Who decides what queerness looks like?
Am I queer? Yes. Do I tell people I am queer? No.
It has been about 4 years since I realised that I do not really fit into the neatly labelled box of heterosexuality. In hindsight, of course, I always felt like I didn’t fit in, but back then I did not have the words for it. When my peers were swooning over Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, I was trying to find objective answers to “what am I feeling?” or rather, “why am I NOT feeling anything?”
News flash, old-me: You still do not have the answers. But today-me is okay with not having all the answers.
Owing to my privileges and a supportive group of friends, I did not struggle with shame while coming to terms with my sexuality. The struggle has always been in connecting with folks outside of my friend circle. Given that I am still making sense of my queerness, there is always a feeling of “am I doing this right?” There are so many layers to this feeling that I am still trying to dissect.
“But you look so straight!”
My exposure to queer folks began with pop culture. I started watching Grey’s Anatomy in 2014, and I have revisited it multiple times, at different stages in my life. This is when I realized the way that I watch the show depends on where I am in my life trajectory. A couple of years ago, when I (re)watched Arizona Robbins expressing interest in Callie Torres, and then backing away because C wasn’t “gay enough” was probably the first blow to my newly accepted queer mind. Since then, I have noticed a pattern in shows and films, where one person is usually portrayed as “more” queer than the other, in terms of their experiences with relationships or their gender expression. This has always made me reflect upon my own queerness.
Is there ONE way to experience queerness or be queer?
Am I still queer if I don’t subscribe to pop culture’s idea of what it means to be queer?
Do I need to have certain kinds, or amount, of experiences to be a part of the community?
How do I build relationships with people when I do not [yet] have shared experiences with them?
Is it me or is it my trauma? We’ll never know
Adding to the lack of experiences and interactions outside of the heternormative structures that surround me is the layer of sexual trauma that makes me question my own queerness. Am I queer because I am a survivor? Is my sexuality a trauma response? I still struggle with this question on many days, and I know there is probably no correct way to answer this but I have also come to accept that I do not need an answer to this. Even if my queerness is a trauma response, it is still valid.
To label or not to label
Queerness, to me, has meant moving away from labels. I have moved from using “not heterosexual” to “queer” for myself, but I do not yet have a label for it. On one hand, I see both sexuality and gender as fluid and I do not feel the need to use one particular label for them. On the other hand, I struggle to see myself as part of the community, unsure of where I “fit in”. For some people, labels can bring a sense of calm or belonging, perhaps the feeling of “fitting in”, but for me, it seems more complicated than that. Over the past years, I have interacted with many queer folks who have specific labels for themselves but I struggle to introduce myself in those spaces. It feels like stepping into a room where everyone knows what they are doing, and you are just… exploring (hi, queer imposter syndrome). This has also prevented me from accessing community spaces shaped around queerness because I do not think I am “queer enough” to occupy those spaces.
“Queer Imposter Among Us”
As an introverted, awkward-in-social-settings kind of a person, sometimes I think I do not even have the personality to be queer (wow dear mind, do we even need a personality to be queer?). In the mainstream media and social media, the way people from queer communities are portrayed and played is fascinating to me. The thought of attending a Pride March makes me uncomfortable – not because it is a Pride march – but because I am not a fan of attending such large gatherings. This is my “if I am not outgoing enough, will these spaces accept me?”, much like “if I have not watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, will society accept me?” vibe.
It is a vicious cycle.
I have had the opportunity to be in some online spaces with other queer people, where they have also shared their own thoughts on questioning either their sexuality or gender. There are accounts of bisexual women who, while having some privileges, tend to feel invisible both within the heteronormative society and the queer community. I remember when Jameela Jamil came out as queer in 2020 on Twitter and the backlash that she faced. The kind of debate that Jamil’s tweet on coming out sparked is what bothers me. This idea of “queer aesthetic” and how anyone who does not fit into it, is simply not “queer enough” or passes as cisgender and heterosexual.
I also think that oftentimes, we forget that the queer community is after all a community – a group of people with shared experiences coming together to support one another. So, like any community of people, this is not a monolithic group and there will be differences and intragroup dynamics that shape the community. For instance, gatekeeping within the community has been a concern. It is often used as a way to keep particular members of the community at the margins of an already-marginalised community, which can lead to the erasure of identities, like for those who identify as bisexual, asexual and/or aromantic and intersex. Being part of queer communities does not free people of their biases. I wish more people realized this.
For the longest time, I thought the “Q” in LGBTQIA+ also stands for Questioning, however, over the years, I have seen there’s less space for it. For some people, realising that they are queer can be instinctual, and I understand this. But many others may never have known another way to understand themselves beyond the heteronormative structures they are surrounded by (and part of). And, now that we do know, should we not have the space to question, explore, and figure out where we fit in, or whether we even want to fit in?
I am proud, but I am not out (yet). The only thing that gives me comfort is knowing that every day I wake up to a world full of possibilities where I could be anyone and that regardless of what label I use, there will always be spaces and folks who will accept me.
For anyone who is reading this, and finds themselves relating to any of it, I hope you know that nobody gets to decide what queerness looks like for you. Define your own aesthetic. Be as dark as Taylor Swift’s Reputation or as bright and shiny as Taylor Swift’s Lover.
– Jean Grey [Pseudonym]
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