by: Amanda Stefanski
When people ask me where I come from, I take a perverse pride in telling them that my hometown holds the world record for the most churches and banks per capita. I’m not sure if this is true anymore with regards to quantitative statistics, but this will always be true for me.
And it definitely felt that way when I was seventeen, a riot grrrl in the suburban Midwest. In a journal entry from 2008, I wrote: “Went to planned parenthood today. Got some birth control. Was shouted at by the crazy jesus people. Lamented oppressive attitudes towards female sexuality.” I bought this birth control so I could have sex with my boyfriend in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship. I want you to understand that I grew up in a town where it was rebellious to have premarital sex in a monogamous, heterosexual relationship.
I know, I know. Let’s be real. If you grow up in a predominantly white, middle class, Christian suburb in middle America and have parents who are extremely interested in controlling your sexuality for a myriad of historical and institutional reasons, this is probably not a special circumstance for you. (Adrienne Rich calls it the “politics of location.”)
Obviously, like many other queers from this situation, I am not some special queer unicorn, emerging bloodied and fixing my glittery mane amidst a battle with all of the institutional heteronormativity in the world. I’m just one queer in a long history of queers in the struggle. I’m also not interested in participating in the Oppression Olympics. We all know I wouldn’t even place in those Olympics. I might not even go home with a tiny consolation prize trophy.
However, I didn’t understand this when I was younger. The enormity of the task of processing my individual sexuality – as well as coming out – seemed so incredibly impossible. It seemed impossible before I understood all of the structural and systemic issues that made it (and will make it) much easier for me to come out as a queer woman because I am also white, middle class, able bodied, and cisgender. And to be honest, sometimes it still seems a little impossible, despite being surrounded by a lot of amazing radical queers. (Internalized homophobia runs deep, ya’ll.)
Like so many young queers, I didn’t have the words for it. In a world that constantly reinforces binaries, young Amanda felt there were only two options: lesbian or straight. I told myself that I wasn’t a lesbian, and so I guess I had to be straight. This was before I discovered the beautiful, all-encompassing label-that-is-also-a-non-label: “queer.” Despite actively identifying as straight for most of my adolescent life, I was frequently called a dyke by several young men who later went on to attend the pastor school at my hometown’s university. I’m not sure what I was doing to attract such suspicion. Did I have a giant, electric sign beaming over my head that said: “Please, police me back into your standards of gendered and sexual normativity?” Regardless to say, it’s just irritating when the homophobes have you figured out before you do.
I left home and moved to Chicago to attend DePaul University. I went to my first riot grrrl cover band show and watched the bands play with some weird, unexpected feeling in my gut, one that can only be described as: what are these feelings that person is a woman that person is genderqueer that person is not a cis man why do I want to make out with all of them? Consider all of my previous notions about sexuality and gender destroyed by queer punks.
In the interest of feminist transparency that all of us radical queers are so fond of, I am just beginning to process all of this. I am just beginning to write about and understand what all of this means. So I hope you’ll be patient with a young queer baby dyke who thus far has only had relationships with cisgender men. I reject the bullshit notion that you have to prove your queerness to other queers. I reject that there is some sort of queer ranking system that makes my identity less legitimate than others. However, I can’t help but feel a significant amount of anxiety around being recognized as a queer, by other queers, particularly as a femme.
Needless to say, I melt into a puddle of baby dyke if a woman says anything to me that might indicate some sort of recognition. I usually interpret this to be anything ranging from “I like your hair” to “Do you know when the next bus is coming?” I can attribute this desperate need for recognition to internalized homophobia and distrust of my own identity, as well as growing up in a climate of generalized sexual repression at the hands of my white, middle class, very Catholic family.
I’d like to refer to this tendency as the we-don’t-speak-of-it phenomenon. We-don’t-speak-of it can make an appearance in many circumstances and around many topics, particularly at holiday gatherings with a tight-lipped patriarch pouring all of the glasses of wine for the women seated around the table. We-don’t-speak-of-it can reference the middle class tendency to never want to talk about money and your relative class privilege over a lot of folks, the sexuality of that aunt that never married, the uncle who disappeared for 30 days to “dry out,” as well as the sexuality of that weird granddaughter with the nose ring and pink hair. So as the child of a we-don’t-speak-of-it family, you can imagine what this has done to my processing.
Let this be my first attempt to speak of it, to always be speaking of it.
Amanda Stefanski is a third year student at DePaul University, studying Women’s and Gender Studies. She is a proud member of the Wolfram Manor Collective, a collective of eight who do their best to provide a safe space for education, activism, artistic expression and socializing for feminists, radicals and queers. She is also a member of DePaul’s Feminist Front. In her spare time, she likes to listen to records, play drums, paint, read, and answer questions about how she keeps her hair such a vibrant shade of pink. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.