From the moment I was first exposed to LGBTQ+ youth on Twitter, around age thirteen, I’ve recognized the association between LGBTQ+ people and every imaginable form of art. History tells us that, for many years, LGBTQ+ people sought freedom of expression through artistic forms such as visual art, music, dance, and etc.; when an intolerant society attempted to force non-conforming individuals into repression, they fought back using whatever creative methods were available to them. Even now, as the world has grown to embrace members of LGBTQ+ communities more and hate less, artistic expression remains universally popular amongst LGBTQ+ people.
I, myself, am not so much one for labels when it comes to my sexuality or my gender identity; like many others, I believe these are spectra on which not everyone will fall in an identifiable way. Yet, in a world where labels mean everything, I’ve adopted two that best describe me: I am bisexual and non-binary. Although I’m very secure in both of these areas now, there was a time not long ago when either of these troubled me daily.
It was seventh grade when it finally occurred to me that I might be bisexual, and it must have been sometime during high school when I realized my body dysphoria was partially related to the way in which I expressed my gender. In both these cases, I went to Catholic schools whose environments implicitly forbade public displays of non-conformity — although these social rules were never enshrined in a handbook or acknowledged by faculty, the product of attending religious schools in a Southern, conservative area was general disapproval of homosexuality, transgenderism, and the like.
I was particularly lucky where many LGBTQ+ children aren’t in that my family, at least those with whom I’ve shared my identities, have not been hostile. Although my mother took a while to come around to the point of embracing my sexuality, she did, eventually, come around; my father and stepmother, especially, have been accepting and embracing of me since I first came out to them. My friends, the kind of friends I so frequently describe as those who would help me change my tire in the middle of the night, have accepted me since day one. In fact, when I came out to my best friend, he said something along the lines of “yeah, we know, it’s all good”. And, as a result of fear of being treated badly, I’ve often steered away from becoming friends with people who I don’t believe would accept me.
What I’ve described thus far is far from unique. There are many people, just like me, who have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by positive influences and loving friends and family; but there are many people who cannot say the same. These wonderful, amazing people are never treated as wonderful or amazing because the people around them cannot move past the fact that they love their own gender, experience gender differently, or are otherwise “different”. They turn to art as a pathway for escape from their unforgiving surroundings to a more accepting world of like-minded people. This, too, is far from unique from a social perspective; every ostracized group of people that comes to mind utilizes some form of escapism, whether that be art, music, religion, meditation, or etc. When a species such as humanity develops the ability to hate others and to experience hatred, they, in turn, develop the ability to remove themselves from that hatred through external means.
Going back to LGBTQ+ Twitter — for the uninitiated, it can only be described as a cesspool of creative expression. A cesspool in the sense that what good exists is buried in pockets under mountains of different kinds of hatred. When like-minded individuals, especially those whose lives lack interpersonal connections with similarly like-minded individuals, develop a space to speak freely and openly about one topic, they begin to see each other as infallible. They say, “My internet friend posts a thread of racist Tweets from time to time, but they’re the only one I can talk to about my sexuality.” People ignore the bad in search of the good.
But the good does exist. There are communities of people who express their sexuality and gender through art, such as the infamous furry community; there are communities who employ music, sharing songs either by artists they resonate with or of their own creation; there are communities who engage in active or passive world-building by acting and talking as characters from popular culture, such as characters from Star Wars or Marvel; and many, many more. This isn’t to say that every role-play account you come across on Twitter is run by an LGBTQ+ individual, but, in my personal experience, the likelihood that is true surpasses expectations.
When I joined Twitter, one fateful afternoon after the closing of my first (and only) middle school National Beta Club convention, it didn’t take long to come across an LGBTQ+ space for users role-playing as Vocaloid characters. These characters, wildly popular in Japanese and Japanese-inspired American cultures, are meant, by design, to be adaptable; naturally, people looking for a new way to express themselves latched on to these characters. Mixed in with these folks were anime super-fans, and the two groups were extremely interconnected. Upon discovery of these accounts, I created a second, hidden account under the facade of a character from my then-favorite anime, Nisekoi, Chitoge Kirisaki. I ran an account called @TeamChitoge, which I’ve since deleted for reasons I’ll describe shortly.
I was immediately welcomed into my newfound Twitter community with open arms; at the time, when I was still unsure of my sexuality and my social maturity was, to put it mildly, lacking, I had not yet experienced such an outpouring of love. I began to engage with a small group of accounts playing famous characters like Hatsune Miku (the flagship Vocaloid character), Chika Takami (of Love Live! Sunshine!!), and others. For a solid couple of years, these interactions were the closest thing I experienced to a sense of community in my life thus far.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Growing up, I was raised primarily by conservatives, and, based on my best understanding of his mannerisms, my more liberal father employed a strategy of silence so as not to cause any more conflict than already existed in our immediate family. My oldest friends can attest that I used to regurgitate whatever political sentiments I heard from my grandparents, especially around the 2008 Presidential election when Mitt Romney was the conservative voice of the era; but, in questioning both my sexuality and my religion, I was beginning to develop my own views and opinions. As a result, I was becoming more sensitive to issues like racism, sexism, and the like; what I began to see within my familiar Twitter space was that I had been blind to all of these en masse.
The like-minded individuals I had come to appreciate, most of whom were white, American teenagers from what I was able to ascertain, fetishized an idealistic pseudo-Japanese culture that came without many consequences for errant views not pertaining to Asian culture, homophobia, or transphobia; basically, so long as you weren’t demonizing anime or harming the LGBTQ+ community, you were golden. After a grace period, during which time the community was built and expanded to include dozens or even hundreds of accounts engaging with each other on a regular basis, members of the community let down their guard and began posting highly insensitive material. Some of it pertained to race and gender, where the primary narrative was that anyone other than young, Asian girls, or those aspiring to be like them, were sub-ideal; some of it pertained to straight and cisgender people, where many became convinced that being LGBTQ+ was the only way to be moral; some of it pertained to unrelenting pedophilia, both implicit and explicit, where the target was whatever young anime character was popular that week; and I’m sure there was more that I remained unaware of before my exit from the space.
At any given time, my Twitter feed consisted of at least one shallow apology Tweet from a mutual internet friend; most users accepted this as normal. For a short time, I was guilty of turning a blind eye to what I saw, and, for what I hope was an even shorter time, I was guilty of participating. I, too, used my freedom of expression to spout uncouth nonsense, my best recollection of such an event being when I Tweeted my frustration over how a non-binary friend of mine couldn’t decide on whether to present as male or female. But, eventually, I recognized that the world around me was evolving at a different pace and with a different focus than my internet community, and I decided it was time to step away. Many years later, after having only logged into my hidden Twitter account a few times to check in, I deleted the account.
I ultimately left the LGBTQ+ Twitter space with a distaste for the methods of attachment and community I had once appreciated above all, and the idea of attaching oneself to a fictional character began to disgust me. I believed that, although identifying with a character was certainly a valid method to escape from the hardships of an unaccepting daily life, it was bound to lead to corruption of the mind. I renounced the idea of treating a character of any kind as an alter-ego, and moved on. Yet, I was completely unaware that I had been subconsciously latching on to another character without ever intending to.
Behind the scenes, my non-internet friends and myself had been working on world-building of our own. My best friend, the one who was not surprised by my sexuality, and, later, by my gender identity, had started a Minecraft server and invited a number of his friends, my mutual friends, to play. We began a system of nations of our own creation, and played a complex game of politics as we developed a live book of lore in our Minecraft world, Terra Fluxus. The server had been active since the time I joined Twitter, but lasted well into high school; in that time, those of us most attached to the project had developed our characters, some of us multiple characters, and created backgrounds inspired by history and our real-life experiences.
Cyprian Enokka was my first Terra Fluxus character, and, by pure accident at first, she was modeled to be everything I wished for myself to be. She was strong-willed, outspoken, and, most crucially, a woman, although the last was not a conscious choice; I had always preferred female characters in video games, but I hadn’t ever given it a second thought. Looking back, I fondly remember at least a couple of moments from my early childhood when I looked at the person in the mirror and thought, “I wish I was a girl.”
In the fictional world of Terra Fluxus that my friends and I built over the course of the next few years, Cyprian became associated with all of the actions I had taken within the realm of fictional government: where I had previously attributed my actions to simply playing Minecraft, there was now a name (albeit a confusing one). I developed her nationality, her family, her previous life, and I even asked others to adapt our shared lore to this new inclusion. Even so, I wasn’t quite sure why it was so important to me that Cyprian, essentially a reflection of myself, take on such a significant role.
That was, until I went through a proper crisis of gender — not in the sense that I was unable to function without cross-dressing, which is the case for some people when they first feel dysphoria, but in the sense that I was left chronically unsure of how to go forward. Although I felt compelled to present as more feminine, or, at the very least, more androgynous, I could not reasonably take steps to do so until after I had graduated from high school. Even if the climate around me were more accepting of non-traditional gender identities, I still would have faced unknowable personal dangers if I even spoke of my new feelings around the vast majority of my family, save my father, stepmother, sister, and a couple of cousins.
My friends, on the other hand, took the news and ran with it. After simply suggesting that I might be non-binary or transgender, an old friend of mine asked if I’d like to go shopping with her for new clothes; another gave me a bag of makeup; others simply asked if I’d like to go by new pronouns. Although, as I said, I hadn’t bothered with people that wouldn’t do that for anyone else, I was still taken aback by the outpouring of love from people who were less sure about my gender identity than I was.
So, I decided I’d take baby steps and wait to take larger steps until I’d settled into college. I tried on faces of makeup from time to time, in the middle of the night when my family was asleep; I wore mascara to school a few times, in addition to the concealer I was already applying to cover up my acne. I started pushing boundaries and letting more and more people know of my dilemma, and, rather quickly, I began to feel more comfortable with myself and how I presented.
Then, a la Plague, Inc., a new disease introduced itself to the world; the COVID-19 global pandemic was born. Like everywhere else, my school shut down and I transitioned to online schooling for the remainder of that semester. My thoughts shifted entirely towards the disease and the new challenges presented by virtual learning, and I forgot about my gender identity until such time that the world began to treat COVID-19 as “normal”. When I finally reviewed the topic in my mind, I realized I didn’t much care to dedicate any more of my time to changing my presentation.
This is what cemented my gender identity as non-binary; I felt that the most apt description of my gender was “I don’t care”. I didn’t care about presenting one way or another anymore, and I just wanted to treat gender as a concept that exists in society but not in my head. Not caring about my gender made me happier than I had been since well before the pandemic. I graduated high school and went on to college with every intent to decide how I wanted to present on a day-by-day basis, and so I did.
Yet, there was one loose end waiting to be tied: Cyprian Enokka. At some point during my freshman year of college, I decided to sit down and properly consider her story as a timeline of events, as well as to define what parts of her personality were my own and what parts lingered from my earlier, unsure days. I spent the next few months talking inconsistently with my closest friend about what qualities to cement in stone, as well as what qualities to rewrite. Most recently, I commissioned a drawing of Cyprian.
Upon receiving the first draft of Cyprian’s character art, I faced a revelation: I now understood what it meant to become attached to a character again. Before, during my Twitter days, I had only taken the name of a character because it was my way into a community of like-minded people; now, it was my way out of worry. The completion of Cyprian, one of my most personal creations, as a character was the last step in putting my past dysphoria to rest. I had come to terms with who I was, and now I had come to terms with what could have been.
Moving on from what I once imagined for myself was, in some strange way, a happy thing. I never felt outright sad that I had not transitioned into a woman, but I nevertheless wanted to see some tangible representation of what it might have looked like if I had. Cyprian Enokka, although canonically a cisgender woman, is that representation. Although I continue to write her story and develop her more, I see her as perfect the way she is — I see my alternate self as perfect the way she is. It works for me.
It’s highly unrealistic that I’ll go the rest of my life without questions about my sexuality or my gender identity; in fact, I had to reconsider many of my old thoughts just to write them down. It’s entirely possible, if not likely, that I’ll one day recant all this. But until such time, I’ve found peace with a large part of what makes me tick; I’m even shifting focus towards work on Cyprian’s brother, Alecks Ammia, a character I originally created to differentiate my roles in two separate Terra Fluxus nations but who has since transformed into yet another representation: a representation of my need to exert control.
I won’t pretend that my involvement in select LGBTQ+ Twitter spaces was all good, because, as I’ve outlined, it wasn’t. But, despite the negative, I learned from my experiences. I learned so much about myself that I was able to apply what I learned to new experiences that ultimately shaped who I am as a young adult. In my own way, I’m finally content with my answers to questions I posed as an adolescent, and I owe it to Cyprian Enokka.