Six years ago I was out with my best friend at a bar called something I don’t remember and I flirted with a girl, on purpose, for the first time. Six years ago after leaving said bar with a girl and going back home with her, I ended up in her bed, on purpose and without a guy present, for the first time. Six years ago, after quietly wondering for a while if I wasn’t as hetero as I originally thought I confirmed that I am definitely not hetero, for the first time.
Nope. Not hetero. Like, at all.
And so six years ago, after sleeping with a woman on my own terms for the first time, I started to call myself bi. I started navigating what that meant for me. I gave myself the space to identify as something other than straight for the first time in my entire life. I started to figure out what being queer, what being definitely not hetero, meant for me.
But then over four years ago, I had my last sexual or romantic encounter with a man and I, frankly, haven’t looked back. I remember watching him drink bourbon on my balcony and just thinking, “Huh this is way more fun when it’s another woman. I don’t think I’m really into this.” When we mutually ghosted each other literally hours later I wasn’t even slightly bothered. In fact, I don’t think that bourbon memory had occurred to me in several years until I sat down to try to articulate what I’m getting at with this essay.
Four years ago, even though I completely did not recognize it at the time, I stopped feeling the pressure of compulsory heterosexuality. Four years ago, even though I did not recognize it at the time, I started to truly lean into my gay identity.
Four years ago, only a little over a year and some change after declaring I was bisexual, I stopped really being bisexual. And now four years later, I still don’t fully know how to label myself.
But honestly what’s been more confusing than not having a label for myself is understanding why there’s all this pressure to declare one in the first place. If there isn’t a label that seems to fit, why do I feel like I should keep searching for one until there is?
Psychologically speaking, human beings label each other for a couple of different reasons. It’s a way of organizing people, of knowing where they belong in a group. Ie: “You’re big and strong, you should protect the group. You’re really clever and quick, you should hunt for us. You’re really nurturing and trustworthy, you should raise the young.” And so on and so forth. It can also be viewed as a safety measure. When you know what something is and how that something works, it’s much easier to understand whether or not that something then poses a threat to you or your community or both. Taking both of those things into consideration, it’s easy to see that this labeling, this organizational method that we put onto other human beings originally stemmed as a survival method, and even subconsciously still acts as such to a certain extent.
It’s also important to note how humans absolutely love control and consistency which is why societal norms have existed for centuries and continue to be upheld even by people who would claim they don’t care about them. Labels, or having the psychological ability to say “this goes here, this goes there” are what create the foundation for maintaining what feels familiar or, frankly, right. Humans do not thrive in the unknown. We want to know who, what, why, when, where, and how. Not having the answers to those questions at best confuses us and throws us off a bit, and at worst makes us question the entirety of our own reality.
There are multiple problems with all of this.
We’re evolving, sometimes rapidly and seemingly overnight, while the labels are taking multiple years to catch up. But the concept of a labelless society makes sense to very few people. It is the antithesis of those societal norms most of us were taught were intrinsic to maintaining life as we know it. However, the biggest issue, in my oh-so-humble opinion, is when we label someone it completely stifles our curiosity in seeing or understanding them as something more complicated, interesting, multi-faceted, or just more than the label we’ve assigned them. It gives no room for growth, no room for fluidity, no room for change, and no room for further evolution.
And when you do that to yourself? Incorrectly? Twice? Well, woof. You’re probably in for it a little bit. (Or a lot.)
In the same way I literally never considered bisexuality as an option until I was 25, I never saw it as anything but the only option given my entire past after accepting I was not straight. I had been an active (and enthusiastic!) participant in heterosexuality. I had an almost decade-plus history of dating, sleeping with, exploring, and loving men. To question that side of myself, to peel back the layers of my sexuality before I had even realized it, just never even occurred to me as something I could do.
There are layers to compulsory heterosexuality and heteronormativity. We all experience it or at least the ripple effects of it no matter our sexual or gender identities. But we all experience those layers and those ripples to different degrees and extents. A huge portion of it for me is how it ultimately boiled down to never questioning my attraction and then subsequent desire and love for men. I had crushes on boys, so I had to be into men, right?
Well when the boys are Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Leonardo Dicaprio in Romeo + Juliet who essentially dressed like the soft butch lesbians I date today, maybe not so much!
There are a number of things that people claim as parts of their persona I find incredibly boring. I swear, this has a point to it. Anyway. Some of these are (but not limited to):
- People who act like hating kids is a personality trait.
- People who hate on Scorpios for no other reason than it’s easy.
- People who think dunking on Top 40 makes them cultured and/or a certifiable music critic.
- People who always make every talking point or conversation somehow lead back to talking about themselves.
- People who like to humblebrag about how little they use social media.
All of this to say, one of the absolute most boring personality traits to me (of which there are clearly many) is when someone who is straight or homosexual cannot admit when they find someone of the gender they are not personally interested in attractive.
I am not straight, but I am not dead. When I see an attractive man, I am well aware that he is attractive. Matthew Gray Gubler exists. Dev Patel exists. Evan Peters, Robert Sheehan, Donald Glover, Jake Gyllenhall. I know when a man is attractive and beautiful and fun to look at. I get it. But do I want to be with him? Do I want to hold his hand? Do I want to create a space that encourages him to open up and trust me in deep, evocative, meaningful ways? Do I want to know about his hopes and dreams and what makes him keep going in this shitstorm of a world? Do I want to stay in bed all day with a man? Do I want to hold him from behind and kiss his shoulders and ask him what his favorite line from a movie is and actually open up to him and sleep underneath him? Do I really want to be with a man?
No, not really. Actually beyond not really. I don’t.
I’m not interested in men in a sexual or romantic way so that must make me a lesbian, right? Unfortunately, I still don’t know that it’s that simple. Actually, I do know. It hasn’t been and it’s not.
The complications that surround the word lesbian have been documented at length. From its over-sexualization to the implication that it would be exclusionary to non-binary people to how TERFs have now taken it as something for them to wield at their leisure to, frankly, the way it is tossed around as the ultimate insult when you’re growing up in a small town—it is a word that is sure to get a reaction that is often far from positive. Culturally, especially with young(er) queer women, there is almost a disconnect to the word lesbian. It feels, oftentimes, like it excludes or omits people we are not looking to exclude. But then to exclude ourselves from a word with all of the history attached to it feels like the ultimate exclusion in and of itself. There is a lot of take back that needs to happen with the word lesbian. And it’s take back that I think is absolutely happening, but at one of those slower paces I mentioned previously.
Which is to say! I don’t know! I don’t know if that’s what I am or would identify as if I had done all of this at 16 when I was supposed to according to statistics. It’s something I’m clearly still working on, okay?!
But here are some things I do know after a slew of things I do not.
- I am a woman who loves other women.
- I haven’t been romantically or sexually involved or interested in a cis/straight man in nearly half a decade.
- I have been romantically and sexually involved with queer people of multiple identities post coming out as bisexual initially.
- The last serious, long-term, over a year-long relationship I was in was with another woman.
- The last heartbreak I had was over a woman.
- The last person I saw myself developing feelings for is a woman.
- Being queer is an integral part of who I am.
And that last thing I know is the main component that I hold to be true.
My queer/gay identity is undeniably an important factor in the makeup of my being. It is a fundamental part of who I am. I would never consider the fact that I am not a cat person (see? probably not a lesbian. so sorry had to it was right there.) a part of my personality because that would be what? Boring. But my queerness? It is deeply something that defines who, what, when, where, how, and why I am who I am.
My queerness is so important to me that I cannot see myself being with someone who doesn’t just accept it, they need to understand it. That connection and shared experience is vital for me. It’s a non-negotiable. It transcends necessary. Without it, there is no connection. It’s not possible.
I’m attracted to, desire, and just interested in other queer people, and that’s what I know. Full stop. Predominantly, that has been other queer women. It can extend outside of the typical gender binary, but still within the queer space. The queerness is the point. The gay factor is the point. The “not hetero” is the whole fucking point.
I don’t think (and I say don’t think because listen, was wrong twice before, could be wrong again!!!!!) I could ever be with a man again because to be with a man would be to be with someone who is missing a key component of what makes me me. For some people? That’s not a problem or a necessity. But for me it truly feels like everything. And for me, the elimination of men from the people I’m interested in pursuing as a more than platonic partner does eliminate bisexual from a label that feels truly representative of me.
All of this to say, even though bisexuality was a stepping stone for me, that doesn’t make it invalid or a phase for everyone. Bisexuality is a real experience and important identity for many, many people. And honestly? We, or people like myself, owe them a huge thank you for allowing us space to figure shit out when we, you know, needed to figure shit out.
So now that we’re post-figuring shit out? Or at least further along with it?
I’m not bisexual. It was just a phase. I tried it on until I was ready to just be into chicks. The fear I had came true and it was a layover for me on the way to gay town. Should I keep going, go ahead and include more offensive tropes? No, don’t worry, I won’t.
What I know is this.
The biggest mistake I made with my sexuality was ever labeling it in the first place. Because the label, to me, is not important. If it is important to someone talking about me? Whatever. They can call me whatever they want so long as they represent that I’m not straight. Lesbian, queer, gay? They all feel fine. But the label is not something I feel in any way devoted or married to.
The label is not what’s important, the intent is. And so long as you’re aware I’m a very proud LGBTQ+ woman and honor as such with whatever label you assign me, it’s probably going to be fine.
Maybe at some point I will find a label that feels like it fits and I will symbolically adhere it to my probably cuffed sleeved shirt and claim it as my own. But these days, I’m more than comfortable with my labellessness. I, generally, know who I am and what I’m about. I know that I’m open to evolution of terminology and identity. I love the space that holds for me and how the lack of label makes that room a more comfortable place to sit and learn and absorb and become. I like the challenge of growing. I welcome it. If I felt the necessity of picking one label to rule them all, one label to define them, I don’t know that I’d feel the same.
In 2016, when I decided to write about my at-the-time-bisexual journey I said:
“The thing about figuring yourself out is that it’s not necessarily going to be a steadily increasing graph and once you reach the top a bell goes off, confetti flies out of the air, and you’re awarded a metaphorical gold star for winning the game of loving yourself. There will be dips and falls, plateaus and spikes.”
I don’t know that this has had so much to do with self-love, but it’s absolutely been more than applicable to self-acceptance. There has been a lot of reconfiguring on the navigational system for me with the whole “figure yourself out” journey. There have, in fact, been dips and falls, plateaus and spikes, zigs and zags, as I have clawed my way to defining who I am. 2016 me may have had very little cognizant idea that I wasn’t bisexual, but she was honestly onto something. She self-predicted something I wasn’t even aware was going to come up again.
Isn’t it kind of comforting to see in digital black and white that even when we don’t know anything we still kind of know ourselves deep down? I think it is. I may have been so confident, at the time, with calling myself bisexual. But there was still a part of me that was aware I should try to hold space for the possibility that the journey was still far from over.
Six years ago, I slept with a woman for the first time and realized I was definitely not straight. Four years ago, I effectively retired from men. This year, I’m grappling with how to self-identify when I don’t see the utter importance of labels in a world that seems utterly obsessed with identifying everything. Maybe next year I’ll have a label, or maybe I won’t.
But similar to what I said in 2016, I’m proud that this journey has been mine. It’s a journey no one told me I was allowed to go on, and I went on it anyway. It’s been one that has completely confused and paralyzed me at times, but it has led me to some of the most beautiful moments of my entire life filled with softness and grace I previously couldn’t have even fathomed. I’m proud that in a world that’s as insistent on concrete labels I’ve given myself space to change and grow even when it feels like a fuck up on my part. I’m proud that I’ve let myself become my most me, even if it’s been kind of messy along the way. This journey might be ending with more of an ellipsis, but I love that opportunity for evolution.
After all, I wouldn’t be much of a labelleless bitch if I insisted on a period to finalize things now would I…