Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Compulsory heterosexuality (and other things I don't like)

Someone asked me via formspring recently if there was a definite moment when I figured out I was gay, or if I've always just kind of known. In the two weeks since I posted my answer to that question, I've been thinking about a lot of things.

First, here's how I answered the question:

While I don't recall a specific moment when I "knew," I definitely had to go through a process of becoming fully aware of it.

In middle school, girls my age started getting boy crazy and I just wasn't into it. I thought for a long time that I was just a "late bloomer." It took me quite a while to realize that I was actually attracted to women, and that my attraction to them explained why I wasn't into guys.

And so I actually feel like I missed out on a lot in middle/high school, because I dismissed a lot of the things I was feeling instead of experimenting the way most of the kids my age did. For this I blame the idea of "compulsory heterosexuality." As a friend pointed out to me, our culture just doesn't provide us with the tools to deal with anything other than heterosexuality. So at that age, it didn't even occur to me to consider the fact that I might be something other than heterosexual. I just figured that if I was patient, I'd eventually find a guy I liked.

And I did, or rather, I met a guy who liked me, and went with it. I was sixteen at the time. We told everyone we were an item and I distinctly remember feeling extremely relieved. By that point I'd started to think that I might actually be gay. I probably would have come out a lot sooner had I never met him. I was discouraged from trusting my instincts, because they didn't match what I'd been told about how my future would play out.

In the weeks since I posted my answer to that question, I've been thinking about how "compulsory heterosexuality" affects everything, especially what's most important. And I can't get over how unfortunate that is.

Here's the thing: I wasn't sheltered from the idea of homosexuality. I knew, as a middle school student, what that meant. But couldn't have been taught that it was normal/acceptable. Had I been, I might have started to question my sexuality a lot earlier than I did.

Instead, I saw homosexuality as something distant from me. I didn't grow up knowing anyone who was openly gay. And so I couldn't imagine that anyone near me might be gay, let alone that I might actually be.

I didn't come out to my parents until just last month. I'm twenty-one, and in my fourth year of college. They were very accepting, but I know that they only reacted as positively as they did because by the time I finally worked up the nerve to tell them I'm gay, I'd experienced two things:

1) I'd first had a boyfriend and not enjoyed it, and then
2) I'd had a girlfriend and known that it felt right.

As grateful as I am that my parents accepted what I told them, I know for a fact that had the above conditions not been met, they would have told me that I was just still just questioning myself, and dismissed what I told them.

On my end, two conditions had to be met before I would give my parents the news:

1) I waited until I was out of my teens. I felt that the older I was when I told them, the more credibility I'd have.
2) I waited until I was more emotionally stable than I'd ever been. I had wanted to tell them a year earlier than I did, but decided against it because at the time, I was struggling for reasons entirely unrelated to my sexual orientation. I didn't want my parents to think that my sexuality was a contributing factor to the problems I was having at school, because it wasn't.

But this is both unfair and stupid because no one should have to legitimize their sexuality to anyone, or be "emotionally stable" to explore it. And they shouldn't have to literally "rule out" heterosexuality first, either. The fact that I feel like I have to first prove to people that I'm a good, functioning person before I can reveal my sexual orientation to anyone just doesn't make the slightest bit of sense to me.

But that's the way it is. We've still got quite a ways to go on the road to achieving equality. Homosexuality is still presented to our youth as something that's "different from the norm." And yeah, the majority of people aren't gay. But as cliche as it sounds, unless kids are taught early on that "different" isn't automatically synonymous with "weird," they're going to have a hard time accepting it. Because once you're taught certain things about the way the world's "supposed to be," it's hard to unlearn that. This is why it took me such a long time to come out of the closet.

I regularly babysit two girls, ages four and seven. They're awesome; I love them both. But I can already see how they're being conditioned to just accept certain things as the norm: namely that girls should look and act a certain way, and that boys should look and act a certain way. (Oh, and that they're better than the black kids two houses down. I wish I was kidding. But I digress.)

If we want to be honest, it kind of makes me wonder why the hell I even bother. A lot of people my parents' age (40s/50s) have told me that "my generation" is the one that's going to fix things. But we're still raising kids on the system that's doing all the damage. It's disheartening.

I have this really cool magnet. It's pink and there's a blonde girl on it. The girl is saying, "Mommy, when I grow up I want to help smash the white racist, homophobic, patriarchal, bullshit paradigm too!"

The world needs more kids like that. And they shouldn't wait until they grow up. They can start now.


  1. This completely reminds me of a customer I had a little while ago. She was Christmas shopping and bought her young grandson a little toy My First Kenmore vacuum cleaner. We were talking about the series and I said that I had been collecting items from the kitchen collection for my niece's birthday because she loves to pretend to cook. She admitted that her grandson did, too, and then got a strange look on her face and said "Those are the only two things he likes that are different, all his other games and toys are very boy-like." It just kind of threw me off guard. A vacuum and a kitchen. Woman's work! Aahhh! I told her that a lot of the world's greatest chefs are indeed men, after all. She seem relieved. Like I'd given her some answer to her grandson's "strange behavior". She thanked me and became much happier. It seemed strange to me, but you're right, the normal for so many people.

    I'd never really thought about compulsory heterosexuality, but you're right. Then people wonder why the younger school years are so rough on kids. Unfortunately there's a long way to go before the norm changes. I think we're going in the right direction, I hope we are.

    I guess I'm lucky that my neighborhood back in Detroit was a rainbow. We had all kinds of people, my parents were open about acceptance and love. It just baffles me how many people in this day in age cling to racism and prejudice and fear and ignorance! I just found out someone I rather liked is strongly opposed to gay marriage. I didn't think I could lose that much respect for someone in so few sentences.

    Keep fighting the good fight, and I will, too. That old lady I waited on that day probably would have flipped if I told her that my niece had a zombie doll, monster trucks and was Batman for Halloween!

    Geeze, kids growing up being taught they're better than their black neighbors? In this day and age? That's so sad.

  2. You write things so eloquently! I share all of your frustrations. Sometimes I am just filled with despair because I feel like it's never going to get any better. Despite that, I believe it will - it might take several generations, which is awful, but I think eventually we'll get there. Still, I wish the world was going to get there before my children come into it, and before I leave it.