Normalizing queer identities.
Imagine that the institutions in which our society functions all have precisely shaped doorways. Imagine that they only fit a certain type of person. Hang on, animals might be easier to conceptualize. Imagine the doors are cut perfectly for zebras to walk through. Now, picture a giraffe approaching the doorway, and watching all of their zebra friends walk through, but being unable to fit. The giraffe may be able to carefully squeeze through, but they will be left feeling kind of sore from trying to fit, and knowing that they don’t really belong there. This is what being queer feels like, except the doors are shaped for cisgender males and cisgender females who are in heterosexual relationships.
To be fair, as a society, things have been changing. For instance, same-sex couples are now getting married and have legal protections against most forms of discrimination. But the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) doors still exist in the form of heteronormativity. In our society, heterosexuality is normalized over and over again when we see heterosexual relationships depicted in films, television shows, and novels. Even in our day-to-day life, we see people in heterosexual relationships. It is only within the past decade that same-sex couples have been comfortable being together in public. This is a major problem for queer people, who often feel like there is no room for them.
Think back to when you were young, you can likely recall a family member teasing you about romantic relations with the opposite gender, probably before you were even interested in a romantic relationship with any gender. It is not uncommon for baby boys to be dressed in onesies with things like “future womanizer” and “chick magnet” scrolled across the front. Similarly, baby girls are often talked about as “future heartbreakers”. While it is worrisome that as a society, we are sexualizing babies, it is also concerning that it is assumed that baby boys will grow up to be attracted to girls, and vice versa.
The reality is that when we are born, we are placed into one of two boxes: cis-gender heterosexual male, or cis-gender heterosexual female. This can be very harmful for those who don’t fit neatly into the box, and it begs the question: why do we have boxes? The answer is that categories are tidy. They help people organize messy and complicated ideas, but they inevitably limit people’s identities.
What would happen if there were no boxes? What if all institutions were built for diverse families? What if queer, and genderqueer people were adequately presented in the media that we ingest on a daily basis? Maybe young people would be able to express themselves more freely, maybe more people would be able to explore and feel comfortable with their sexuality. Certainly, there would be much less pressure to conform to heteronormative standards.
Growing up, the most positive thing a person could do for me was to not assume anything about my identity. Family members who used gender neutral pronouns when asking about my significant other (or even when talking about their own) allowed me to feel comfortable discussing my relationships. For those of you reading this: try to use inclusive language. Use gender neutral pronouns, or ask what is preferred. Ask people about their ‘partner’, or ‘significant other’ as opposed to girlfriend, or boyfriend. Most importantly, normalize queer identities by consuming media that is representative of all identities, and by being supportive of how people choose to identify and present themselves.