Kehlani announced that she was pregnant last week and the world is a brighter place because of it. 2019 is really about to see the most magical, astrologically perfect, musically gifted, wokest, multiracial lil brown baby ever. And between the words of praise and celebration, some of the world went a little crazy because isn’t Kehlani supposed to be queer?
She publicly came out as queer earlier this year in now-deleted tweets. And after the dust settled and she defined herself for who she was, queer people all over celebrated and rejoiced and felt that sweet, sweet confirmation that Honey was really about me—uh, us—all along. A little less than six months later, some of us, and non-queer folk, were taken aback by her absolutely stunningly beautiful pregnancy announcement.
Personally, I felt a little cheated on because Kehlani is my girlfriend in my head, so what’s she doing having a baby with someone else? What’s she doing having a baby in the first place?
My initial reaction was similar to some other folks’ honestly; I was kind of shocked that a queer woman was having a baby because my first reaction was “being pregnant=heterosexuality.” It was a mental shortcut that my brain and the brains of others made because this understanding of what it is to be queer is so new for us and not as ingrained in us as straightness has been for millennia. So, it is confusing to our tiny, dumb, baby brains and feels like rejection (for me, as my wife-in-my-head continues to not be my wife-in-real-life) and deception for others; a term offensively and opportunistically long associated with bisexual people, pansexual people, and people who identify as queer and are sexually attracted to those of another gender.
People feel slighted or confused because we are accustomed to queerness looking like one thing when it specifically, purposefully, historically does not. Queerness is multifaceted, multilayered and ever changing; there’s a reason they call it an umbrella term—it encapsulates a wide scope of identities and doesn’t fit neatly into a box. It doesn’t always look like two girls in love or boys wearing nail polish. It encompasses so much more and envelopes so many different existences that express the million trillion ways we are human. It doesn’t look like one specific thing, and it wasn’t meant to.
And I know this. I have been trying to relearn this as truth and untrain my brain of making these base assumptions because of the real world damage it can do and does to bisexual people. I’m staunchly aware of my own inherent biphobia and have been actively working to unlearn that ideology. I’ve been lucky enough to have friends that help keep me in check and access to resources that help me do better, because sometimes my own biases crop up in ways I don’t expect. It forces me to examine that thinking and course correcting for next time typically follows afterward. As it should, always, for everyone.
As difficult as it’s been for me to unlearn this kind of thinking, I had a breakthrough that helped me realize, at a base level, these kinds of biases present themselves is a variety of ways that impress upon a multitude of queer identities.
When I come out to people, their reaction is usually “I know” or “I figured” or something similar. It’s always made me feel some kind of way, but I never really knew why. Some of my best friends say they knew before we even met, from when they first saw me, before we became friends. I don’t wear makeup or dresses and I like wearing plaid shirts and men’s clothes and baseball hats, so people assume they know such an intimate part of my identity before even speaking to me, and it’s something that ignites a silent rage within me whenever I think about it or am confronted with it. It’s made me uncomfortable for so long, for so many years, but I’ve never really been able to pinpoint exactly why until now.
I should be grateful, right? Most people see me and take the onus of outing myself off of me, remove me of that extra step of having to come out to them in some way, mentioning my ex, talking about someone I have a crush on, or just saying “I’m gay.” It’s usually nice because outing myself generally makes me uncomfortable, which is another blog post for another day. But when I don’t, they see my clothes or my hair and they assume and it remains known and unspoken between the two of us and I don’t have to fumble through an awkward conversation or interaction.
Sometimes I think assumptions based on my presentation are a good thing for the opposite reason: because people see me and assume I’m a lesbian and act accordingly based on their own ethics. If they’re a homophobe, I usually know right away because they have assumed that they hate something intrinsic to myself and behave on those morals. Of course, being Black can sometimes make this confusing; are they being mean to me because I’m Black or gay? Are they racist AND homophobic? (Usually, yes.) Sometimes it’s both, sometimes it’s one or the other. It’s a subtle line to toe, but the answer is usually in the details and not always difficult to sus out.
I am not trying to hide who I am; I tried for so long and am now done with that part of my life. I just don’t want people labeling me for how I look and going on to think that that’s ok.
I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to face biphobia; I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have to levy discrimination from inside the queer community while battling it from the outside as well. My intention is not to boil these two issues down to the same thing, but to say this: my discomfort with people thinking they know my sexuality and labeling me before my express confirmation of how I identify comes from the same ignorance people have been displaying in the wake of Kehlani’s pregnancy; we limit queerness.
The underlying connection between peoples (my own included) initial confusion and bewilderment at Kehlani being pregnant and strangers’ assumptions that I’m a gay woman before even talking to me is that people have a rigid idea of what queerness is and adhere to it. We have such a strict understanding of queerness and anything that looks like it fits automatically must, anything that looks like it doesn’t is automatically dismissed. Our idea of what queerness is is sometimes so narrowed that we cannot see anything else, and we can hardly accept anything else. Our brains make these simplistic assumptions and determinations about queer people as if humanity itself is not complex.
We boil peoples identities down to “is or isn’t” based on our own understanding of what it means to be queer, be it due to the media’s instructions on what it looks like, or our own teachings in our communities about what it is, or our personal experiences with it and the biases we draw there. Or so many other factors that make us turn a vibrant and rich, all-encompassing term into an all or nothing situation, a game of yes or no. It can’t be both. It must be one. There is no in between.
And it’s embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I do the same.
I can’t tell you what exactly has given me such a narrowed ideology of queerness. It could be a variety of things: television, my own experiences (or lack of) with other queer folks, my over exposure of heterosexuality over the years and deep seated understanding of what that means. This idea of mainstream queerness is still new to popular consciousness. Despite being a part of the queer community, I don’t understand all aspects of it; I still grew up in a heteronormative and cisnormative society, so I give myself space to not be perfect, and learn and unlearn and grow.
Queer acceptance is so new in modern society, and it’s sometimes hard to break out of assumptions from a lifetime of society dominated by heterosexual culture. It is understandable that we do not fully comprehend queerness for all that it is because as accepting and woke as everyone likes to feel, this express freedom for queer people to exist is new nearly all of us, even the community itself.
Positive queer representation is still new and evolving. Our voices and presence in spaces we’ve been historically shut out of are growing. Hell, even the right for same sex couples to marry isn’t even a decade old in this country. Hundreds of thousands of years of humankind leaves an impression. We have all been conditioned to understand queerness as something “different,” and in our short time as a collective society of beginning to understand it, to accept it, to fold it in to the rest of everything else we’ve excluded it from, we have shortened it to something more manageable, compacted it into a bite-sized, easily remembered bullet point that’s simple to understand and file away into our idiot human brains that thrive on labeling.
Whether someone is in a same-sex relationship, an opposite-sex one, or another arrangement, and no matter what their gender identity might be, their identity is their identity. It’s not for anyone else to decide whether someone is “queer enough.” – Marissa Higgins
I am not saying that this is the right stance to have; in fact, it is definitely not. There are tons of people that think with this short sighted and narrow understanding of queerness to comment on Kehlani’s pregnancy, bisexuality/pansexuality in general, and any expression of queerness that doesn’t quite fit their brains’ simplistic measure of what it means. They’ve made their confusion and disapproval public when that type of ignorance should be challenged, not shared. Limited understanding of queerness should not be used as ammunition against queer people who have every right to exist in their own truth. Just because your idea of what queerness is and is not doesn’t give you the right to negate the identity that someone claims or assign an identity to someone who has yet to claim it.
Let me be explicitly clear:
- It is disingenuous and incorrect to operate on the assumption that cis straight women are the only one capable of having babies.
- You cannot apply or remove a label from someone, period. Not based on how they look, their pregnancy status, their partner; nothing.
- Unlearning these assumptions is hard work that you must put in in order for you to understand.
- Inability and/or refusal to unlearn these assumptions does not absolve you of bad behavior; you must do better.
- In other words, mind your damn business.
Stereotypes give us a rudimentary outlook on something that is so very complicated and convoluted that it doesn’t do it justice. That reasoning is unacceptable for something that, by its very nature, does not fit into one singular box.
Queerness is not one size fits all. We can’t kindergarten logic it and assume all girls with hairy legs and boys wearing skirts are gay, or girls that are pregnant can’t be queer while girls in plaid shirts must be, and wash our hands of the matter, patting ourselves on the back because we “get it.” It’s not that simple; human beings rarely are.
The definition of queerness is owned by no one, it is what we make it. It is not something we can assign to or strip from anyone else. Educate yourself. Unlearn toxic ideology that serves only to divide and oppress us and get ready for the most magical baby with the most over-analyzed astrology chart in the history of humankind.