Buckle up, today I’m gonna talk about being queer. 😉
It’s worth noting that I’ve shied away from this conversation for a long time, but it’s important and it deserves to be discussed, so let’s do it.
I’m queer, both in sexual orientation and in gender identity.
My sexual orientation is bisexual (or probably more accurately “pansexual” since gender isn’t a binary, but honestly whatever). My gender I’d say is something like “fluid,” or “non-binary.” Meaning I don’t care what pronouns anyone uses, but sometimes I feel like a woman and sometimes I don’t.
I haven’t felt a need to talk about these facts publicly much, because I really don’t care how other people see or identify me, and it just hasn’t been very relevant in my life. I’m a woman for all practical purposes, and I’ve only been in long term relationships with dudes, so my queerness has mostly been a non-issue in my life.
Note: I also believe most people are a little gay, even if they don’t explore or acknowledge it. I figure sexuality is a spectrum from gay to straight and everyone is somewhere on it, with very few people being 100% at one pole or the other. So the idea that I would ever need to “come out” always struck me as ridiculous.
That said, lately I haven’t much been into men, either as a general concept, or as potential sexual or romantic partners. So, I’m making more space than ever for my gay side.
Which got me thinking about how much of who I am as a person is the result of being queer in a non-queer world.
I’ve spent so much of my life dealing with the ways in which I didn’t “fit” the role I was supposedly supposed to play as a female, and trying to figure out how to be “normal.”
I’ve spent epic amounts of time thinking about gender roles– examining them, exploring them, processing them, rebelling against them, arguing with people about them, and healing my relationship to them for my whole life, all because wearing these roles never felt right to me.
I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be a highly feminine woman, a nurturing earth-mother-goddess who is drawn to highly masculine men and feels at home taking care of people and embodying yin energy. I can’t imagine.
It took me a long time to realize that there are actual women for whom being a woman fits them perfectly, and I’m both fascinated by and envious of how easy and nice that must be.
Since I’m completely “straight passing,” I have all the privileges of a non-queer person. I’ve never experienced discrimination, bullying, or a lack of opportunities due to my sexuality or gender identity.
In fact if anything, I think being a “gender atypical female” has gained me special status and privileges, both as a kid and as an adult.
While a gender atypical boy tends to be bullied and shamed and punished for being a “sissy” (aka not masculine enough), gender atypical girls tend to do pretty well in our patriarchal society. A girl with the characteristics, interests, or qualities of boys and men might experience some bullying here and there, but we also tend to be seen as special, cool, and “different in a good way” from other women.
This is totally fucked up, but it makes sense if you think about it.
After all, we live in a culture that historically values men as inherently superior to women, and therefore considers traditionally masculine qualities as inherently superior to feminine qualities. So a girl with masculine qualities or interests is cool, while a boy with feminine qualities or interests is beat up and shoved into lockers.
Likewise, a bisexual woman is generally considered more acceptable and valid (and non-threatening) than a bisexual man.
The thought of a man experimenting with other men tends to evoke a feeling of disgust and confusion in homophobic people (particularly straight men who want to distance themselves from anything that could possibly challenge their masculinity), while the thought of women experimenting with other women seems fairly normal, healthy, “just a phase,” or even “hot.” (Barf.)
All of this is to say that my queerness never cost me any social capital or put me in danger, so I didn’t even realize how much it affected my identity until recently.
The thing is, growing up in a culture with one “default” setting for a person’s identity makes it really difficult for them to notice or explore who they are outside of that.
Everyone in our culture makes some major assumptions about people based on their genitals, including what activities they’ll like, what qualities they’ll express, who they’ll be attracted to, what they’ll be good and bad at, how they’ll behave, etc.
This assumption is, of course, based on statistics as much as outdated gender biases. Lots of little girls are drawn to playing with dolls, and lots of little boys are drawn to playing with cars and trucks. Lots of women want to get married and have babies, and lots of men want to play the field.
I get that some inherent gender differences exist, and I’m not suggesting we ignore them.
But I am suggesting that these assumptions affect how we socialize children to see themselves and the role they will occupy in society. We’ve created a world that presents only one valid option: for each person to step into the role of “man” or “woman” according to socially set parameters of performative masculinity or femininity.
Naturally, since we trust our parents and they make these assumptions about us, we take their word for it, until or unless some kind of internal message becomes loud enough to make you question this reality. And when that happens, you have to go through the process of questioning everything: yourself, your feelings, your parents, your reality, your culture, everything.
That questioning is exhausting.
And it’s all just to come to the conclusion that in order to be your authentic self you will probably have to do even MORE emotional labor. You’ll have to come out, and destabilize all of your relationships, and break all the rules of what’s expected from you and your life.
I constantly think about how easy this would be to fix, if we just stopped making those assumptions in the first place as a culture.
Assumptions about gender and sexuality end up making a good chunk of people feel broken, ashamed, like outsiders, or like they don’t belong. At the very least it makes them spend a huge chunk of their lives doing the emotional labor to figure out why something doesn’t quite fit them and why people don’t “get” them.
That was me.
Every single birthday I would receive “girl gifts” that I hated, like dolls and EZ bake ovens and anything pink, which made me feel unseen, and broken. As I grew up it turned into discussions about being a wife and mother, which made me feel lonely, and guilty.
The good news is that all the processing, considering, wondering, worrying, and exploring this led to made me a introspective and a critical thinker, so it’s fine. And I no longer feel like an outsider or like I don’t belong, so ultimately it’s all good.
But even now I find myself stumbling across new parts of myself, new shit to process and embrace, and new future possibilities that were previously invisible to me, because our culture never presented them as valid options.
Only a few months ago I had the thought that if I partnered with a woman long term, then she could be the one to go through the whole process of getting pregnant and being a mommy, and I wouldn’t have to!! This thought made something deep inside me relax and feel relief; some tiny bit of self-acceptance that hadn’t been there before clicking into place.
Despite knowing I was bi since before I even had sex with anyone, it took me until I was 32 to let myself even imagine that kind of blissful future.
Of course I’m happy to share this in case anyone out there is struggling to accept or embrace their own queerness. (I see you.)
But even if that’s not you, I encourage you to consider what assumptions you make based on a “default” view of gender roles and sexuality, and how that shows up in how you feel about yourself, and treat others. How have these assumptions affected you personally, and in what ways it might affect other people?
I truly believe, as a culture, we can do better.