Before you know, you know

“The image of Suzanne and Susan holding hands as we walked Battle Rock Beach stuck with me for weeks. I knew somewhere deep inside me, rising up to press against my sternum, that I was like them. This I knew, but by the time I turned 13, it had vanished.” (Clare 154)

During this passage, Eli reflects on one of the few times he interacted with openly queer people as a child. Even at this age, he knew he was like them but cultural messages about who he should like and how he should act suppressed this realization. Being cis and heterosexual is thought of as the norm and those identities are projected on children from a young age. I think this quote shows that cultural stereotypes and norms are learned. “The image of Suzanne and Susan holding hands … stuck with me for weeks.” To me, this part of the passage is saying that representation matters. Seeing people who look, act or love like you is necessary when figuring out your own identity. When you don’t fit into the heteronormative box, seeing people who also do not fit into that box is important and can be helpful when figuring out your identity.

The last sentence of this quote “This I knew, but by the time I had turned 13, it had vanished.” made me think about when Eli was talking about being older and figuring out his identity.  “I had never kissed a boy, never had a boyfriend or girlfriend. … I was not in love with a woman; I hadn’t even had a crush.” I think that the intuition that Eli felt about his sexuality is shown in these two quotes. There seems to be this idea in our culture that in order to know that your sexuality does not fit the norm, you must have sexual experiences to validate the questioning of your sexuality. Straight people are never asked how they know they are straight whereas queer people are often asked how they know they are not straight. These quotes show that Eli had an intuition and idea about his sexuality before having experiences that fit with his sexual identity. You can know that your identity does not fit into society’s heteronormative box, without having any sexual or romantic experiences.

3 thoughts on “Before you know, you know”

  1. I totally agree! I find what Clare says about kind of “forgetting” something about himself as big as who he is attracted to says a lot about the power of media and propaganda. As quickly as representation in media can make the figurative lightbulb go off and serve as a kind of sexual awakening or realization of gender identity, homophobic and transphobic sentiment that persists in media can just as quickly reinforce the notion of “no, that’s not me, it can’t be.” For queer people, and any marginalized person really, the media can serve as a double-edged sword.

  2. I completely agree with this. I think it says a lot that so many queer people have had the experience of having to “relearn” after having thoughts at a young age. Before knowing that something you are thinking is not what is considered the norm, it does not seem like a big deal. But after years of constantly being surrounded by the heteronormative norms, it creates an isolating experience.

  3. I think you’re right in the title “before you know, you know.” It allows for queer people to enjoy the privilege of being taken for their word, instead of questioned, about their sexualities and identities that cisgender, heterosexual people experience all the time since their identities are considered the default in society. Although, you raise the issue of representation as well, that being given the space to question and explore “is important and can be helpful.” And so “the systemic separation of children from queer adults” that Sedgwick observes in Queer and Now is the intentional abscence of representation that tries to keep queer kids quiet and in the closet.

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