Fearing stereotypes, boys don’t express sexuality

April 4, 2019

“I’m not trying to deny it or hide. It’s just a part of me, but you don’t have to know,” a senior boy said, referring to his sexual orientation. “If someone came up and just asked me I’d be like, ‘Yeah, sure, what about it?’”

The senior, “David,” who asked that his real name not be published, is one of dozens of boys at U-High who don’t identify as heterosexual but don’t feel a need to publicize it. Some have concerns that their sexual orientation would overshadow other aspects of their personality.

That shouldn’t be the case, according to Alexis Tyndall, a senior who identifies as bisexual. She said that the U-High community needs to accept that sexuality is fluid, and that acceptance is needed especially for boys.

“I know a lot of people who come out after they go to Lab — also because Lab is such a small community that once something is said and done, everyone knows and that’s it, and you can’t really go back or explain yourself,” Alexis said.

David said he’s attracted to men and women, but doesn’t want that to be his defining characteristic.

I know a lot of people who come out after they go to Lab — also because Lab is such a small community that once something is said and done, everyone knows and that’s it, and you can’t really go back or explain yourself.

— Alexis Tyndall, senior

“It’s just something about me,” David said. “When I first meet people, it’s not what they immediately know about me. Once they form an opinion of me and once they know who I am, then they find out.”

Other male students have questioned their orientation for a long time. John Freeman, a junior, said he now identifies as gay and is just starting to share his sexual orientation with the wider community. He said he didn’t want to be put in a box.

“I’m a male ballet dancer,” John said, “and there’s definitely a connection that some people associate with ballet dancers and being gay, and that association actually made it harder for me to accept [my sexual orientation].”

He said he initially identified as bisexual, but didn’t share his orientation with anyone until he realized he was gay.

“When you’re in the closet, it feels like every little movement, every little word you say could say something — just as much as if you’re talking to someone you like and you’re worrying about every movement, like what does that say about me,” John said.

It was validating, freeing, to come out to his inner circle, including friends and parents, John said, but along with David, John thinks the idea of coming out to the rest of his peers seems ridiculous.

“I don’t want to go around the whole school telling everyone because that’s weird. It’s not like it’s something that’s super important. It’s just an aspect of identity,” he said. “Like, I wouldn’t go around the whole school saying, ‘I’m white, hi, nice to meet you.’ But I don’t want to hide either.”

David said he doesn’t want people’s stereotypes to color how they view him, so people aside from his close friends don’t know his sexual orientation. Plus, he believes the process of coming out just seems like too much trouble. It’s high risk with a low reward: potential embarrassment, a storm of preconceived notions, an assault on his personality — and the people he’s close with already know, so why does anyone else need to?

John said part of the reason he doesn’t express his sexuality in a more public way is because it seems like too much effort for him, but he praised his peers who are more visible.

“I have a lot of respect for that, but it’s just not how I choose to show my sexuality. I applaud them for being so open,” John said. “I want to be open, just maybe not to that extent.”

But David says the guys who are out often let their sexual orientation define them. He finds it annoying, cringe-worthy, fake. If someone isn’t straight, it seems to David that it’s difficult to successfully integrate sexuality into identity — though maybe less so for girls.

“With girls, no one really cares. With guys, you see them differently when they come out, but with girls, I don’t think it’s the same,” David said. “I don’t want to say they have it easier, but it’s more normal. I don’t know why. I wonder that sometimes. I think it’s just less common for guys.”

Alexis said she didn’t come out with a “grand gesture.”

“I had friends that were going through the same thing, so we all just kind of bonded over that,” she said. “I’d say that my larger friend group in my grade kind of fed off of that energy, and therefore it was kind of like, ‘Oh, whatever,’ because there was a whole group of people who were all not straight.”

She said she will only share if it’s relevant.

“I don’t really just tell people,” Alexis said. “If it doesn’t come up, I feel like there’s not really a need, but if it comes up in conversation or I have something to add to a conversation, I don’t really mind telling people.”

Changing the climate

Title IX Coordinator Betsy Noel said the school’s climate needs to change. While students are “well-intentioned toward inclusion,” there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Along with students at U-High still making “that’s gay” jokes, Ms. Noel said, “There is a long history of our, and the country and U.S. society generally, curriculum and practices being heteronormative, and that can cause students who do not identify that way to feel isolated in more subtle ways that can still have a big impact on their wellbeing.”

Some people around the school are doing good work, according to Ms. Noel, praising the members of Spectrum, some faculty and Priyanka Rupani, Lab’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion. But Ms. Noel said she thinks the community needs to work on heteronormative “language habits.” Students also need to work to change the culture.

“There isn’t a conversation about or space for supporting students who are more diversely interested than just exclusively heterosexual or gay, and helping them feel safe in being open about and understanding those feelings,” Ms. Noel said. “It is also critical that we start these efforts around inclusivity well before high school, as demonstrated by the survey data that shows the younger Lab students are actually more diverse in their attraction than the high schoolers.”

Deb Foote, a world language teacher who recently became adviser to Spectrum, said Lab could improve through more visibility and opportunities for LGBTQ+ students to explore and embrace their individual and collective identity.

“I would like to see more visible recognition and energy devoted to addressing issues related to the LGBTQ+ community and opportunities for students,” she said, adding that if the community made awareness and visibility priorities, then the administration would, too. “It has to start with students, though.”

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