I first noticed him sitting with two other kids from my drama class during lunch. In drama, the anxiety most grade nine’s felt seemed to float up into the air and only fell back down once the bell rang and we ventured off to our next class. Drama was exciting-we played introduction games and the fear of judgment faded as open expression was valued and admired. To this day, I still believe mustering up the will to sit at his table during lunch was one of the best decisions I ever made. Brian was meek at first, only squishing in a witty remark every now and then but as we got to know each other better, I discovered he had a flashy sense of humor and we shared the same taste in books. We sat at that same table every day that year, sharing laughs and his mother’s homemade crepes while occasionally quizzing him about his sexual preferences. We were all so curious why he didn’t gush over his crush when we did ours, or why he didn’t ask any of the girls in our group to introduce him to any of our superhot and stylish friends. So it was no surprise that when he told us he was bisexual and we all ecstatically exclaimed at the same time “we knew it!”
In the tenth grade, the topic of sexuality was walking down the red carpet at my school. People in the grade below me were coming out bisexual, one after the other. The cute, parental friendly assumption would be that the courageousness an individual exhibited by being honest with himself inspired his peers to do the same. But I grimaced as I watched one of my friend’s change her sexuality like it was an old hoodie you couldn’t decide if it was time to throw out or not. Rumors were born and soon enough, twitter subtweets were reading “attention whores, you’re lesbian until she takes off her pants”. Suddenly, it seemed that lucid sexuality had become a trend.
I ask Brian and his ex-boyfriend, Matt, if their “bisexual period” was just a transitional phase. Brian’s gay now. Well, I guess now that I think about it, he was always gay. “I came out as falsely bisexual because I was so afraid of the word gay itself. Identifying as bisexual, telling people that I’m at least half of what’s expected made me feel more at ease” says Matt. Brian has a similar answer: “It was easier to say I’m attracted to guys but still attracted to girls. It’s not as harsh as saying I’m 100% gay and it was like a stepping stone. But it’s wrong. It invalidates real bisexual people and it makes people assume then when one identifies as bisexual, they are actually just gay and hiding it”.
During second semester of Grade 10, I played love guru for Brian and Matt. Matt was my cousins best friend and Brian was mine so I saw the opportunity and took it. It was amusing to watch their relationship evolve from being too shy to talk to each other to borderline hooking up in the middle of the hallway. The teachers would never say anything. They should have, because they did for the straight couples. If a girl sat on a boy’s lap, three teachers would come up to her and state that “that sort of behavior isn’t appropriate for school”. But never for Brian and Matt. “I think I got away with it because for gay people, if someone were to say something they would immediately look like a homophobic jackass. Nobody wants to be that guy” says Matt.
By the eleventh grade the entire school knew Brian was gay, courtesy of the hallway make out sessions. The girls beneath our grade were devastated when they found out. Brian was quite the looker and he had fan girls all around. I snicker to myself as I pass by my locker and I overhear them gushing about the hot senior with his toned physique and his bright green eyes. But then, Grade 11 hits and Brian disappears.
He didn’t really disappear. He evolved. He became a living juxtaposition of the timid niner I knew during those transient cafeteria lunch days. He partied…hard. Twerking, titty shots, dancing atop of pool tables-the whole lot. He was the life of the party and he was good at it. I sit down on the arm of a sunken leather couch and watch him acutely from afar. We’re at a new year’s party and its 10 minutes until midnight. As the clock ticks down, I begin to wonder. Who is the real one? Is it this Brian in front of me, on the dance floor booty shaking with more skill on than any of the girls combined or was it the guy in the ninth grade who refused to take his shirt off in the swimming pool? The next day, I stand in a circle with Brian and some other kids from the party. One of the girls is whining about her biology mark and Brian slips in a witty, cutting remark about the teacher and everybody laughs. He then empathizes with her but I can tell he doesn’t mean it.
“People always expect gay men to be this flamboyant archetype because that’s what’s marketed in society, it’s what’s put out there and what pleases the majority. The high pitched voice, exaggerated hand motions, sassy personality- this is what’s projected into the minds of impressionable youth” states Matt. Most of the LGBT individuals we see on TV are eccentric personalities and we seldom see a character who identifies as “gay” or “lesbian” without their sexuality consuming their identity. But if I’ve learnt anything from the media, it is that there will forever be irresponsible writers abusing minorities for the sake of entertainment and cheap thrills. The media portrays an exaggerated version of today’s society and does not encapsulate the realities of the high school experience.
“The single story creates stereotypes. The consequence of the single story is that it robs people of their dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar” states Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is this quote that opened up my eyes to the fact that, we are all Brian. Every single one of us. I have not cared about somebody else’s petty problems but have attempted to make them feel better with a funny joke. I have falsely empathized because it is only courteous and I’d rather not feel like a jerk. I too, have danced the night away at parties yet been the one who never raises her hand in class. I assumed that once I knew Brian’s sexuality, his personality had become a fixed, stagnant thing. I was flabbergasted by the transformation of my best friend, that the book worm I knew had evolved into an outgoing diva. But why did I assume Brian wouldn’t go through the same teenage ordeals I did or that he didn’t have as much depth and diversity as the rest of us? And then I realized that my complaint came less from who he was and more from the filter I viewed him with. I was assuming a stereotype about his whole being based solely on sexual identity and thus, limiting him to a singular story.
“I scored my first touchdown I am now a 100% certified dyke!” I exclaim in the change room after practice. My fellow peers giggle while I continuously beam. It is only around my gay friends do I make sure to watch my tongue, but still only a selective few of them. I sit at the cafeteria table and listen as they toss around the word “faggot”. It is not only straight allies that have to be conscious of what comes out their mouth, but LGBT individuals as well. “It’s wrong when allies or even people who aren’t homophobic try to reclaim the derogatory terms that were once used to bring people down, even if there’s no negative connotation behind it. It is not justifiable by saying you are using it in an endearing way, there really isn’t anything “endearing” about it. Stop using homophobic slurs while dismissing their rich history of maliciousness and slander” states Matt when I ask his opinion on the issue.
When I asked my bisexual friend, Meghan, if she’d ever felt boxed in by the terms lesbian or dyke, she replied with, “I think it works differently for gays and lesbians in terms of the expectation. The gay stereotype is a well-dressed guy saying “Beyoncé is queen”. For girls, there’s this dyke stereotype and that’s not something that’s very attractive to people. Dyke is often misused as a derogatory term so a lot of lesbians don’t want to be that whereas the gay stereotype is very attractive and everybody’s dying to have a gay best friend”.
Personality-based stereotypes may not seem toxic but in reality, they conceal the uniqueness of human beings. For example, the “gay best friend” role inherently places gay men into this sidekick role, always there to save the day with a killer outfit or sassy remark. “Gay men are not accessories. I hate it when girls tell me that they want a gay best friend or that they love having a gay bf and that gay men are so funny. I’m not a hat you can sport, I’m a human. I’m not your gay best friend. I’m your best friend who just supposedly happens to be gay” states Matt. When I asked Brian if he’s ever felt like an accessory he replies with “girls want this presence they see on TV in their lives. A lot of my girlfriends want me to say certain things and be a certain way and just play into that feminine sassy gay guy that they see in movies but that takes away from my own individuality”.
Going to a school that creates a safe and supportive learning environment is essential for a youth to grow and mature into a young adult. Throughout these past years, I have attended a school that maintains a high level of acceptance and equality amongst its student body and have had the privilege of accompanying three close friends of mine along their “coming out” journeys. Being the only straight individual in my select group, I have had a unique perspective and have made some interesting observations of my own involving the high school demographic and its relationship with the LGBT community.
It is important to recognize the struggles LGBT youth face and make conscious decisions to not engage in stereotyping LGBT individuals. Stereotyping plays a vital role in the mischaracterization and dehumanization of our peers, which in turn leads us further away from achieving equality. Challenge the myths and what the media spoon feeds you because this will disable these stereotypes from becoming weapons for those who seek to oppress others. Realize that there are times when it is better not to be politically correct because it provides a shield of ignorance. Remain open minded, and do not decide a person’s sexuality for them from the basis of rumors or outer appearance. Most importantly, educate yourself on the history of the slander that you choose to say.
If growing up with a group of close knit LGBT friends has taught me anything, it is that there will always be more to a person then you can ever know. Throughout the high school shenanigans, the experiments we did in desperate efforts to find ourselves, and us forever sprinting towards the picture of the way we wanted things to be, I’ve understood that people are more complicated then you can ever fathom. Humans are ever-evolving and their sexuality will never be all of them, but a large part that is it vital to openly accept and embrace.