January 10, 2009

Learning Identity

The Bilerico Project has a pretty cool article up this week about identity in the LGBT community. The gist is as follows:

However this process [of acquiring a queer identity] is highly individualized and extremely informal, with very few opportunities for mentorship or leadership. What often occurs is learning through mimicry and trial and error. Queer youth learn to copy examples of queerness that they see in television, in film, the older queers they might see on misadventures into queer life. But most importantly, queer youth learn about being queer mostly from each other.

This isolationist model of developing a cultural identity contributes to a limited communal memory. This is evidenced by the continued rising rates of HIV/AIDS infection, the alarming rise in the prominence of unsafe sexual practices like barebacking, and a general lack of knowledge of the history of the Gay Liberation, LGBT Rights, and Queer Movements of young gay men.

As someone who knows not very much at all about the history of gay liberation and who until very recently knew no out adults, I can attest to the fact that all this fun stuff is true, and resolve to read about gay history on Wikipedia sometime. But beyond that, the article got me thinking about the question: How did I learn to be gay?

I mean, I know how I learned to be straight. I have the same straight credential as all of my heterosexual friends, learning from the first Disney movie I ever saw that the girl falls for the boy and then they get married. And then I listened to all the same emo love songs telling me all the ways it could go wrong, and saw first-hand as my classmates stumbled into their first awkward middle school relationships while I wondered if there was something wrong with me for not having any crushes when everyone else went through three a week.

So where did I learn how to be queer?

I have been described as "kinda flaming," and I don't think it's inaccurate - My favorite bracelet is my rainbow pride bracelet, I leave my Day of Silence ribbons tied to my backpack the entire year after the event, and I'm always eager to jump in as the resident expert on anything gay. The term for this, I think, is "flaunting it," which is, as far as I understand, a blanket term for being gay in public, in the media, or anywhere where easily offended straight people might see you. I actually haven't heard this meme come up lately, but it used to be a pretty common thing. I mean, you can be gay, but why do you have to, like, tell people about it?

Sophomore year, when I first started to question my sexuality, I found out that one of the senior members of our literary magazine was gay. She was active in the Gay-Straight Alliance and was universally regarded to be a friendly, amazingly smart person. Before I found out she was a lesbian, I hadn't ever personally known any other queer women. My only experiences came from the horror stories that floated around about girls who had come out only to be kicked out of their houses, or the scare statistics that made the news once in a while about high suicide rates among gay teens. After all, this was before there were even lesbians to raise the ratings on Grey's Anatomy. When I googled things like "coming out" I got websites telling me to be careful if I wanted to tell my parents, because they might, you know, kick me out. Watching my lit mag friend, I saw first-hand that one could be gay and still have a good relationship with one's parents, make it through high school, and generally be happy and successful and not the subject of yet another depressing story.

Personally, I don't really see myself as "flaunting" my sexuality, but if I'm open about it, it's because I hope I can be that for someone. We might not all learn gay history or anything, but we should at least be able to have a youth LGBT cultural narrative that features normal kids who just happen to be queer, instead of just the horror stories and characters from TV dramas.


Anonymous said...

What gets me is that straight people can talk about their lives and lovers openly and it is never construed as flaunting heterosexuality.

Lauren O said...

Okay, I am a tad drunk, so disregard this comment if it turns out nonsensical, but I just want to tell you that it is so awesome that you are such a rad blogger at such a young age. Not that I'm that much older than you (I'm a senior in college), but I really wish I had had the intelligence/courage that you have when I was your age. I mean, I was blogging back then, and it was total shite. I can't wait to see what you're writing in five or ten years. You'll be, like, a bloody genius.