It starts like every other eleventh grade assembly at a local school: the principal walks around the auditorium with an air of confidence, the speech he will give to the upcoming seniors rehearses in his head as the crowd murmurs how they wish they could be anywhere else but there.
Everyone expects this assembly to be about the same old thing: standardized tests, grades, graduation rates and future success. Instead, this assembly is about how the people around you influence who you become. More specifically, today the principal will talk about how girls should choose their boyfriends.
As he speaks, one of the girls in the front row rolls her eyes while her hands tremble. She feels the strange mix between annoyance and sensitivity. She doesn’t want to admit his words hit close to home, or actually, that they miss the mark completely. Her chest aches as she wonders if there is anything worse than being invisible.
The principal keeps on ranting, “Choosing the right man is essential. Tell me, young lady,” he points towards her. The whole auditorium falls silent. “Would you date a man shorter than you?”
The question is ridiculous. Yet, that’s not the point. The girl has being acknowledged and it’s terrifying. A million doubts swim inside her head and the moment she has been dreading is here. She stands up, an earthquake radiating in her hands. Her voice comes out hoarse, “I date girls.”
The principal blinks twice in a row. Then he asks someone else.
This scenario sounds imaginary, it sounds almost ridiculous. But more than a few members of the LGBT community have lived through something similar. When we walk into a room, the expectation of heterosexuality is almost suffocating. It turns a conversation into something dreadful, a handshake into doubt, and small comment into a series of overanalyzed thoughts. We walk into a room already feeling labeled.
However, while feeling invisible is a terrible sentiment, it doesn’t compare to being acknowledged for who you are just to be judged for the same reason. Everywhere you look, heteronormativity is the rule. Our TVs plays shows where heterosexual characters are almost always have the main roles while the LGBT cast members barely appear for two seasons (If they’re lucky.) The music of our generation is directed to the sex-driven heterosexual youth, a song with gender-neutral pronouns is a peculiarity. It is almost a myth.
The world we live in is fixated in boxing people off. Only recently has “gay” being part of those boxes. It has come to the point where talking about our sexual experiences or our romantic partners is the only thing interesting about us. I mean, it must be since that’s all people care about once they find out.
This social phenomenon causes many of those in the LGBT community to question their identity past their sexual orientation. It is hard enough getting past heteronormative behavior, once you are out: you never stop talking about life outside the closet. At times it gets difficult to realize that our sexuality doesn’t change or define who we are. Regardless of who we date, we are still daughters and sons, siblings, parents, friends. We are more than pride parades and rainbow socks.
We are people who should be acknowledged, who should be seen as more than a label.
And if by some strange reason, someone’s school’s principal decides to talk about who their students should date, they shouldn’t question “Who are they?” They should instead question: Do they treat you well? And most importantly, do they make you happy?