My insane girlcrush on Ellen Page has reached new heights after watching her achingly sincere coming out speech this Valentine’s Day. Haters and homophobes love to say things like, “What’s the point?” and, “Why does this deserve attention? Straight people don’t come out as straight.”
Well, Jerky McHatesthegays, it’s necessary because awareness and visibility are key to making queerness normal, and accepted. Because “straight” is the assumed norm. Because people who don’t fit neatly into the “straight” category are still denied equal rights and opportunities. Because Russia. Because every inch of this earth isn’t safe yet to be yourself.
I’m not a celebrity (despite what my mom and Dahlia think), and I’m not exactly in the closet (have you seen my debut cover? SO MUCH RAINBOW), but Ellen’s courageous speech inspired me to say something, too. You never know who’s out there, reading, listening, wishing they didn’t feel so alone.
So, I’m queer.
I tell people that I’m bi because it’s a simpler concept to grasp, but I’m waaaaaaaay more on the gay side of bi than the straight. I’m in an awesome long-term relationship with a man I love dearly, and I’ve had relationships with both men and women before this, and I have mad girlcrushes like erry day (ELLEN PAGE YOU ARE SO FUCKING CUTE MARRY ME). But yeah. In my heart of hearts, I know I’m pretty fucking far from straight. And it’s something I struggle with. Ironically, I feel alienated from both worlds: I can’t just say, “Hey everyone, I’m bi!” and feel the loving embrace of the QUILTBAG community and progressive-minded people, because believe it or not, bisexuality is something those folks still struggle with understanding and accepting, too. Ever heard the old saw, “You’re either gay, straight, or lying?” Some say being bi is just a phase (gee, where have I heard THAT before), or that your problems aren’t as serious/legitimate because you don’t identify as 100% gay. And if I’ve been with a man for six years, how dare I claim I’m queer? I’m safely ensconced in my cocoon of hetero privilege, right? Sure. Except for how disingenuous and conflicted I feel inside. Except for how I hate the way it makes people assume things about me. Except for how it’s easier and safer to just not say anything and let them assume. Except for how I feel like a double exile, not fully accepted by either world, stranded out here on my own deserted Queer Island.
(Queer Island is kinda like Monkey Island but with fewer pirates and more sad.)
In high school I was open about it, and I identified as 100% gay. My first high school was big and diverse enough that most people were fairly accepting. It also helped that I was a theater nerd, and half the people in drama club were superfabulously queer, too. But in sophomore year my family moved to a smaller town with a more insular, narrow-minded community, and the kids at that high school were not tolerant. At all. They made fun of how I dressed (“Why do you wear boys’ clothes? Are you a hermaphrodite?”). They started rumors (“She likes you.” “Ew!”). They even played a nasty trick on Valentine’s Day: a jock boy bought me a rose during lunch and had it delivered to me in front of the whole cafeteria, but he signed a girl’s name on the card. And I was still young and dumb enough to actually fall for it. I blushed, and smiled shyly, and looked up…and saw the jocks snickering and saying those words I’d learned to fear.
Dyke. Fag. Lezzie.
That was my new identity. I wasn’t the fiery, smart-mouthed girl who embraced the weirdness of what she was. I was just a disgusting freak. They figured out exactly what I secretly longed for, and made it a weapon. And the whole school knew. It was incredibly isolating. I felt like I was in a bubble, an invisible force field filled with grossness, and no one wanted to get near. The only person I talked to was a nerdy boy in English who thought it was cool that I played video games. He was an outcast, too. Outcasts have a way of staying near each other for herd protection, like the last kids picked in dodgeball. But that one boy didn’t make up for every time I had to walk the halls between classes and hear those words, feel those stares, and know the entire fucking world knew exactly how disgusting and pathetic I was.
At least I had the internet. I had friends online who were going through the same shit. We got each other through those dark years more or less intact. I didn’t have the It Gets Better videos, and I’m not sure those videos are sending the right message, anyway. Does it actually get better? Sort of. The world slowly, slowly changes. It happens over generations. Polls show that support for same-sex marriage and QUILTBAG rights is highest with younger people. There’s an entrenched mindset of hate and intolerance that we can chip away at, but for the most part it’s a matter of cultural shift over time. Like a glacier, massive and slow, but unstoppable.
I think the actual message we should be sending out is you get better. You get older, and tougher, and thicker-skinned. You change faster than the world does. You will adapt, and survive, with all your scars. And I think Ellen is exactly right: it’s the responsibility of people like us, those who’ve survived and achieved their dreams, to stand up and be counted. To put a human face on social issues. To show kids that you can survive. Maybe you’ll be a little fucked up, but your scars will give you character. Your experiences are worth sharing.
So, hi. I’m queer. My teen years sucked. So did my 20s. My 30s are okay so far, now that I’ve stopped giving a fuck about most things, but it’s still kinda shitty having to struggle with this. Sometimes I feel like I’m still in fucking high school, my ears perking every time I hear the word dyke or fag or lesbian, hoping they’re not talking about me. My hackles still go up any time someone comments on my clothes, or hair, or lifestyle. “Why don’t you have kids? Why aren’t you married? Why don’t you ever wear a dress?”
Why the fuck does it matter? Why are you still asking me these questions? Why do you care how I live?
When the hell does high school actually end?
Gaying up New Adult
This stuff has been weighing on me a lot lately, so I decided to confront it in my writing. The novel I’m currently working on grapples with these issues. Sexual identity. Questioning. Experimenting. Dealing with the fallout. Hatred and intolerance. And, you know, some really fucking hot girl-on-girl sex scenes, because dammit, New Adult is way too fucking heteronormative. It’s time to gay it up.
I want to see more queerness in New Adult. I want to see characters who are more like me: those who defy easy classification, who don’t neatly fit into Slot A or B, who eschew the restrictive binary gender roles that we’ve had shoved down our throats since childhood. But almost as importantly, I want these characters and stories to be genuine. Not agenda-driven. Not something that feels like a PSA or an after-school special. Back in HS, the only queer fiction and film I could find was so cheesy and messagey it made me feel even more ridiculous for seeking it out. And when you’re already a freak, and the only art that accepts you for who you are is hokey as fuck, it pretty much affirms your freakishness. Its heart is in the right place, but we can do better. We can tell stories with the nuance and elegance and subtlety that we take for granted in heteronormative storytelling. Preaching and pontificating merely emphasize the otherness of not being straight. The abnormality of it. I want to read stories where queerness is part of a character’s identity in an organic way. Where it feels natural and normal.
Because that’s what it is for us. It’s natural and normal. Full stop.