labels and boxes

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Last night, at my school’s LGBT support group meeting, someone asked me if I was lesbian. It’s a question I should have expected, in a conversation about having a discussion about my not-straight-ness with my parents, but it’s also a question I avoid. Mostly, because I really don’t know.

Among all the categories of gender and sexuality and attraction, I find that I sometimes fluctuate, or at least have wishful thinking that causes me to think I’m fluctuating. When I first left fundamentalism some of my friends had strong suspicions that I was gay because I never found male actors hot or sexy or whatever like they did. I knew I had never been attracted to guys, and still never have been. I think kissing is gross–who would want to stick their tongues in someone else’s mouth?–and honestly don’t feel a great desire to have THE SEX either. Honestly, while I love cuddling with people–mostly girls, though a few guys, as well–I don’t look at someone and think, “They’re so sexy! I wish I could have the sex with them!” Perhaps no one does this, and I’m making this up in my head, but even people that I have “crushes” on are just people I’d like to have a cup of tea with, laugh and share and debate interesting topics with, and snuggle up next to at the end of the day. Sex is honestly not that big of a deal in my life. Most of the time, I pretty much hate the physically female parts of my body, while other times I am just “meh” about them. All in all, I’d probably fall closer to asexual but bi-romantic than most anything else.

I answered the question from the person in the group with my standard answer: “I’m not straight, but I’m not particularly sure what I am. And I’m ok with that.” (Which is the truth, despite two years of reparative therapy and countless efforts to get me to “come back to Jesus” by family and friends.)

When I first started learning about sexual and gender minorities, I realized I had an intense need to label people. I needed to find what box they fit in and put them there. I needed to know if they were genetically male, genetically female, whom they were attracted to, what that meant…I wanted all the information. As I listened to other queer folks, I realized that sexuality was a spectrum. I first was introduced to this concept over at Sam Killerman’s It’s Pronounced Metrosexual.

The whole idea is that attraction, identity, biology, and expression are on a continuum with infinite possibilities. (Less so with biology, but it still can be.) This was frightening for me. If everything was a continuum, and a certain orientation didn’t mean a certain attraction or expression, I couldn’t fit people into stereotypes. It wasn’t that I realized I was doing this consciously, I just was so used to having categories that I had naturally been able to do it. It felt like an odd sense of control when I was able to categorize my world.

Gradually, I had to start letting go of that. Reading memoirs, anthologies, blogs, and other literature opened my eyes to the amazing intricacy of gender and expression, and while it was at first scary, it was ultimately freeing. Not needing to fit other people in boxes meant I didn’t need to fit myself in a box. I know what I’m not (straight), but knowing what I am is harder. I don’t have to figure it out today, though. There isn’t a rush, or a reason for me to have everything sorted out. I am unique, changing, questioning, growing, learning–and my own thoughts and expressions and feelings and uncertainty don’t make me less of a person than my straight and queer friends who know where they fit. It simply means that I am experiencing the reality of an incredibly complex system affected by hundreds of internal and external factors.

Ultimately, I realized that I didn’t need labels and boxes because I know myself pretty well. When I wasn’t internalizing other people’s messages about purity, or self-worth, or who they thought I was or wasn’t, I knew that I was ok with being rather fluid. I no longer had to identify other people, and I didn’t have to identify myself–and I definitely didn’t have to identify myself for other people. I will know if something feels right in my gut if I am ever in a relationship, and I can go with that. I don’t have to worry about whether or not it fits in my box.

And that is amazingly freeing.

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