Being queer in both straight and LGBTQ+ spaces can be mentally taxing
I work with a close-knit group of fellow college students. We talk about our personal lives, complain about classes, and occasionally go out together on weekends. Some of them, like me, identify as queer.
At the office, I made a lighthearted joke when someone asked me which ice cream flavor I preferred — chocolate or vanilla? My answer: “I like both, because, ya know, I’m bi.” This remark earned some laughs from across the room. So why did I feel a weird, sinking feeling in my stomach?
Jokes like these are common between the other queer staff and me. We make references to pop culture, bond over Hayley Kiyoko and Troye Sivan, and marvel over the beauty of, well, women. However, I find myself more conscious of my queer mannerisms when I’m in a space dominated by straight people. If my LGBTQ+ friends and I have some sort of queer outburst or laugh excessively about a certain queer joke, I wonder if I’m being too much. I tell myself to dial it down a notch, keep my gay self in check until I’m surrounded by a majority of other queer people.
When I officially “came out” as bisexual a year ago, on my 21st birthday, it was an extremely liberating and exciting moment. My friends had already known for some time, but for my close family members to know about that aspect of my identity was a huge moment for me. I could comfortably start being a more accurate version of myself while around them, which felt incredible.
Reflecting on this past year, however, I’ve noticed the varying comfort levels I’ve felt in different settings as a bisexual, genderqueer individual. Even though I’m “out and proud,” as they say, I find myself dialing back my queerness depending on who I’m around. It’s not like that pivotal moment in a movie or TV show when a queer character comes out and afterwards they’re able to be the fullest version of their gay self that they’ve always wanted to be. I’ve felt shame in myself because I don’t act as “out and proud” as I’d like to all the time.
Other LGBTQ+ people, you’re not off the hook — predominantly heterosexual spaces aren’t the only places I’ve felt discomfort in expressing my identity. When I was single, right around the time I came out, many of my queer friends explicitly told me that they wanted me to seek out a girlfriend. I felt so much pressure to date a woman that, on dating apps, I would swipe right on people I barely had an interest in. I was also hit with the typical remark, “Well, if you’re bi, why aren’t you seeing anyone? You have a bigger dating pool!” Uh…it doesn’t really work like that, but thanks for the input, I guess? I felt like because I wasn’t “landing girls” or seeing a lot of people, I wasn’t living up to the expectations of my sexuality. Somehow, I wasn’t doing bi right.
It almost got worse when I found myself in a committed relationship. I entered a relationship with a partner who — unlike my former partners — accepted me for who I was and made me feel comfortable in my own skin. The partner, who I’m currently dating, is a childhood friend that I’ve kept in touch with since I was 6 years old.
To the dismay of my queer friends, my partner is a cis, white, heterosexual man. Though he fits in beautifully with my friend group, embraces my queerness, and considers himself a feminist, outside perceptions sometimes make me feel like I’m not fulfilling my duty as a queer person.
This feeling isn’t unique to me. According to an article from Healthline, “queer imposter syndrome” is a real thing. The article highlights that this feeling is especially common among bisexual women and femmes — especially those who have a history of dating men or are currently in a relationship with a nonqueer man (ding ding ding!). In the article, Eva Bloom, queer peer sexuality educator and sex science communicator, said queer imposter syndrome can often be the result of internalized biphobia and femmephobia. According to the Human Rights Campaign, biphobia is “prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward bisexual people,” and occurs both within and outside the LGBTQ+ community. Femmephobia, which can stem from biphobia, is prejudice, fear or hatred directed toward femmes. Biphobic or femmephobic behaviors often seek to delegitimize people with these identities.
The Healthline article also notes that queer and bi invisibility is associated with depression, anxiety, and decreased access to affirming healthcare. Not feeling queer enough can also keep people from entering LGBTQ+ spaces, further isolating them.
The bottom line is, I want to feel comfortable being my ridiculously queer self all the time. I recognize my privilege as a white, middle class, able-bodied person who lives in a country that, for the most part, protects me from facing horrible discrimination in public spaces. But I think allies and fellow queer people can do a better job of accepting LGBTQ+ identities no matter what they look like. If we can’t foster a community of acceptance from within, how do we expect to change the minds of people on the outside?
Here’s what you should take away from this post — If you’re straight and you know queer people, accept them exactly as they are. If you’re queer, be kind to your LGBTQ+ friends and recognize that bisexuality, lesbianism, or whatever, is not a monolith. Most importantly, be kind to yourself and recognize that your relationship status or dating history, how long you’ve been in the LGBTQ+ community, and your status of being “out” don’t have any influence on how queer you are. You’re valid, and you’re enough.