Running into people from middle and high school is a naturally awkward experience. But these encounters gain an extra layer of discomfort when you’re queer.
Even after a semester of college, you’re not the same person you were in high school. In the two years since graduating, I’ve discovered a lot about my gender and sexual identity. I’ve only recently come out as non-binary with my new name to friends, professors and family. That alone was emotionally exhausting. Needless to say, I have not individually messaged every high school friend and acquaintance about the good news.
This results in me being misgendered and ‘dead-named’–referred to by my birth name, which I no longer identify with–constantly. When I correct these people, I’m most often met with the response “Oh, but I thought you were a girl.”
If the topics of sexual and romantic orientations come up, old acquaintances will say, “But in high school you said you were pansexual!” In high school I also said leggings were a terrible fashion trend and that I would never wear them. The point here is that people change. We grow and discover new things about ourselves through everything that we experience. I wear leggings constantly now.
In high school I said I was pansexual, because I thought I was. Now I identify as panromantic/asexual, and I’m still not 100 percent sure about this. I’m only nineteen, and right now those are the terms which I feel fit me best. In the eighth grade I thought I was bisexual, in ninth grade I thought I was pansexual. To this day, I go through month long stints of asking myself, “Do I really have a preference for girls, or do I just not like boys at all?” There is a lot to experience in the world. Discovering your identity cannot happen overnight.
It is a strange concept–that gender, sexuality, etc. are fixed. This “now culture” (to give it a name), establishes this idea that you need a definitive answer about your identity. And the word “answer” here creates a finish line. It seems as if once you declare your orientation, whether it be sexual or gender related, that is the final answer. This can be discouraging at best, and debilitating at worst. I know personally that it has delayed and even prevented myself and queer friends from coming out.
Imagine one day you say your favorite color is red, then suddenly that is it. You can never change your mind about this. Now, all of your clothes must be red, you can only dye your hair red and your house will have to be painted red. You said it was your favorite color, why would that ever change? As simplistic of an example as that is, it is the kind of logic that is being imposed on queer individuals and their identities.
I spoke with Charlie Wright, a UNCG senior who identifies as transgender about this topic. When I asked if they had experienced this pressure to definitively identify themself, they responded: “That exact phenomenon is why it took me so long to come out as trans. So unnecessarily long.” They said, “In a way, it’s a queer catch-22: to question one’s straightness is to acknowledge that straightness is not concrete, but to question one’s specific aspect of queerness is somehow dismissive to queer identities as a whole.”
Wright continued by saying,“The notion that sexuality and gender are anything but fluid is purely heteronormative: even from a young age, children… are pressured into having their identities concretely defined at all times.” This mindset prevents the unpressured and unjudged exploration of identity that queer people need in order to know themselves to the degree that heterosexual and cisgender (cishet) individuals are afforded upon birth.
While there is always the chance of questioning, when an individual is truly cishet hey have a fully-formed, socially acceptable identity to return to. With queer individuals, society presents them with a norm with which they do not identify; they have to question this and themselves in order to understand who they are.
This process is not perfect. Individuals might not know or have access to the terms and knowledge to accurately describe themselves. It could be that someone is truly pansexual – but if they do not know that there are more than two genders, they may believe that they are bisexual.
Knowledge of queer terminology is necessary to accurately understand one’s identity. This shows that gender and sexuality are not the concrete concepts that our society has made them out to be; they are fluid and fluctuate based on the experiences and knowledge of the individual. Identity realizations might take time, and it might be necessary for an individual to come out more than once.
While coming out has become increasingly normalized in the past few years, the idea of repeatedly doing so is still something that people struggle to understand. But expecting queer individuals to immediately know themselves in a society which inherently propagates the cishet identity is unreasonable and impossible.