In elementary school, I was bullied, both for being overweight and for being gay. On the former, it was true, and on the latter, well, I don’t identify as gay. And I didn’t in elementary school either.
However, since childhood, I’ve been acutely aware that people assume I’m gay upon meeting me. Sometimes I worry I’m being too self-aware or suffering too many insecurities, but then I have friends who confess that when they first met me they thought I was gay. And you might think that’s rude*, but, well, they’re being honest.
*I will tell you what’s rude: When a random woman walks up to you at a shopping mall and says, “I just moved here, and I need a gay best friend.” Even if I was gay, that is not how you lock down my friendship.
By this point in my life, I can tell you why people assume I’m gay. My voice never went through puberty. I talk with my hands including that prophetic wrist flip thing. I don’t like or understand sports. I enjoy iced coffee and adore Frye boots. And as a friend once added, “You go to yoga weekly and are well kept.”
Dang, why isn’t everyone swiping right to this?
All this used to bother me in younger, anxious, and acne-covered years when peers’ opinions carried more weight than the Supreme Court’s. I would think, “OMG, I need to act more masculine.” I even had my childhood best friend coach me – and two other friends fought to submit me to MTV’s “Made” (to become a surfer bro, dude).
But there comes a time when you recognize that you are what you are. I could deepen my voice to a baritone (and I actually can to all you naysayers out there), but that’s not my voice. I could sit in front of the TV and watch TBI-wannabes chase a pork skin up and down a field and support the conclusion that this is a billion-dollar industry. And I could take Tinder selfies in camo beside catfishes and decapitated deer. But I’m not much into posturing (unless I’m pretending to be trendy).
These days I freely admit my best friends are mostly female or gay – or both. Lady Gaga is a favorite artist on Facebook as is Lana Del Rey. I openly worry about carbs. And I’m not gay.
I’ll hand it to these false assumptions: They have led to more self-discovery and exploration than most other 20-somethings experience – and maybe a few less hookups (though I could have them with the same sex, because I get hit on regularly). I have questioned whether I would “redo” myself if I had the chance. The answer is no. Without waxing about self-acceptance and dropping a rainbow-and-butterfly quote, you should embrace your authenticity. Simultaneously, I recognize I have a bit more spunk and self-reliance than your average Joe, gay or not – but most of it comes from surviving adolescence while enduring misconceptions about my sexuality.
I won’t deny, this misconception has sometimes altered my approach to life – and people. Dating quandaries include how do I relay that I am absolutely as straight as the hypotenuse of a triangle? After all, not everyone makes the incorrect assumption, and I prefer more tact than subject-dropping my heterosexuality in conversation. And do I divulge “Beware: People often think I’m gay” in dating profiles?
I can also be ultra suspicious when meeting new people, specifically males, because I’m afraid I’m being judged – but there you go; now I’m making assumptions. I wonder all the time who thinks I’m gay – my boss, my extended family, my former youth pastor? Then I realize, Does it matter?
Traditional views are changing. I have witnessed (and sometimes experienced) the prejudices hurled at gays, but thankfully, those occasions grow rarer. Depending on your circle, it can even be endearing to claim your sexuality. And how modern of you to assume a non-heteronormative outlook on my life – but can you not?
Obviously I have the benefit of my own bias, but I avoid assuming others are gay. You should, too. He cares about how he looks; she doesn’t wear makeup; his favorite Disney character is Ariel; she can’t cook. How do any of these things make one gay or not? I don’t deny correlations exist, but I can also introduce you to gays who follow football before they follow fashion and straights who can fix a sandwich, but not a car.
I can conjecture why I am the way I am. I grew up with a single neighbor my age, a girl two years older, and she socialized me. My mom changed my toys every two to three years as an infant; talk about stimulated development. I was overweight from preschool onward and never ran with the majority male pack, physically and then metaphorically. (There’s also interesting research that society tends to feminize overweight men. Here’s my dissertation proposal on the subject: Other research shows men use the physical space around them, e.g. spread legs, while women don’t. But when you’re overweight, you become conscious of your size and the space you occupy, so you consciously try to minimize this space, which can result in effeminate mannerisms – something I have seen in myself even now as a normal weight adult.)
But I return to the realization: What does it matter? What does matter is, people make wrong assumptions all the time. Am I offended? Personally, no. For others in the same boat – a lot are. So should you stop? Yes.
If we really want to be a progressive society, we should make assumptions neither way. We shouldn’t ignore sexuality, but we also shouldn’t force it on someone because they don’t fit our gender checkboxes.