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Playing Straight: The Acting Performance I Didn’t Even Know I Was Giving

I was always really good at giving up on my boy crushes. 

Third grade was really the time that everyone began to get invested in each other’s love lives. I wasn’t very interested, to say the least, but I had a dilemma: at that age, none of the other girls would believe that you just “didn’t have a crush.” They’d rip you apart until you gave them a name. Any name. Some of them honestly had manipulation skills far beyond the elementary level.                                              

Cue the panicked decision-making! I would go through a mental list of all the boys in my third-grade class and try to figure out who I would like this time. Who was the nicest? Who was the smartest or most popular? I based my choice off of random qualities as if I were a judge sitting with a rubric of criteria in the back of an audition room. I, quite wrongly, assumed this was a totally normal process.

These doomed infatuations never lasted long. They always ended the same way: the idea of the guy in question suddenly became hideously unappealing and my “attraction” to them burnt out as quickly as it had developed. To me, regularly dropping my crushes on boys after only a few weeks’ time somehow seemed like a very heterosexual past-time. 

Eventually, eight-year-old me chose to stick with one boy just for the sake of having a name to fall back on. It was easy. I told my entire family, pointing to his picture in the yearbook proudly. I was relieved to have that over with. Of course, it never occurred to me during that whole time that he might like me back. That was the last thing I wanted. In fact, he was oh so conveniently also the subject of one of my friends’ adoration. He was totally unavailable, and I loved it. I never had to worry about the horror of reciprocated feelings. 

What a typical thing to say about your crush, am I right?

You have to understand that I never entertained the thought of actually dating any of the guys I liked. Not back in elementary school, not in middle school, and not even in high school, when I still for two years decided on a new crush every once in a while when I was bored. Yep, bored. In reality, I saw little difference between a guy I was attracted to and a guy I just wanted to be friends with. 

So, of course, realizing that I was gay a few years ago made perfect sense. I had never actually been interested in any boys before, that much was painfully obvious by this point. More importantly, it was suddenly so evident that I was attracted to girls that it was almost laughable that I’d gone so long denying it, subconsciously or not. All the female characters I was “interested in” as a kid were TV crushes. All the girls I “would have dated if they were boys” were crushes. 

Crushes, crushes, crushes. I’d had the meanings mixed up all along. 

But now it all seems so clear. I felt free to be someone else that I had never had the courage to be before. The future seemed to suddenly hold so many opportunities for me now that I understood who I was. Dating didn’t seem like a waste of time anymore. It no longer felt like something that would subtract from my life, but rather quite the opposite. 

Even so, I was left with a major question: how had I been pretending to be straight all this time without even being aware I was doing it? And more importantly, why?

Maybe it was the lack of queer people — queer women in particular — who I knew in real life. Or maybe it was the lack of queer women I saw in my favourite TV shows and movies and read about in my books. Maybe it was just the fact that from birth everyone assumed I was straight unless I yelled at the world otherwise. Or maybe it was just me trying to fit in. Who knows? 

As I get older, I expect that more people, queer or not, will try to move away from enforcing the heteronormativity that already feels so overbearing in our society. I also expect to see more, and better, queer representation in all forms of media. Especially the media made for children. I hope this leaves room for more children, more teenagers, and more adults to stray from that norm of straightness and get the opportunity to freely discover themselves. 

In the meantime, I’ll just be waiting for an Oscar for my performance.

Aria Mann

Carleton '25

Aria Mann is a first-year in Carleton University's Global and International Studies program. At any given time you could probably catch her reading, playing the piano, or listening to new music. Or writing. Obviously.
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