Queerness101: Unlearning Queerphobia as a Black Queer Woman

I don’t know when it was exactly that I began to suspect that I might not be entirely straight. If I’m being honest with myself, it is much earlier than I like to think. The only difference is that I am more willing to accept it now. Still, accepting my potentially queer identity is so much easier said than done. I have to unlearn twenty years of internalized homophobia and assumptions about what a queer identity looks like. This often includes fighting back against the voices in my head when they reinforce problematic ideas like the following:

1. This is a phase.

It’s not even hard to unpack the layers of homophobia in this statement. This blatant dismissal of identity has always been a struggle for queer people. Queerness is not a phase. However, this does not mean sexuality is inflexible and static. I might stop being attracted to a particular gender tomorrow but it does not invalidate my sexuality today. Sexuality is fluid and I can be whatever/whoever I want, whenever I want.

2. If this were legitimate, I would have known since I was much younger.

Personally, I did not know any queer people growing up. I did not understand what queerness was until I was almost 14. When I learned about sexualities other than heterosexuality, it was always in incredibly homophobic contexts. From high school jokes of “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” to churches where people prayed away the gay, anything but heterosexuality was too risky. Still, my decision to officially label myself as queer now would be just as legitimate even if I had grown up in the most representative and accepting environment. There is no time or age limit to sexuality. There is no deadline to define sexuality.

 

3. I’m not queer enough. I’m attracted to other women but I’m more attracted to men.

Bisexuality does not specify or mandate a certain ratio of attraction. I can be 80 percent attracted to men and 20 percent attracted to women and I would still be as bisexual as if it were 50/50. There are no bisexuality police. I do not have to date men and women in a 1:1 pattern. I could go my entire life without dating any women and it would not change my sexuality as I define it.

bi

4. I have to put a label on my sexuality.

While I think I identify closely with bisexuality, I don’t know that I would call myself bisexual. I have chosen not to label myself as “bisexual” because I believe “queer” allows me to embrace the fluidity of my sexuality. Queerness for me is an all-encompassing umbrella of everything that is not straight. I do not know definitively what label fits me but I know that it is not straight and that is enough for me. That might change some day or it might never change. Some people prefer to specify. For them, putting precise words to their feelings is empowering. This can also be helpful to confronting biphobia within and external to the LGBTQIAP (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer/Intersex/Asexual/Pansexual) community. For some people, identifying with bisexuality rather than queerness in general is helpful for finding a supportive community of other people who experience biphobia. Some people find comfort in putting words to their experiences and some people do not. There is no right or wrong decision; each preference and decision is valid.

5. “Coming out” is mandatory.

October 11th was National Coming Out day. However, not everyone can come out. Some people cannot come out anytime soon. Some people can come out to friends but not to family. Cultures, traditions, family dynamics and lack of support can complicate coming out for many people. Many queer people do not see representation of themselves in daily life or in the media. So many people lack a support system that makes coming out a viable option. It is important to remember that we still live in a world where queerness can get one hurt or even killed!

Personally, I cannot foresee myself coming out anytime soon. I would likely lose most of the people I hold dear as a result, and I am not equipped to deal with that at the moment. I do not know that I will ever be ready to lose some of the people I care about despite the fact that their non-acceptance of LGBTQIAP folks continues to hurt me.

In addition, many people hold identities that can complicate queerness. For  many POCs, coming out as queer places them at a new intersection where they can now experience racism, queerphobia, and a number of other systems of oppression simultaneously. For many other people, coming out is just not something they feel they have to do since no one comes out as “straight”. Some interpret “coming out” as a normalization of heterosexuality in which LGBTQIAP sexualities become othered. It is a mark of straight privilege that queer people are expected to come out as something other than the “norm”.

Whatever the decision, coming out is an individual choice that everyone should have the right to make at a time that feels good to them.

6. There is a single way to be queer / Queerness has a look.

Rather unconsciously, the first image that came to my mind when I imagined myself as a queer woman was: white, femme, and blonde. I am a black woman with black hair. Like mainstream feminism (and mainstream everything), the mainstream LGBTQIAP movement can appear incredibly white.  Depictions of queerness often exclude people of color, especially black men and women. Queerness is not skin color specific. I do not change to accommodate a queer identity; I get to define queerness as it pertains to me. There is no queer look; no queer haircut, clothes, etc. It is just another part of my identity.

I could wake up tomorrow and find that I am no longer in love with Samira Wiley and/or Odell Beckham Jr. I could discover I identify differently tomorrow than I do today. All of this is my right. I get to decide who I am. We all do.

Edited by Marianne Verrone.

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