Queer is a verb and apparently I'm not doing it right.

-Sherronda J. Brown

I don’t know for sure if my family knows I’m not straight, and yet I suspect they somehow knew before I did.

My family, who policed my lack of femininity growing up, and punished me for being a Tomboy. Who teased me for being a “Plain Jane.” Who asked for years when I was going to “bring a man home.” I think they knew, or at least suspected, that I wasn’t like them. I think they sensed it years ago, and I think I might have, too. I think they feared the difference they saw in me, and being in the Southern Black Christian Army of the Lord, they tried to properly align me with their vision of appropriate girlhood.

I think they still suspect I don’t fit into that mold. It feels like my closet door is already open, but I ain’t stepping out.

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That world feels so separate from this one. The one where I talk openly about these things. They don’t read the things I write, at least not to my knowledge. They don’t pay much attention to my social media, commenting only to tell me that something I’ve said is funny. I keep my posts about gender, sex, and sexuality hidden from them and visible only to a select group of friends, because if I start coming out, I fear I’ll never stop.

I don’t have enough answers to the questions my family will inevitably ask. No, I’m not straight, but “the gay cousin” doesn’t fit me either. I’m somewhere in between the two, or outside of them. Asexual is what describes me best, but if I tell them that I don’t have normative sexual attractions, they will just see it as “nothing.” How do I come out as nothing? Why would I ever want to?

When I first began learning about asexuality and all the terms that come with it, I was intrigued and appreciative, but it still took a year or so before I claimed the label for myself. By then, I was proud to have language to talk about what I once thought was nothingness, or brokenness.

I tried to talk to my friends about it first, queer and otherwise, but what I mostly got from them was gaslighting, confusion, and an inability to comprehend how it was possible for someone to neither experience sexual attraction nor have a burning desire for romance.

I tried mingling in (virtual) queer spaces. Sometimes, it was okay. Other times, I felt invisible. Other times, I was pushed out. Someone once told me that the A in LGBTQIA+ didn’t matter, and others echoed his sentiment. Someone once told me that he would recognize the A in LGBTQIA+ only when asexual people experience discrimination and sexual violence like the people the rest of the acronym represents, despite the fact that many of us already do.

I tried to come out, tried to step out of that open door, but every time I took that step, it felt like everyone just wanted to push me back in.

I thought queer meant existing outside of traditional ideas of what “normal” sex, relationships, and gender look like, but what I learned was that many people in queer spaces center sex and relationships in their queerness, and conceive of these as the catalyst for queerness itself.

And if that is where queerness is located, and can only be located according to some, then where does that leave someone like me? Not straight, not heteronormative or amatonormative, but not performing my deviation from these things through sex and relationships either. And if I can’t get my peers to understand my existence, then what use is it to even try explaining it to my family?

That world feels so far from this one. There I’m too queer. But here, I’m not queer enough.

Queer is a verb and apparently I’m not doing it right. And it feels a lot like when my family scolded me for not doing “femininity” right. I don’t “appear to be queer” to most people. I don’t have that aesthetic. I don’t even look the androgynous way I feel and, believe me, it frustrates and bewilders me too. I can’t escape the “femininity” and womanhood written on my body; or rather I have yet to find a way to do so.

I’m not accredited, so to speak. I’m not fucking back against cisheteropatriarchy, and what’s so radical about not fucking? What’s so queer about not fucking, not dating, not loving in the way that society tells us is the most significant?

In this world, I feel like asexuality isn’t loud enough or legitimate enough. The more pointed terms I use to talk about it and describe my specific experience with sex and romance are just frivolous five dollar words, excuses wrapped up in a bow. I’m probably lying, just making shit up, vying for special snowflake recognition.

So, maybe this world isn’t so different from that one after all. Maybe the distance between them isn’t as vast as I thought it was. Both of them have apparent scripts and I can’t seem to perform either correctly.

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It’s lonely here where I am. I’m on an island, between two worlds, an illegitimate unwelcome child in both.

Queer is an adjective and apparently I’m not embodying it right. The word often feels like a lie on my tongue. I thought it was about encompassing our deviations from socially prescribed cisheteropatriarchy, but sometimes that feels like a lie, too.

Sometimes, a lot of times, it feels like the queer narrative is just as prescribed as the cisheteropatriarchal one, and I don’t know what to do with that.