Opinion

Opinion: Growing up gay in a conservative state

Photo by Mercedes Mehling

Personal essay by Taylor Nash.

My favorite anti-LGBTQIA+ statement to hear is, “if we introduce children to gay people, the children will grow up to be gay.” It often takes everything I have to refrain from rolling my eyes and shaking my head.

If that logic were correct, LGBTQIA+ people would be straight. Heterosexual culture is everywhere.

I was in high school when I finally realized that what I wanted was attainable. A happy marriage to another woman could exist, just not in Idaho.

Part of the issue is that children lack the vocabulary to evaluate matters of sexuality. Many of the words they do know are clouded with negative connotations. How would I, an unknowing lesbian, want to understand and own the labels kids utilized to harass me? 

My introductions to the words queer, lesbian and gay were all detrimental. On the playground, everybody played “smear the queer.” Ellen was pretty successful, but “did you know she’s a lesbian?” If an outfit failed to meet social standards it was deemed “gay.”

My parents never attempted to make me dress a certain way or favor specific toys and characters. I grew up decked head to toe in SpiderMan gear. When the boxes of hand-me-down clothes were passed down to me, I rooted through my cousin Aaron’s before my cousin Kelsey’s. Sports and being outdoors were my hobbies. I played with the neighborhood boys and the “masculine” toys.

When strangers misgendered me, my mom would say, “she’s our little tomboy.” This was a phase that would pass. If growing out of it meant being pressured to conform to feminine societal standards, then they were right. I did outgrow the phase.

In middle school, I stopped picking out my clothing from the boys’ section. I wore skinny jeans and Hollister hoodies each day. At lunch, I sat with a table of girls. I grew to be obsessed with The Hunger Games and Twilight franchises. Team Peeta or Team Gale? Team Edward or Team Jacob? What about Team Katniss or Team Bella?

Photo of two women wearing LGBT pride flags around their shoulders.
[Photo of two women wearing LGBT pride flags over their shoulders]
Photo by Mercedes Mehling | Unsplash

It was not until high school that I realized why I could never come up with a name when asked who I had a crush on. I finally began to understand that nobody else stayed up late taking “How To Know If You Are Gay” quizzes online and watching “Signs a Girl Likes You” videos on YouTube. Even though I knew I was gay, I would not mutter a single confession for several more years.

When it came time to choose a college, I picked the largest city possible. Campus was a whole new world. There were LGBTQIA+ clubs, same-sex families at the farmers market, gay bars downtown and pride flags in people’s windows. 

If these experiences had been present in my childhood, I certainly would have grown up confidently gay. Not because it would have “turned” or “converted” me, but because it would have given me positive representation, vocabulary to express myself and community to look towards.

Straight parents should anticipate the possibility of their children being different from them. Many allies are not vocal until a loved one comes out. If parents champion LGBTQIA+ voices from the beginning, the least it will do is teach kids to respect community members. 

This responsibility is not theirs alone. As LGBTQIA+ people, we have the power to create positive representation via our presence. Sometimes it is not safe to do so, but it will never be safe if we hide out of convenience. Simply placing a pride sticker on your car could be the reassurance a questioning individual needs. Idaho might just be the perfect place for my gay life to take place.

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