by Reina Guthrie
I always wanted to be gay.
At 8-years-old, I’m watching an episode of Friends with my parents. A gay waiter says that Joey is cute, and my parents look at each other as if to say, ‘now is the time.’ My mother explains, “that guy is what we call gay, Reina. Meaning he is attracted to other men.” “Cool,” I respond immediately. My parents ask if I have any questions and I say, “nah dude it seems pretty self-explanatory.” Paraphrasing, of course.
The following year I meet my dad’s cousin and his partner (now husband). They become, and continue to be, two of my favorite family members. Their femininity manifests in a palpable empathy that is already refreshing to me at a young age, and their love is balanced in a way I have not witnessed before. Having already witnessed a plethora of straight couples fighting and resenting one another, it appears to me that the gays got it right.
As I enter my preteen years, I decide that bisexuality is the best move for me. It seems to offer the most possibilities for love, which I so desperately craved at the time. But as puberty passes, I come to crave boy arms, boy lips, boy hair, boy voices, boys promisingtheylllovemeforeverandever, in a way that starkly contrasts the way I relate to girls. Boobs fascinate me, but more so out of my own failure to grow them. ‘Damn,’ I think to myself. ‘I turned out straight.’ Though surprised, I accept this reality and flip to the next page of Twilight.
I’m eighteen and starting Drama school at NYU. Suddenly, I am the minority as most of my classmates identify as gay or bisexual. The vibrantly queer community at NYU gives my peers an exciting playground to explore their sexualities and hearts with a liberating safety that is not available in many other parts of the country and world! Watching them bravely navigate their way to love and self-expression is beautiful, and a gift to witness. I, on the other hand, am in a long-distance relationship with an emotionally abusive boy from my hometown, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to marry him. He breaks up with me after a month apart because I don’t want to have his children and I spend my first year of college thoroughly heartbroken over a 21-year-old guy whose mother still does his laundry.
Suddenly, I am unleashed into a grotesque straight dating scene that I had hoped to skip out on by marrying early. ‘Yuck,’ I think, looking out over the grim reality of hookup culture and drunken sexual entitlement. Strangers at bars look at me like I’m the answer to all their problems and encourage me to drink more; often I would. Spoiled boys in boat shoes throw their sweaty arms around me at parties; I smile and make sure they’re hydrating. You know, it’s not easy standing there politely as boys yell directly into your eardrum with their hand a little too far down your back, but you get used to it, like dry swallowing pills, when you feel it's a necessary measure. These times were grim but less painful than falling in love with the boys in relationships and crying as I walk home drunk and alone, my headphones blaring toxic pop lyrics.
Meanwhile, I learn more about intersectional feminism, and form life changing, deep friendships with women and LGBTQ+ individuals. Patient female friends teach me about race in ways that help me to come into my own racial identity. Gay male friends lead by brave example and continue to lay their hearts out in a world that has so violently told them to put it away. My trans and non-binary friends communicate unparalleled wisdom that helps me see the world differently, clearer. I bond with these peers in ways I simply can’t with men whose sexual intentions with me seep from their eyes like tears they refuse to cry. How can I be myself and present with straight cis men when they need me to constantly explain my feelings and experiences, or rip parts of myself away in order to be more easily digestible?
As time passes I resent myself more and more for continuing to be straight when a loving home in the LGBTQ+ community has always been extended to me. I wish the frustration of trying to catch gay feelings with zero success of implementation onto every person who insists homosexuality is a choice. If I could choose to only be attracted to other women, I’d have made that choice long ago. Oh the times I’d look at Halsey’s butt on Instagram for a bit too long and wonder if it was finally time to celebrate my coming out or if I just like butts cause butts are squishy and I’m a squish enthusiast.
What I know is this: since latent developmental stages, society has spoon-fed us the understanding that a straight, monogamous relationship is the height of social success. Capitalism thrives off of not only the traditional marital structure, but also goods & services whose demand relies on us feeling badly about ourselves. It relies on women feeling the need to compete with other women for the best man by being the hottest girl in the room. It relies on men feeling so small that they’re consumed by the need to get big, get rich, and get laid, leaving insufficient space for developing emotional sensitivity. And the grand prize is what? One specific, policed, normalized picture of love?
We put such a toxic amount of pressure on romantic partners to complete and define us. I have watched for years as the vast majority of us in the straight dating scene drink away our judgment, cry off our makeup, and hurt each other to regain emotional control, only to leave us feeling emptier than ever. This is not to say that many straight couples aren’t happy, raising loving families and living fulfilling lives. It is to say that they are the exception in the emotional minefield of straight culture.
It’s the beginning of 2018. I am living with a close friend from college who has identified as gay since we met freshman year. He is no longer comfortable with this label, and chooses to identify as Queer. He realizes there have been times when he was attracted to women but shut out the feeling because it did not fit into the box he’d gone through so much emotional labor to accept for himself. There is bravery in this admission. We have put men in a position more so than women, where they must choose a label of so-straight-I’d-never-touch-another-man, or YAS-QUEEN-GAY. This idea thrives in both the straight and gay communities, as women declare they wouldn’t date a bisexual man, straight men insist that any men who even experiments is automatically gay, and gay men claim that women can be bisexual but men cannot.
One day, my roommate and I sit down together and watch a lecture on queer relationships. They read the definition of queerness by Brandon Wint, “Not queer like gay. Queer like, escaping definition. Queer like some sort of fluidity and limitlessness at once. Queer like a freedom too strange to be conquered. Queer like the fearlessness to imagine what love can look like… and pursue it.”
Suddenly there is a shift within me. There is a gentleness and an inclusivity to Queer identity that I have not found in any other label we’ve invented for human sexuality. There is space within it to take your time, and no pressure to choose anything. There is a hope in it. There are vibrant colors and they’re all flowing through one another with ease and grace. ♦