Column: Stereotypes can hurt, but fitting into one isn’t always bad

When someone fits a stereotype, society can erase the struggle they went through.

Abigail Ruhman is a freshman journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about student life, politics and social issues for The Maneater.

This column is part eight of Abigail Ruhman’s “Twelve Gays of Christmas” series. Twelve Gays of Christmas is a twelve-column series about a variety of LGBTQ topics. During the holidays, members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to experience depression. By informing readers of the issues facing the LGBTQ community, these columns are meant to support the community this holiday season.

My best friend in high school was a theater kid with great hair that took him years to perfect, had the ability to take the perfect selfie and had a flamboyant personality that called everyone’s attention in a good way. He also happened to be gay. That’s right — he was the stereotypical gay kid.

The problem is he didn’t become that stereotype because he was gay. His sexuality wasn’t the reason he joined theater, nor was it the reason he was flamboyant.

He joined theater as stage crew because his friend told him he should. He stayed because he found his calling. He appears flamboyant because he was secure enough in his masculinity to do whatever he wanted.

Just because he happened to look like a stereotype doesn’t invalidate his experiences as a gay man. Assuming that the traits that appear stereotypically occur because someone is gay simplifies their life.

For LGBTQ individuals that happen to fit a specific stereotype, it can become difficult to feel valid. The community has put so much work into breaking away from stereotypes that it excluded those who happen to fit the stereotype.

When it comes to the stereotypes surrounding gay men, the problem is that society still views feminine traits within a man to be a weakness and links being gay to showing any absence in masculinity. Any man who happens to show this absence and is also gay gets labeled as a stereotype.

Women who identify as lesbians but also tend to act more masculine can feel as though their sexuality influenced their personality. This can cause them to question if they became a stereotype or just happened to be one.

The stereotypes surrounding gay men and lesbains tends to revolve simple around how much their traits match their gender.

An easy example of this exists within the sports world. Patrick Burke, a founder of You Can Play, explained to the The New York Times in an interview, “In sports right now, there are two different stereotypes — that there are no gay male athletes, and every female athlete is a lesbian.”

Brittney Griner, a Women’s National Basketball Association player, came out as gay in April 0f 2013. The world of sports was holding its breath for an openly gay player, and when Griner came out nothing happened. The New York Times released the story titled, “Female Star Comes Out as Gay, and Sports World Shrugs.”

Griner came out, and the world decided she already fit the stereotype. It didn’t matter. She was a lesbian, but it wasn’t a surprise, apparently. It was as if her coming out story was prewritten. The fact that she fit within a stereotype lead to the public simplifying her experience as a gay woman.

For other identities, those assumptions can haunt the individuals within those communities. For example, pansexual people who are more liberal in choosing sexual partners may question if they are playing into the standard of pansexuals “sleeping with anyone.” Once again, this can cultivate a mindset that leads to the person questioning their every move.

Invalidating the experiences of those who fall into stereotypes can be especially painful for gender nonconforming individuals. For example, transgender men or women who happen to pass as cisgender when expressing themselves can still struggle with coming out.

Assuming it’s easy for someone who can pass as cisgender invalidates the individual experiences that the community is made up of.

In addition, gender non-binary individuals who can pass as both feminine or masculine can be lead to believe that their experiences should be easy. They shouldn’t complain because they can easily present either way, but this erases the struggle with identity that they may have gone through.

When someone within the LGBTQ community fits a sterotype, it can be easy to feel like they are harming the LGBTQ community, as if them being honest about themselves is the reason those stereotypes exist. This isn’t always the case. My best friend who is “stereotypically gay” still struggled to find self-acceptance. Once he was able to truly be himself, avoiding stereotypes didn’t matter anymore. What mattered was how he felt about himself, and how he could help others in similar situations.

Society shouldn’t erase someone’s history just because they happen to fit into a stereotype. No matter how much someone may seem like a cliché, they are still valid.

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