When I was a kid, I was adamant: I did not want to get married when I grew up. In fact, I didn’t quite see the point in it. I was happy being single, having a few close friends that I cared about, but really just doing the things I wanted to do. I now believe I’m probably what is referred to as a grey-ace (short for grey-asexual) and a grey-aro (short for grey-aromantic), meaning that, while I do experience sexual and romantic attraction, it is only under certain circumstances and does not take up a large portion of my life.
Yet I was never believed as a kid. It was assumed that I would grow out of such a phase, and adults even gave me condescending and knowing laughs, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt how I would feel about women (there was a definite hetero-normative assumption in their judgments) just a few years down the road. Very few adults supported this decision, assuming, as a kid, I could not possibly know what I really wanted out o my romantic and sexual lives.
Things came to a head when my father announced, prior to a visitation when I was in fifth or sixth grade, that I should dress up because he was setting me up on a date with a cute girl. I was furious. I felt like my wishes were being disrespected, and, out of spite, wore sweat pants and a t-shirt, because I was determined he was not going to force me to go on a date if I didn’t want to.
A step-aunt picked me up to take me up to my father’s house, which was quite unusual since he lived about an hour away, and was astonished at my state of dress. She said we would stop at her house so I could put on nicer clothes. At first, I refused, telling her that I was not going to be bullied into going on a date. She was taken aback at my reasoning and, after I told her the story, told me the truth: my stepmother was graduating from nursing school that night and, rather than just tell me the truth, my father thought it would be funny to make one of my wishes into an object of ridicule.
Yes, it wasn’t that he was disrespecting my wishes; he was merely making fun of them, and that was almost worse for me than the singlistic assumption that I needed to be in a relationship. I now realize that such incidents were slowly chipping away at my sense of self-esteem around the person I knew myself to be. This was the beginning of internalized singlism, because I was receiving the message loud and clear: the world was not okay with who I am so there must be something wrong with me.
This set me on the path for many years of dysfunctional relationship seeking that always ended in disaster. I have only recently been able to recover a sense that who I am is okay, and that has only been since I’ve endeavored on this project over the last couple of months.
As I look back on this story, I’m absolutely astonished by how determined the adults in my life were to belittle what I felt so deep down inside. Why was it so necessary for them to make such light of my declarations that I wanted to be single? After all, if it truly was a childhood phase, I would have grown out of it without any help from them. What I learned, instead, is that it wasn’t safe to be me, and that’s something I carry with me to this day.
Navigating the queer and trans worlds, I have heard so many such stories, people telling those they love deep truths about themselves and being laughed at, told it’s a phase, and that they’ll grow out of it. The gay or bisexual kid who admits to liking other people of the same gender. The trans kid who doesn’t feel like they’re living in the right gender. The asexual kid who doesn’t want much to do with sex and relationships at all. They can tell similar stories to mine about not being believed. Many have developed similar internalized oppression to my own because they, too, learned that their identities were not right.
Why is it so hard for adults to just believe kids? It would be easy to pin it all on shame and social control, and there are certainly elements of that in my story, but I think it’s deeper than that. Many of the adults in my life had failed relationships and marriages. I think there was a degree of insecurity because of this that required them to project their desires onto me and other kids like me. It was a coping mechanism on their part: in order to normalize their own lives.
I say this not to blame them, but to make an appeal: it’s time to start taking kids seriously. If a kid goes, “EEW! GIRLS!” or “YUCKY! BOYS!”, that is not the time to correct them and assure them they will change their minds in a few years. You don’t know how that kid will turn out. They may be gay or bi. They may end up asexual or aromantic. Yes, they may even turn out to be straight. It is not our place, as adults, to work through our own internalized singlism and hetero-normative values at the expense of their self-esteem.
And, if a queer, ace, or aro teen finds my blog, it is my hope they will realize that they are okay as they are, giving them permission to wear sweatpants on their imposed blind date. There are so many different and awesome permutations of what it means to be human. What is needed isn’t more conformity; it is more diversity and appreciation for the wonderful prism of differences that make our world so interesting to live in.