RUBY HEALING: Straight talk by a grade 10 queer girl
Jennifer Lawrence made me question myself. As well as Emily Blunt. Jennifer Aniston too. Oh, and Charlize Theron. But Stephanie Beatriz was the turning point.
I first saw Stephanie Beatriz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, playing Rosa Diaz. Late into the show, her character comes out as bisexual. I grabbed my phone when I saw this and googled if Beatriz was bisexual. I nearly jumped up and down when I found out that she was. But I soon got scared: why was I so happy about this fact?
In grade eight I joined my school’s debating team, tagging along to tournaments even if I wasn’t going to participate. I’d spend an entire day with the most informed people from my and other schools. At these tournaments, I saw men in skirts and girls with short hair. I gawked at people my age having discussions about abortion and atheism, religion and racism, schooling systems and sanctions on trade. These were discussions on topics I didn’t know existed, and I eventually also debated these things. Debating was the eye-opener I didn’t know I needed.
I’d talk about oppressed groups of people, but I didn’t know that I would soon find out that I was part of one such community. In retrospect, I was never straight. But I didn’t know I was gay, so I assumed I was straight, due to a lack of exposure.
This is the way I like to explain it: all my life, I was served chocolate Nesquik, thinking I liked it because it was the only option on the shelf. One day I tried the strawberry flavour. I liked the strawberry more. But I thought I liked the chocolate because it was what was “normal”, it was what other girls around me liked.
I had dated a guy before, I thought I liked him. But when I dated a girl for the first time, I realised what I really liked.
My family has always been supportive. My friends too. I knew when I told them that I had a crush on a girl, they would still love and support me, but there was still the gnawing “oh, but what if” or “you never know”. I’d watched music videos where LGBTQ+ children – even adults – who had been kicked out of the house for being the way they were. Some were even killed. I thought that being straight was safer.
Many of my academic interactions instilled the idea that homosexuality was bad, and this was backed up by religion. Religion, a system born from love and acceptance, taught me to hate myself and change.
When I told my friends and family that I was dating a girl, I thought I was killing two birds with one stone. Everyone I cared about would know and that would be that. But they still asked if I was gay, bisexual, pansexual, and other questions. I was scared to look up these terms, worried someone would find out. I wasn’t taught about any of this at school, and every time someone brought it up in a lesson, it was ignored or countered with religion. I didn’t know what I was specifically, as if labels dictated the way one would treat that person.
Straight or cisgender people didn’t have to come out. Why? Because it is ‘expected’ to be both of those. And if you weren’t, you had to inform people that you didn’t fit into what was expected, what wasn’t ‘normal’.
When there’s a heterosexual couple, whether they go to the same school or not, it’s only really the students who know. But when people found out I was dating someone of the same sex, everyone apparently HAD to know.
It’s been about a year since the day everyone found out, but people still ask me how two girls have sex. They would completely ignore the fact that I was minor at that point, as well as my right to privacy. And I realised that I used to be just like the people who asked me this; unaware and ignorant of things that didn’t directly affect me.
Many adults treated me differently after that day. Pupils would whisper when I was near them. They told me that I would get expelled, told me how uncomfortable I made them feel, and that I would go to hell.
Some people would look for anything to get my then girlfriend and I in trouble. And they did eventually get us into trouble with our school. People reported us. When we were called in, we asked to see the reports, but we didn’t get to and were told nothing about what people said about us. We were never asked if anything in these complaints was true – they just assumed the accusers were right.
Despite this happening last year, I only found out this year that it was a teacher who accused my girlfriend and I of kissing in their classroom. My friends and I all knew that wasn’t true.
I will acknowledge that my girlfriend and I did push some boundaries. We held hands, and kissed in the bathroom once. But I’d seen students give hickeys to each other in class and pull up each other’s uniforms, exposing their skin. But that was all OK – apparently because they weren’t dating each other.
My friends were affected too. People assumed that I made them “like me”. So, every chance someone got, they’d ask if two of my friends were dating each other, or overreact when two of them touched shoulders. My younger sister was also asked if she was “like me”. And boys would tell me how disgusted they were by me.
I hated myself at first for the burden I’d placed on other people. But I now realise that it wasn’t my fault – it was the fault of the system.
I learnt a few things the hard way:
If they don’t support you, they don’t matter in your life.
Do things to make yourself happy.
There are no boxes to fit into.
You do not have to come out to be valid.
Coming out may take a weight off your shoulders, but always prioritise your safety.
I don’t fight battles for myself anymore. I fight for those who can’t speak up, for those who don’t have a shield they shouldn’t even need.
Exposing children to information about LGBTQ+ issues will not damage them, it will help them understand. People don’t like being asked “what’s in their pants”, or “how they have sex”. They don’t like being told that they’re “sinning” or that they’re “a predator” or that “it’s just a phase”. If more people were exposed to sexualities outside the heterosexual box, privacy and dignity would not be threatened.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I say this for all my queer siblings: we want equality; we want representation; we want people to see us, to hear us, to know about us; and most of all, for us to live in safety.
Ruby Healing is a 16-year-old grade 10 pupil from Ekurhuleni. She’s fascinated by history and all things political.