A few months ago, I caught up with a friend I’ve known since I was a teenager. As part of my stream of life updates, I mentioned that I now identify as queer. “Shocker,” they said, straight-faced. “You finally figured out what we’ve all known for years.”
My friend had a point. It should come as a shock to approximately no one that I’m into folks of all genders. I do have short hair, after all. My closest friends since I was thirteen have all been queer or trans. I’ve always identified with and cared about representations of queer women in the media.
And I’m pretty sure my older brother has known forever. His phone conversations with me in high school always involved the question “So, made out with any cute boys lately?…Or girls! I don’t know!”
Still, it took me until I was about 24 to start calling myself queer.
In spite of everything, I didn’t feel like I was “queer enough.” Even as I sit down to write this article, part of me doesn’t feel like my personal experience is enough to represent my community. After all, the first girl I ever slept with once accused me of being a “gay tease.”
She later apologized for making me feel like I needed to prove my queerness to her, but I still think about that experience. Exactly which part of me kissing her and telling her I liked her made her think I was falsely leading her on? It must have just been the fact that before her, I’d only ever been with cis dudes.
I didn’t have my first kiss with anyone until I was almost 22, but that didn’t stop me from telling people I was straight, or from having people accept my “straightness” at face value. Why is queerness something that we feel like we need to prove?
No one ever asks straight women how long they’ve known they liked men.
There’s a period of discovering and adjusting to new sexual or romantic feelings for every sexual orientation, whether it’s “oh crap I suddenly don’t think boys are gross” or “everybody wants to kiss their best friend, right???”
For me, that period of discovery came a little later than it does for many people. Part of me always knew I liked girls, but another part of me still had heteronormative ideas about what my romantic trajectory should look like. Having lots of queer friends throughout my life and reading plenty of queer theory didn’t stop me from internalizing false narratives. Societal norms told me my feelings for girls and other genders were secondary to my feelings for dudes, and parts of the queer community made me feel like there was only one way to be queer.
I finally decided to start calling myself queer after I started hanging out with a new group of friends who all identified as lesbians. My friend would introduce me to them by saying things like, “This is Hannah. Can you believe she’s straight?”
Every time she said that I felt something itch inside me. I knew that “straight” didn’t describe me, and part of me wanted to correct her. At the same time, I knew my experience was completely different from the other members of that group and I felt like the words “queer” or “bisexual” weren’t mine to use.
For a while, I thought I’d just say I was “not straight.”
I was afraid to date girls because I was afraid of just what that girl would eventually say about me. I was afraid of leading people on. I was also nervous to come out to my queer friends after all these years of them thinking of me as “the straight one.” That fear turned out to be unwarranted.
My best friend from high school who had recently come out as a trans man simply said, “I’d just like to point out the irony that you turn out to be queer and I turn out to be straight.”
Now I know it was silly to wait this long to come out.
The word “queer” encompasses anyone whose sexual orientation or gender identity falls outside of traditional heteronormativity. If that applies to you, then you’re queer. You don’t need to look a certain way, act a certain way, behave in a certain way, or prove your identity to anyone. you are enough.