Writing by Caitlin Sheek. Artwork by Kate Granholm.
Growing up in a heteronormative society as a queer person is a unique and challenging experience. Existing in heteronormative society means growing up with the idea planted in your head that being heterosexual is the “norm.” Heteronormativity itself is defined as the “assumption of a person’s heterosexuality.”
Assumptions such as these are dangerous and whether history knows it or not, heterosexuality is not nor has ever been the “norm.” Yet, we are socialized from early childhood to look at a stranger’s appearance and make immediate conclusions about who they are, what gender they are, and what their sexuality may be.
When someone is raised to view themselves a certain way; to exist in their own body within specific parameters, without room for experimentation, that can be very harmful to their self-esteem and how they function in the outside world.
Gender expression and queer expression are very personal experiences that vary from person to person. This is why we need to be provided the space to explore and understand our bodies. Heteronormative ideals are pushed onto us from infancy. We are dressed in gendered clothes with printed phrases that say things like “future player” or “back off boys, I’m a daddy’s girl.” Gender roles and identities are projected onto us before we can even understand what and who we are. This continues on throughout our adolescence. We are constantly surrounded by heteronormative consumerism. Makeup and slimming spandex are marketed to young girls while muscular action figures and aggressive sports are marketed to young boys. This is the society we are born into, but only the individual can define what their body and physical appearance means to them.
I remember looking in my mirror as a curvy, feminine teenager, trying to pull in my stomach and flatten my boobs until they were practically nonexistent. I did not like standing out and I did not like my clothes clinging to my form. I rejected the Sunday dresses that my mother laid out for me, but I also couldn’t fit into my brother’s button ups.
I, like so many members of the LGBTQ+ community, suffered from body dysmorphia. In my opinion, body dysmorphia is a commonly shared experience in the LGBTQ+ community because we aren’t given the same space to understand our bodies that heterosexual people are. In fact, we are often shamed for it. Going against the ”norm” in any capacity when you are queer opens a door for ridicule, hate, and bullying.
Forget being raised as a woman in heteronormative society and consistently being told that I wasn’t thin enough or pretty enough; I was also a queer woman trying to navigate what all of those uncertain feelings about my body meant. The two could not merge.
I couldn’t fit anywhere into the heterosexual definition of womanhood. I was not “ladylike” and did not find joy in presenting feminine. Thankfully, I learned that this was okay through expressing mutual experiences amongst many of my queer peers.
Elliot Page has always been a big influence in my life as I navigated my own queerness. The tables started to turn for me when I saw and understood him as a kindred spirit. When I was younger and watched how he had dressed and presented himself in Trailer Park Boys, a light had switched for me. Can I also trade in summer dresses for pants and shirts? I had realized. Watching him transform into who he is today from Whip It to The Umbrella Academy has been nothing short of inspirational to me.
The journey of learning how to present yourself as a queer person feels like those rom-com style fashion montages; playing around with different appearances to figure out how to feel comfortable in your own skin.
It is a beautiful process, but the journey to bodily liberation is a grueling one, especially if we do not have the right support systems around us.
I am not queer enough. I am not feminine enough. I am not masculine enough. We cannot fit into the boxes that heteronormative culture provides for us. That is the whole point.
Living in a queer body in a heteronormative society is like trying to fit a wooden, square block into a round hole. It is molding yourself to fit standards that were created without you in mind.
We do not have to adapt to an environment that doesn’t suit us.
We can learn to love our bodies and live in peace with them, without waiting for society to change. What are our bodies, but vessels for genderless and fluid souls?
I believe that real change starts when we accept ourselves and learn to love ourselves in spite of heteronormative ideals being shoved into our brains on the daily.
We have absolutely progressed as a society. The renaissance of queer media, art, and music that we are currently in speaks for itself. I am grateful to be a witness to queer people finding their voices and becoming louder as the years go by. They have remained loud in spite of the homophobia that is still sprinkled throughout heterosexual media.
Purely existing as a queer person means self-love and harmony. Although I am a sucker for breaking the herteronormative rulebook, I don’t believe being queer is always an act of defiance or rebellion, because being queer does not go against the “norm.” It is the norm. We are everyday people and we make up this beautiful world that we live in.
Whether you are someone who is starting this journey to define what queerness means to you and your physical body or if you are simply trying to understand your queer peers and the reality that they must cope with, my hope is that you take your time to understand this era of change that we live in and to give yourself grace and compassion for trying.
We have to keep the lines of communication open with our intersecting communities. We have to provide spaces for queer people, especially young queer people, to experiment and express themselves. Now, not everyone has the privilege to freely express their queerness. Not everyone has the privilege to even discuss their queerness.
It starts with those who can. Loving yourself enough to dare to bend the heteronormative rules is revolution and victory in and of itself. We must keep bending the rules until they break so that society has no choice but to open its eyes to the queer experience.