Expressing Platonic Love as a (Closeted) Queer Person

“Long before I ever even con­sid­ered the fact that my ‘nor­mal’ would nev­er include a hus­band or chil­dren, I strug­gled to show pla­ton­ic love to my friends.”

TEXT Claire Fisher LEKTORAT Lara Helena FOTO Yaroslav Shuraev

When rem­i­nisc­ing with friends on our ‘gay awak­en­ings,’ or shar­ing the real­iza­tion that we should have known soon­er that we were Queer, I often hear sto­ries about close friends from ele­men­tary school who were caught kiss­ing after soc­cer prac­tice, or a same-sex play­ground friend whom they often held hands with. I’ve reg­u­lar­ly felt left out in these sorts of con­ver­sa­tions, as I have no sim­i­lar anec­dote to con­tribute. In adult­hood, I’ve won­dered if I would have made it out of the clos­et soon­er, had I been privy to a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence. How­ev­er, these sto­ries also have me think­ing about how strange it can be to nav­i­gate expres­sions of pla­ton­ic love as a clos­et­ed Queer person.

Long before I ever even con­sid­ered the fact that my ‘nor­mal’ would nev­er include a hus­band or chil­dren, I strug­gled to show pla­ton­ic love to my friends. Sure, psy­cho­analy­sis would prob­a­bly trace this back to some event or fact of my child­hood, but I think it has large­ly to do with the fact that com­pul­so­ry het­ero­sex­u­al­i­ty (or com­phet, for short) was embed­ded in my life grow­ing up. I nev­er even con­sid­ered that maybe it felt strange to me to hug or hold hands with a female friend because I was hav­ing the same feel­ings towards them that they were hav­ing towards the boys in our grade. It was sim­ply the way I was and that was that.

Com­phet can man­i­fest itself in mul­ti­ple ways, from fam­i­ly mem­bers con­stant­ly ask­ing if you have a boyfriend, to lack of true Queer role-mod­els in media and film (i.e. LGBTQ+ actors play­ing Queer parts, rather than het­ero­sex­u­al actors putting on the cos­tume of a mar­gin­al­ized iden­ti­ty they get to take off at the end of the day). It can be dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize how large a role com­phet plays in our every­day lives, until we start sur­round­ing our­selves with media, friends, and rela­tion­ships that chal­lenge the cis­gen­der, het­ero­sex­u­al nar­ra­tive that is so preva­lent every­where. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some peo­ple are nev­er able to get away from the grip that com­phet has on their lives, which is why I tru­ly believe that the per­cent­age of Queer peo­ple in the world is a lot high­er than is recorded.

Com­phet also man­i­fests itself in friend­ships. We don’t often see Queer peo­ple hav­ing healthy rela­tion­ships with het­ero­sex­u­al peo­ple, since a lot of us asso­ciate fam­i­ly or reli­gious trau­ma to the com­ing-out process. I can specif­i­cal­ly remem­ber an instance in mid­dle school when I kissed my friend good­bye, as I had seen so many oth­er (straight) friends do, and she seemed thor­ough­ly dis­gust­ed by the ges­ture. Although it was laughed off in the moment, I car­ried the shame of that inter­ac­tion on my back for years fol­low­ing. Instances like these make me won­der if my Queer­ness was ‘stunt­ed’ in a way, as a result of soci­etal pres­sure and neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions regard­ing Queer peo­ple and rela­tion­ships in the ear­ly 2000s.

Fast for­ward to col­lege, when a friend of a friend had come out as bisex­u­al. The friend we had in com­mon was the one who told me, com­ment­ing some­thing I will nev­er for­get: ‘I don’t care that she’s bi as long as she doesn’t try to kiss me.’ This com­ment stuck with me, fur­ther pro­long­ing my time in the clos­et. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it would not be the last time I heard such an igno­rant com­ment, as I’ve become bla­tant­ly aware of how Queer women & femme-pre­sent­ing peo­ple are seen in the eyes of the rest of the world.

There’s a sort of divi­sion with­in the Queer com­mu­ni­ty, in the sense that some types of gay are ‘bet­ter’ or more accept­able than oth­ers. For instance, misog­y­ny in gay clubs and at events is rife, with femme Queer peo­ple some­times being turned away as they ‘don’t look gay enough.’ The fact that such a large part of someone’s iden­ti­ty can be boiled down to how they look is an issue in and of itself. Being that ‘les­bian’ is not only an iden­ti­ty, but also a porn cat­e­go­ry, has harmed the com­mu­ni­ty ten­fold by shap­ing the way we are per­ceived by those out­side of the com­mu­ni­ty. Hav­ing been told to ‘prove it’ when telling a man at the club that we aren’t–and will nev­er be–interested in them, fur­ther cements the notion that les­bians only exist to cater to men’s desires.

It is dif­fi­cult for the Queer com­mu­ni­ty as well as the rest of the world to con­cep­tu­al­ize an exis­tence that does not cater to men, hence why les­bians are seen as enter­tain­ment, bi-/pan­sex­u­al peo­ple are seen as either straight or gay (depend­ing on gen­der), and why gay men are giv­en much more vis­i­bil­i­ty and accep­tance. When our entire exis­tence is not tak­en seri­ous­ly, nav­i­ga­tion of dif­fer­ent types of love can be con­fus­ing. Roman­tic love can be dan­ger­ous to show in pub­lic, as hun­gry eyes are always watch­ing what they assume to be a per­for­mance specif­i­cal­ly for them. But pla­ton­ic love is arguably more dif­fi­cult. It can only real­ly be expressed with­in a short range, as too much will land you in the ‘dan­ger zone’ of appear­ing roman­ti­cal­ly inter­est­ed, and too lit­tle is what we’ve been strug­gling with since childhood.

Toss into the mix the added com­pli­ca­tion of being clos­et­ed, and the sit­u­a­tion becomes even more strange. Too much love shown to your friends, albeit pla­ton­ic, can ulti­mate­ly end up out­ing you; or you can get ‘lucky’ because soci­ety typ­i­cal­ly inval­i­dates your sex­u­al­i­ty and no one will think twice–a Catch 22. How­ev­er, too lit­tle love shown to your friends comes off as cold and doesn’t match how you feel on the inside. This is brought to the extreme in the media trope of homo­pho­bic bul­lies actu­al­ly being clos­et­ed them­selves, which can also be harm­ful on many lev­els to Queer youth. When your envi­ron­ment isn’t open­ly accept­ing and lov­ing, it becomes incred­i­bly tough to nav­i­gate what should be uncom­pli­cat­ed every­day inter­ac­tions with peo­ple you love. More­over, even if your envi­ron­ment is strong­ly accept­ing, it would be igno­rant not to men­tion that com­ing out does change things. Most­ly for the bet­ter, but unfor­tu­nate­ly, not always.

The impor­tant thing to pri­or­i­tize in these sit­u­a­tions is safe­ty. It may be hard now, but I still dream of the day that peo­ple, both Queer and straight alike, are able to health­ily express pla­ton­ic love, as we could all use it.

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