The following blog contains mentions of suicide, child abuse, bullying, homophobia, and transphobia.
Poll: Only 52% of Democrats oppose Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ policy (Yahoo! News)
Alabama lawmakers approve bill that criminalizes gender-affirming care for trans youth (USA Today via msn.com)
Celebrating International Asexuality Day 2022 (thefword.org.uk)
I don’t remember if the dune buggy in the back corner of my family’s backyard ever really worked or not, but I remember its rusting shell staying there for year after year when I was very young. It wasn’t exactly a fun spot for the kind of play I liked to do back then, but I do have one very solid memory of it. My father had a stash of Playboy magazines in the garage, and after learning of this, one of the friends I had back then decided to take some of those magazines out to the dune buggy, dragging me along as he and his male friends pawed through the pages, exclaiming in delight as they ogled naked woman after naked woman. None of us could have been more than ten years old at the time (and I was younger than the rest of them by at least two years), so this wasn’t any kind of genuine sexual impulse as much as it was pre-adolescent “being naughty for the sake of being naughty” titillations.
I can still remember being utterly confused by the actions of the boys around me as they flipped through those old Playboy magazines. Even though I’d been given a copy of the legendary Show Me! at a very early age, I was pretty sure that I didn’t even know what sex was back then, let alone the mechanics of it. I just knew that I didn’t get what the big deal was. It would be one thing if I could say that I was more interested in what naked men looked like, but I wasn’t interested those kinds of pictures either. Besides, even though I barely had any understanding of sexuality at the time, the ultra-homophobic climate of school playgrounds in the early eighties meant that even if I’d had those kinds of impulses, I would have kept them to myself for fear of getting even more bullied than I already was. (I certainly dealt with more than my share of homophobic slurs at the time, just for being booksmart and uninterested in G.I. Joe.)
When I came out as bisexual to some of my classmates in my junior year of high school, that label felt like the best one for me at the time; if I was going to have sex, then I didn’t particularly care whom it was with, and after all the abuse I’d dealt with up to that point in my life, I certainly wasn’t going to restrict my love to anyone based on their gender. After I finished graduate school, and I first became aware of the term pansexual, I quickly adopted that label for myself since it was more fitting for me. By that time I’d had a handful of sexual experiences, and I really hadn’t enjoyed them at all, but I still felt a need to have some kind of identity that said I was sexually attracted to all people equally.
It was around this time that I was also first exposed to the term asexual as it applied to human sexuality. I flirted with identifying as asexual and gray-asexual for a while back then, but something about those words didn’t feel right to me at that moment. As I thought about asexuality more and more, though, I gradually began to realize that asexual wasn’t just the best label for me as I thought about the person I was, but it was also the only one of those labels that really fit me throughout my entire life. I have never once felt genuine sexual attraction to anyone else, and looking back at my life, the moments where I thought I’d felt sexual attraction were only my poorly-informed brain convincing me that I somehow needed to feel sexual attraction as a component of the human experience, thanks to societal messages that I’d uncritically absorbed when I was younger. Finally beginning to identify as asexual freed my mind in ways that I never thought possible, and brought me a kind of peace that I hadn’t experienced in my life before.
It’s hard not to wonder how much different my earlier years would have been if I’d been exposed to human asexuality when I was young, if I’d been given the concepts, and the words to describe those concepts, when I was still forming an identity more complex than “I like Popples and video games.” Given the rampant homophobia and transphobia and overall ignorance in American culture of the era, to say nothing of the constant physical and emotional violence that my father inflicted on me to try to turn me into “the son he always wanted,” I don’t know if I could have been open about who I was back then. At the same time, though, being able to identify myself as a transgender woman in my early twenties — after I finally got to see who trans people really were through the Internet, and not the exploitive trash of daytime talk shows like Donahue and their ilk that I’d seen in my younger years — helped me feel more at ease with myself, even if I didn’t begin to live full-time as a woman until a couple of years after my first realization (when my father finally lost the capacity to physically intimidate and dominate me, and going back to college provided me with the social support he’d cut me off from years earlier). Even if I couldn’t live as who I really was, I would have at least known who I really was, and not only would that have given me at least a modicum of comfort, but it could have provided me with more of a base to use when I was finally ready to stand up to myself.
As good information about LGBT+/SAGA people became more readily available over the years, it wasn’t a surprise to me that more and more youth began to identify as non-heterosexual or non-cisgender at very early ages. The idea that no children ever felt they weren’t straight or cisgender is patently false; societal pressures to pigeonhole them into those identities were far more prevalent in the past, and prohibitions about discussing those topics meant that those children lacked the understanding to put words or concepts to their feelings. All they knew was that they felt out of place, and because those feelings were essentially untreated for years and years, they often led to lifelong difficulties with things like depression and self-worth.
I abhor the cruelty of those who argue that children are too young to understand their gender or their sexuality, primarily because there have already been far too many instances of these children committing suicide because of the unhappiness they feel from being trapped in parental and/or societal expectations of who they’re “supposed” to be. Parents and institutions pushing narrow identities and ideologies on their children is the real child abuse at work in America, not allowing children the freedom of self-discovery, and those who are working to deny that freedom need to be called out for the harmful bigots they are, and the fact that so few people who claim to be “allies” of the LGBT+/SAGA community are ambivalent (at best) about all these recent attempts to take gender-affirming care away from trans youth, or to deny children even the chance to hear and learn the words that may help them figure out who they are, is a damning indictment of what American politics have become.
LGBT+/SAGA youth, especially in America, need a lot more than just words to help them deal with all the bullying and abuse — systemic and personal — they have to deal with every day of their lives. Those words are the beginning of understanding, though, and without that understanding, more youth will be unhappy not just in the here and now, but throughout their lives as they’re forced to deal with years upon years upon years of being forced to uncritically absorb the hatred so prevalent in our culture and the institutional products of that culture. Denying youth even the vocabulary to help them figure out who they are is just another form of institutionalized violence, being inflicted on young people already dealing with the violence of prejudice and bigotry and hatred. Enshrining that violence in law is nothing short of monstrous.