By Kahini Iyer Aug. 01, 2019
Anne Frank’s tentative forays into her feelings about girls, blurring the lines between the closeness of female friendships, and the desire for something more, mirrored my own. If other girls had felt this way since forever ago, did this mean there was nothing to be confused about? Frank, who made her last diary entry on August 1, 1944, taught me that I didn’t necessarily have to choose.
When I first read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, I went through the same rite of passage as all girls who pick up the young Holocaust victim’s volume of compiled scribblings do. Frank received the treasured journal as a birthday gift while hiding out in the Secret Annex in the Netherlands. In 1942, Jews like the Franks, had fled to the shelter to escape the Nazi occupation, forming a makeshift community where they made do with whatever necessities they could smuggle in. Meanwhile in 2004, I was living in a large, comfortable house in Canada, filled with every material desire I could want. But Anne and I were both 13 – and I got to peek inside her secret diary.
Of course, that alone was enough to make the experience utterly absorbing. Here was a personal journal meant only for Frank’s eyes – both banal and intimate – not unlike the one I myself sporadically kept. Like me, Frank was bookish and loved words. She had the same affectations as any other girl: Addressing her diary entries to “Kitty” who shared a name with one of her friends, but who, according to Frank, was closer to her than any of them.
It was with Kitty that she shared her innermost thoughts and feelings with the budding guile of a teenage girl. So many of Frank’s concerns, I thought, were just like mine, and so many were about horrors that I would never see. She worried to Kitty that her relationship with her mother would never be close, and complained that another boy in the Annex hogged the bathroom. She wondered about the inequalities that went beyond the yellow star pinned to her dress, asking, “Soldiers and war heroes are honoured and commemorated… but how many people look upon women too as soldiers?” She, too, felt adolescent guilt, writing that she was “selfishly wrapped up again in her own problems and pleasures” – a charge levelled at every angsty teenager since the dawn of civilisation.
Her diary is littered with descriptions about the nude female forms in art history books that moved her almost to tears.
But the moment I knew that Frank and I were twin souls was when I came to the passages where she mused on her sexuality. There was Peter, the son of another Jewish family in the Annex, whom Frank thought might become her special confidante. When she and Peter shared a kiss in the attic, I felt a thrill, as if one of my own friends had made the confession while munching popcorn on my bed. Still, that was nothing compared to the moment when Frank reveals her feelings for Jacque, one of her girlfriends.
When they were sharing a bed, Frank detailed how she felt a sudden urge to kiss Jacque, an act that wasn’t reciprocated, and went on to say that she was curious about Jacque’s body. Her diary is littered with descriptions about the nude female forms in art history books that moved her almost to tears. “I wish I had a girlfriend!” she writes, almost petulantly. For another teenage girl in 2004, Frank’s words were a revelation. In a vague, theoretical sense, I was already aware that some people were straight and others were gay, but I had never come across a bisexual heroine before. Frank’s tentative forays into her feelings about girls, blurring the lines between the closeness of female friendships, and the desire for something more, mirrored my own. If other girls had felt this way since forever ago, did this mean there was nothing to be confused about? Frank taught me that I didn’t necessarily have to choose.
Years later, long after I had made my own journey of self-acceptance, I came across an earlier version of Frank’s diary in a Toronto bookstore. As I always do with books from my youth, I leafed through it, enjoying the feeling of my favourite passages jumping out to greet me. But a few, I noticed were missing. This version had been scrubbed of any references to Frank’s sexuality, including her nascent explorations of her own body, and her feelings for Jacque. Only the kiss with Peter remained.
Even after the war, discrimination against LGBT people continued, and their persecution has largely been erased from history.
As it turned out, the diary that had made Frank synonymous with the human cost of the Holocaust, had been censored by her father Otto, the sole survivor from the eight people who had shared a single room in the Annex. They had been given up to the Nazis by an unknown informant, and all of them had been sent to the camps. Frank’s notes were rescued before the Germans could destroy them, and her father consented to publish them, creating one of the most powerful chronicles of a historical event ever written. Somehow, amid Frank’s tellings of the atrocities of the Holocaust, it was her sexual orientation that was deemed not fit to print until later editions.
The Nazis systematically targeted the queer community. During Hitler’s regime gay men were marked with pink triangles and banished to the camps. Even after the war, discrimination against LGBT people continued, and their persecution has largely been erased from history. Like the pages of Frank’s book.
Now years later, Anne Frank is a celebarated hero for the queer community. But what needs to be appreciated is her honesty.
But perhaps most importantly for Frank and her diary is the question of honesty. Isn’t that the quality that makes her work endure to this day — the glimpse inside the life and mind of someone who wrote her truth, never expecting the world to see it? In this raw, unadulterated humanity, laid bare by the blunt observations of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, lies the lasting beauty of the Diary of a Young Girl. I’m glad that I got to know Frank just the way she wrote herself in the pages of her beloved red-checked journal.
Kahini spends an embarrassing amount of time eating Chinese food and watching Netflix. For proof that she is living her #bestlife, follow her on Instagram @kahinii.