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Coming Up For Air: What Would It Be Like to Grow Up Queer?

A drawing of three kids jumping from one side to the other of a wire from a telephone tower.

Why are boys afraid to cry? Why don’t people associate boxers with women? Because ‘boys don’t cry’, and fighting ‘like a girl’ is considered an insult. When parents tell their children to do things a certain way, they don’t realise that they’re setting a precedent that the child will likely follow for the rest of its life. Our opinions about sexuality are affected by our parents’ opinions on it to a large extent, and these usually get formed very early in life.

I got very lucky in this regard; my parents are less restrictive and much more accepting than a lot of others I’ve met, but unfortunately this isn’t enough. When my brother gets hurt he’s told to ‘man up’ and my parents think this is okay because they themselves have been brought up this way. But they don’t understand that they’re creating a vicious cycle in which they’re making us, their children, think it’s okay to say these things, and if this goes on, gender roles will likely be ingrained forever.

I think the root of the problem is that these phrases (fighting ‘like a girl’ and ‘boys don’t cry’) are ambiguous. I don’t think that they are intended to enforce these gender stereotypes in the first place. They are probably used to actually encourage the child to perform better, but when they are used over time, they further contribute to the system of entrenched inequalities and inhibit the child’s wholistic growth.

I am not complaining, I know I have it better than a lot of other kids my age do. I’ve heard of instances (with people I know, mind you), and I’m sure you have too, where children are grounded (best-case scenario) or, worse, sent to doctors to ‘fix’ their ‘illness’, and keep in mind, that this is just in urban households.

Whenever the topic has come up in my home, my parents have been accepting of different types of sexualities, but what scares me is that I don’t know how accepting they’d be if one day my brother or I told them we were interested in people of the same gender, or even more taboo: that we were having difficulty identifying with the gender we were raised as.

A lot of the apprehension and reluctance that parents face in this day and age to be more accepting of diverse sexual identities stems out from the fact that they concentrate more on the social aspect of the dilemma. They think about what people will say and what difficulties their children will face in their futures, but they don’t think about individual choice and all that it entails. They forget to put themselves in the place of their children, and this is exactly why children feel that parents control rather than facilitate many parts of their lives.

Another major side of this quandary is how people blow the impact of sexual identity on one’s life completely out of proportion. Your sexual identity/orientation is a part of who you are, it is not all you are. If we are against fat-shaming and skinny-shaming for the primary reason that a number on a weighing scale doesn’t define who you are, shouldn’t we also be against transphobia and homophobia for exactly the same reason? Difference in sexual preference is no criterion for any sort of exclusion, and making stereotypical and judgmental assumptions about someone based on their sexual orientation displays much more about us than it does about anyone else.

Recognising that one is not heterosexual, I feel, may definitely be a huge change in our lives, but it shouldn’t have to have the power to make our lives worse. Moving out of a city, for instance, takes us out of our comfort zone and exposes us to a new environment we don’t know much about. In a similar way, figuring out who you really are, or why you haven’t felt like you belonged for so long, leaves you scared, fearful to try out new things, but in the long run, isn’t it better to live a life free of concealing who you are from the people you love, rather than a life which requires you to hide who you really are and stay in the closet forever?

When I look at what’s happening around me, I sometimes feel glad that I’m what is considered ‘normal’ in society. I feel glad that I don’t have to go through what so many others I know have to go through, even though I know that I shouldn’t (feel glad, that is), because this goes against the basic concept of equality. I shouldn’t be allowed to feel less attacked than someone else or safer than someone else simply because I don’t identify as queer.

There is a concept we learn about in Political Science: the Harm Principle, which promotes the idea that the only time it is acceptable to constrain an individual, is when that individual is harming others. The sexual orientation or gender identity of someone isn’t something that affects other people; it’s something that affects only that person. So, no one has the right to question it.

Coming to a realisation about one’s sexual orientation is like coming up for air when you’re swimming a lap (except, imagine you’ve been swimming a lap your whole life, and this is the first time you’ve come up for air). I feel privileged to have been raised in an environment where my opinions are not just heard but also accepted, and I genuinely believe every young person should have this opportunity in order to truly grow and for us to achieve the notion of an ideal society where everyone is accepted regardless of aspects of their sexuality.

Cover image courtesy of Internet Archive Book Images