When I signed up for the class in LGBTQ Studies this year, I was not quite sure what to expect. But I wished to learn more about the community surrounding me, and I was in search of more friends. Since joining the class and meeting some of its members, some of my preconceived notions about LGBTQ relationships, and relationships in general, have been changed. This change in my perceptions began early, with an observation I made in the first class.
Before rollcall on the first day, I struck up a conversation with two boys who were sitting near to me. We chatted for a while before the class began. Once it ended, one boy left while the other exchanged contact information with me. Then the second boy left and met the other in the hallway, whereupon they grabbed each other’s hands, kissed and embraced, asking “Babe, are you ready to go?” This observation was one of the first that began to change my perceptions of the LGBTQ community around me.
For one thing, I was surprised to see gay people so young. From all I have heard and experienced, if people come out that young they are not generally in a deep relationship until they are older. The fact that these boys were together during high school ran counter to what I had expected. I am not sure why I was surprised by this notion, since those who are not LGBTQ frequently enter into relationships when they are as young as these boys, but I had somehow expected that it would be different for LBGTQ people in relationships.
Part of this might be because of my expectations of relationships in general. Most of the people I know that are my age meet up on hookup apps. This means that I have not really experienced a seemingly healthy relationship such as these boys have in real life. Hookup apps do not really provide for a real-life, face to face relationship where people are comfortable enough for public displays of affection in the way these two boys were showing. It made me think that perhaps they were in a better, more well relationship than are others of my age group.
The fact that the boys’ affection surprised me so much may be based around the fact that I am not used to seeing public displays of affection between gay people, especially those in high school. Their behavior challenges the thought that these relationships must be kept private, because of the fear of being judged or excluded. The fact is that people who are not LGBTQ are allowed to show much greater intimacy in public without raising an eyebrow or drawing comment. LGBTQ people, however, are not. This speaks to the cultural anxiety around LGBTQ people and their relationships. Especially in high school, those who are different from the way people expect and want them to be are marginalized, and, to some extent, feared for their difference. Gay people may feel compelled to hide their relationships because those relationships make others feel uncomfortable, which makes others harsher and more defensive as a response. This harshness and discomfort is what causes the discrimination against gay people. In making their relationship public like this, the boys are challenging the cultural norms around them. As a result, they may be opening themselves up for harsh treatment, negative comments, and discrimination. It is sad that I was surprised by the rarity of the displays of affection I saw, because it means that not many LGBTQ people are as willing to challenge those around them to accept their relationship as these boys were.
In considering the context of the observation I made, it occurred for me to wonder if the two boys were able to express themselves so publicly because they felt they were in a sympathetic environment where they would not be judged. Since the class we were in was about LGBTQ studies, perhaps they realized that they would not be marginalized based on their obvious affection for one another. Anyone who was taking this class might be expected to understand, or at least not judge, their actions. The others who were leaving the classroom at the time would not react, perhaps, in the ways that people from other classes might react.
I cannot say whether the boys would have acted in a similar way when leaving another class, or in other areas of the school. If they did, it would have challenged their peers, some of whom may be as surprised as I was at their relationship, and how it seems to be flourishing while the boys are still so young. Others, though, may not be as tolerant and nonjudgmental as the members of the class I am now in. The boys would be challenging the perceptions of the dominant heteronormative culture in which we live. Others might expect to see the behavior they displayed in public places, such as a bar, which seems to me to be the offline equivalent of a hookup app, but not in high school, where popularity and reputation seems to be based on how well people conform to cultural norms. If the boys are sure enough of themselves to display this level of affection in public where they may potentially be judged, it shows their willingness to not be held back by the ideas and opinions of others, including their peers. I admire them for this.
What the boys are doing with their public display of affection, and the casualness with which they greeted and kissed one another, has the impact of making queer people look like they may have a better handle on what makes for a stable and healthy relationship than do nonqueer people, at least in my experience. They are comfortable with one another in a way not common to my age group, since they have a real-life relationship not based on online communication or around the anonymity of the hookup apps. This gives me hope that queer people might be just as capable of having normal, fulfilling and long-lasting relationships as do those who are not queer.
It may be that my own experiences and prejudgements are as evident in my surprise at the boys’ behavior as are any of the challenges to cultural norms that caused it. Maybe it was my judgement that LGBTQ people cannot be in loving and affectionate relationships this young that made me surprised, rather than the actual truth. After all, as noted above, heteronormative people in high school often get into relationships with each other, and those relationships are real. Why can this not be true of LGBTQ people, as well? They have the same emotions and needs as others. Also, maybe it is not as true as I think it to be that people my age only meet up on hookup apps. While this may be true for those of my acquaintance, it may not be true for all. The actions of these boys made me think and reconsider my own opinions on these things, as much as it made me consider how their behavior might have been influenced by our context, and might have been different in other contexts. It made me challenge my own notions of culture and relationship as much as it challenged the ideas and notions of others around them.