by: Bobby Crowley
Let me preface everything I’m about to say by saying that I love all of my friends. Our similarities and differences combined are the reasons I continue to love and learn from them.
That being said, I can’t ignore the fact that I often find myself feeling uncomfortable around my heterosexual friends. It isn’t because they all point at me and slow motion laugh. No, it usually isn’t their actions at all. These feelings often manifest during certain conversations that remind me that, while I’m getting the rather comfortable feeling of belonging, they will never understand major parts of me and my experience being queer.
This is not to say I expect them to or that any of us perfectly understands anyone else. Rather, I have recently noticed major gaps in their understanding, not only of the queer and genderqueer communities, but of me as a queer person. A few questions and comments, in particular, serve as unpleasant reminders that as hard as we try, there will always be barriers between us when it comes to my sexuality and love-life.
“That’s so gay…oh, sorry Barbara.” A lot of people say that things are gay when they mean that they are bad or unpleasant. This phrase spread through high schools like wildfire some years ago. I understand that these things happen. I also understand that a lot of people, gay people included, use this phrase. I use the word cunt and fuck a lot, because they are just groups of letters until you put them into context. I understand that it doesn’t “hurt me” when people use this phrase around me. Sure, I sometimes say, “oh is it? How gay is it? Is it two men having sex on a rainbow gay?” But I have never been hurt by these words because, though I don’t like what it implies, I know a lot of people don’t think about it enough to care.
I do, however, grit my teeth when someone uses the phrase supposedly without thinking about its meaning and then points out the fact that it has a negative meaning to me, a queer person. If you are so aware of the implications of this phrase that you would apologize to me EVERY TIME YOU USE IT, don’t use it. It would be the same thing for me to justify saying a racial slur because I don’t feel it really has negative power or influence anymore, then apologize every time I use it around a friend with the minority that comment offends. This is not only frustratingly ignorant, it, yet again, throws the spotlight on me in a crowd of people and highlights every way I don’t fit in with them.
“What does queer mean?” I answer this question a lot, sometimes multiple times for the same audience. While I believe it is totally justified to ask, it just reminds me how much more I understand their sexuality than they understand mine, which also reminds me that I’m not the “norm” or “normal” to many people. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of asking questions when you don’t and want to understand something in this world. I would never want someone to make incorrect assumptions, nor would I want them to be afraid to ask me anything down to the nitty gritty.
I also understand that some people, especially in the LGBTQA community, are often asked very offensive and impolite questions about their bodies and sex lives that make them uncomfortable and quite defensive. The only reason I don’t react this way is because I know that people who are ignorant about something and want to eradicate this ignorance are taking a huge and beautiful step towards understanding and acceptance. These people don’t often know how to filter their questions to suit someone else’s comfort. But, even if I believed they should know the proper limitations, I would rather answer them than scare them away from asking questions ever again.
“Why do you need to label it? Why can’t you just be and love who you love?” This is a great question, because it hits on society’s need to label everything and everyone. However, it frustrates the hell out of me every time I hear it. Of course you would say that, (insert heterosexual friend’s name here), you live in the majority, the norm, the implied and unsaid but totally accepted and “natural.” You don’t ever have to precursor with “I’m a heterosexual” because it’s assumed, because we all live in a “straight until proven queer” world. How could you understand the need to clarify?
In fact, it’s more than clarification, and no matter how many logically developed arguments I make, I get the same “I just don’t understand why we need labels” response that proves to me how much they don’t and never will understand. Now, it’s not that I have a problem with a world without labels. It sounds beautiful. However, when I was a young girl, I did everything in the world to deny who I was, always tormented with feeling like a freak or an outcast. It was only when I made a connection with the LGBTQA world that I felt like a normal human being with justified feelings and a community of people who shared these feelings. I was no longer just “different” from everyone else, my oddness now had a name and justification that made it both more normal and real. Calling myself queer doesn’t make me feel special, quite the opposite, actually. Calling myself queer makes me feel ordinary. Of course there is also the sense of community you inherit with whatever label suits your fancy, but for me it was more about justifying my feelings and declaring them with acceptance and pride.
I am queer because I do agree, to a certain extent, that labels aren’t always a positive thing. Early on in my life in the LGBTQA community, I don’t want to be restricted by a word. I also don’t want to confuse people or come out to people any more than I have to. I’m queer because I know that I’m not heterosexual. I’m queer because I know I’m not just a lesbian. I’m queer because I haven’t experienced enough in this world to know every single thing I do and do not want in a person. I’m queer and I’m proud of it and sometimes I just want to scream, “stop trivializing my label just because you don’t have to or want to have a label yourself!”
Of course, it’s easy for me to explain a few of the things that often make me uncomfortable around my heterosexual friends. When I see the manifestation of their ignorance about my community, my sexuality, and my feelings as a queer person, I feel left out and different from them in negative ways. However, as much as I try, I’m certain my genderqueer friends and friends with different ethnic backgrounds feel the same way about me. I don’t believe I am so blatantly and stubbornly confused by our differences, but I’m sure there are things I do or say that remind them how much I don’t completely understand their lives because I’ve never completely experienced them.
I’m not sure what this says about our ability to understand others. I do know that it seems we all need to take the time to learn about each other’s lives with an open mind, ready to accept that our own meandering experiences may not have prepared us to have a justified opinion on every matter. We can all learn more about and from each other. What I learn from other people every day is that we all need allies. We all need people to care about what hurts us and makes us uncomfortable with ourselves. If we don’t try to be aware of how others feel, if we don’t try to understand them, what’s the point of having friendships and relationships at all?
Bobby Crowley is a Queer woman with a love for all that is fabulous. She is currently working on her Creative Writing degree at Loyola University where she is also on the board of Advocate and a writer for the alt. magazine LUChameleon. She is in love with Andrea Gibson, her labradaniel puppies, and singing loudly in the shower.