Maria Crouch is a doctoral student in the Clinical-Community Psychology program with a cultural, rural and indigenous emphasis at UAA. Her research interests are in the areas of gender identity, cultural diversity and Alaska Native mental health.
OPINION: Through recent statements and actions, some Alaska political leaders may have sent the message that people who don't fit the heterosexual norm aren't welcome in Alaska, but they are not the only Alaskans, and they're far from the last word.
To the elation and relief of many, on Oct. 12, same-sex couples were finally able to marry in the state of Alaska. This was a momentous and historical step toward equality, largely thanks to the hard work and courage of many LGBTQ individuals, couples and allies. However, even with the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the marriage ban, Alaska's leaders have made it clear that they will continue to appeal this decision.
The developing results of the current election speak to our stance on same-sex marriage as well. Don Young, fresh off disparaging comments about suicide and gay men, has secured his place in Congress, and Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, a man whose family values do not include LGBTQ individuals, is beating out Mark Begich, a firm supporter of same-sex marriage. While the efforts for equality are probably complicated and multi-layered, this sends a clear, strong message to our LGBTQ neighbors, coworkers, friends and relatives: You are not welcome here.
Sexual identity is complicated. Whether you are heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, pansexual, asexual or questioning your identity, it is inextricably embedded in your gender and your roles within your family and society. As a woman, I am expected to marry a man and live happily ever after. All expectations aside, I am happily married to a man but I'm still bisexual. So why would I still identify as bisexual even if I were in the societal safety zone of being in a long-term heterosexual relationship? Why not just keep my mouth shut?
As a girl of only 10 years old, growing up with a multicultural heritage of Athabascan and Mexican, I knew I was different. I liked girls but I also liked boys. This stirred many emotions inside of me, confusion being their main adhesive. I sought answers and comfort in my parents. Gathering all the courage I could, and with much trepidation, I posed several questions to my mother:
Will you still love me if I am different? There was a resounding “Yes.” Will you still love me if I marry someone who's black? There was pause, and then, “Yes.” Will you still love me if I’m gay? Silence. More silence. Out of the stillness resonated a quiet but firm, “No.”
For years I struggled with shame and fear. What will my elders think? My coworkers? My partner? My mother? I hid my same-sex relationships and only publicly identified as heterosexual. However, inside I felt like I was trying to extinguish a part of me that burned to be free. In essence, while I lived and loved a man -- as I still do -- I was living a lie. I was telling others and myself a half-truth. The fear, shame and uncertainty had bound me, gagged me and fettered my heart. But the fear was real.
Heterosexism is the belief and assumption that everyone should fit into the heterosexual mold. It’s seen in television and film, where predominantly male-female relationships are represented. It's whenever a person asks a woman, “Do you have a husband or a boyfriend?” It’s even in shows seen as progressive, like “Sex and the City,” where Samantha tries being a lesbian for a couple weeks and ultimately deems it unsatisfying and difficult. The message is clear: Sexual identity is a choice, a mere sensual adventure, and in the end something that can be easily put away in favor of the heterosexual experience.
Because of heterosexism's dominance, bisexual individuals are perceived to be at best sexually adventurous and open, and at worst sexually deviant and predatory. The idea is this: If you are a bisexual woman, you’re either experimenting, constantly looking for threesomes or want sexual attention from men. It’s just a phase, and you’ll end up with a man after the novelty of a same-sex relationship wears off. In the words of a woman I once knew: He’s gay, she’s lesbian, but her over there -- the bisexual woman -- she’s just oversexed.
The first step is admitting your sexual identity to yourself. There’s freedom and power in being you, being unflappably and unapologetically you. For years I was silent, while the fire burned within me, threatening to overtake me. However, I’ve learned that hate and apathy come and go like storms, tempests of rage and confusion, or, worse, careless indifference, leaving behind destruction and desolation. But love and compassion are like gentle breezes, consistent and forgiving, reminding you that things can get better and change will come.
I stand in solidarity with those who deserve the same equality that heterosexism privileges me to receive. I am a proud member of our community among many other roles and contributions, bisexual being just one aspect of all that I am. LGBTQ people are our coworkers, our teachers, our neighbors, our friends and family, and while some of Alaska's leaders might choose to stand against equality, I say to the LGBTQ members of our community: