Opinion: Learning to be queer in a heteronormative world

Amisha Sethi, Editor in Chief & Community Co-editor

At a very young age the world began lying to me. On the one hand it told me that I could be anybody I wanted to be. On another, albeit unknowingly and indirectly, it told me who I should be: straight. 

As a toddler, adults joked to “watch out for the boys,” while my friends who were boys were deemed “ladies’ men.” From movies and TV shows I learned that Barbie loved Ken, Minnie loved Mickey and Cinderella loved Prince Charming. On my elementary school playground I learned that when I sat on the swings with a boy I would be teased for having a “crush” on him, but if I sat on the swings with a girl we were just friends. In middle school I learned that the word “gay” could be used as an insult, a weapon, a way of telling someone they were strange and unusual.

For the first 14 years of my life I slowly but surely learned that being straight was “normal.” It wasn’t until I began high school, as I observed peers “coming out” and became aware of clubs like the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Network, that I learned that queerness was valid and could be accepted and embraced. 

For the first time in my life I began questioning my sexuality and explored the feelings I had previously felt pressured to suppress. I allowed myself the freedom to feel the way I wanted to feel, not the way I was supposed to feel. 

This process of coming to terms with my sexuality has been anything but easy. I had to learn to mentally deconstruct every homophobic message I had subconsciously internalized. I had to learn to embrace the feelings that for so long I was told weren’t real. I had to learn to let go of the fear of potential judgement from peers and loved ones. I had to learn how to be queer in a heteronormative world. 

Just a few months ago, I finally reached a level of self-acceptance that encouraged me to come out as bisexual to my family, friends and followers on social media. While I was lucky enough to have received at the very least mild indifference and in the best of cases love and support, it is sad that I am expected to count my lucky stars for being accepted for who I am. It is sad that this isn’t everybody’s reality. In retrospect, it is sad that I had to come out in the first place. 

Here’s the thing: I didn’t ask to be in the closet. I was locked inside. I had to figure out how to break free, and then was expected to make some sort of grand statement afterward to stop wrongful assumptions from being made. It was a feat that no straight person is ever faced with. It is a feat that no queer person should ever have to face. It is a feat that is preventable. 

Perhaps the world doesn’t have to continue lying to its youth like it once lied to me. Perhaps children can learn that they can be anybody they want to be, and that there isn’t anyone they are supposed to be. As toddlers nothing about their sexuality has to be assumed. From movies and TV shows they can learn that while some princesses love princes, some love other princesses. Perhaps parents and educators can ensure that on the school playground children understand that “crushes” can be on anyone. Perhaps they can ensure that “gay” is understood as the attraction between people of the same sex and that love is love. 

Maybe then they will grow older and allow themselves to feel, without the labor of suppression and questioning or the burden of shame. Maybe then the cycle of the closet, the struggle and the announcement can finally be broken. Maybe then people won’t have to learn how to be queer in a heteronormative world, but rather can freely be themselves in an accepting and inclusive world. 

While we as a society have ways to go before achieving this vision of mine, I truly have hope that we will. The LGBTQ+ community has made great strides in the fight for equality and acceptance and progress will only continue to be made. Meanwhile, to any reader that finds themselves feeling the way I once felt, questioning who you are in a world that seems to have already decided for you, I’d like to remind you: you are valid, your feelings are valid, and there is a whole community of people like myself ready to support you on your journey. Your journey might be similar to mine or vastly different, and by no means will it be easy, but it will most definitely be worth it. You deserve to be able to love whoever you desire. You deserve to be able to love yourself.