By Soups (they/she)
As a queer person I’ve known I was different as soon as I realized there was a way to be the same. I learned early on that my difference wasn’t going to be celebrated, encouraged, or even accepted. In order to survive I had to assimilate. When my friends started openly discussing their attraction to boys in our grade, I mimicked their words. At the lunch table I listened closely to which celebrities they thought were cute and would echo their sentiments back to them. I observed what was considered normal, denied myself, and pursued a life that included friendship and family. Being true to myself would have likely included neither. The more I acted the more I began to detest the real me, the me who knew this was all a facade that would end. Growing up outside of what society labels normal and acceptable is hard. I learned to hate myself and I am good at learning. I am trying to unlearn all of this.
I was 17 years old—when every adult in my life seemed to be obsessed with my future—and was growing tired of the act. I turned down a college scholarship that required me to sign a contract stating “I would not engage in homosexual behavior”. It appeared the act was going to follow me my whole life. I started paying attention to the media and queer people were nowhere. I was nowhere. I didn’t know a single person in the queer community who was older than myself. Did we not make it to the future? At 17 I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere but where I was: miserable. I couldn’t imagine. I had no representation or framework to build off of. At 17 years old I truly felt like I had come to the end of my journey. Luckily for me my journey continued. I moved out of my hometown and found there as a much larger queer community waiting to accept me. Through the queer communites acceptance and encouragement I was able to find my way out of misery and enter a phase of possibility.
Today I often wonder who would I be if I was asked “do you like anyone at school?” instead of “which boys do you find cute?”. I dare to wonder beyond that and speculate how different life would be if being queer were the standard. I could have been myself had society made room for me. I plan to make room for those who follow behind.
I now ask myself, why isn’t queer my standard? Why am I not building my world to be queer first? Queer first does not mean to shame those who do not identify as queer. Queer first is transitioning from letting heteronormative standards shape my own framework for my existence and instead defining it for myself.
I can imagine now. Everything we as humans have built was imagined first. Ideation leads to implementation, so if we can imagine a a queer first world we can build one. Here’s how I’m reframing my world to be queer first & I invite you to consider how your might be able to do the same:
Consume queer content
So much of our worldview is shaped by the media we consume. It’s easy for me to still believe my queerness is a bad difference when I don’t see it anywhere, so I purposely surround myself with it. Make a playlist with songs by queer artists. Read books with thriving queer characters. Watch movies and TV shows centered around queer characters with personalities beyond just being queer.
Queer up your social media
Social media is another form of consuming content but it plays such a huge role in our society that I think it deserves to be separated from music, film, and literature. Tailor your algorithm to be queer by following queer accounts. It is very possible, with intentional effort, to make social media a safe place and an escape from the heteronormative expectations of the world.
Show up to queer spaces
Most of the time we can control the media we consume but eventually we do have to enter the offline world. When in your control, try to attend spaces owned and / or ran by queer people. Being in queer spaces further affirms and validates your experiences, existence, and desires.
Acknowledge the stakes of language
Take the time to do an audit of the language you use. My first step was removing gender from my language. Instead of “do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend?” I’ve started saying “Are you in a relationship?”. The first gives a binary option, the second allows for the person to be dating anyone of any gender. Language is ever growing and expanding so I audit the language I use often.
My favorite aspect of queerness is that it is ever expanding. In ancient Greece they didn’t have a word for the color blue, meaning their sky wasn’t blue. The sky is blue, and sometimes gray, and sometimes purple, orange, pink, yellow- you get it. As we learn more we need to grow more. Once you’ve built a queer first world that works for you, don’t assume it is acknowledging others. Whenever I am in a space I feel comfortable in I ask myself “who wouldn’t feel comfortable here and why?”, then I try to improve the space based on my answer.
Be the future
I grew up going to summer camp and all over the bunk beds were permanent marker signatures stating “I was here” attached with a previous camper’s name and the date. I signed my fair share of bunk beds as well. There is something comforting in knowing someone was right where you are and survived. If you are in a space that is comfortable and safe, let others know you are there. You could very well be the representation someone else needs to know there are other people who are also different, and if they reach out I encourage you to invite them in to your queer first world.