I didn’t grow up with homophobic parents, and my religious community was not homophobic. I constantly reminded myself of this as I cried my eyes out about not being straight. I used substances to try to not think about it, but the relief was only temporary. Why did I feel so bad about myself? Why did I get depressed about it and continuously associate queerness with suicide? As I later found out, it was the discourse behind it. The way people spoke about queer folks wasn’t discriminatory, but it wasn’t positive or normalized either.
Common Phrases Hurt
“It’s okay to be gay! We wouldn’t hate you” “We won’t kick you out if you’re gay” “Are you sure you’re not gay? Why won’t you just tell me?” “Why are you dressed like a d*ke?” “Did you see that guy? He looked SO gay” “Is that one of those transgenders? I’ve never seen one before. You can tell because they…”
These common phrases are not what a closeted person wants to hear. The message I hear is “I don’t like it, but I guess I’ll tolerate it.” How is that message internalized in the minds of queer youth? How would a queer child think about themselves based on what they hear from their parents and community? In my experience, I internalized seeing myself as a burden that people have to put up with. Someone that people are forced to see in their favourite show because the show was pressured to diversify the cast.
While my religious community never said anything negative to me directly about queerness, I still knew it was forbidden in orthodoxy. I thought this meant that homosexuality was objectively wrong. This has stressed me out for years until recently, when I realized the difference between biblical law and man-made law. On top of this, queer North Americans are often pressured to see themselves as lucky to live in their respective country because so many other countries criminalize homosexuality. I began to internalize other countries’ messages of homosexuality as well. I thought queer people deserved the torture they received around the world. We have to counter these loud voices with even louder voices of normalization.
Where Are the All Positive Messages?
When I looked for positive messages online, I went to YouTube because I do not like to read. Every video I found was about someone’s terrible experiences being queer, with most of them explaining how they were kicked out of their house for being gay. By far, the most popular videos were the ones from the It Gets Better series. This is a series of queer people explaining how they are in a much better situation than they used to be. Their experiences were horrifying for 15-year-old me. Every story was about someone facing discrimination, homelessness, or a loss of their entire social support network. These stories were utterly disheartening, and simultaneously addictive. I watched the majority of It Gets Better videos on YouTube because I felt like I needed to prepare myself for the apparent hell that was supposedly coming.
I assumed everyone would leave me or I would get disowned if I came out, which was untrue. I just assumed that this was everyone’s experience as a queer person, as this was all the representation I saw. There were almost no videos of anyone saying that their coming out experience was uneventful, which is what I desperately wanted to hear. Even my school’s only representation of queer people was a poster that said (paraphrased), “Are you gay and suicidal? Call this number.”
Where was any representation that merely normalized being queer? Rather than seeing it as something to be tolerated, I wanted to see it as merely a normal variation of the human condition. I don’t necessarily think that queerness should be celebrated, but it needs to be commonplace, even boring. Coming out needs to be as big a deal as declaring your favourite colour. It should be insignificant.
Kids need to hear that who they are is widely accepted and normal. Not tolerated, but normal. Queer couples should not be differentiated from straight couples, and people should not have to come out as queer, as straight people don’t come out as straight. Shows like The Fosters are a great example of normalization because they acknowledge the gay couple, but they do not focus on it. The show is about family drama, and the parents just happen to be gay.
People like Mike Reynolds are another great example of diverse gender representation. Mike, who has spoken about gender and masculinity at CREVAWC, shows how you can be a dad and husband, while exploring your gender identity at the same time at any age. He encourages talking to your kids about gender when they are as young as two, to normalize gender diversity.
When we start seeing better representation and normalizing everyone for who they are, we can make life easier for people who are coming out. I am non-binary and bisexual, and I was only able to accept that once I realized that being queer was not a burden, but a mere variant of the human condition.