Are you a lesbian? Huh? Huh? Can’t you just tell us?”– In the end, I had to find a new high school. It wasn’t, at least for me, the accusation itself that was so hurtful. What I struggled with most was that other people were labeling me at a time when I was unable to label myself. This was my period of self-discovery, and it was being taken away from me.

Fast forward to the spring of 2009 when I am, thankfully, a good six years past my early high school days. While studying Psychology at Marymount Manhattan College, I decide to balance out my required Statistics course with a class in Contemporary Literature. I’d always been a voracious reader, but there were certain genres I had yet to discover. Well, by the end of that semester, I was left feeling both awakened and jipped. Andrew Holleran, Sarah Waters, Leslie Feinberg, Shamim Sarif, how had I managed to miss these authors, and during those years of relentless questioning and insecurity?

The novels we read in the Gay and Lesbian Literature course at Marymount inspired me to write my first story, “Where the Children Play.” As a teen I’d read about Cathy and Heathcliff (Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights) and Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice). But characters such as Kitty and Nancy (Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet) or Maurice and Alec (E.M. Forrester’ Maurice) had eluded my radar. I wanted to write a modern coming-of-age story in which the teen protagonist is able to overcome the convictions of his family and society.

“Where the Children Play” isn’t just a story about self-discovery. It’s a story about tolerance and even acceptance. Adolescence, for everyone, is a time of both struggle and revelation. To make it through these trying years, one must have endurance. The process of enduring the journey toward self-respect and awareness requires resilience, especially for those whose preferences and lifestyles aren’t yet respected by society at large. With the recent number of teen suicides, it is clear that society has some serious growing up to do. In the meantime, young people need to know, whether it’s through the literature they read, the television they watch, or the music they listen to, that there are many of us who have come through on the other side. But it takes endurance. Endurance and resilience.

Resilience Reading and Open Mic

Emma’s website is here: http://emmaedenramos.weebly.com/.  Please go visit her, and, if you want even more lovely writing, here’s the link to purchase Resilience: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/resilience-stories-poems-essays-words-for-lgbt-teens/18926125