Category Archives: LGBT*

reclamation

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I’ve been taking self-defense classes for several months. During that time, I’ve learned so much about my body, being in it and feeling it, being comfortable with it. Much of that like relates to the fact that it’s a queer self-defense club where I can exist safely and comfortably in the odd genderless space I fit into best. I don’t get that luxury often in life, so I cherish it. There, I’m not “she”–I’m “they.” I don’t get separated by gender, called Miss, presumed to be something else. It’s refreshing.

Today we were working out and a frame of motion between the sensei and another student caught my eye and mind. We were practicing the most basic of things, rolls. In order to take falls and throws safely, you have to spend hours practicing how to roll correctly. My partner and I were both having trouble with the form–we didn’t curl our shoulders in enough as we hurtled through the air, inevitably jamming them as we landed on the somewhat forgiving mats.

The image that caught my eye was of sensei placing her hand on my partner’s head as she grabbed her opposite arm to guide her upper body through the roll smoothly. With the upper half of her body correctly placed, the rest followed through.

As I watched, I found my brain flashing back to my days as an evangelical Christian. I remembered watching countless people baptized. They stood in the baptismal pool, usually dressed in white, next to an elder. The elder placed his (never a woman) hand on their head and held one of their hands as he lowered them into the water and lifted them back up. It was a ritual that awakened shame in me every time, as I’d frequently been told I wasn’t good enough to be baptized.

Sitting on the mats in the stuffy room at the LGBT center, I watched sensei’s hands, mesmerized by the memories they conjured in me. The motion–hand on the back of the head, firm pressure downwards, control of the arm–was eerily similar to what I’d been indoctrinated with as a child.

Watching it as an openly queer, agonizingly agnostic adult, I felt bittersweetness flood my body. Being queer, for me, has been intricately linked to reclaiming words and habits I’d been told were sinful and disgusting. Today, the motion I’d linked to Christian baptism as a child seemed to come full circle. Instead of imagining the words of the waters of baptism–“I baptize you in the name of the father, the son, and the holy ghost”–instead I saw a different kind of new birth happening. Comfort in my body, in my queer identity, in my right to stand up for myself, in my genderlessness, in my strength–all these things were things I grew into, at least in part, in this club, with this sensei. In a way, her hands on my head, on my arm–these were the harbingers of a new kind of life for me, a life bursting with vibrancy, pulsing with vivacity, abounding with colors.

In a way, ’twas a baptism into queerness, an affirmation of the way I’ve chosen life, and life abundantly.

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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.