The boy who drowned: A reflection on heteronormativity’s negative ramifications
I’ll tell you a story. It’s about a little boy who could not swim. His name was Jonathan and his mother often joked that he was born with a fear of all things wet. Even as an infant, he loathed the idea of taking baths. Splashing and flopping around a bathtub full of water gave him anxiety. He hated having water pressed up against his skin because it overwhelmed him…made him feel consumed.
His father, having been deaf since an ear infection took away his sense of hearing 15 years earlier, never quite understood why his son was so afraid of water. He would attempt to read his son’s lips as Jonathan pleaded to not be forced into Uncle Ronnie’s kiddie pool, but he never understood why his son refused to spend more than two minutes floating in the water.
The day before Jonathan started high school, he decided he would try to face his fear of water. So he got into his father’s sailing boat, and they sailed far into the ocean. It only took a few minutes for Jonathan to realize just how wobbly the boat was. It kept rocking, to the point where Jonathan felt uneasy. There he was, trying to conquer his fear, and this boat refused to let him do so. Growing more anxious by the heavy tides, Jonathan walked to the edge of the boat and closed his eyes.
And then he opened his mouth and breathed in the ocean.
He dreamt of being on dry, stable land. He dreamt of his boyfriend, the one who he hadn’t yet introduced to his parents. He dreamt of holding the other boy’s hand and resting his head on the other boy’s shoulder. He dreamt of his lips meeting the other boy’s. He dreamt of the other boy’s touch. He dreamt of taking another step towards the other boy.
Only he wasn’t dreaming. He took another step and fell off of the boat. He let out a cry that went unheard. The ocean swallowed him. Unable to swim, Jonathan thrashed around the water, kicking and waving his arms to no avail. He tried to get back to the surface, to get an arm above the water to get his father’s attention, but he simply could not swim. So he waited…waited to be rescued…by his deaf father…the one who didn’t hear his cries.
He waited…and waited…and waited. And then he opened his mouth and breathed in the ocean.
~ ~ ~
Heteronormativity: The belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life.
As a Gender Studies major, I spend my days deconstructing the ideologies associated with heteronormativity. As a gay-identifying male, I spend my days dismantling the notion that queer-identifying individuals are any less than our straight “counterparts” (counterparts being a stupid term to use here, but I’ll use it nonetheless). The reasons for my continuous battling against heteronormativity are copious, but I’ll stick to one simple idea: Heteronormativity kills and should be taken more seriously by institutions. The idea behind the drowning boy metaphor is that the boy does not feel like he has the capability to save himself from the obstacles forced upon him by a heteronormative society. His father, symbolic of the naïve heterosexual community, does not notice that the young boy needs to be rescued, leaving the young boy to drown. This is how I see heteronormativity in its simplest form.
Cornell, on the other hand, is subtler in its perpetuation of these absurd ideologies.
I opened the roommate questionnaire and clicked on boxes pertaining to sleeping hours and whether or not I smoke or play an instrument. I scrolled through the questionnaire looking for anything related to “are you comfortable having a queer-identifying roommate” or “are you an ignorant homophobic/transphobic/sexist bigot?” I was hopeful for the latter question, and expectant of the former. Neither were present in the questionnaire.
Fast forward three months of educating my floor mates and roommate about the negative ramifications of making homophobic jokes and we have Transgender Remembrance Day: A day to remember the lives of non-cis people who suffered through social injustices AKA the day when my roommate invalidated they/them/their pronouns. Absolutely cognizant of my first amendment rights and the limitations impinged upon said rights when I’m nestled within the confines of an educational institution (I’m pre-law, so duh), I posted a name-nonspecific Facebook status along the lines of, “If you invalidate gender pronouns and are educated on social issues, then you are offensive and ignorant.”
Regardless of my intensive knowledge of my first amendment rights, my RA wrote me up. Regardless of the lack of names featured in the status, I was given an oral admonition about my behavior. Regardless of the fact that my roommate was able to mock gender pronouns and I was simply responding to his mockery, I was asked to remain silent.
Fast forward several weeks of filing bias reports, receiving restraining orders, and immense amounts of emotional distress during finals weeks, I am now living in a new dorm room/residence hall. I was asked to move out of my hall. I am now considered mentally unstable by the institution. My heterosexual, cis-gendered, white, able-bodied, male roommate was victimized in the situation, was given sympathy by the institution, and is now living a carefree life in a double-sized room.
So much for bias reports working to help those that are harassed…
Cornell prides itself on being a progressive institution. By progressive, it means to say that it hears about problems and simply shuffles students around as a means of “solving the problem.” Does it really solve the problem? A toxic roommate-ship? Yes. A heteronormative institution with students who perpetuate transphobia, homophobia, and sexism? Absolutely not.