Updated: Nov 14
My name is Natalie. I am a 21-year-old bisexual and this is my personally and historically informed take on sexuality.
What does it feel like to be able to suppress yourself, and is it a choice? That is a question I have asked myself over and over again, only myself at first, then others. As a bisexual, cis-gendered woman, I struggled. I struggled in a way that felt insignificant and self-pitying. I struggled because of my sexuality with my influences permeating my perception of it as well as my own fears. What could it mean for my life? Does it mean anything? Prior to delving into fears of sexuality, I want to establish what sexuality is, by definition it is “the way people express and experience themselves sexually,” broad, open, an interpretation that one could look at over and over again, spinning new ways to perceive it. Yet, one can anticipate what would happen if a concept is broad enough for general interpretation, some will understand it on an individual level, others will be faced with a weaponized form of a fairly neutral concept. The collective was able to make this broad concept rigid in its forms starting from the pivotal nuclear family of male and female relations. These types of relations constantly surrounded me, being promoted, emphasized in every romantic movie, every Disney film and every aspect of life seemed to be brimming with hetero-romantic couples. This heteronormativity has not only made heterosexual relations the default, but it has bled into almost every aspect and age of life. This means that sexuality is not only something that is a topic when you become sexual, it is far more extensive than that, some would say suffocating.
I remember even at the age of 6 putting boy and girl dolls together, not even knowing what I was doing or what these inanimate objects were even supposed to be. I remember being a little bit older, maybe 8, talking about love with my playground friends, the romantic love that we had seen in movies. All of it was innocent but the thoughts behind it were not necessarily always my own. It has been proven that that heteronormativity was implemented at both cultural and institutional levels (DePalma & Atkinson, 2010). Even in the environment of a school, a place to learn and develop things like English as well as math, children were subject to teacher bias towards sexuality, an abundance of literature that did not depict the other alternative to heterosexuality (DePalma & Atkinson, 2010). Even now, classrooms struggle with this.
For me, in a lot of ways, heterosexuality was treated as the default: the only option and that was so perfectly fine before puberty, before sexuality was developed. One moment it's dreaming of a prince, and the next it's realizing you also would like it if he was a princess. It is me liking a character so much and saying it's because they are similar to me but it is actually because they are pretty, so pretty. There was no rule book then, no story for me to follow, or a simple adage about waiting for the right person that would change the fact that the person could be a male or a female. All that was ever there was heterosexuality, and once it no longer feels like you, it's crushing and suffocating, like a warm blanket wrapping around your neck and getting tighter each year.
The dangerous thing about this suffocating force is that it is invisible to only those it will not harm. This may be due to the seemingly “private” matter of sex. Many people have viewed sex as something not to be discussed, especially not to someone so young. Here, what is lost on many is that sex is discussed constantly through kisses, a boy and girl in a movie, with every mention of “boyfriend”, “girlfriend” or “partner”. Sex trickles down into people’s expressions and their lives so much that they can barely feel it anymore, but for LGBTQ+ members it is constant. You cannot forget that a boy and a girl are supposed to be together and you are supposed to think this guy from Vampire Diaries is really cute; that girl from school is supposed to look pretty to you and yes there is a wrong answer. I was scared of saying the wrong answer because then they will ask 'what is wrong with you?' or 'why does everyone else think this but you?' With this, it seems it is only taboo for the queer and questioning to express themselves. Not only is it taboo, but also dangerous for those who give the wrong answer because the power of defaults can only be powerful when there are no other options, nothing else shown. The LGBTQ+ community struggles with this as for many children there are minimal movies with characters and relations like them but on another level, there is an active effort to discourage homosexuality. With this, I will show the other major influence affecting LGBTQ+ members, one of the only influences children can look to for homosexual expression of sexuality, the media, a harsh wall to compliment the already implemented roof of heteronormativity for a queer kid.
Now, with heteronormativity already pervading the eyes and ears of all youth, then comes the nail in the coffin for many LGBTQ+ members, the “bury your gays'' trope. This trope came under scrutiny in 2016 due to a show called “The 100” where they killed a gay female character after seemingly having a budding relationship with the main character, a bisexual female (Hulan, 2017). A character death that personally pulled at my heart so much I thought they would break as it was also the realization of what it meant, what that show had done, what some many had done. This catalyzed an attack on many shows that had done the same thing to their lesbian and gay characters, often after the sexual experience was consummated or the couple seemed at the peak of happiness. The anger expressed towards many popular media outlets questioned the reasoning for these deaths, why these characters, and what was the root of “bury your gays”. In actuality, the killing of homosexual characters began far earlier than 2016, in the early 19th century (Hulan, 2017). Such works often included female characters that fell in love with a woman, consummated their relationship, then one or both characters die a very tragic death (Hulan, 2017). In some of these works, the leftover partner would then reacclimate into society by marrying a man and returning to heterosexuality. This was most likely due to the illegality or in the least disapproval of homosexual acts during that period as well as the scrutiny artists, especially authors were placed under. For example, one of the most iconic queer works, Spring Fire, was written by lesbian author Marijane Meaker. The story centers on a young 17-year-old girl who joins a sorority and becomes infatuated with this beautiful but troubled upper class man, Leda (Packer, 2014). As the story progresses and the lingering looks lead to more, Leda is portrayed as a temptation to the innocent main character. Evidently, their relationship is tumultuous and ends with Leda having a mental breakdown, dying in a car crash, and the main character realizing that she never loved her (Packer, 2014). This story, like many others at the time, was written by queer authors like Marijane Meaker who wanted their stories published, so they were often forced to sacrifice the true purpose and development of their characters in order to sell.
Now, this specific work was published in 1953, but tv shows continue to do this more than 60 years later, when authors or showrunners no longer had to sacrifice their integrity for the bare minimum of representation. In the 2015-2016 season of television, 29 LGBTQ+ characters were killed off (Framke, Zarracina, & Frostenson, 2016). This was worsened by the fact that only 40 LGBTQ+ characters were recurring in this same year, meaning more than half of these characters existed only to die (Framke, Zarracina, & Frostenson, 2016). For an audience like myself, this means an indirect correlation between queerness and death, queerness and hardship, queerness and tragedy. It seemed like anytime a new character came around with this sheer confidence and homosexuality clearly exuding from every action, so proud, they ended up dead. In worlds where death was hardly even existent, when people could come back to life at any moment, death still seemed to follow the LGBTQ+ characters right at their peak of happiness. The frustration from the gay community was palpable, as over and over again these coincidences of gay deaths continued to happen with eeriness similar to the trope in proven anti-homosexual endings. In the end, what does this mean for those watching these shows, surrounded by media which by accident or on purpose is saying that homosexuality is bad, dangerous and tragic? Well, for many that are strictly attracted to the same sex it could mean years of fear for what your love life will be, fear that your love will end the lives of others and an inconvenience for your society; children and teenagers have to accept something that is not necessarily true aout how they will eventually love. At best they accept it as fiction and express their sexuality regardless or at worst they do what the trope initially meant for them to do, hide themselves under the guise of the heternormative roof aforementioned. The road is purposefully made difficult so self actualization for homosexuals is a long and perilous journey before they can even tell their parents. Now we have the leftovers, those caught in the inbetween; we have a plethora of sexualities that deviate from both same-sex and opposite sex relations in their expression but to speak from my experience I will reference Bisexuality. What does this convoluted process of attempting to promote heterosexual behavior and diminish homosexuals to a tragic trope do to those that have inclinations towards both sexes? The answer is confused, very confused.
DePalma, R., & Atkinson, E. (2010). The nature of institutional heteronormativity in primary schools and practice-based responses. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(8), 1669–1676. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2010.06.018
Hulan, H. (2017). Bury your gays: History, usage, and context. McNair Scholars Journal, 21(1), 6. Retrieved at. Link: https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/mcnair/vol21/iss1/6?utm_source=scholarworks.gvsu.edu%2Fmcnair%2Fvol21%2Fiss1%2F6&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages
ramke, C.,Zarracina, J., & Frostenson, S. (2016, June 1). All the TV character deaths of 2015-'16, in one chart. Vox.com. https://www.vox.com/a/tv-deaths-lgbt-diversity.
Packer, V. (2014). Spring fire. Mills & Boon.