Queer Life and Culture

What People Miss in Their Queer Loved Ones’ Lives

By Bryant Harland

Content Warning: Homophobia, Transphobia

Chicago Pride 2018 is in the top-10 happiest moments of my life. I fully embraced the Hot Topic-mall-goth-femme aesthetic that I’d always wanted, but had never had the courage to go outside in. What can I say? My sleek red-and-black dress, femme docs, and black shawl just make me feel so damn good.

I was surrounded by friends from all over the queer community, and – although a lot of the rest of the world sucked at the time – there was a strength in the togetherness and visibility that simply made me feel hopeful. Maybe even optimistic.

There are some people in my life who have considered themselves loved ones, family, and friends who will never see the pictures from that moment or hear me talk about it, just as they will never see the many other top-10 happy moments.

Not that I didn’t write or gush about it on the internet, especially Facebook. But I have filters.

The Loved Ones You Miss with the Words You Say

In fact, we all have filters so that we can edit ourselves for a specific audience. For me and many of the queer folx I know, we carefully curate ourselves for former and current loved ones whose responses to queer identities have been hateful, negative, or passive aggressive.

This post isn’t about cutting someone out of our lives completely. This is about the people we’ve selectively filtered out of some of the crucial moments. If our lives were rated VG (very good), these people see the G version, or maybe just the mediocre version.

If you’re one of the people on a filter, you very likely don’t know it’s happening. You probably don’t even feel like you’ve acted hatefully. I encourage you to read about my experience, because I know that I am not alone in it. I’ve talked with people I care about deeply within the queer community, and many of them filter out the people who raised them.

You don’t have to be extreme to be problematic. It was never groups like the Westboro Baptist Church that made me hate myself. Oh, groups like that fill me with rage too, but it’s easy to direct the anger at groups like Westboro when they’re cartoonishly evil. What made me hate myself were the thousand tiny cuts that my family inflicted from the time I could understand words and anger and hate all the way through my entrance into adulthood.

The Thing About Kids. They Listen to You
My first memory of transphobia was created long before I came to terms with or understood any aspect of my own queerness. It was well before I thought of things like my gender identity or knew what to do about liking boys.

My family was never aggressively hateful. That’s the thing with most homophobia, transphobia, and general bigotry. It’s insidious. Even well into my adult life, I struggled to identify and come to terms with my own (disclaimer: I still fuck it up sometimes).

I was probably 11 or 12 when I heard my grandmother say “Men who wear women’s clothes have some kind of mental illness.” It was an off-the-cuff comment in some conversation she was having, but out of thousands of things I heard her say growing up, years of holidays and card games and other family gatherings, I remember this one thing more clearly than most.

I didn’t know it then, but it turns out that I’m a man (kinda) and I wear women’s clothes.

Those moments are not isolated. Whether it was aunts and uncles looking at a queer person on television and saying things like “That’s not right,” or it was some adult in my life seeing a feminine assigned-male-at-birth (AMAB) person and calling them a f**.

It is a thousand tiny cuts.

They don’t always show right away. Mine became visible as I started questioning my identity and my sexuality, probably around when I was 14. Many people could see that I was hurting, but didn’t know exactly why. I was lucky—it was easy to hide the self-hate and anger at my own queerness under the veil of general teenage angst.

I came out as bisexual to some of my peers in 8th grade. I didn’t tell my mother I wasn’t straight until I was in my early 20’s and had moved out of her house. I don’t know if I ever told her I’m actually pansexual.

I know people in their 30s and older who haven’t told their parents, grandparents or other family members half the things I’ve told mine, and you should know that one of the key reasons I can even share so much with my family is that I have an immense amount of privilege that lets me afford to burn bridges. And I have burned a few bridges just by being queer and outspoken about it. Not everyone can do that.

So, Are You on a Filter?

I wanted to write this partially for solidarity. Because I know other people who have experienced the same pain I have, and I know there are many more out there who are fighting to understand and work through that pain. To you folx, I am so sorry that you’re going through this, and I want you to know that you’re not alone.

But I also wanted to address the other side.

To the people who we filter out of our lives. You probably don’t know it’s happening, but I want you to think hard about it. I want you to think about your attitude toward the LGBTQA+ community and the things you’ve said. They might not have even been directed at your loved ones, but, I promise you, if you do have loved ones who are LGTBQA+, they heard you. The parts of their lives you see probably look at least somewhat happy. They’ll share the new job announcements and the promotions. They’ll post pictures from the office holiday party and a selection of pictures from their personal lives — the pictures they’ve identified as safe for you to see.

What you will miss is the complete joy on their faces as they embrace a queer partner. You’ll miss most of the top-10 happiest-moment pictures they post on Facebook. You’ll miss their strength and passion as they walk down the sidewalk (or in the street) at Pride. You won’t hear about the moment where they discovered themselves for the first time, or their countless moments of re-discovery. You will never see your children, siblings and closest friends at their best because you’ll always get the trimmed down version of their story.

And you’ll miss those moments because of things you don’t remember you said. It was the comment you made when they were 11 about men in dresses. Or the thing you said about bisexuals “just needing to choose.” It was when you looked at a young queer person and said, “they’re just going through a phase.” For some of you, it was when you voted for people who are obsessed with which bathrooms transgender people use and said “It’s just politics.”

Existing in a society is always political.

I’m not telling you these things to hurt you. I’m telling you because I want you to do better. I’m telling you because I had to force myself to do better, and, even then, I only got better because I had people in my life who were willing to call me out. I’m telling you this because I want you to think about the people you love most and consider whether they trust you enough to share the most meaningful, happiest moments of their lives with you.

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