Expressing Platonic Love as a Closeted Queer Person
by CLAIRE FISHER
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.