By Emma Weisberg
One of the most fascinating aspects of Carissa M. Froyum’s article “‘At Least I’m Not Gay’: Heterosexual Identity Making Among Poor Black Teens,’” is how so many of the teenagers believed their peers, family, and friends chose to be gay. While the teenagers list an array of reasons why someone would choose to be gay, the most interesting to read about were the ones addressing “complications of heterosexual relationships or because they failed them” (611). As Froyum states, “a girl or boy claimed that a ‘naturally’ heterosexual person abandoned their orientation because of the potential emotional costs” (612). This observation infuriated me, because I realized these teenagers were seeing gayness as the “easy way out” and not acknowledging it as a lifestyle (one that is just as complicated as a traditional heterosexual relationship). When the teenagers theorized that people move away from heterosexuality as a means of avoiding “potential emotional costs,” they are making a claim that gay and lesbian relationships are devoid of emotional connection. This assumption supports the very hyper-sexualized media portrayal of homosexuality being just about sex and nothing more. These teenagers also believed others turned away from heterosexuality because of previous situations of “Being cheated on and getting sick of a partner were especially popular scenarios. Others saw rape or stints in jail as avenues to homosexuality” (612). Often when we talk about, say, domestic violence and sexual assault, we generalize about men taking advantage of women. This allows same-sex couples to slip through the cracks, so we’re made less aware about these situations being just as much of an issue in gay and lesbian relationships.
Another observation I made throughout the reading was how teenagers’ rejections of their peers, suspected of being gay or peers who had officially come out, were gender aligned: “Boys were much more likely to use and threaten violence, but girls tended to dissociate themselves from nonconforming behaviors and lesbian peers” (619) Boys needed to prove their heterosexuality by asserting their masculinity—or lack of femininity—with violence. These boys are resorting to violence as a way to establish status and hierarchy. On the other hand, teenage girls tended to reject their peers with social isolation. If they were around women who did not dress or act like a stereotypical feminine woman, they believed others would equate their peers’ gender nonconformity with homosexuality and suspect them as gay as well.
This awareness of peer evaluation is also evident in “Queer Women in the Hookup Scene: Beyond the Closet?” with the use of labels to construct sexual identity. The term “bisexual” is especially interesting, because it can receive backlash from gay/lesbian and straight people (in this dichotomous structure) alike. For instance, one college student explained how women she dated would react when they learned she identified as “bisexual:” “I’d feel they’d always be, like, ‘Oh, you’re bisexual, ugh. Well, just tell me when you, like, are gonna start wanting dick’” (16). As if women can be neatly categorized as exclusively interested in either women or men. Often, women would use the term “lesbian” even though they knew they also were interested in men, because they didn’t feel like friends or family would understand. I find it so frustrating that we always have this external pressure to put a label on things when, in reality, most people’s sexualities rest somewhere in between the rigid poles of heterosexuality and homosexuality. Yet, we place so much meaning in labels that coming out as anything but heterosexual becomes a declaration of a change in identity.