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Normalize Not Knowing

Elevating the voices and experiences of transgender and nonbinary people is a passion of PFLAG National intern Sam Krauss (they/them), a government and sociology double major going into their senior year at Smith College, who comes from Abington, Pennsylvania. In this piece from a series that began on Nonbinary Day, Sam highlights ways to overcome implicit bias about sexual orientation and gender identity.

Normalize not knowing: Looking past our assumptions

We make snap judgements about strangers all the time, often based on just a glance at how they look.  Just by looking at me, I doubt you could tell that I’m a nonbinary Jewish trombonist who watches lesbian movies (even though I’m bisexual) with an OLOC chapter every Saturday night over Zoom.There is so much we miss about a person’s story when we take a look at their appearance and choose to stop listening. 

Here are some ways to reframe our own thinking about the gender or sexual orientation cues we perceive. Like all changes, it takes time and practice, but once we start focusing on what we know, we’ll stop relying as heavily on the things we think we know.

The next time you’re out and about, take some time to look at strangers and normalize not knowing whether they are LGBTQ+. Say it to yourself, “I do not know that person’s gender. I do not know that person’s sexuality.” Trust me. It gets easier with practice. 

If you see someone in a dress, wonder if there are pockets. A person wearing a dress does not have to be a woman.

If you see someone with brightly dyed hair, wonder what conditioner they use to keep it looking great. A person with unconventional hair is not necessarily LGBTQ+.

If you see a hairy-chested person wearing a cropped shirt exposing their stomach, wonder if the shirt was DIY cropped. This person may or may not be a man, and they may or may not be gay. 

If you see a person wearing lipstick, wonder if it stays on well during meals. A person wearing lipstick can be butch, femme, both, or neither. It’s just face paint. Any other meaning comes from the person wearing the lipstick. 

If you see two people holding hands, wonder what songs they sing to one another. A couple can be made up of people of any sexuality. They could be bisexual, pansexual, straight, or queer – you don’t know just by looking. 

If you see a person with wide hips and a short haircut, wonder whether they want to write a book.

If you hear a person with a low voice, wonder if they sing in a choir. 

If you see a person wearing tall heels, wonder where they’d like to travel.

Acknowledge that a stranger’s romantic life is not our business. Acknowledge that it is normal not to think about other people’s genitalia. Acknowledge that having crushes does not define a person’s sexual orientation. Acknowledge that until they tell us, we don’t know what pronouns a person uses.

When we get used to not knowing everything based on appearance, we shift our perspectives. We stop building boxes that people then have to break down. They’re just people, navigating this complex world with the resources and skills they have. To know more about their genders, their sexualities, their interests, and their goals, you’ll just have to get to know them. 

Here are some pieces to read and watch to keep the conversation going:

The art featured on this piece was created by Robyn (she/her) from RNicoleStudio. She is a Maine-based queer artist.