Being Queer

So I was calling my mother like a good daughter the other weekend (which unfortunately doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should), and the topic came up that one of my childhood friends had brought her girlfriend home for Christmas.

‘Good for her for coming out to her mother,’ I said, ‘I didn’t actually expect her to feel comfortable enough to do that’.

My mother looked surprised. ‘Why?  Her mother isn’t homophobic, why would she have even been worried?’

I thought for a moment, and replied, ‘You really don’t need to be outright homophobic to make being queer uncomfortable.  Even the small things count’.

And unfortunately with this statement we entered a wonderfully awkward (and slightly accusatory) discussion about the history of microaggressions in my own life, such as..

  • My being told you that I shouldn’t go to prom with my female bi friend because people might get the wrong idea about me (it was actually purely platonic, but that’s not even the issue at hand).
  • That I might just going through a phase, and should wait awhile to decide.
  • My sister’s bisexual identity being doubted, just because she’s never officially dated a girl (I’m sorry, she must have forgotten to pick up her bisexual license, she’ll be sure to show you when it comes in the mail).

Now,  I would like to make clear I’m not accusing anyone in my family of being homophobic with these comments, nor am I accusing them of being a bad family (in fact, they are wonderful).  They fully support everyone’s right to love anyone they want to, regardless of gender identity.  The unfortunate fact is that my family loves me.

…I’m sorry, what?

That’s right, they love me, and with this love they want the best for me.  If they could, they would make life as smooth as possible, bending over backwards to make sure I’m happy and successful, and in their eyes being queer does not fall under ‘ 10 steps on how to have an easy life’.  They are scared of the hatred and bigotry that will be aimed at me if I ever openly dated a girl, and thus tried to subtly aim me towards a safer, heterosexual lifestyle.  When I finally reached college, I gathered the strength from a queer community and the Scripps community at large to be able to declare ‘I am queer, hear me roar!’ Suddenly there were no more mentions of ‘just a phase’ or ‘people might get the wrong idea about you’s.  My parents were perfectly okay with this declaration.  All I needed to do was be strong in my own identity, and their niggling doubts disappeared.

I’m sure some of you out there have already stopped reading, or are just thinking ‘cry more, oversensitive softy.  Why didn’t you just stand your ground in the first place?’

Because it’s hard to stand your ground when any tentative feelers you put out are met with ‘Are you sure?  I think you aren’t ready to decide.’  Even if you know your parents aren’t homophobic, it’s hard to meet statements like those with anything but an ‘oh, you’re right, I’ll decide later, I don’t really know myself yet’.  I believe being able to self-identify and being confident in your identification is important, from birth to death.  It doesn’t suddenly start when you are ‘mature’ enough to understand what you want, it starts at exiting the womb, and should be supported as long as it is non-harmful.

Well, maybe sometimes kids are wrong and just going through a phase, so those phrases are actually helpful at keeping children from harm?

Helpful in what way?  All those types of doubt do is reaffirm that being queer is something negative, something you *really* don’t want to identify with unless you absolutely need to.  What’s wrong with being queer and then changing your mind?  When your daughter says ‘I want to be an astronaut when I grow up!’ do you tell her, ‘Are you really sure you can make that decision yet?  I mean, you are so young, and that’s such a hard path, and it’s probably just a phase and you’ll change your mind.’  No.  You support her until she decides her next goal, such as being a chef or a basketball player.  Everything in life is basically just a phase, it’s just some last until death.  Yes, you may be like my parents and worried about the backlash from your child identifying as queer, but really, if all the parents are worried about this backlash, doesn’t it just create an environment where we are in fact telling our children it is bad to be queer?  How can the setting ever change if those willing to be hateful are allowed to set the tone, and the rest of us cower for fear of being judged?

Now, here comes the recognition of the real world section.  Not all of us live in environments where we can make idealistic statements such as these.  I live in Southern California, go to a liberal arts college, and have a supportive family.  Some of us live in areas where we can be beaten or killed for identifying as queer, or even if our peers decide to identify us as queer without our consent.  Where we will have a hard time getting a job if the boss finds out we are living with our partner.  Where our parents will literally destroy our possessions and force us to fend for ourselves.  But with the acknowledgement of these places, of which there are many, does that mean we should stop trying to make the safe zones safer and more comfortable?  I think a part of creating a better world starts at the level of the parents in all places, for I believe they have quite a bit of impact on the youth of today.

If nothing else, my final plea is this: If you are a parent reading this, going to be a parent, or simply interact with children, please don’t question their identity if it isn’t harmful (whether it be sexuality or otherwise), and please don’t label being queer as a harmful identity.  Yes, it may be hard to identify as queer, but not because of being queer itself. The social pressure and literal violent backlash is what most nonhomophobics are afraid of in terms of their loved ones being queer, and you are increasing these pressures with your refusal of acknowledgement of the queer identity.  Thanks 🙂

Feel free to comment below with your own experiences with microaggressions, being queer, or having loved ones being queer.  I’m always up for discussion.

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About Alicen Lewis

Find me on BaiRabbit.wordpress.com! Archived Blog: Previously a summer intern for the startup incubator Idealab, during the school year I am also on the board of the Scripps College Professionals Network, Team Leader and Head Web Designer for Scripps College IT for Faculty, and President of Scripps Women in Technology. My previous experience includes working Digital New Media with Geek & Sundry, a Los Angeles Commercial YouTube company.

Posted on March 12, 2013, in Gender/Sexuality, Growing Up, Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I often wish that there were no assumed sexual identity for anyone. My parents have probably been so excited my entire life to have me get married and have their grandchildren and they have this image in their mind of what that looks like. Problem is, it’s hard for people to realize that (at least in major liberal-ish cities) it would not be that bad for that to take place with another woman. I mean, I’m probably going to marry a guy, but it wouldn’t be that bad if it were a woman. Science allows sperm donors, adoption is not weird, they can still have their grandchildren who they will love just as much. It’s really not that crazy for a woman to marry another woman too. Honestly, when was the last time you were shocked by a couple simply because they were gay?

    Anyways, my parents don’t know that I’m interested in women and men. I don’t feel the need to tell them, though that could be dangerous if I ever get to the point with a girl where she needs to meet my parents, but I don’t want to deal with conflict.

    My personal philosophy is if someone asks me how I identify, I tell them. If not, then I don’t. It’s that simple, really. Then again, none of my roommates know that I have a date with a girl on Wednesday night, and I can’t bring her back to my place as anything more than a friend because then I’d have to have that conversation.

  2. I will likely recieve verbal assault for this, but I’ve gotten used to it. I respect and, to an extent, aggree with your statements. I fully intend to consider such points in the future. Yet, I can not whole heartedly accept them.

    Growing up, I continually questioned my sexuality. Because of my peers, and their slurs. I was one of those kids who didn’t exhibit stereotypical male attributes, which is a grave offense in the south. The problem for me was that I’m straight. Yet the abuse was such that I questioned it. If this many people, including my own brother, would label me this thing; then, perhaps they were right and my own self-identification was wrong. The abuse has ended, except for the coworkers that occasionally forget that real life isn’t high school.

    I’m sure someone reading this is thinking I’m some sort of homophobe, or that I’m just whining. But the idea of not positing the question of whether or not something is a certain way (of which sexual orientation is just one) seems not all that great of an idea. If no one had me question my sexuality, then I would be living a lifestyle that wasn’t mine, and suffering horribly for it. The questions are valuable and necessary, but must be moderate in their frequency.

    • I’m slightly confused, doesn’t your comment agree with my belief? I’m not saying kids should just be allowed to self-identify as queer, they should also be allowed to self-identify as straight. It sounds like in your case it was actually reverse microaggressions, where you were questioning yourself and social pressures tried to convince you that you were queer even when you weren’t. Your peers should have respected if you decided to tell them you were straight just as much as they should have respected if you decided to tell them if you were queer, and also should have respected if you changed your mind at any time. The fact that they tried to define your identity for you sounds like what led to a large degree of your own inner turmoil.

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong in guiding questions or support from mentors/parents, but I think the way society is structured today there is a strong lean towards asking if children are straight questions, and thus making being queer the black sheep. Your scenario sounds like the lean of your questions was towards the asking if you are gay kind, which in excessive amounts can be just as harmful as telling a child he/she is going through a phase and probably straight. The important part is to make sure not to invalidate *any* identities, be they queer, straight, or astronaut, and allow the child to decide for themselves their own identity, as well as allow the child to grow and change their mind.

      Please let me know if I misunderstood anything you were trying to say, for some reason I feel like we actually both completely agree.

  3. I really liked this piece–it definitely points out how you don’t need to be actively homophobic/hold homophobic beliefs (maybe heteronormative is a better word here, but I digress) to nonetheless do “violence” to queer identity. The belief in “phases” (as if queerness could ever be stable) in “true feeling” and the like (as if desire could be fake) are both things which just don’t understand the point of queerness. Desire is unstable, identity is unstable, and is constituted through these microaggressions, by these limitations on desire, by these specific injunctions against engaging in queerness (“Don’t bring your friend to prom—People will think you’re dating, oh God!”) read as little more than constructions of queerness as silly and transitory.

    With your post, I’m reminded of the Queer Nation chant “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” I think that’s the best position for queer populations to advocate; not acceptance, not tolerance, but merely familiarity (which may be the wrong word, itself sharing roots with ‘family,’ but that’s again another academic digression). People should feel free to take friends to prom, to come out to family and friends, to do what they please without fear of judgment, denigration, or any other external constraint.

    Your post also brought to my attention the obvious age-normativity going on in the argument about “phases” of sexuality; the belief that, somehow, a desire was less legitimate than another because it occurred earlier at one’s time in life. It implies a belief that, as you said, someday you just suddenly know what your sexuality is and that the time at which you learn that sexuality somehow lines up with a magical age of “16” “19” or some other such arbitrary number. And, even if it were the case that desire can be neatly isolated into “phases,” I don’t see why that means we ought be careful about bringing our same-sex friends to things like proms and dances. We would only have to be concerned about it if we were already supposing the inherently naturality or superiority of “heterosexual” identity and took it as the “default” of all sexual/emotional/etc relations.

    Long story short, I really liked this post.

  4. Well as you know my best friend is a lesbian. When.she came out she got jumped 3 times her freshman year. But she stayed strong and fought through. I’ve know you were and I love you and support you. You also know that one of my good friends committed suicide because of her mother not accepting her and other people bullying her. I would do anything for you and my best friend. I love you guys to death. Don’t forget that.

  5. This question of “phases” is one that is problematic to me as an educator of young children. On the one hand, I want to support and foster children’s thinking and who they are today, but on the other hand it is part of my responsibility to look to the child’s potential and help them broaden their thinking. But even as I use the term “broaden their thinking” I consider how pretentious such a term can be. After all, children are very capable thinkers as it is. In many ways, they are much more capable than adults, as the brain is most active at a very young age. The problem facing educators is that they way children think is so drastically different than the way adults think. By saying that I want to help children broaden their thinking, aren’t I in essence saying that the way they think today isn’t good enough?

    But in practice, I don’t believe that to be true. I believe teaching is not a one-way act. I strive to learn from my students as much as they learn from me. I maintain a daily log of reflections questioning my beliefs and practices and what insights my interactions with my students provide me with. I have even kept such logs when I have worked in infant classrooms. The way infants think is so drastically different than the way adults think that it can boggle the mind to try and comprehend their perspective.

    Perhaps this is the best way for parents to approach their interactions with their children as well. Not necessarily with a written log, but to consider that they can learn from their children as much as their children can learn from them. I would never presume to tell a parent of one of my students how to raise their child, but if I were ever to become a parent myself I would like to believe I would take my attitude as a teacher into the home as well. After all, if teaching is bidirectional, isn’t love as well? Part of loving someone is affirming who they are and caring for that person, comfortable in the feeling that they also care for you. So love the person you are with, don’t try to change them into the person you think they ought to be, even if you truly believe you are doing it “for their own good.”

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