The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of Project Open Voices, a coalition of students providing a platform for open dialogue on campus. Today’s essay is titled “On Feeling Like a Phony Queer” and was authored anonymously. POV is now accepting new submissions for its gender and sexuality special edition, so if you want to share your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to remain anonymous, you can submit by signing into a second email account: email@example.com (password: kenyoncollege).
I should begin by saying that I’m blessed to know many wonderful people in the queer community. As a whole, I have been met with widespread acceptance, even at the times that have been most confusing in the process of coming to terms with my sexuality. But I’m writing this now as more of a reminder to everyone, even those in the queer community, to be empathetic of the experiences of those that identify differently than you.
I had known that I was on the queer spectrum for a few years before coming to Kenyon, but had never had the chance to manifest it because I had jumped from one heterosexual relationship to another throughout high school. I remember when I came out to my mother near the end of my freshman year, I had the experience which has become a trope among the bisexual community–it was expressed to me that my interest in women was a phase. “We’ll see where you are in ten years,” my mother said to me. I told her that the point is who I am now, but this sentiment stuck in my mind. If I wasn’t actively dating a woman, how would anyone accept my identity? How could I call myself queer?
I started attending Qdubs my sophomore year, despite my mother’s idea that “I did not need a queer community” because I “passed” so well in heteronormative society. I was grateful to be in an environment where no one questioned my identity, where my nagging feelings of being a “phony queer” did not bear weight upon reality.
Being largely inexperienced with women and other female-identifying individuals at the time, I worried that my mother was right: that I was a straight girl pretending to be queer. This sentiment was seemingly confirmed to me by a moment that I had at Kenyon–one that has stuck with me for years. It happened near the end of my sophomore year and is the reason why I am writing this narrative now. Many of my closest friends are queer and I love them wholeheartedly, but on this one particular night they did not behave in a way that was fair to me or to other queer individuals who don’t identify completely with one sexual orientation. I can’t recall what led up to this comment, but I remember that one of my good friends said that they “hate bi people because they have so much choice.” They went on to express the idea that bi people have it easy at Kenyon because they can be with whomever they want. One of my other close gay friends readily agreed, expressing an animosity to this group of people that they were supposedly so supportive of. I sat there in silence, stunned that these people with whom I was so intimate could belittle a group that I identified with. Did they not remember that I was one of these people they were shaming? At that time, I felt that my fears regarding people’s perception of me were true–I was a fake queer because I could “pass” as straight in a way that many gay people can’t. It was incredibly difficult to accept myself when it seemed clear to me that the gay community did not accept me and I found it difficult to discuss my experience with them after that.
Not only was it a harmful comment to me as an individual, but it points towards a much larger issue. Although sexualities near the middle of the queer spectrum are often perceived as “having it easy,” in reality there are many less discussed complexities to being a person that does not identify as either gay or straight. As a queer person that identifies as female, more often than not, my experience is labeled as an experiment or a phase. Members of the gay community have expressed the idea that people on the queer spectrum can date anyone, when in reality there remain many stigmas against bisexual individuals within both the straight and gay communities that make this blatantly untrue.
Of course, looking back I can understand the difficulty of being a gay person at Kenyon–it is a small campus, and the queer community is even smaller, but at the time I could not understand this hostility. I know now that this “hatred” was probably a manifestation of their own frustrations and that it wasn’t truly about those that identify as bisexual (at least I hope not.) As time has gone on and I’ve become stronger in my identity, sentiments have begun to shift. My mother is beginning to respect my identity, my friends have not made these kinds of comments since, and I know for myself who I am, regardless of who I may be dating at the time. I want to stress that this is not a trend on campus–outside of a thoughtless drunken comment, I’ve been met with only acceptance and support. This is more of a narrative written with the hope that people will try and empathize before they judge. To remember that it is hard to know what people are dealing with at the time and how your words can affect others, especially those who are still coming to terms with their sexuality.