Identity + Intersectionality / What Do I Call Myself?

“how can I surely know I am gay? like everyone is saying that they have known it since they were little kids, but can you figure out later that you somehow happen to love women? I told my mother about my feelings because I believed that she would help me with it but she said to me that, she knew me and I cant like women because I didnt obviously like girls when I was a little kid. does it really make sense? I am really confused, I dont think I am faking my feelings but what if she is right?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Your mom is wrong.

Want to know how I know? I know because I am pretty flippin’ gay (specifically a queer bisexual cisgender lady married to a queer cisgender lady, if you really want to know the particulars), and I didn’t have any awareness whatsoever of being anything except tiny Kristin Russo when I was tiny Kristin Russo.

When I was 4 ½ I met a boy named Peter and he was 4 ½ too, and I thought that was the most lovely thing I had ever heard and so we told our parents we were boyfriend and girlfriend and then wrote each other pen-pal letters for a few years. In middle school I had real, heart-stopping crushes on boys and I also adored my very best friend in the whole wide world who was a girl. When she moved from New York to Ohio it was as though all of our limbs were being ripped from our bodies. You know?! In tenth grade I kissed some girls on “dares,” and was like “Oooooh boy, I sure don’t think I am gay… that was a GRAND EXPERIMENT, though!” Then, when I was a senior in high school I kissed one more girl and I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach and I was like “OH WAIT OH SHOOT OH MY I AM SO GAY FOR THIS GIRL AHHHH.”

You can read some of what happened after that when it came to coming out to my family here, but my larger point is that while I can go back and see some deep connections that I made with other girls (like my BFF in middle school) and perhaps overlay some “Oh maybe I should have known something then” logic… I didn’t know then. I didn’t know at all! I wasn’t sitting up at night thinking, “Oh but if only my BFF would kiss me someday, wouldn’t that be swell?!” I didn’t want to kiss her! I just wanted to be her very best friend forever!!

Some people know from a young age, sure. They feel different, they have crushes that are clear, and they might do things that make their parents or family think, “She is gonna be gay.” (Which SPOILER ALERT is pretty problematic bc you cannot tell a person’s sexuality by watching their behavior alone, duh.) Some people might be able to say, “Well, my name is Tina and I am a lesbian, I have known forever, it is clear as day,” and then slap a big rainbow sticker on their laptop. That is super great for Tina! GO TINA.

However, there are a whole ton of people who, like me (and you!), navigate through our sexuality in a more complicated (and sometimes confusing) manner. You might not ever feel like you know who you will be forever, and that is okay. You might not feel like you know exactly how you feel right now, and that is also okay. What you are saying is that you might find girls attractive, and you don’t have a label for those feelings yet. THAT. IS. OKAY. That is great! That means you know something super rad about yourself, and it means that maybe you will explore those feelings with people as time goes on. That exploration might teach you even more about yourself – what you like, what you don’t – and help you in better understanding your identity.

You aren’t faking your feelings. If you were smushing down those feelings and not talking about them or acknowledging them at all, that would be really tricky, and might make you “fake” certain feelings (like forcing yourself to date a boy so you don’t have to think so much about your crushes on girls, for example). If you are curious or interested or super into the idea of dating a girl someday, that isn’t fake! Even if you someday date a girl or kiss a girl and think, “Welp, I didn’t like that after all,” those feelings still weren’t fake!! They were just feelings that changed over time.

It is okay to tell your mom you don’t have a word for yourself yet (and that you might not ever). It is okay to tell your mom that not all gay people “always knew” who they were. It is okay to tell your mom that what you need right now is her support and love as you work to understand yourself better, and that you would really love to keep an open dialogue with her as you figure things out more.

Here is a video where I talk a bit more about my own journey with my sexuality, and here is another video I made with my own mom about our coming out process together.

Coming out to ourselves and other people can be really confusing sometimes, and that is totally, completely okay.

All my love to you and your mom, and I hope 2017 brings you a whole bunch of new questions, new answers, and maybe even a girlfriend WHO KNOWS.

xo

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“Hi, I’m Sara and I’m 15. I’ve been trying to figure put my sexuality for a while and when people ask about my sexuality I just tell them ‘Oh, I’ve had a boyfriend for two years’ and they just leave it at that. When the truth is I’M CONFUSED AS ALL HELL!!! I love my boyfriend but I’ve never been interested in sex. Ever. And I think I’m Asexual but there’s also the factor of having had crushes on people of all genders and I don’t know if that makes me pansexual or what. Or Pan and Asexual? Advice?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kara Kratcha Says:

Dear Sara,

Oh geeze. I have felt these feelings (confusion! conflict! ambivalence!) and given similar non-answers when people ask about my sexuality so many times. As I’m sure you know, I can’t tell you whether you’re asexual or pansexual or anything else. I can, however, tell you a little bit about how I felt when I was 15 and offer some advice about sexuality labels.

When I was 15, I barely knew any “LBGTQ” people. To make matters worse, almost all of the “LGBTQ” people I knew were gay men. There’s nothing wrong with gay men, of course, but the lack of queer representation in my life really limited my options in terms of possible sexuality and gender labels. (I know you didn’t ask about gender, but a lot of what I’m going to say applies to gender as well as sexuality.) I keep putting “LGBTQ” in quotation marks because, although I knew the letters in the acronym at 15, I didn’t hear the word “queer” as I understand it now until I was in college. As far as I was concerned, the Q stood for questioning. And honestly? 15-year-old me kind of liked “questioning” as a sexuality label.

In a lot of ways, you’re doing better than I was at 15. You have access to words like asexual and pansexual, and you’re not afraid to use them. That’s excellent! Unfortunately, with access to so many words comes pressure to pick the correct words. If it’s possible to figure out that you’re a (for example) biromantic polyamorous grey-ace nonbinary human, wouldn’t you want to know?

Sometimes you would. I bet you’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the truth about yourself. It feels good to find words that reflect how we experience the world. The thing is, words like asexual and pansexual are trying to capture the commonalities between many people’s experiences. Identity words allow us to form communities around shared truths. Identity words also don’t always provide for each person’s experiences all the time.

Having crushes on people of all genders and not experiencing any sexual attraction is an experience that some people would call panromantic asexuality. You can identify that way if you want to, but you don’t have to. For more asexuality words, you can check out this glossary from the Asexuality Archive. You might find something you like there.

My advice is to think about what you want out of an identity label. Who is your identity for? Is it for you, to help you understand your own experience better? Is it for your community, to help you find people like you? Is it for other people, to help you explain your experiences to them? (If you haven’t, it might be a good idea to discuss what you’ve been thinking about your sexuality with your boyfriend. A supportive partner probably wants to know what’s going on with you so that they can support you better.) No matter what you decide, how you use these identity words is up to you.

I also want you to remember that you don’t have to use the same label at all times with everyone forever. Explaining your complex feelings and experiences gets exhausting if you try to do it for everyone! You can tell people different things about yourself in different contexts. You can offer different levels of information about yourself to different people. You can decide on a label and change your mind in five minutes or five years. Let yourself use the words that feel good now, and give yourself permission to use different words later. Your future self will appreciate that!

You don’t owe anyone absolute consistency, and you don’t have to explain yourself to everyone who asks in order to claim the identity you want to claim. You’re pan or ace or queer or whatever enough because you say you are. Anyone who refuses to allow you to keep learning about yourself, preserve your energy for when you need it, and tell your truth how you want to is bad news. You can keep questioning as long as you want to.

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Kara Kratcha studies English literature at a university in New York City. She recently applied to library school and tells everyone that she’s an aspiring librarian, but really she’s always wanted to be an advice columnist. (Kara would like to thank Everyone Is Gay for making hir dream come true.) If she had to pick a label, she would probably go with “genderfluid polyamorous demiromantic grey-ace,” but usually she just kind of shrugs. Right now (like, probably literally right now) Kara is working on hir senior thesis on representations of asexuality in Sherlock fan fiction.

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"What advice can you offer to a person in their mid-20s who is curious about women? While I've always had some curiosity (but never acted upon it), I've always classed myself as straight. But the curiosity is getting a lot stronger and I'd like to explore it and find out how I really feel. I've no idea how to connect with other women and I also don't want to waste someone's time if they're looking for someone who knows what they want because I might find that it isn't what I want."

-Question Submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Ooooooh ok ok ok ready: MAKE OUT WITH A GIRL! MAKE OUT WITH TWO GIRLS! MAKE OUT WITH ALLL THE GIRRRLLLS!

*clears throat*

I understand what you are saying, Anonymous, about being worried because “what if it is isn’t what you wind up wanting,” but at the same time: isn’t that the entire point of connecting with people in the first place?! It’s like, when I met my wife and thought “boy oh boy do I sure want to make out with that one,” I definitely had no way of knowing a) that I would actually like making out with her once we made out (I did), 2) whether or not I would want to keep making out (I DID), 3) if making out would mean we’d talk about more-than-making-out (we did), 4) if we wanted the same things for the rest of our lives (who knowwwws but so far we are doing pretty good)! All we could do was make the decision to make out and then reassess… then make out some more and reassess… then get married and keep making out (HOW FUN).

You aren’t obligated to know how you’ll feel about connecting to anyone before you connect with them, so I, Kristin Russo, give you full permission to take that concern and toss it out the window. Cool? Cool.

NOW: On how to connect. Personally, I really like making out, so I screamed a bunch about making out up there… but for you connecting with another girl might mean something totally different! It might mean that you ask someone you have more-than-friend-feelings for to grab a coffee or a beer, and then talk to them for hours. It might mean that you see them again, and tell them that you’ve been questioning your attractions (HINT HINT). It might mean you watch a movie at their house and you hold hands and see how that feels. It might mean you have dinner together and then have all the sex all night long! IT MIGHT MEAN YOU WRITE EACH OTHER LOVE POEMS, WHO KNOWS.

Point being: you should think about what you like, and what you want. Then, once you have some thoughts, you do like the rest of us and clumsily stumble around trying to make those thoughts a reality. It’s okay to mess up or feel scared (IT CAN BE SO SCARY BUT EEEE THAT’S THE FUN!), it’s okay if you stumble a bit, and it’s okay if you love it too much or you don’t love it at all.

Our desires and attractions can be so much fun if we let ourselves have the room to explore… and that is exactly what you are saying you want to do, Anon.

THREE CHEERS FOR MAKING OUT WITH GIRLS!
WOOOOOO!

 

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“Hi, I’m a 16yo girl, and recently with all the media storms all over Tumblr, and also just life in general and the people around me, I’ve been thinking a lot about my sexuality. I think I’m at least bisexual, but I keep seeing labels that are wider just, in general, that include trans people? Is there a better label that just ‘bisexual’, is what I’m really asking.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Hello! I want to say, for the record, that I am thrilled to hear that the world around you has challenged you to think about your sexuality, and to wonder and explore and dig into the feelings you have, both about yourself and toward other humans. I say this because I think there are a lot of people out there who are afraid that, by being open about the existence of many sexualities and genders, we might be confusing or influencing young people to be something that they aren’t. Newsflash! Being open about sexuality and gender allows people to actually think about who they are! Which is great and awesome and wonderful. So. Thank you for allowing me that brief moment on my soapbox.

*steps off soapbox*

For starters, the term bisexual does, for many, 100% include trans and nonbinary people! Let’s dig in a little deeper:

When I came to understand the word bisexual I also thought that the term – based on the prefix ‘bi’ – meant that I was saying I was attracted to men and women. I should also mention that it was 1998 when I first used that word to describe myself, and so that is what I meant, because in 1998 I didn’t have any understanding of gender outside of the binary. I knew there were men and I knew there were women, and I felt attractions toward them both! I held onto that understanding of the term for many years (and went on a whole journey with my own labels, which you can hear about here), and over time I learned more about gender identity, the gender binary, and the many genders that exist both within and outside of that (false) structure.

Armed with a new understanding of gender identity, I also realized that I was attracted, like you are, to people of all genders, rather than just the two I’d been taught about as a kid. And, through that whole process of rediscovery, I learned a lot about both the term “pansexual,” and how the term “bisexual” is understood by many (bisexuals included).

Pansexual is a term used by many to mean that they are (like you!) attracted (romantically or sexually) to all genders. If you like that word, then it can be your word, for sure! But but but. You must also understand that the word bisexual is used, by many, to express the very same sentiment. Certainly, there are people who identify as bisexual that may use that term to explain their attraction to two genders, but there are very many who use this term in keeping with Robyn Ochs definition, in which she states:

“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.”

This is how I understand the identity, and expresses what I mean when I tell someone that I am bisexual. I am attracted to people of all genders.

Now, let’s stop here for a very important second: Words are words. Which is to say that, the way I use a word may carry different meaning then the way that you use a word. The underlying piece of this whole conversation is that, if you are choosing a word or identity label for yourself, YOU have to feel comfortable with that word! It also means that, no matter how many people I talk to, and regardless of the fact that I identify as bisexual myself, that does NOT make me an authority. Words can mean many things to many people! That is why we should always leave room when we hear that someone identifies in a particular way, because their relationship with that word may be different than our own.

My advice to you is: keep asking, keep learning, keep reading. There are a multitude of identities out there, and an endless supply of words to choose from… but at the end of the day your truth will never be contained within just one word. The term bisexual is absolutely inclusive of all genders (many also view the ‘bi’ in bisexual to be an expression of “self” and “other,” meaning they can be attracted to someone of their own gender, as well as someone who is a gender other than their own), and there are many other words, or combinations of words, that can also help you express yourself and your identity.

I hope this helped, or at least confused you enough to keep asking more.

<3

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Hey, my name is Virginia and I'm 14. I'm not sure of my sexuality, but I know I'm not straight, which I'm very open with at school and with all my friends. However, I'm not out to my parents. I sort of decided I wouldn't tell them until I was 100% sure, but I feel like they should know since so many of my peers do. I know you're not supposed to come out until you're ready, but can I be out to my school and not my family?

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin Says:

Hellooooo Virginia!

The short answer here is: you can absolutely be out to your friends at school before being out to your family, and there is nothing wrong with making that choice if it is what feels best to you right now.

However, there is a little more to this dilemma, which I am going to take in two parts. First, let’s talk about waiting until you are “100% sure.” I get it, I reallllllyyy get it, but I don’t know that there is a guarantee that you will ever get to 100% on the SURE-ABOUT-IT meter, you know? Some of us do get there, but not all of us, and as someone who hasn’t ever felt SURE about one word lasting for my lifetime, I can tell you it is okay to never make it to 100%! I’ve been talking about this a bunch lately, but I think it bears repeating – our desires and identities and sexualities can change over time, and that doesn’t make any identity on our life’s continuum any less valid than any other identity! Meaning, if you come out to your parents today as ‘not straight,’ that is enough of a descriptor, and you don’t have to stay inside of those particular words forever.

Your parents likely don’t expect that you will only talk to them at the ‘end points’ of your life journeys. For starters, most of these journeys don’t have clean ‘end points,’ and I’d imagine most parents would want to be a part of the experience, the questions, and the beautiful parts that come in the in-betweens. If you think that your parents will be accepting of your sexuality overall, then telling them you don’t know exactly who you are yet, but that you know you aren’t straight, is a damn fine way to come out!

Second, I want to talk about the conflict you might be feeling in keeping something about yourself from your parents. This kind of decision is a really hard one to make, because you are negotiating between wanting to feel ready, and also wanting to feel like you can be open about who you are with people that you probably interact with a lot, and who also probably mean a whole bunch to you. It really is a tough call to make, which is why it is so personal to each person’s experience, and why it is so important to check in with yourself often about how you’re feeling.

The way I view it, you are weighing the feelings against each other to see which is the best decision for your heart and your wellbeing at the moment. If the weight of keeping something from your parents starts to be the bigger, more cumbersome feeling, then I think it is good to consider coming out (even if, as we talked about up there, you aren’t 100% certain of your identity just yet). Now, of course, if you are afraid that your parents will be very upset, or take extreme measures, this becomes a very different conversation (and one that involves having a clear plan in place before taking action), but your message doesn’t seem to suggest that this is part of your fear, Virginia. It seems, rather, that this is about timing what is right for you, what’s right for them, and when you should shift to a place of conversation with your family.

If you can, journal about it, or even just spend a few minutes before you fall asleep each night checking in on how you’re feeling. Make a system, even! Maybe you keep a notebook by your bed and you rank your “I want to tell my parents” feelings next to your “I’m not ready” feelings using a numbered scale or by putting a tally in the column that feels stronger to you. Then, over time, you’ll be able to see if those feelings change or if, perhaps, you really are more ready than you’d initially thought.

The bottom line is that there is no “wrong” answer here. This is your process, first and foremost. Your parents will have a process, too, but for now you have to do what makes you feel most comfortable, most safe, and most balanced.

<3

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