We were standing in an hourlong line at Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride, nervously talking and looking at each other. It was my first time openly on a date with a girl.
Disneyland is supposed to be the “happiest place on earth,” but it didn’t feel so happy. Whenever I held my date’s hand or tried to affectionately hug her (as straight people do without any issue), people stared and seemed to be visibly uncomfortable. I felt so dehumanized and shamed that I didn’t dare show any affection with her for the rest of the day.
This experience foreshadowed the rest of our relationship. I was too afraid of the shame from my family (and the rest of society) to be open about our relationship, which ultimately ended in us parting ways.
Why did I feel this way? I know that I wouldn’t have been socially shamed if I had been standing with a man.
I grew up in a culture that shamed queerness and belittled its existence. Even though some people said they were “OK” with LGBTQ+ people, they still didn’t want their kid to belong to that community.
I remember having a conversation when I was young with a family member who said they didn’t think that queer folks should be in history books because it would teach my cousin that it was OK to be gay — as though being gay is something that you choose, and that choice is wrong.
These microaggressions plagued my upbringing. And even when I came to San Francisco, stereotypically the most LGBTQ+ friendly place in the world, I still faced homophobia.
I was in my freshman year at San Francisco State University when I was waiting for the bus outside with a group of people. One of my friends saw a gay couple holding hands and being affectionate — his response was utter disgust. When I confronted him, he stated that “gay people shouldn’t be affectionate in public,” claiming that only straight people were allowed the privilege of public displays of affection.
But while I experienced these instances of homophobia, I also experienced “straight-passing privilege.”
Looking at me, many people can’t automatically classify me as queer, so they assume that I’m a white, straight, cisgender person. My whiteness and ability to pass affords me greater privilege to walk through the world without facing discrimination and harassment. Meanwhile, for non-passing LGBTQ+ folks of color, there’s no denying their queerness, which results in high rates of harassment and violence.
Obviously, my experience isn’t the same as these folks. But the problem with conversations about straight-passing privilege is that they often lack nuance or multifacetedness. This often leads to the erasure of pansexual and bisexual experiences because people think that we are “not queer enough.”
One of these moments was when I was living in San Francisco and having a conversation with a queer woman about LGBTQ+ issues. She told me that I didn’t really experience queerness because, according to her, I didn’t look queer enough and was dating a man. On top of that, she told me that she “wouldn’t feel comfortable dating someone with so many options” because I’m pansexual as opposed to a lesbian.
And I experienced this yet again when I went to a queer event with my partner (who also happens to be pansexual). People assumed that we were straight, acting as if we were falsely taking up the space meant for the LGBTQ+ community. We felt as though we were intruding on a space we should have felt comfortable in. Somehow we had become outsiders in a place we were supposed to belong in.
Ironically, we are pansexual and in a polyamorous relationship. While we’ve been seeing each other, I’ve also seen other women and gender-nonconforming folks. Also ironically, despite my appearance, I don’t entirely identify as a woman.
I constantly find myself silencing myself and my identity for fear of ridicule. And I’m not alone — research suggests that bisexual people make up nearly half of the LGBTQ+ community, but only 28 percent report being out to people close to them.
For someone who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community, I feel as though I constantly have to justify my queerness, on top of the stigma I face every day from the heteronormative world. It’s unfair that the community I belong to — that’s supposed to accept me for me — treats me the same as the community that ostracizes me.
At the end of the day, all LGBTQ+ people deserve to live unapologetically. So why can’t I?