By Olivia Oseghale/ Anne-Marie Langan
Although pride month has come to an end, we should continue to celebrate what it represents, namely celebrating individuality and acceptance of differences in sexual identity and orientation. To highlight the importance of this, The Legal Clinic has interviewed several people about their experiences in coming to terms with their sexual identity. Our first interview was with Valerie*, a fourth-year university student.
"Unless it was serious, it wasn't worth talking about"
Valerie explained that even though she comes from a very accepting family, she feels as though she must suppress her queer identity to maintain an image that is more digestible for them. According to author Jack Dresher who has done substantial research about challenges faced by youth in coming to terms with their sexual identity, many young people experience similar difficulties in acknowledging their homosexuality to others, especially those closest and most important to them. Even though our society is much more accepting of differences in sexual identity these days, youth can still be subjected to homophobia, heterosexism, the moral condemnations of homosexuality and anti-gay violence. As a result, many people continue to hide their sexuality and sexual orientation well into adulthood.
For Valerie, growing up was filled with a sense of constant uneasiness as a result of the confusion about her sexuality in contrast to the insistent normalcy associated with heterosexual culture. It was very difficult for her at the point where she became clear about her sexuality to make it publicly known to the outside world. Valerie expressed to us that, "You know, I would love to wear things that reflect my inner self, the perfect combination between feminine and masculine; or even wear shirts that visibly show my queer identity, but the questions and the inchoate stares. And it is not that they would care, just on my part, I don't want to deal with that feeling". Her reluctance to be truly herself around her family also transcends into how she deals with her relationships with queer people. She notes that "It is like I have to be entirely sure of my relationship with someone who is queer; it has to be very serious if I want to let my family know". Drescher found that family members' perceptions can hinder individual acceptance, comfortability with oneself, and one's social environment.
Valerie says that she has learned a lot from her interactions with others, especially in navigating her comfortability with her family. "I realized that things like this take time; while my identity is something I've accepted, learning to be myself within the confines of the people I love will also take time".
Valerie's experiences reflect how familial influences, cultural and religious ties, and the social environment can impact how a queer person views their identity. It is so important to create environments for youth at home, school and work of support, empathy and acceptance to enable them to develop their talents and potential and we all can play a part in this.
*Name has been changed to protect identity