'Queer people don't grow up as ourselves': Activist's viral tweet inspires others searching for identity

Alexander Leon, a London-based LGBTQ activist, spent his childhood pretending to be someone else. He posted a tweet about his experience growing up gay and his search for authenticity in adulthood — and it went viral.
Alexander Leon works at the Kaleidoscope Trust in the United Kingdom, a charity that advocates on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people around the world. (Submitted by Alexander Leon)

Alexander Leon, an LGBTQ activist and writer in the United Kingdom, said he was moved by the response to his viral social media post about how he found his identity and overcame the stigma attached to it.

Many readers wrote that the post helped them realize that they had been undertaking a similar struggle, one where they now felt more supported.

"Queer people don't grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation & prejudice," Leon wrote on Twitter.

"The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we've created to protect us."

Leon's viral tweet spread across various social media platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. In particular, his message of growing up with conflicting identities and trekking from shame to authenticity resonated with others.

Resonanting with people around the world

"The response has been extraordinary and profound," Leon told Tapestry.

"It's been enormously overwhelming on some levels, but it's also been so wonderful."

He said he had underestimated the number of LGBTQ people his post would connect with, and that he felt most everyone wear masks, and that "taking off those masks can be profoundly uncomfortable."

For Leon, who lives in London and works at the Kaleidoscope Trust, a non-profit organisation that campaigns for the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world, many of the responses have been quite emotional.

One response included a man in his 60s who messaged him, and said he felt like he was now able to come out of the closet:

"I feel immensely privileged that I could be the vessel through which this message could be conveyed and that it's helped people: I can't think of a greater privilege to be honest."

A constant struggle

"Discovering who you really are is an enormous task. It doesn't happen overnight nor does it happen without some hiccups along the way."

For Leon, 27, some of those hiccups have included mental health issues, which he has struggled with as a result of grappling with his own sexuality.
Leon, 27, said he's suffered mental health issues as a result of grappling with his own sexuality amid a society where it's still challenging to come out. (Submitted by Alexander Leon)

He said he has always been open about the fact that, as a teenager, he attempted suicide as a result of his depression, when he tried to fit into masculine and social norms.

"I've always been very open in saying that when I was 19-years-old, I attempted suicide and that was before having come out of the closet. I think it's fair to say that no one's mental health is good in the closet."

Leon, who used therapy and relied on friends and family to help come to terms with his sexuality, has subsequently adapted his personal diary entry and viral tweet into an essay, which also expands on his identity of queerness as an "effeminate brown boy."

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for Leon is how his message impacted so many people outside the LGBTQ community, including women and racialized minorities.

"I have sort of stood in this viral whirlwind, where people from all around the world have been messaging me – people of different ages, people who have different abilities and of different ethnicities."

Leon, however, said he wanted to emphasize that his widely circulated message was about the queer experience.

"I think it's made me realize how much in common we all have, and that this kind of experience of self-editing is something which, I think, is particularly widespread in the LGBT community."