There are no labels in the ICU…


Before my father passed away he spent some time in the Intensive Care Unit. He was assigned Bed 2 of the 5 beds that were arranged in a semi circle. The other four beds were occupied but I have no idea who was in them. It was impossible to know who lay under the blankets with their faces covered by oxygen masks –it really did not matter if they were male, female, black, white, beautiful, ugly, old, young, gay, straight, trans, bi, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, or Jewish.

For the most part, all 5 lay very still, the only sign of life came from the constant beeping of the monitors. The night that death came for Bed 4, the ITU went completely silent for a few seconds and life was suspended for a moment. Then life took over very quickly and the beeps immediately got louder, more insistent, more urgent; the monitor’s lights were flashing red and the medical team was at the bedside in seconds. It did not matter who lay in the bed. When you meet death face to face you are not a label, you are a precious life.

The labelling starts when you are only 9 or 10 years old; sometimes your classmates see in you something, which is ‘not normal’, and you, are labelled and you feel ashamed for being different. Most times it gets worse in high school. Sometimes, most times, the labels are now purposely offensive and belittling (gay, freak, fag, retard, douche, homo, loser).

Sometimes you get beaten up.

Sometimes you tell a teacher or an adult, and you get told its only banter, you need to man-up. Sometimes you try to suppress who you are and pretend to be someone else. Sometimes it works. Mostly it doesn’t.

Sometimes you hate yourself. Sometimes you don’t know who you are anymore. Most times you feel marginalised, isolated, depressed, ashamed, you suffer from low self-esteem, as well as feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Sometimes you find someone who is like you.

Sometimes this is good, sometimes this is bad.

You miss school to escape the bullying.

Sometimes you give up on school altogether.

Sometimes you give up on life.

You push through, hoping it will get better when you are 18. Sometimes it gets better.

You come ‘out’, now the world knows your secret. Sometimes there is more shame, more labels; this time from parents, siblings and grandparents. Sometimes you find yourself all alone because your family does not want you to be a part of the family.

As an adult, you can be who you want, live how you want, love who they want. Sometimes it’s not enough. Sometimes the shame follows you. The labels follow you.

Sometimes, most times, you are defined by your sexual identity, it is not by who you are, you are not a label, you are precious life.

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