Young people coming to terms with their sexuality are always subject to the same responses—you’re just a child. You don’t know what that means yet. These attitudes lead to the same horrible consequences. Homophobia and internalized misogyny mean that young boys will hide their femininity, or their attraction to other boys, and young girls will grow up believing that their masculinity is a target on their backs, or that their fellow women are inferior to potential male partners. Telling children that they’re too young to question a hetero-normative culture will do nothing but perpetuate that culture.
But we aren’t accepting these attitudes anymore. Recent surveys show that over half of Americans consider sexuality a “scale”, and more fluid than originally perceived. Further, at least a third of young Americans identify as something other than heterosexual. This is demanding a new, growing vocabulary for romantic and sexual identities that tend to be ignored or erased — gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, there’s a label for anyone who wants one. And, recently, there’s a term when you don’t want to attach labels to a fluid sexuality.
A faction of the LGBTQIA+ community has gravitated away from established or created labels in favor of a debated, and slightly problematic, term: “queer”. By definition and modern connotation, it refers to any sexuality that involves attraction to same-sex or non-binary people. In the past, it was a common slur used against these populations, but has recently been reclaimed in the name of sexual openness and changing attitudes about romantic and sexual identities. And it’s being popularized by a growing number of icons and idols, like Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart, who are refusing to conform to typical labels and instead opt for this alternative. Most recently, Rowan Blanchard, star of “Girl Meets World” on Disney Channel and currently age 14, tweeted that she identifies as queer, refusing labels like “straight, gay or whateva”.
So what does this mean? In this modern culture, everything. Queer has been a tentative title that means more than I could write to those who use it as an identity or a self-descriptor. It’s a general and noncommittal way to describe attraction — not straight, not gay, but somewhere in the middle of a fluid spectrum of sexuality. It lets us reclaim our sexuality with a term that used to be flung at our predecessors but now changes meaning based on its user. With a figure like Rowan Blanchard using this term on social media, it shows young populations that the assumptions of our elders are outdated opinions that cannot change what we already know: there is no age requirement for “coming out”, or realizing who we have always been. Even if these groups lack the vocabulary to explore growing identities and attractions, there will always be a safety in your sexuality. You are always valid, and if you don’t believe me, look at the strong women, men and non-binary people whose footsteps Rowan Blanchard is walking in. It’s okay to express what you already know about yourself in any terms that you want to use. Be queer. Be gay. Be bisexual. Be anything. Just be yourself, too.