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But, How Do You Know?15 min read

May 17, 2018 | At Home | 0 comments

“When did you choose?”

      “What makes you so sure?” “Have you TRIED it yet?” “How did you decide?” Queer people have heard all of these questions, and their many variations. And each time, I am certain the person who is asking is curious; they want to understand, and for the most part, are genuine and well-intended. It is awesome that they want to know how it works, and I want to make sure I stress that asking a question like this doesn’t make you a bad person. That said, please stop asking these questions. Why, you may ask? Well…

“…And slowly you realize that it’s one of those questions that can just stack upon itself.”

    There are a few different angles to this conversation. The first, and simplest reason is this: Have you ever tried answering that question? Ya know that phase that children go through where you say, “We’re gonna eat dinner,” and you get back, “But why?” At first you try to answer, “Well it’s dinner time love.” And slowly you realize that it’s one of those questions that can just stack upon itself: “Well why is it dinner time?” “Because it’s evening” “Why is it evening?” “Because the sun is going down.” “Why is the sun going down.” “Because mommy made dinner and needs you to eat before she cries into a glass of shiraz again baby.”     How infuriating is it to try and rationalize everything, knowing that ultimately, your child is just gonna ask the same question again? Doesn’t it feel like your very world is in question? It is an entirely innocent situation, but it can drive you nuts. That’s kinda what it feels like to us. It would be so nice in that moment to have someone just look at you and say, “Okay, I believe you. It’s dinner time, the sun goes down, you’re attracted to men. Got it.”
     To make this a bit more personal, and authentic to the situation, I want you to think of “your type.” Like, if you were swiping through Tinder right now, what is the type you usually swipe right on? What does their hair look like? Glasses or not? Are they funny? Are they outgoing or introverted? And now take a second to really visualize what that kind of person looks like to you? Maybe this is super easy because you’re already with someone who is “your type” and you can just imagine their face. Now, how do you know that is your type? Like really… HOW DO YOU KNOW?! Can it really be qualified? Can you explain the feeling you get when your partner looks at you with deep brown eyes or their hands are bigger than yours or they have a gap in their teeth? No, and you shouldn’t have to!      That core feeling of being distrusted just feels ugly. You may be wondering why I am so adamant about this… well, there has been a long, ugly, and devious history to this line of questioning that supersedes the lovely reasons above: to delegitimize queer reality and equate it with a choice, a whim, a phase.

“…there has been a long, ugly, and devious history to this line of questioning…”

    If you can make my being queer something that I have done, I have chosen, I have decided to experience, then you can convince yourself, and others, that equal rights like workplace discrimination protections, adoption, partner benefits, etc. can be withheld. It has been seen for decades: gay men decide to have sex with each other, if they get AIDS it’s their own fault; all men have the same right to marry, as long as it is with a woman, if they want to marry someone else, that’s because they are choosing to be gay; trans adults are just pedophiles who are choosing to go into a different bathroom to molest children; bisexual people just want attention; etc.     So what is the moral of the story here? Well, first of all, believe people when they tell you who they are (thanks Maya Angelou). The very essence of the “But how do you know?” question is founded in the idea that at some point every gay person was straight, or that every trans person was cisgender and then one day we suddenly were like, “well will you look at that… wow, yesterday I was all about being a boy, and now today I would like to choose to go through the very public and intimate process of transitioning to a female gender identity because it seems like it might be fun to get called a pedophile when I’m just trying to find a bathroom to pee in.” We didn’t do that, we have been gay, pan, trans, etc. since birth; it’s in our hard-wiring.     Curiosity is awesome, hell, we LOVE curious people in the queer community (wink). But at some point, we have to move beyond this idea that queer people are responsible for explaining queerness to all people, and beyond the idea that we’re all born straight and cisgender, and anything else is a choice.

“When did you choose?”

      “What makes you so sure?” “Have you TRIED it yet?” “How did you decide?” Queer people have heard all of these questions, and their many variations. And each time, I am certain the person who is asking is curious; they want to understand, and for the most part, are genuine and well-intended. It is awesome that they want to know how it works, and I want to make sure I stress that asking a question like this doesn’t make you a bad person. That said, please stop asking these questions. Why, you may ask? Well…

“…And slowly you realize that it’s one of those questions that can just stack upon itself.”

    There are a few different angles to this conversation. The first, and simplest reason is this: Have you ever tried answering that question? Ya know that phase that children go through where you say, “We’re gonna eat dinner,” and you get back, “But why?” At first you try to answer, “Well it’s dinner time love.” And slowly you realize that it’s one of those questions that can just stack upon itself: “Well why is it dinner time?” “Because it’s evening” “Why is it evening?” “Because the sun is going down.” “Why is the sun going down.” “Because mommy made dinner and needs you to eat before she cries into a glass of shiraz again baby.”     How infuriating is it to try and rationalize everything, knowing that ultimately, your child is just gonna ask the same question again? Doesn’t it feel like your very world is in question? It is an entirely innocent situation, but it can drive you nuts. That’s kinda what it feels like to us. It would be so nice in that moment to have someone just look at you and say, “Okay, I believe you. It’s dinner time, the sun goes down, you’re attracted to men. Got it.”
     To make this a bit more personal, and authentic to the situation, I want you to think of “your type.” Like, if you were swiping through Tinder right now, what is the type you usually swipe right on? What does their hair look like? Glasses or not? Are they funny? Are they outgoing or introverted? And now take a second to really visualize what that kind of person looks like to you? Maybe this is super easy because you’re already with someone who is “your type” and you can just imagine their face. Now, how do you know that is your type? Like really… HOW DO YOU KNOW?! Can it really be qualified? Can you explain the feeling you get when your partner looks at you with deep brown eyes or their hands are bigger than yours or they have a gap in their teeth? No, and you shouldn’t have to!      That core feeling of being distrusted just feels ugly. You may be wondering why I am so adamant about this… well, there has been a long, ugly, and devious history to this line of questioning that supersedes the lovely reasons above: to delegitimize queer reality and equate it with a choice, a whim, a phase.

“…there has been a long, ugly, and devious history to this line of questioning…”

    If you can make my being queer something that I have done, I have chosen, I have decided to experience, then you can convince yourself, and others, that equal rights like workplace discrimination protections, adoption, partner benefits, etc. can be withheld. It has been seen for decades: gay men decide to have sex with each other, if they get AIDS it’s their own fault; all men have the same right to marry, as long as it is with a woman, if they want to marry someone else, that’s because they are choosing to be gay; trans adults are just pedophiles who are choosing to go into a different bathroom to molest children; bisexual people just want attention; etc.     So what is the moral of the story here? Well, first of all, believe people when they tell you who they are (thanks Maya Angelou). The very essence of the “But how do you know?” question is founded in the idea that at some point every gay person was straight, or that every trans person was cisgender and then one day we suddenly were like, “well will you look at that… wow, yesterday I was all about being a boy, and now today I would like to choose to go through the very public and intimate process of transitioning to a female gender identity because it seems like it might be fun to get called a pedophile when I’m just trying to find a bathroom to pee in.” We didn’t do that, we have been gay, pan, trans, etc. since birth; it’s in our hard-wiring.     Curiosity is awesome, hell, we LOVE curious people in the queer community (wink). But at some point, we have to move beyond this idea that queer people are responsible for explaining queerness to all people, and beyond the idea that we’re all born straight and cisgender, and anything else is a choice.

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Nathaniel Gray

Nathaniel Gray

Founder, Writer, and LGBTQ+ Empathy Mentor

Nathaniel is a social worker, mentor for parents of LGBTQ+ youth, and facilitator/empathy mentor. He started out in NYC as a singer/dancer/actor from the heartland (O-H-I-O) getting his BFA in Musical Theater from Pace University. After years of performance, Nathaniel turned to working with youth, as an educator and administrator at Fusion Academy. Since then he has completed his Master’s in Social Work at Fordham University and started The Proud Path, as well as worked with the Ali Forney Center and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, agencies addressing LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. His mission is to learn everything he can about the coming out process to assist others through it, and develop empathy within those who never have to.
Nathaniel Gray

Nathaniel Gray

Founder, Writer, and LGBTQ+ Empathy Mentor

Nathaniel is a social worker, mentor for parents of LGBTQ+ youth, and facilitator/empathy mentor. He started out in NYC as a singer/dancer/actor from the heartland (O-H-I-O) getting his BFA in Musical Theater from Pace University. After years of performance, Nathaniel turned to working with youth, as an educator and administrator at Fusion Academy. Since then he has completed his Master’s in Social Work at Fordham University and started The Proud Path, as well as worked with the Ali Forney Center and the Hetrick-Martin Institute, agencies addressing LGBTQ+ youth homelessness. His mission is to learn everything he can about the coming out process to assist others through it, and develop empathy within those who never have to.

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