A Guide to Spelling out LGBTQIA+ to Heteronormative People
Here’s an uncomfortable situation that you may be far too familiar with.
You are out of the closet about your identity, as if you needed to be out in the first place but welcome to being a part of a heteronormative society. Anyways, a person approaches you (let it be your sibling, your parent, your peer, your friend, or significant other), and they say something along the lines of: ‘What is LGBTQIA+? Why do you even identify with it? Why can’t you just be ___ ?’ Then you just freeze. You are taken back. You may be sad, angry, and/or frustrated. You might be even delighted that they asked you, as you believe that they care. And maybe, they do, but the way they presented their curiosity and care is a bit intrusive and insensitive.
The purpose of this article is to reframe this scenario so that you can have a more productive and understanding conversation with the person. Because I know from personal experience, this can be nerve-racking, annoying, upsetting, and beyond frustrating.
So, we’re going to be spelling LGBTQIA+ out together to heteronormative people. I’ve recreated four types of common encounters that we often have to face, whether they be generic or obscure. This will be done through narrating and dialoguing our responses to our encounters.
X: Substitute for Pronouns
Encounter #1 – The Unintentional and Awkward
You are meeting up with an old friend from your childhood town. You both went your separate ways after high school. You did not come out in high school, but there were rumors that you were (LGBTQIA+). You and your friend were aware of them, but you chose to be indifferent by not agreeing nor denying. So, when you and your friend meet up at a coffee shop, you are more outspoken about your identity whether that is by appearance or talking about it.
Y: I’m so happy to see you!
P: Me too! So, how’ve you been?
Y: Honestly, life’s been alright/good. I finally got a place of my own. I am working as a real estate agent. Oh, I also am living with my partner/boyfriend/girlfriend/friend! I can’t wait till you meet X.
P: *looks puzzled but smiles* That’s amazing! And wow, things are pretty serious between you and …?
P: Oh, wow, everyone said you were (LGBTQIA+). You never agreed or denied it so I always assumed you were straight. I’m so sorry. Happy for you.
Y: It’s alright, P. I really wasn’t certain how public I wanted to be about my identity then. I am glad that you are supportive of me. It means a lot.
Encounter #2 – The Ignorant but Educated
You are in an environment full of degrees. You are one of the only people who are ‘out’. You are also at a LGBTQIA+ friendly work. So, one day a co-worker confronts you and asks about your identity, putting you in a situation that you would never expect from your work.
P: Hi Y! You know I have been thinking about you a lot lately.
P: You see I just don’t get your identity. It doesn’t scientifically make sense to me at all.
Y: That’s an interesting comment about my identity, P. I know (LGBTQIA+) can be hard to understand, but it’s a legitimate concept and reality for the human experience.
P: But how do we procreate if we are not heterosexual?
Y: Well, not everyone procreates through vanilla means.
Encounter #3 – The Out-of-Nowhere and Invasive
You are outside in public minding your own business; in fact, you are just about to enter your favorite store when some stranger confronts you and harasses you about your identity.
P: YOU (*insert slur here*)! No one likes you. You don’t belong here.
Y: *Freezes and thinks…*
Y: *Walks into your favorite store anyways, enjoying the rest of your day*
Encounter #4 – The Confused and Oversimplifier
You come ‘out’ to someone of importance. You debated telling them about this before because you were worried that they would invalidate you. You are invalidated.
Y: Hey, recently I have decided to identify with being (LGBTQIA+). All my life I have really struggled with figuring out who I am, and this identity I really resonate with and makes me feel validated. I wanted to share this with you because you matter to me a lot.
P: Well, why didn’t you just come out before? I don’t really see the point of you telling me this. It’s like you told me your new favorite color.
Y: *Eyebrows furrow and feels taken back* It wasn’t that simple for me. There was a lot of challenges getting to this point. You really hurt my feelings. I’m rather disappointed.
P: *Eyes widen and tries to access compassion within themselves* I’m sorry, Y. I just don’t really get it. May you explain it to me? I wasn’t aware this was a big deal to you.
Y: *Smiles somewhat and opens up a bit* I can. Just give me a minute.
Each of these encounters are easier said than done. They can be easy or hard depending on your communication style. However, what I presented here are ways that I believe have been helpful when it comes to being put on the spot about identity. Of course, you can add your own spin to it. Hell, I know that I would. Yet, at the end of the day, it may be nice to know that you are capable of dealing with these encounters and the types of people that accompany them in a way that can strengthen your day-to-day relationships or your overall confidence surrounding your identity.
And maybe, next time when you are put into this situation, you can just leave them with the:
“Some are gay. Some are straight. Even then, we don’t discriminate.”