I was born in October 2004. Gay marriage was legalized in New Mexico in December 2013 when I was 9 years old. I was not made aware of this by members of my community.
Around that time, instead of memories of celebrating marriage equality in my town, I distinctly remember a film being screened at a local theater where the protagonist was imprisoned for accusations that they were homosexual. When I was 12, I bought a ticket to see this movie and wrote about it in an application to attend middle school, still not aware that gay marriage was legal where I lived.
New Mexico was one of the first states to legalize gay marriage, but only because of a typo in the state constitution. However, if you had a conversation with 13-year-old me, you definitely already knew that.
The pervasiveness of heteronormativity went unnoticed by me for most of my childhood. My exposure to gay people consisted of a family friend and a classmate who told me she liked girls. My verbal response to her was something along the lines of “ew,” even though I vividly remember the anxiety I felt when my first thought was “me too.”
Today, there’s no one in my life, at least no one I let be close to me, who is blatantly homophobic. So where was all that negativity coming from? It wasn’t until after I had almost completely embraced my sexuality and let it become an openly important part of who I am that I received criticism, albeit limited. It came in the form of classmates not changing in front of me in gym class, of other kids sending vomit emoji (directed at me) to a group chat I was part of.
Even writing this description of my experience, I hit walls of overthinking, analyzing pieces of my childhood and early teenage years where I could have picked up that the way attraction works in my brain is healthy and normal. Places where I could have picked up (falsely) that it wasn’t. Still, I don’t think I should blame myself for being unaware of underrepresented sexuality when I was a child. And I don’t think I should feel guilty for not blaming myself. My first thought shouldn’t be to doubt my own integrity as a person whenever I think about my queerness. And neither should anyone else.
Still, I have a lot of trouble telling people I think they’re homophobic and being an ally to myself. One, because a lot of people in my life will tell me I’m the one spreading unnecessary negativity. Two, because I’m probably scared of them. And three, because people immediately jump to saying what they’re doing is unimportant; that it’s harmless to eat at places like Chick-fil-A, which donates to groups with anti-LGBTQ stances; or run around with friends who say the f-slur. But it’s not. You’re enabling and supporting people who actively want to hurt me and every other member of the queer community, no matter how directly or indirectly they do it. Grappling with my sexuality is hard enough; I don’t want other people to insist I justify myself to them or tolerate their behavior toward the community I am proudly part of.