By: Elise LeSage
For many LGBT+ people, queerness is an important part of personal identity. Navigating life as a queer person entails certain adversities and experiences that help shape us as people. However, this essential part of who we are is not always visible to the outside world. This is especially true for queer people who are in ostensibly “straight” relationships.
It can be hard to feel like you fit in with the LGBT+ community when society is blind to your queerness. Fortunately, there are ways to nurture your queer self despite this erasure.
Protect yourself from gatekeeping.
Gatekeeping is the act of controlling or limiting access to something and, unfortunately, it can show up a lot within the LGBT+ community.
While most queer folks will totally accept you into queer spaces regardless of your current partner’s gender, some tend to forget that the “B” in “LGBT+” does indeed stand for bisexual and will accuse you of not being “queer enough.” These accusations are wrong. You are valid. Your identity is important and you have as much of a right to inhabit queer spaces as any other LGBT+ individual. Be prepared to come across naysayers, but do not let them intimidate you. When you find yourself in situations like these, you may choose to argue your position, call upon fellow queer friends for backup, or simply walk away. Whatever you decide to do, just know that it is not up to others to decide your identity.
Reach out to your community.
In a society that is constantly trying to erase and reject queerness, community has always been an integral part of LGBT+ culture and life. Living in a heteronormative world can be isolating and scary. It is important to be able to communicate with people who can understand your experiences as a queer individual.
If you already have a strong network of queer friends, make sure to keep in touch. True friends will be happy to help you through issues like identity, anxiety, and dysphoria. They will remind you that your queerness is valid and that you are still part of the community.
If you’re not connected to a LGBT+ community, do your best to put yourself out there and make some friends. Many universities have LGBT+ support groups and mixers. Alternatively, try poking around social media to find groups and pages on which you might meet people, IRL or otherwise.
Enjoy your culture.
Although queer representation in mainstream media is sparse, try to seek out books, movies, and TV shows that portray characters in which you can see yourself reflected. Even if your current relationship makes you feel detached from the queer community, you can reaffirm your identity by gushing over cute queer couples on TV and submersing yourself in gay staples like The L Word and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Taking in queer media is an easy and fun way to feel connected to your LGBT+ identity. You may even get your partner into it too!
Open up to your partner.
The person you are dating is your most valuable ally. Try to get comfortable sharing your experience and anxieties as a queer person with them. Communication is key in healthy relationships, so be honest in your discussions. If, for example, you find that you are a little uncomfortable with conforming to the gender roles expected in hetero relationships, don’t be afraid to tell them.
Be patient with your partner. If they have never dated a queer person before, remember that it will take time for them to learn about the many aspects of LGBT+ life and issues.
Do not compromise your identity to try to fit in with what society expects of a “hetero” couple. Stay true to yourself and include your partner in this journey.
Know your privilege.
Although queer people in hetero relationships do face many unique challenges, they also get to enjoy the privileges associated with being ostensibly straight. You are now safe in ways you may not have been with previous partners of the same sex. You are free to hold hands in public without judgement or jeers. When you enter queer spaces or speak about queer issues, keep these privileges in mind and stay conscious of the space you take up.
At the end of the day, your identity does not depend on the person you’re with. You are the only one who is allowed to define yourself, and that definition won’t change unless you will it to. Though your queerness may not always be visible, it will always be a part of who you are.