Queer in color: What it’s like to be a queer person of color at UT
‘Unless we start showing more people of color in our community, having a rainbow flag still lacks true meaning’
A student shared their experience being queer at UT Austin with us. She is not yet out to all of her family and friends, so she has been kept anonymous to protect her privacy.
It’s a well-known fact at this point that the rainbow flag is symbolic of the LGBTQIA+ community. However despite this there is a severe lack of queer people of color in the media. The stereotype for a gay male remains the ever flamboyant white man from San Francisco, and being a lesbian somehow means being a butch blonde who enjoys runs to Home Depot. These prevailing attitudes result in a skewed perception of the queer community and only further perpetrate the stigma against queer people of color.
Growing up in a conservative family, it was nearly impossible to be exposed to any sexuality outside of the heteronormative. I didn’t know what it meant for a person to be gay until seventh grade and even then my knowledge only came from the glimpses of tabloids I saw at grocery stores. So when I was questioning my sexuality and reconsidering the notion that I was straight, there weren’t any queer icons I could reference.
Even now, as a college student, I still grapple with my sexuality in ways that popular media doesn’t portray because it doesn’t fit the traditional mold of being queer.
Am I somehow less bisexual because I didn’t “always know”?
The theory that every queer individual is somehow born knowing their sexuality is so prevalent that even when I logically know it’s flawed it is still a major concern I have. I really didn’t take a look at my sexuality until I was thirteen ( somehow it never occurred to me that being attracted to two genders defied heteronormative standards) and even then I really didn’t try to label myself as bisexual until I was around sixteen.
Will I be disowned by my family if I come out? Should I come out?
Every popular activist group proclaims the virtues of coming out and being your “authentic self” but coming out is a lot harder than just an announcement. My parents and I are extremely close and have always had a good relationship. They aren’t villains because they would disapprove of that my sexuality – it isn’t their fault they grew up in a highly conservative society and never had media exposure to any positive LGBTQIA+ icons.
Coming out isn’t this black and white issue it’s presented to be. It’s not like coming out is the only path to a good life and anyone who chooses not to is inherently bad. Would being accepted by my family make life easier? Yes, infinitely so, but I’m not any less myself around my mom than I am around my friends, it’s just what parts of me I choose to display. It’s the same logic as acting one way at a job versus in a more casual situation.
To clarify here, I don’t represent the entire LGBTQIA+ population and what works for me may not work for anyone else but I might think the narrative on coming out needs to adapt. I applaud everyone who has come out against the odds, however I don’t plan on telling my parents until I am ready, whether that be in five days or five years. My life is my business because when the alternative is to put my safety at risk, it doesn’t matter how cowardly I appear, I’m not going to come out to my parents.
If we want more queer people, specifically queer people of color, to feel accepted by their families then we need more media representation to normalize it.
One student organization at UT aims to do just that. Queer People of Color and Allies, QPOCA, aims to offer support to queer students of color in a safe environment. They host events such as the Bloq Party where students get the chance to participate in activities and find a supportive community.
However as amazing as this organization is, it isn’t a very viable option to students who aren’t fully out of the closet. I have family friends who attend UT and trying to live “halfway out of the closet”, so to speak, is both confusing and slightly exhausting.
My family friends still hold very flawed views on LGBTQA+ issues (all having grown up in conservative families) and opposing those views attracts negative attention. At the other end of the spectrum, not being “fully out” often garners me criticism with other members of the LGBTQA+ community. UT is a blue haven in a red sea but there is definitely still room for improvement and acceptance.
We need to make it normal for people of color to be included in the spectrum so that coming out is a more viable option for more people. It’s enough of a struggle to accept yourself without the added pressure about if you’re somehow disappointing your entire race. (You’re not)
So show me a gay African American man. A lesbian Latina. A bisexual Asian couple in love. Show me a gender-fluid Indian who is supported by their parents. But stop showing me the same cliché depictions.
Because unless we start showing more people of color in our community, having a rainbow flag still lacks true meaning.