Untold Stories: LGBTQ students reflect on their intersecting identities
For those who are already marginalized by the heteronormativity of American culture, marginalization from within the community they identify with can be extremely harmful. Being regarded as an “other” from within the LGBTQ+ community, as well as within other racial, ethnic or cultural groups, often make the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals very challenging. The following stories were collected via online submission, in an effort to better understand the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals with multiple minority identities.
Consider one story told by an AU student who identifies as a queer, bisexual woman. Julie explains that she did not realize her identity, even when she was introduced to the concept of homosexuality, because it didn’t quite fit:
“I did not reach my enlightenment of my sexuality as a queer woman when introduced to the existence of homosexuality. I realized later this was because I am attracted to more than one gender and therefore am often erased in mainstream LG[BT] discourse. The idea that such a sexuality existed did not register with me until I was thirteen, but unfortunately I was in an unsafe place to come out and embrace my identity. I am still often left out in many social justice activist discourse. Mainstream LGBT discourse favors white gay cis upper-class men and mainstream feminism only advocates for upper-class white straight cis women. The lack of intersectionality in these discourses make the notion of being a queer woman seem nonexistent…”
Julie raises a concern that is often overlooked within LGBTQ+ communities. It is suggested that LGBTQ+ culture has a lot of emphasis on the L and the G, often overlooking the many identities within the community. She describes what it is like to be in this identity limbo:
“I am constantly invisible, constantly fitting into either one box or the other, never finding a space that overlaps my two identities…The fear of coming out to my family is not based in homophobia but in the lack of validity that is attached to bisexuality. If “queer” friendly spaces do not address the existence of people like me, then why should my straight parents? If heteronormative society has deluded me into believing that I am not real, then where do I have to turn?”
Asexuality is also often overlooked. Literally meaning “without sexuality,” the name alone suggests a lack of recognition given to this sexual orientation. Elise, a college student who identifies as an asexual female, recalls struggling with a “distinct lack of personal identity” when she was younger. Elise explains: “Not seeing [the traits] I thought were essential for everyone to have in myself was incredibly damaging. I only understood the world as gay or straight, of which I was neither; I had no way to even conceptualize that one could identify beyond the two.”
For Elise, the gay-straight dichotomy she saw in her environment left her with no way to explain her own feelings. She describes her perceived lack of identity as feeling like “some sort of social disorder,” before she finally found a name for the way she felt:
“During high school, through online resources, I began to learn more about the LGBTQ community, and how a person could have identities beyond exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual. Even with this knowledge, I remember thinking about what my actual sexuality was constantly. The thought followed me everywhere. I faced this dilemma as I did most other things: I ignored it, to the best of my ability. Things changed after I got to college. In one of my Women and Gender Studies classes freshman year, we had a speaker come in, who gave us a handout with an illustration of the “genderbread man”. The sheet explained the difference between gender identity, gender expression, physical sex, and sexual orientation. The separation of gender identity and gender expression was monumental to me. While I have always considered myself female, I was never particularly feminine; she helped me understand that the two aren’t directly related. But for me, the greatest moment of the presentation was when she recognized a label for my own lifestyle: asexual.”
With the newfound words to describe her identity, Elise was able to come out to some friends and family members. But she still struggles with the lack of recognition of her identity within the LGBTQ+ community:
“Though I’m as confident in my identity as I have ever been, I still struggle to be open about it, even with friends. Asexuality isn’t always explicitly recognized as part of the LGBTQ umbrella. While I consider myself LGBTQ (as I’m romantically attracted to girls (and the occasional boy)), I fear people both inside and outside of the LGBTQ community will reject my identity, either because they simply have never heard of it, or do not consider it a queer identity.”
Further discrimination occurs when other minority identities interact with a non-traditional sexual orientation or gender identity. Other marginalized identities, such as identifying as a person of color, a person of low socioeconomic status, a person with a disability, and so on, all contribute to the further marginalization of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Rahi, a rising AU senior, describes the struggle to be accepted as a gay man within his Indian culture. Rahi writes:
“I saw my American and Indian values clash when I had to come out to my parents as gay. In India, being gay is a hush-hush thing that you don’t want to talk about. If it arises, you sweep it under the rug. You keep it within your immediate family. While coming out, I decided that I was not going to hide my sexual identity. I was gay first and foremost. I did not want to have to hide that from other people. It was the first time in my life that I had to completely resist my parents’ wishes to keep my sexuality a secret…They didn’t want me to tell my friends or for my neighbors to find out.”
Every racial, ethnic, or religious culture has its own collective values, often including its own perception of what it means to be LGBTQ+. In Rahi’s case, the intersection between his gay identity and the traditional Indian values of his parents presented a unique challenge. He describes the concept of shame in Indian culture associated with having a homosexual child.
“I had to show my parents that being gay is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not something that you should want to keep within the four walls of your house. I couldn’t just resist what they were saying, but I had to also show them where I was coming from. It was hard for my parents in the beginning because they weren’t willing to be a part of that aspect of my life. I wouldn’t compromise that part of identity or tone down being gay, because that would reinforce their current perceptions. But after slowly assuring them that everything was going to be okay, and just letting them come to me on their own terms, they became more open.”
Rahi describes the unique way he was able to somewhat reconcile his intersecting identities in order to more easily and confidently accept himself for who he is:
“It is hard to see my gay and Indian identities clashing sometimes. For a while, I didn’t feel whole. My mind wasn’t at peace since I couldn’t bring my full self to my family or friends. I’ve always been Indian, but it wasn’t until I was 14-years old that I identified as gay. While coming out, I was trying to figure out where a gay boy fits in the Indian world. But I’ve learned that you have to see the positive side. You have to focus on where your identities might overlap. There are aspects of modern Indian culture that embrace gay culture. Funny enough, seeing a Bollywood spin-off of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” gave me a sense of hope for the future. By seeing those glimmers of acceptance in my Indian identity, I was able to come to terms with my gay identity.”
From not being “queer” enough to being pressured to hide an LGBTQ+ identity for cultural or religious reasons, marginalization comes in all forms. It is important for those both within the LGBTQ+ community and without to recognize that “queer” comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and identities.
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