In my first semester of college, I took freshman seminar. One day, we were doing an activity along the lines of “stand up if this applies to you.” The question was “stand up if you do not feel safe walking down the street while holding hands with your significant other.” I stood up, but no one else did.
All eyes were on me in that moment. Most of my classmates, spare the few that knew me personally, looked at me with genuine confusion. The graduate student teaching the class asked if I was comfortable explaining why I was standing. Nodding slowly I said, “I’m gay.”
“If you wouldn’t have said anything, I would have had no idea you were gay,” a classmate said to me later as we walked home from class together. I hear variations of that statement often, and I never know how to respond. Saying “surprise” is probably inappropriate. I’m not offended by it either, more confused than anything.
People assuming my sexuality has been a common issue for me, even before I came out to the public in July 2018. Everyone just assumes me to be interested in men. However, I had the opposite problem when I was younger. In middle school, I was so genuinely terrified people thought I was a lesbian, even though I knew I was interested in women. A former friend even told me people thought I was gay because I wore buttoned-up flannels tucked into my jeans.
I just wanted to fit in. People called me “Fagby,” a play on my last name, which I now see as extremely ironic. I followed the trends and kept to myself, suppressing my identity for four years until I finally had enough.
After a local pride fest in June 2018, I looked my parents in the eyes and said, “I have something to tell you.” My mother, mildly concerned, responded with “Is it something bad?” I shook my head and told them what I would have to tell a room full of my peers a few months later, “I’m gay.” All the weight of hiding went away, I had never felt so free in my entire life.
Now, well over a year and a half later, I’m out and proud, but I face a new problem. Many people I meet think I’m straight, an issue I’d never thought I’d have to deal with. I find it quite amusing and confusing at the same time. I just do not fit the stereotypical short hair and masculine dress and persona. I dress very nondescript most of the time, wearing jeans and a T-shirt. My hair is shoulder length.
Most of the time I present feminine. But, because people assume my sexuality, I have a subconscious need to fulfill some parts of that stereotype. I should not have to change myself to fit society’s definition of lesbian, but I do it. I don’t really mind doing it, I look rather handsome in a collared shirt and dress pants, if I do say so myself.
Why do people assume another’s sexuality? I suppose it is because it has been ingrained into our minds since we were children, whether it be in school, through the games we played or in the TV shows and movies we watched: the idea that a family is comprised of one man and one woman. Keep in mind, I went through elementary school, where most of the ingraining in my personal experience was done in the early 2000s. Same-sex marriage wouldn’t be legal in New York until I was in sixth grade.
I wear the rainbow proudly. While some people do not see it, I know it is there. I used to suppress who I was because I was so afraid of breaking the norm. Now, at 19 years old, I know that there is no norm to be broken. My identity is my own, and I am proud of it.