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How Rape Culture Kept Me From Coming Out Sooner

November 22, 2016

It wasn't until a month ago that I fully came out. At the time, I was unaware of why I felt hesitant about my sexuality, but looking back now as an eighteen-year-old, I can see why I was so reluctant.  

When I was younger, my parents taught me that no matter who I was or what I wanted to do, they would support me. So when I discovered that I was gay, coming out to the people close to me was easy and well-received; having support behind me made my circumstances feel a lot safer. It’s rare for somebody to feel that they can always fall back on their family.

Yet, something continued to hold me back from coming out as gay to people I didn’t know as well. I found myself hiding it from others as if it was something to be ashamed of. For the last two years, I identified as bisexual. Though I had no doubt that I was gay, bisexuality felt safer because it was more accepted by my classmates.  

When I first started middle school and all throughout high school, I heard many negative comments about women who identify as gay. I heard guys talking about how that girl was “way too hot to be gay,” which never made sense to me. There is absolutely no correlation between appearance and homosexuality. Yet growing up, I learned from the people around me and the media that there was. I’d also hear male students say that gay women were probably “just going through a phase.”

Hearing these remarks made me feel as if my emotions weren’t legitimate. It forced me to question my sexuality more and more until I had convinced myself that it was a phase as well. Many of my gay peers knew guys at school who insisted they could “change them.”  Though it’s not exactly a rape threat, it does imply aspects of corrective rape. Saying that as a man, you can “fix” a gay woman so she becomes straight insinuates that there is something wrong with her. I heard homophobic remarks daily and when I would get offended, those making the comments played it off as a joke. In middle school I was conflicted. I wanted to be “cool” to be liked, but I also wanted to stand up for myself.

As I have grown older, I have become more confident in my sexuality and I am starting to become more comfortable with having an open dialogue about it with others. Frequently, people say that they don’t care what happens to gay marriage or gay rights because it doesn’t affect them. To me, this is ignorant and narrow thinking. One can care about the Blacks Lives Matter movement without being African American. Though these comments do provoke and anger me, I have learned that attacking people for their negative comments is counter-productive. I’ve had many discussions where I have said malicious comments out of frustration; conversations turn into fights, and nothing gets solved. Attacking someone for what they were taught prevents them from learning or understanding.

Most men I meet are good people. However, I have found that many cisgender straight males are uneducated on and uninterested in what members of the LGBTQ+ community face. Though I am not excusing their behavior, I believe that they don’t fully understand the impact of their words. They will never experience what it’s like to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community, therefore do not understand the reality that we face. But this is all the more reason they should care and strive to empathize with our struggles. Support is the most tremendous act anybody can do.

Homophobia among my classmates and the media turned a major part of who I was into a secret I didn't want to keep. I don’t want anyone else to feel inferior about something they have absolutely no control over. I want to educate people on the real life implications anti-gay “jokes” can have on someone.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among gay and lesbian youth nationally. 30% of gay youth attempt suicide near the age of 15. Nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives, and one quarter report having made a suicide attempt. It is not worth the joke. I am writing this article not to attack straight cisgender men, but to ask people to understand and educate themselves before they do anything. Before you speak, think: Is it true? Is it helpful? It is it necessary?

Post-election, I’m uncertain of the cultural climate to come and the policies that could be put forth. But hate will not stop the progress the LGBTQ+ community has worked so hard for. For the gay women who feel as if they don’t have a voice over the men who whisper homophobic comments under their breath, for the gay women who are sexualized, and for anybody LGBTQ+ that feels attacked when they walk down the street: you have a voice! As difficult as it is to believe, you will never be alone; there will always be a community to fall back on. In the end, we must support everyone’s personal struggle because as Martin Luther King says, “no one is free until we are all free.”

Writing this blog post has been very therapeutic for me. I went from being ashamed of who I am, to waking up every morning loving myself. Though there are times I find myself feeling uncomfortable about being gay, I know that these are normal emotions to have in the world that we live in. I’m excited to help empower young women to view their gender, sexuality, and whole selves positively. And I’m excited to be myself.

Emily Heaps is 18 years old and graduated from LA County High School for The Arts last spring. Currently she is part of a gap year program called Tzedek America that teaches teenagers how to manage and structure life before college. Emily’s fellowship placement is at NCJW|LA for an internship with Youth Educational Programs and Services and The Talk Project. Emily is committed to working on social justice and making real change in the world around her.

 

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