By Alaya Ayala
Angsty Thoughts on Too Many Expectations
By: ALAYA AYALA
For me, coming to Harvard was as freeing as it was binding.
I was free from the fetters of my high school responsibilities, free from the city where I was born and raised, and even as I hated to admit it, I was free from the expectations of my old friends and family. There was a two hour barrier on I-90 separating me from my old life, and I felt light enough to officially Come Out as bisexual last fall, to everyone. I had lived with so much fear of it for so long, I remember I used to have nightmares about my family rejecting me in disgust. It turned out I was lucky – my Coming Out was more of a dream than a nightmare. What I didn’t expect was for the dream to become recurring and to morph into the nightmare sometimes.
You’d think after you’d done it, the thing you’d been dreading forever, that it would be over and done with. You’d think that you could put it behind you and go on living your life, enjoying the turning of the seasons, falling in love, eating great food and exploring the world around you.
You’d be as wrong as I was when I thought it.
Here’s the thing, when you come out as anything other than heterosexual, you’re going to find that you will have to spend a lot of your time explaining your sexuality to people who don’t – or won’t – understand. It’ll be exhausting, and you will be annoyed. That’s not to say Coming Out is a bad thing, or even something to live in fear of. But it is something that you’ll have to live with, and if you’re as terrified of commitment as I am, that can be rough.
This past summer was a ten week-long journey in discovering new things about myself, meeting amazing people and learning more about other people’s perspectives on life. One of the greatest things I learned from my new friends was that I don’t owe anyone an explanation when it comes to my identity. While it was an amazing lesson to learn, I’ve unfortunately come to realize that knowing something and putting it into practice are two very different things. So, while I’ve learned that I don’t owe anyone an explanation or defense of my bisexuality, I still find myself repeating the same phrases over and over.
Yes, I am really bisexual.
Yes, I am dating a man.
No, that doesn’t make me straight now.
No, that doesn’t mean I want to leave him for a woman.
It’s become this really toxic cycle for me. I love being open about my sexuality and being happy with who I am. What I don’t love is having to justify my love for another person to everyone who doesn’t get it. It shouldn’t be my burden to explain to strangers why I identify the way I do. I don’t speak for all bisexual people, so why am I expected to represent what it’s like to be bisexual when everyone else in the room heterosexual, or even homosexual, because sometimes biphobia goes both ways?
A lot of the time, minorities are expected to carry the weight of their community’s experiences when they are the only minority present. When I’m the only Hispanic in a room, it apparently doesn’t matter that I can barely speak Spanish and grew up more or less disconnected from my culture. I suddenly am representative of every Hispanic society on earth. I’m the one turned to for explanations and the butt of every joke.
The same thing happens when I’m the only person who is low income, or even the only person with purple hair. It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference whether the thing that makes you different is something you chose or something you were born with, something temporary or something fused into your DNA. When you are alone, you are a target of curiosity, and you’d better hope you’re not the cat in this situation.
It isn’t right to expect this of anyone, to expect to have your ignorance catered to. Our struggles demand more respect than that. I didn’t Come Out last year to be reduced to any random person’s personal Wikipedia page on the intricacies of bisexuality. No one does that expecting to have to bow down to those without the initiative to learn these things on their own.
I guess that’s where my challenge comes in, then. To those reading this, I challenge you to learn more about the identities you don’t know much about. If you have a friend Come Out to you this Thursday, don’t bog them down with your questions. I know for me, that was and remains the hardest part of being Out. Instead, challenge yourself, do a little research, and when you finally understand, use your knowledge to bolster your loved one who is probably already going through a tough time.
They say knowledge is power. I say understanding is love. Take the time to understand those who come out this Thursday.
Alaya Ayala firstname.lastname@example.org wishes everyone a Happy Coming Out Day.