“OMG, I look so straight today.”
“I’m trying to dress more gay so girls will know I’m not just a heterosexual person.”
“I feel like I should've known I was queer. I mean, when I was younger, I was such a tomboy.”
“I only ever hung out with boys when I was little. No wonder I turned out gay.”
“If I cuff my jeans, do I look gay now?”
“I just know that person is gay. Like, I can just tell. I get vibes about these things. And look at his outfit. I mean, he’s got to be gay, right?”
Yup, these are real things my friend says to me on the daily. My cisgender, woman-identifying, queer friend.
And yes, it gets really problematic.
This friend just came out to me about five months ago. Apparently, she had been questioning her sexuality for a while, but over time it became clearer that she was not straight. She’s changed her labels from bisexual to gay to bisexual again to pansexual to queer. She’s not a huge fan of labels — but she knows she’s not straight.
And, of course, I respect her for that. As some of you may already know, I’m not straight either (I identify as bisexual) so for me, her coming out was a really cool moment. I could tell she was proud and relieved and excited, and I was so happy for her.
But then she started saying crap like that.
And, yes, I get it — she’s part of the LGBTQ community, so in some people’s opinions, it’s not a big deal if she stereotypes it or not. I mean, if she’s part of that population, it isn’t that harmful… right?
Well, wrong. Maybe in some people’s opinions that’s OK (and if it is, good for you! — you’re entitled to your opinion), but not for me. And not for the mutual friend that we have who is also bisexual.
For me, it’s pretty offensive. First of all, it highlights her internalized homophobia and prejudice. Even though she is verbally acknowledging her internal biases, she still has them. And I understand that it’s hard to eliminate those or to pretend that they don’t exist. But it’s also not necessary to flaunt them, or to nonchalantly spew them out in daily conversation when there’s two people in the room who feel very personally slighted by her words.
Just because someone is part of a community and feels entitled to stereotype that community, doesn’t mean that everyone else in the community is OK with that. My friend may be OK with stereotyping LGBTQ people. Her other friends and family and colleagues might be OK with her stereotyping LGBTQ people. But I’m part of the community too, and I’m not OK with it at all.
When she says things like, “OMG, I look so straight today,” what am I supposed to say? I’m not straight, either, but she tells me that I dress like I’m straight. I mean, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Sure, maybe I don’t look like the bisexual people in the movies. Maybe I’m not the type of person she pictures when she thinks of bisexual. But I’m still bisexual. So what if I wear skinny jeans and ballet flats and blouses and makeup and lipstick? I don’t care if I look “straight” to her, because I’m not. And I wish that we didn’t feel like we had the right to judge someone’s sexuality based on what they wear.
Or, “If I cuff my jeans, do I look gay now?” OK, really?! I responded by saying that I’m bisexual, and I don’t cuff my jeans. She just sighed. “Yeah, but I feel like you gravitate more towards guys,” she said. And sure, she’s probably right. But does it matter? Am I less legitimate as a bisexual person because I don’t cuff my jeans? Should I (or she) really be pressured to look a certain way in order to show our sexuality? I appreciate that clothing and fashion are two really awesome ways to show self-expression. But the absence of them doesn’t make anyone less LGBTQ.
And when she says, “I feel like I should've known I was gay. I was such a tomboy.” Sometimes, I just want to scream. That word tomboy and its opposite, girly-girl, make me want to run my fist through a wall. Girls who don’t wear makeup and glitter and frilly dresses aren’t tomboys. They aren’t “girls who look like boys.” They’re just girls — girls who express themselves differently than what is currently the norm. And why should sexuality have anything to do with that? Yeah, sometimes it does. But not always. I know plenty of people who didn’t dress in a stereotypically “girly” way when they were younger, and not all of them are part of the LGBTQ community. Gender expression, self-expression, and sexuality are three very different things. Sometimes they overlap, but they aren’t the same.
And lastly: “I just know that person is gay. I can just tell. I get vibes about these things. I mean, look at his outfit. He has to be gay, right?” She tells me this all the time in normal conversation, or when we see some guy in a grocery store. She’s even told me this when I send her a Titkok of a guy I think is cute and she responds with, “I mean yeah, he’s cute, but he looks kinda gay to me.” Personally, I just hate these remarks because I discourage the idea that sexuality always needs to be labelled. For most of my life, I have struggled with ways to label my sexuality. I know other people who certainly have, too. And being reduced to a label simply by looks is completely insensitive, unfair, and, in some cases, inaccurate. I wouldn’t want someone to look at me and my clothes and automatically assume which gender(s) I choose to have sex with. I mean, when you think about it, why is that even a valuable thing to do? How is that judgment necessary or productive? Boxing people in has never done anyone any good. We should let people form their own labels, if and when they want to, and respect them for how they identify — not how they appear in our eyes.
I want to be supportive of my friend. When I call her out on these annoying remarks, she rarely understands why I’m so upset. And deep down, I know she doesn’t really mean any harm. But at the end of the day, all intentions aside, prejudice is harmful. It just is. And even when it’s innocent or unconscious, it still needs to be confronted.
I’m not saying that stereotypes need to be wiped out altogether. For some people, they find humor or identity or pride in stereotypes. My friend may be one of those people. And I’m not going to criticize anyone for that. I wish stereotypes weren’t so prevalent in this world, but evidently we have built a society where they seem to be inevitable.
But here’s my point: you have to read the room. My friend needs to read the room. When I (and our other mutual, bisexual friend) tell her to stop making comments because they are personally offensive, she doesn’t listen. She thinks it’s a joke. She is implying that she is entitled to be more biased of the LGBTQ community because her self-expression is more stereotypically “gay” than ours is, and she has more of a place in the community than we do. Neither of those things are true.
Being a part of a group doesn’t make you immune to bias. It never has, and it never will.
And I’ll be patient with her. I understand that she doesn’t mean to be so invalidating.
But I will continue to bring it to her attention when I feel attacked or offended by the things she says. I will continue to be honest about the unfair stereotypes that she casts over LGBTQ people (or those she assumes are LGBTQ). I owe it to her, and to myself, and to everyone else in the community who doesn’t fit into the stereotypical box.
Because queerness isn’t looks or assumptions. It isn’t about someone else’s judgment. It’s about you.