50 Shades of the Rainbow: Thoughts on Sexuality From a Gay Teen

Camp, flamboyant and feminine. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when you’re told to imagine a gay person. It’s a stereotype that will not seem to die for the gay community. Even as I write this article in my Uber, my driver offers up her best impression of a gay man, and it’s dripping in camp. Indeed one of the most prominent memories I have from my first day of school after finally waving off the closet is when I was talking with someone in my boarding house, who commented on my Beyoncé obsession. He said ‘at first I thought your whole obsession was a bit of an attention seeking thing, but it makes sense now you’ve come out.’

Unfortunately the media’s consistent reinforcement of this colourful stereotype through TV shows such as Modern Family and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt makes it difficult to imagine a masculine gay person. As with every group of people, we are diverse. There is no standard type of man, there is no standard type of black person, there is no standard type of Muslim. Yet it is so difficult to help create a prominent perception of gay people being masculine because the idea of a diverse array of gay people is not interesting to pop culture. This can be equally applied to the lesbian members of society whose butch, tomboy personality mould is perhaps only broken by the progressive Netflix series Orange is the New Black and its diverse representation of lesbian women. With the general consumption of media increasing daily the media, and entertainment industry, should be aware of their responsibility to reflect the people around them. If MTV and the outlet of Hollywood films start to portray a more diverse set of gay people, then society’s awareness as a whole will deepen.

As this is not the case, this makes for a surprise when a non-camp gay is encountered. Drawing on my own experiences, a number of people have said to me ‘I was surprised when you came out. You’re not stereotypically gay.’ There is nothing wrong this phrase, more the complimentary tone that frequently accompanied. I found myself frequently contemplating how ridiculous it is to think that being camp is a bad thing. There is nothing weak or inferior about being camp, yet it is treated so. It is not something that is assuring for those about to or who have just come out. Does the fret that comes with being thought of as weak needed to be added to all the other insecurities that accompany coming out. Coming out can be a lonely and trying experience. Admittedly it can be difficult for an onlooker to grasp all of the complexities and problems that come along with it, but being considerate is key to helping an LGBT person feel at peace with society. The attitudes they are faced with when coming out can change how proud they feel about their sexuality.

Ironically for a minority that is considered to be so outspoken, there is a limit of how much flamboyance people can take. Years and Years’ lead singer Olly Alexander made a thought-provoking observation in an interview with Digital Spy last year in which he stated that gay artists can never use male pronouns in love songs. If this occurred and an artist became more explicit they would reach a level before the public would feel it’s a bit too gay. Whilst this is a specific example that can only be applied to superstars, the feeling that there is only so much ‘gayness’ can be tolerated is a problem faced by many gay people. Freedom of expression is an ever important thing. It is down to the individual on how they express their sexuality. Why should anyone other than the individual have a say on how they do this? I’d urge you to have an open mind and recognise that no one should be forced to cover up something that they are proud of. There’s already a place where that goes on, and it’s called the closet. We’re very familiar with it.
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Furthermore one of the most commonly asked questions that a LGBT person must face after announcing their sexuality is whether they have tried anything sexual with a person of the same sex. It’s a logical thing to suppose; how can you know if you’re attracted to someone of the same sex if you haven’t been there? However something like sexuality does not need physical experience to validate its veracity. A large majority of teenage girls do not feel the need to experiment with girls to understand their sexuality, because they know they are straight. You can ask most straight boys how can they know they’re not gay/bi and they will be confident that they’re straight. The large majority of these boys and girls will have never have experimented with a person of the same sex. Yet their claims would never be doubted. This is not always the case for a LGBT person. Admittedly there are cases of straight people who start to feel their sexuality change after a gay sexual encounter or those who have several straight relationships for years and years of their lives but later in life they discover they are gay or bi.

Sexuality is a difficult thing to pin down but outside of this debate why should a person have to declare their sexuality in the first place? In today’s modern society sexuality isn’t considered a big deal. Who cares if you’re gay/lesbian/bi/straight, love is love and it does not matter what your sexual orientation is. Yet this is one of the hypocrisies and self-contradictions present in society. It takes a great deal of courage to come out and it can be a great source of anxiety for LGBT people about to come out, but this is not limited to the potential homophobia they may encounter. This is a result of labels. Society demands that you identify as gay, bi, lesbian or straight. You cannot be permitted to be sexually fluid, you are not allowed to experiment, you are not allowed to have fun. You have to stick within society’s categories of sexuality. If sexuality was not a big deal then there would be no necessity for labels. For example a boy who largely considered himself to be straight could be allowed to occasionally sleep with boys and it would not matter. But instead we must behave within the parameters of societies. Why should we do this? Why should we limit who can love who, especially in a time filled with terrorism, oppression and tyrants? As I have already said, let the individual choose how to sexually express themselves. The labels can rest.

Another huge talking point about sexuality is what does it come down to? Nature or nuture? No doubt this debate will continue long after we say goodbye to this century, however I am of the opinion that both of these things can determine a person’s sexuality. Many people believe that they have always been gay, myself included. Whilst many studies have shown there is no conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that there is such a thing as a ‘gay gene’, environmental factors have next to no effect in determining a person’s sexuality in some cases. Yet as well as considering my previous examples as people who have discovered they belong to the LGBT community later in life, it is interesting to note that the LGBT population has increased since people have become more welcoming of this community. Yet there are a number of reasons as to why this may have occurred. Is this because there were so many LGBT people scared of the hatred they would face if they came out and consequently decided to stay put, or because a more receptive environment encourages the rise of gay feelings. Perhaps it is the latter and if we are open to homosexuality, then more people will belong to its meaning. Despite this I do not feel that it is only the environment that helps shape someone’s sexuality.

However can we call our society one that encourages homosexuality? No teenager is told by their parents to experiment with children of the same gender because they can’t know if they’re straight.On the other hand, for example, a teenage boy will be told by their parents to maybe see if he wants a girlfriend so he will not be lonely. Why is he not told to experiment to see if that makes him happy and staves off loneliness? Being homosexual is not the default sexuality. Taking this into consideration it is difficult to ignore the notion that it is perhaps not the preferred sexuality of society. Whilst there is an age where children are so young they should not be thinking about relationships at all, they should never feel like the option of pursuing something with someone of the same gender is an impossibility. If environmental factors do indeed have an impact on sexuality then encouraging teens to only pursue straight relationships confines homosexual people to minority status. This is disheartening for a group of people so acquainted with alienation. This is why I believe teens should not be told homosexual relationships are not possible even if they do not consider themselves to be gay.

At a time where LGBT people are attacked in horrific circumstances as they were in Orlando last month, it’s important for LGBT people to be accepted and be treated equally. Circumstances for homosexual and transgender people have progressed an enormous amount over the past few decades, but the fight is not over. I feel combating some of the issues I have raised here would be a great way to help obtain the goal of equal status. When taking a step back and looking at some of  the problems that a gay person must face, I have often wondered whether the world likes the fact that I am gay. I often think it would be so much easier if I were straight and would be spared of these issues. But I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be part of such a wonderful, inspiring and strong collection of human beings. I am gay. And I would have it no other way.

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