Why I am sick of these four words being carelessly thrown around.
I went to an all girls school for seven years. It was a nice enough place. I got a good education, made some great friends, and learned very quickly that I was, in every sense of the word, a bit queer.
I can’t pinpoint an exact age at which I started to acknowledge my attraction to women, but I think it was around fourteen. Maybe a little before that. However, in my exclusively-female school environment, I was constantly bombarded with this obsession over men. Not even a select group of men – literally any man. If there was a young-ish male teacher on the staff, you could guarantee that at least a dozen girls had his name scrawled in a little heart at the back of one of their exercise books. If some of the lads from the local boys school were hanging around the gates, you could be certain that they’d catch the attention of some of our students. If we had a visitor in to present an assembly or give a talk, and they happened to possess y chromosomes, yes – you guessed it – our girls would be talking about him afterwards. I didn’t get a chance to talk to anybody about their opinion on women.
But this was all to be expected. If you’ve got 1500 girls who have been deprived of boys for the entirety of their secondary education, they’re going to get excited when something vaguely male is presented to them. I learned to adjust.
I was not afraid of admitting to fancying other girls – I did, on occasion, but played it off as a “girl crush” as opposed to a ‘regular’ one. I was not worried about the repercussions of ‘coming out’ in an all-female environment, even if it meant that people would avoid me. I knew that I only cared for my friends on a platonic level, and that was that. No, the thing that put me off most was the idea that this was a minor blip in my development, and I would soon become part of the boy-obsessed crowd. I believed that I was flawed, but I would grow out of it because, as I had been told so many times, it was “just a phase”.
“Just a phase”. “JUST a phase”.
Nobody ever said it directly to me as an insult, as I never ‘came out’ until I was older, but it was thrown around frequently enough to drive the message home. I distinctly remember a friend of mine saying, “Oh, everyone has a gay experience as a teenager – it’s just a phase,” as if it was a perfectly normal implication to make. We had all heard it being said so many times that nobody really questioned her.
I never admitted my sexuality until my late teens, because I had to be sure that I wasn’t just going through a patch of uncertainty. I was afraid to act on it, because I didn’t want people to judge me if I later realised that I was straight. Yes, sometimes people do have brief periods of moving between sexualities, but they are not “just” phases. They are genuine emotions and desires. Sexuality is not a trend or a decision, it’s a biological compulsion. I can’t force myself to be straight any more than I can change my eye colour or my height.
There are so many problems with this saying which a lot of straight/cis people probably never take into consideration, because they’ve never had to be worried about expressing their sexuality/identity. Nobody stops to think about what they’re implying. You see, when somebody says to a queer person, “it’s just a phase”, this is what we hear:
- You’ll go back to being normal soon
- You are confused
- I know your body and your sexuality/gender better than you do
And this is what I will say in response:
- Fuck off
It’s more than just that, though. People only ever use the term “phase” to describe things that they hope are going to pass. Is your toddler throwing temper tantrums? It’s just a phase. Is your teenage sister being really bitchy? It’s just a phase. What? Your cousin has shaved his head, joined a cult and changed his name to Moon Warrior? Don’t worry, it’s just a phase. So why are you so hopeful that my sexuality will change as well?
“It’s just a phase” is homophobic, transphobic and downright insulting. You don’t get to police somebody else’s identity because you’re not convinced of it. You’re not allowed to put doubt and fear into the minds of all these queer kids, because you do not understand their lifestyles. Just the wording of it is loaded with heteronormative ideals – “it’s just a phase” is the same as saying “it’s just a deviation from the regular way of things”, which implies that a person always starts off straight. Just think – how would a heterosexual person react if, upon bringing their partner home for the first time, they were told that their affection for him/her wasn’t real, and that they would soon realise their mistake?
If I had never heard these words, I might have accepted myself sooner. If non-normative identities were presented to me as something natural, rather than a ‘change’ that happens to a person, I might have been able to understand my emotions a little better.
So no, it’s not “just a phase”, and people need to learn to accept that.