How many times have you heard someone say something just utterly and completely off about the LGBTQ+ community? It could be a question, a statement or a casual comment. It could have come from within or outside the LGBTQ+ community, but whomever you heard it from, you were probably blindsided. So for the good of the queer and non-queer community, let’s head off some awkward conversations by clearing up some of these ideas once and for all.
1. People who are asexual and aromantic don’t fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella
Because asexuality and aromanticality are not often talked about, plenty of misconceptions surround these completely valid identities—including that they are not identities that fall under the queer umbrella. Many often confuse the “A” of LGBTQIA to stand for ally, rather than asexual, and that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Chloe, a student at Mount Holyoke who identifies as being on the asexuality spectrum, notes that there is debate about whether being asexual falls under the queer umbrella, given that asexuals can be heteroromantic, meaning romantically attracted to the opposite sex.
“Since the LGBTQ+ community has fought so hard for our sexuality recognized as normal, it definitely makes sense that people in the queer community might not understand or care to educate themselves about the asexual spectrum,” says Chloe. She recommends having discussions about what asexuality is because a lot of people don’t understand it.
“Be aware of setting, though—the LGBTQ+ resource center is a great place to facilitate these kinds of hard conversations. You can’t respect something if you don’t understand it,” she says.
2. Non-binary people are just being “trendy”
It may seem like there’s been an influx of people who are coming out as being non-binary, leading people to consider it as trendy and “in”—rather than a result of a society that is finally moving toward allowing for different expression.
To make sure we’re all on the same page, people can identify as women, men, or non-binary, which means that they could identify as something other than solely a man or woman. Gender is not a binary—there’s a spectrum. People identify as male, female, in between, both and neither.
Lane, a sophomore at University of Massachusetts who identifies as genderqueer, says, “I spent hours wondering why I didn’t feel like a girl and why I didn’t feel like a boy. I didn’t feel like either, which was so confusing until I found out about the existence of different gender identities. Genderqueer fit because sometimes I feel both, sometimes I feel neither, and sometimes I lean a bit more towards one than the other.”
They explain that the best thing you can do to support non-binary people is to check in regularly about pronouns, respect them and really try to understand that this isn’t a phase.
3. Transitioning means the same thing to everyone
This isn’t necessarily true. Yes, many people who come out as being trans* or non-binary feel the freedom to express themselves differently after they have come out and make changes accordingly. They could do this by purchasing binders, cutting their hair, growing their hair out, wearing more or less makeup, shifting their clothing style, getting surgery or any number of other shifts in presentation.
That doesn’t mean, though, that every non-binary or trans* person is going to change their presentation. Lane says, “I don’t plan on getting bottom surgery, but I do bind and have thought about having surgery to make my chest more neutral. That’s just me, though, and what I need in order to minimize my dysphoria. It’s completely individual.”
4. Coming out as non-binary is a stepping stone to coming out as trans*
People enjoy categorizing each other and sometimes have trouble grasping the concept of “gray areas,” so when someone comes out as non-binary it’s sometimes assumed that they’re actually trans* and are phasing into transitioning.
Chandler, a junior at Smith College who identifies as non-binary, says that people often act like they are actually trans* and imply that they’re going to transition soon.
“It makes me feel like I don’t exist, that it’s just a transitioning phase,” Chandler says. “Honestly, it’s invalidating.”
Chandler says that when their peers imply that they’re trans*, they make a point to stand up for themselves. “You have to make sure you’re not reacting defensively. In that kind of situation, you have to be an educator in order to make sure that your identity is being respected.”
5. If you’re non-binary or androgynous, you will present as masculine
Sarah identifies as genderfluid and fluctuates between presenting as traditionally feminine and somewhere in the middle. “When I’m presenting as feminine and I explain that I use ‘they’ pronouns, I get a lot of weird looks. It’s really frustrating and it makes me feel like my identity isn’t valid.”
The gay male community often represents the queer community, but we should make an effort not to make the “norm” and the “neutral” masculine. Gender presentation is completely different than gender identity. As a community that prides itself on respecting others’ identities, we need to respect masculine, feminine and any other presentations in order to get respect from outside our community.
6. Bisexual people just can’t make up their mind or are confused
Stop. Wait a minute. Negativity about bisexual people comes from the mainstream community and from the queer community (just check out Arielle Scarcella’s video about lesbians’ stereotypes about bisexuals). No identity deserves to have these negative stereotypes attached to it.
“People think I’m a lesbian who doesn’t want to come out all the way yet,” says Briana, a freshman at UNC Chapel Hill who identifies as a bisexual woman. “It’s so wrong—just like how you know what you like, I know what I like. I just happen to have the capacity to be attracted to more people. I am fully confident that I can be romantically and sexually attracted to both men and women.”
In addition, if a bisexual woman has dated a man in the past and a woman now, it doesn’t mean that she was straight back then and is a lesbian now. Briana says, “I just wish people would respect that I have thought about my sexuality so much. I know I could be in a romantic relationship with a man or a woman and, other than that, I don’t see why people care about my sexuality so much.”
7. Bisexual people are promiscuous and are more likely to cheat on you
First of all, being bisexual does not mean that someone necessarily is attracted to many people and, if they are, does not mean that they will act on those attractions. Bisexual people are no more promiscuous than are straight people, gay people or anything-in-between people.
“Being bisexual has definitely hurt my romantic life,” says Briana. “In the past, a girlfriend found out I was bisexual and started talking about how she didn’t feel like she could fully satisfy me and about how she thought I was going to cheat since she ‘wasn’t enough.’”
If you’ve discussed monogamy with your partner and you feel a connection, it doesn’t matter whether they are gay, straight, bisexual or anything else; cheating shouldn’t happen. If it does, it’s not due to your partner’s sexuality.
When it comes down to it, most of these misconceptions come from people pushing their own ideas onto others’ identities. Treat people like people, respect their identities and try to strip away the layers of stereotypes and judgment that exist; your friends will feel more respected and you’ll wind up learning more than if you had just let your preconceptions of stereotypes shield you from actually getting to know people.