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Kind and caring
Elegant and nice
Lovely and pretty
Special, oh so special
Especially something. I don't know what.
I found this poem last summer while decluttering my Yahoo inbox. It’s part of an email I wrote in fourth grade to my friend, Kelsie. The email includes lines like, “I can see the glitter in your eyes,” and, “Your laugh echoes in my mind, and oh, your steady voice is soft.” I had no memory of writing it.
Fast-forward two months. I was bored and showed the ridiculous email to one of my friends, hoping she might get a laugh out of my cheesy writing. While she was reading it, our other friend came over and asked what we were doing. Without missing a beat, the first friend replied, “Reading this love letter Becina wrote when she was little.”
Love letter? I could feel the record scratching in my head. This wasn’t a love letter. This was the rambling of a nine-year-old who didn’t know how to filter her thoughts. This was terrible poetry written by a girl who happened to notice and appreciate random details about her friend. Right?
Well, I guess there were some hints of romance unintentionally sprinkled in there. I suppose “glitter in your eyes” could be interpreted as a variation of the clichéd “sparkle in your eyes.” (Either that or craft time gone wrong.) Maybe “your laugh echoes in my mind” seems more fitting for a Nicholas Sparks film than a casual email between friends. And I do vaguely remember her being “special, oh so special” to me, more than anyone else in my class. And, oh my God, this was the sappiest, gayest love letter I’d ever read, and I couldn’t believe that sweet, innocent baby Becina had written it.
I wish I could say that this was the moment I realized I was queer. That would help justify my initial denial about the true meaning of the email. But I’ve actually known for a few years now.
For all my talk of being “on the right track baby [cuz] I was born this way,” I never took the time to think about what it actually means to be born this way. It means I’ve always been queer. At every age, I’ve been thinking queer thoughts, feeling queer feelings, and doing queer things. My obliviousness to this for the first fifteen years of my life doesn’t make it any less true.
The problem is, I was raised straight. My parents were progressive in the sense that they told me not to wait for Prince Charming, but to pursue an education and be independent while carefully searching for a Mr. Right who loves and respects me. That’s where the progressiveness ended. There would be no Princess Charming in my childhood fantasies and definitely no Mrs. Right in my realistic expectations. (And of course, anything outside of the gender binary wouldn't even be considered.)
I didn’t realize it could be mainstream to date someone of the same gender until I saw Glee in middle school. But, by then, I’d already heard “gay” tossed around as an insult, so I was wary of being even remotely associated with the term. Perhaps if I’d seen gay couples normalized in media before I heard all the slurs and insults, I would’ve recognized my queerness sooner.
A few weeks ago, I read a blog post about a young boy who, at the age of seven, proudly announced to his family that the Glee character Blaine Anderson was his boyfriend. When the young boy came out a few months later, he didn’t treat it as a huge or scary revelation, just a statement of fact. His parents have supported him and, as he’s gotten older, gradually explained homophobia and slurs to him, as he’s bound to experience those at some point.
One thing that made that boy’s coming out easier is that his parents never assumed he was straight. And that’s something that many of us are guilty of when talking to other people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received unsolicited advice from adults and peers alike on finding a boyfriend. When we assume everyone is straight, we send the message that LGBTQ people are abnormal or nonexistent. Nine-year-old Becina heard that message loud and clear, and it erased her queer existence.
I’ve reread my email many times, looking for clues that I recognized my crush on Kelsie. So far, I’ve found nothing. I was completely oblivious.
My memories of Kelsie are fond, but I definitely don’t remember liking her as much as I implied in the email. While I have vivid memories of crushes on boys in my class, I have none of my crush on Kelsie. Because I didn’t have the proper language to describe how I felt, I just categorized her as a friend, and thus remembered her as a friend. It makes me wonder what other queer relics from my childhood have been lost forever due to insufficient language and understanding. How many crushes do I not remember? How many daydreams will I never revisit? How much life has been swept away, never to be retrieved?
Heteronormativity stole not only part of my childhood, but also part of my identity. While I may never get that back, I’m determined to help build a world where this doesn’t happen to any other kids. There are a few steps we can all take to make sure this comes true. For starters, don’t make assumptions. Rather than asking a girl if she has a boyfriend, ask if she’s in a relationship (or don’t ask at all unless it’s relevant). Speak up when you hear a homophobic comment. If a child asks you about an LGBTQ topic, don’t treat it as a taboo; just answer their question as you would any other. Watch and talk about shows and movies that portray LGBTQ characters in a positive way.
Most importantly, find any way you can to help normalize LGBTQ culture in our greater society. End heteronormativity. It’s done enough harm.
Becina J. Ganther ’20 is a Crimson Editorial writer living in Wigglesworth Hall. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
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