Having a crush in high school is already hard enough. Add a layer of compulsive heterosexuality and a drop for one’s inability to safely be out and a perfect creation of doomed queer relationships arises from the ashes.
This is the hardest and most vulnerable piece I’ve written for my blog, so bear with me.
We are set up to fail. Queer youth in relationships not only have to deal with the normal parts of a juvenile and introductory exploration of one’s emotions with another individual, but the systematic cultural inequity that comes with queerness. We not only have to deal with the note-passing and gossip, but the reality that a crush could turn into violence. That our parents, teachers, and peers see us as not simply boys and girls being young and reckless but as children unworthy of acceptance, unworthy of the right to exist, and unworthy of the simple right to have a crush.
In all the years I played high school basketball I never got changed in the locker room. I didn’t want the trope of the predatory-lesbian to ruin my already unique physical presentation. I mastered the empty scroll of my phone when my teammates were merely existing in a world of physicality they never second-guessed. But I did.
And then when we realize we’re gay or bi or definitely not straight, then we have to reconcile with our current crushes and our past friendships. We don’t avoid telling our friends merely for added suspense but because it could lead to our expulsion from groups of people we’ve known our whole life. And when it actually becomes plausible to enter a same-sex relationship you might as well be Princess Diana and the press.
For the small minority of queer youth that has had the ability, privilege, and situational circumstances that allow for the engagement into a romantic relationship, oftentimes (I’ve realized) it ends in extreme heartbreak. Why is that? Why does the imploding breakup of two queer kids in high school hurt more than that of their straight ones?
Take my advice as a queer former high school student in a relationship. We were idolized, fetishized, talked about- expectations about our end-date, our engagement, and future kids even projected by almost strangers. But we were also trailblazers. We wore pantsuits and held hands in our classes, queer students younger than us said we were the reason they felt safe to come out. We broke expectations in the halls but outside of school later, we’d break each other’s hearts.
When a group of white boys said the n-word, the queer and black kids united together to try to hold them responsible. We had this almost maternal-like presence among all the marginalized folks at our school, a pressure I thought I could handle. I thought I fell in love with someone because of simple attraction, it was only after my relationship ended when I realized maybe I fell in love because my ex was the only other [out] person. When you’re queer in high school not only are you looking for a needle in a haystack in order to find a partner but a needle that is silver, not straw color like the rest. To be queer in high school is to say, in order to make just that first step, you have to make an act of political heroism by coming out.
Queer breakups hurt more because your first bonding moment was simply the act of being queer. That, not a shared love for a sport or a musical group, is what initially and inevitably first brings you together. Then, when the breakup comes, you in a way feel like you’re breaking up with that first shared trait: your own queerness. Your mind races as you think of all the things you did wrong or could have avoided to save the relationship: therefore your own identity is questioned and examined. It’s deeper than how you forgot about your anniversary or gave a bad Valentine’s Day present. Did you really love the person or did you love that you finally found someone you could love? We’re forced to navigate these uncharted and intensely deep waters with absolutely no representation to help guide us. Maps, compasses, sonar navigation, these things were created with only heterosexuality in mind.
Audre Lorde wrote,
“When I live through pain without recognizing it, self-consciously, I rob myself of the power that can come from using that pain, the power to fuel some movement beyond it. I condemn myself to reliving that pain over and over and over whenever something close triggers it. And that is suffering, a seemingly inescapable cycle.”
I have felt pain but now it gives me power.
So how do we break this vicious cycle? First, we create new fantasies where the queer relationship is not romanticized and void of the inherent tinge that our capitalist-based system forever holds over us. That is to say, under our economic global system of capitalism, queer people will never be truly liberated so stop telling young queer people that it’s possible to come out with no negative consequences. Do not tell them that because gay marriage was “legalized” by the white house a couple of years ago you can be safe wherever. Perhaps this take is cynical, or perhaps this take is just understanding reality. Let us teach queer kids that homophobia is so deeply ingrained in our systems that even when they feel it is safe to come out they will always face oppression. Warn them, prepare them, educate them. Do not tell your gay son that his future will be full of rainbows and sparkles. Teach him that no matter how good his love is, he will forever be fighting uphill. And most importantly teach him to become a revolutionary so that we can liberate our humanity from the wretches of neoliberalism that sustains the foundation for bigger marginalizations such as homophobia.
See we fail when we mask the violence, when we convince ourselves that we have done enough, and, that there is not more to be done. It is when we say racism is of the past, same-sex marriage is already legalized, and the Holocaust is over and done that we don’t condone violence, but ignore it and forget it. Instead, teach our youth of these tragedies, show them the systems in their present lives that continue to shape them. Raise our kids to question power structures and preserve the lessons of history. Show our kids that change towards the liberation of groups of people is a forever but vital battle that requires systematic upheaval.
To me, it seems like love is mostly doomed for queer youth. We’ve simplified queerness as this one-step process of merely “coming out.” But what happens after? What happens when you get into a relationship that looks like none of the others around you? When you are forced to not make decisions about where to get dinner but how to stay safe in the hallways? Why do we convince queer youth that once you’re out, it is all better? Why don’t we fight to make that next step in human relationships just as accepted? Queer youth will forever have it harder even when they are past that “first step”. Until we talk about it, provide representation and academic analysis, show real-life examples of healthy relationships, until then, we will be doomed.
And then when we’re old and grown, after we’ve experienced those embedded injustices and understand how to maneuver in a world made for and by the one percent, only then, will we be forced to deal with our juvenile adventures. Not only will we have to reconcile with our adaptation to adulthood but with the trauma of our past deeds of existing in a world not made for queer kids. Our future romantic endeavors will forever be plagued by the ones that hurt so badly because they were formed beyond the realm of a traditional relationship. They were formed and broken beyond just high school drama and immaturity but in bold politics and the declaration of identity that could and would cause violence (big and small). Queer kids will forever be plagued by a childhood that wasn’t set up for their existence.
So to the 16-year-old girl who just came out as a lesbian. Who sees a cute girl sitting in the back of her biology class with a flannel and some black nail polish. Just know that your queerness is larger than one step of coming out. Your battle just to crush, just to love, will forever be tainted by our system of global capitalism which will continuously encourage systematic homophobia. But I must admit my biases because of my own failed queer high school relationship, so instead, I’ll say good luck to you. Know that it will be harder than you ever imagined, but to just love is worth it.