There are some identities that you are born into. Your race, ethnicity, and nationality are all parts of your identity that generally do not change over time. While these aspects of identity may be more present during certain stages of life, it is important to be aware of the traits that come with them. However, this month I want to focus on two types of identity that can change throughout your life – your gender identity and sexual orientation. Like many others, quarantine forced me to confront many of the thoughts and questions I had about myself that I kept pushing off. Staying isolated forced many of us to discover who we really are – without the social pressure of what other people think of us. At the same time, I personally felt this sense of urgency where it seemed like everyone around me and on campus had already figured out “who they are” while I sat in my childhood room in confusion. After multiple conversations with some of my closest friends, I realized the hard truth: nobody really knows who they are, especially in college.
When I entered college, I was in a deep culture shock. It seemed like most of the freshmen found their “group” within the first couple of weeks. My high school best friend and I watched as it seemed like everyone had found their forever friend group while we struggled to find other people to eat lunch with. Every student group seemed to have their separate cliques, often separated by identity. Even when people claim to be inclusive, nobody talks about how awkward it is to enter new spaces you might not be used to. It seemed like the only way to fit in was to be like everyone else, but that only creates temporary and inauthentic friendships.
My favorite memory from my freshman year happened just before COVID-19 hit our campus. Just a couple weeks before, we had met this friend group that had been friends since high school and they immediately welcomed us with open arms even though it was awkward at first, this night brought us way closer. We all made ramen together and just talked – openly and honestly. We talked about our personal struggles before and during college which honestly brought us way closer. While I didn’t open up about my struggles with my identity, I still told them stories about myself that I thought I would keep to myself for the rest of my life. That first night of opening up created a level of trust within a friend group that I had never felt before, something that I will be eternally grateful for. Without my friends being so welcoming, I don’t think I would have ever even accepted myself for who I am today.
As the world becomes more and more inclusive, it’s important to understand the different ways that people identify themselves. You may have seen or heard many people identify as “queer” or “gender fluid”, both are broad terms that refer to one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In my experience the word “queer” essentially means that you are not heterosexual or cis-gender. Many feel most comfortable with the term because every individual can create their own definition of the term. Just because two people identify as queer does not mean that they have the same attractions and interests, which further expands it’s meaning. The term “gender fluid” refers to one who does not see themselves within the gender binary. Growing up, most of us are taught that there are two genders: male and female, thus creating the idea of gender being a binary (having two parts). However, as we grow up, many of us feel like the societal expectations that align with each gender do not apply to ourselves. Gender, just like sexuality, is a spectrum and not binary.
This month, members of the LGBTQIA+ community will face numerous challenges and questions like “so what are you?”, “what do you identify as”, and “what are your pronouns”. While these questions may seem so simple to answer for some, the truth is that many of us have no idea. Sexuality and gender identity are not binary, the way you present yourself or who you are attracted to does not mean you fit into a certain box. If you have never struggled with your gender or sexual identity, the next time you come across someone who identifies as queer, be open-minded and supportive, because you never know what someone may be going through.
You are valid no matter where you are within your journey of self-discovery!