Something I get asked a lot after I tell people I’m gay is: Did you always know? It’s a fair question.
Sexuality is a large part of our lives — especially if you’re not straight — and it’s become a pretty common sentiment that gay people have “always known” their sexuality. A lot of queer people have a constant feeling for their sexuality as they grow up.
But I didn’t.
Looking back, my own sexuality appears obvious. I never had an intense interest in boys growing up. I had a few male celebrity crushes, but I always had far more famous women I found attractive. I had a crush on a boy in middle school that lasted a few months, but I was never interested in an actual relationship with him, and after I got over him, there was never another boy that held my attention for very long.
But I didn’t see this as being an issue. I assumed that not finding any boys in my school attractive just meant I had high standards. I thought not connecting to men emotionally was a common issue. I had fixations over plenty of girls in middle school, but I assumed that I either idolizing them or envying them. I felt this way because that’s what I had seen other women do. I always heard grown women complaining over how there were never any “good” men around, how distant their boyfriends or husbands were, how if another woman was beautiful or interesting then she became a rival.
Even through I grew up in an accepting environment, I was constantly surrounded by heteronormativity.
Heteronormativity is the view that heterosexuality is the norm. We assume most people — unless they outwardly look queer, but that’s another topic — are straight until they tell us otherwise. Our media, whether in entertainment or advertising, primarily focuses on heterosexual couples. Any connection, no matter how small, between a man and a woman is read as romantic, and it takes a great deal to convince us there are romantic feelings between two members of the same sex.
Heteronormativity takes a unique form in female culture. Pet names, “date nights,” hugs, cuddling, hand-holding, touching and even kissing tend to be typical among platonic female relationships. “Girlfriend” is a common term for platonic female friends. “Girl crush” is used often to refer to any woman a girl may find attractive, assuming, of course, she’s not actually attracted to her. Female culture is saturated in close relationships and admiring other women.
At the same time, it is also common in straight female circles to complain that there aren’t any “good” men, that men are distant and difficult to connect to, that finding other women attractive either means you hate her or you have a superficial crush that is normal and does not infringe on your complete heterosexuality.
These aren’t necessarily bad things. I love calling my friends nicknames and being physically close to them, and it’s fantastic that female relationships can become so strong. But that doesn’t change the fact that this physical and emotional closeness among straight women can make things more difficult for queer women.
It can be challenging to communicate queer female relationships clearly, since women using the term “girlfriend” often has a platonic connotation. Also the physical closeness of female friends can make it difficult to discern if the girls holding hands in the park are best friends or girlfriends — in the very non-platonic sense.
But more importantly, heteronormativity can make it difficult for a new generation of questioning women to discern their romantic feelings from their platonic ones. Women — especially younger girls — need to know that their disinterest in men or their multitude of “girl crushes” and fixation on other women is okay, and that doesn’t have to be just a fleeting phase of hatred or idolization.
Embracing these feelings, instead of pushing them off as “not finding the right man yet” or “everybody feeling that way,” can save years of confusion for those who haven’t figured out their own feelings yet. Maybe then we’ll have more women who will be able to say that yes, they did always know.
Delaney Murray is a freshman studying journalism with a focus in news and information at Ohio University. How do you think heteronormativity affects your daily life? Let Delaney know by tweeting her @delpaulinem.