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“I came out as a lesbian at school last year, but have since realized that I’m actually bisexual. I want to be out as my true self, but part of me feels like I shouldn’t bother coming out as bi because people might not believe me. What should I do?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Red Says:

Many people think of sexuality as something that is entirely unchanging.  Once someone has “discovered” their sexuality, that’s supposed to be the end of the story.  This narrative is often used by other lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as well—the “born this way” argument—because on face value it seems to make arguments for civil rights more effective.  But this narrative leaves out people whose experience of sexuality is fluid and constantly shifting, or people whose “discovery of self” did not happen linearly (I’ve always loved this post by Riese at Autostraddle that shares her own experience of identifying as bi/queer/a lesbian).  These experiences of sexuality are not actually uncommon, much as they are underrepresented.  It is not rare for someone who is bi to later come out as gay, and vice versa.  None of that means that a person’s “first” sexual identity is somehow invalid, or was a lie, and it definitely doesn’t mean that all bi people are really gay (or straight).  It means that in a world where we allow people very few options of how to fall in love or experience attraction—and in a society where conversations about sexuality, romance, and attraction rarely occur in any depth—that it can be hard for people to understand an experience of sexuality—especially a changing one—that does not match their own.

I empathize with your struggle, though, and while I definitely understand your desire to be true to yourself, I want to first state that it is absolutely no one’s right to know your sexuality. You are under no obligation or deadline to come out again, or to do so in the same way as you did before.

If you feel hesitant to come out because you are afraid of how people will respond, you might consider running a “hypothetical” scenario past a few friends to gauge how they respond to the idea of someone’s sexual identity changing or shifting. If they respond well to the idea in the abstract, hopefully their response to you will be supportive as well.

Because everyone’s experience of sexuality is so varied, I can’t give you the specific words to have a conversation with your friends about your identity.  But if you do decide to come out to them, thinking about how you would articulate your experience of sexuality for yourself (and whether any of it resonates with what I said above) could help you figure out how and what you want to share out loud.

If, on the other hand, your friends respond negatively to a hypothetically posed question, you can try talking through whatever their reservations or opinions are. If they think that bisexuality isn’t real, and that people only identify as bi to “get attention,” the issue probably isn’t going to be solved with a single conversation (although telling them that any attention bi women receive is rarely positive and that the entire concept is rooted in sexism might be a good place to start). You can challenge them on those opinions, but it might not be safe for you to come out to that person (or people) right now. If someone’s response is something more along the lines of confusion about how or why someone’s identity might change, or if they’re skeptical but not openly hostile, you might have better luck coming out to them. However, it’s never your responsibility to explain your identity, or to ever act as educator to someone regarding sexuality. Especially if you feel uncomfortable or potentially unsafe. How you came to realize you’re bi, what being bi means to you, and why you want to identify as such are all no one’s business but your own.

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“I recently accepted my identity as genderqueer and have asked my closest friends to use they/them pronouns for me. However, I didn’t realize how complicated this could be because so many things are gendered in our world. Am I still a lesbian? Can I still participate in girls’ night? Can I be somebody’s girlfriend? How do I deal with the weird feeling I get from being on a women’s intramural team? Help!”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as a part of Everyone is Gay: Second Opinions.

Red Says:

Hi! Congratulations on coming out to some of your friends, that’s a huge step. Gender is really confusing and can be hard to talk about with people, so asking your friends to use they/them pronouns for you is a huge accomplishment.

Gender is complicated, and non-binary people identify in a wide variety of ways. Because of this, figuring out how other aspects of your identity or labeling change—and even how you relate to yourself and others—can indeed be really hard to figure out. Gender is deeply personal, and everyone defines their gender in different ways, which means that everyone will have different responses to how they choose to change how they identify after coming out as trans or non-binary.

Regarding your specific concerns, I think the biggest question to ask yourself is: Is being a woman or girl a part of your gender? Though I usually find it easier to try not to label my own gender, the word that comes closest to fitting for me is “demigirl,” which means I consider being a woman part of my gender, but it is not the only or even always the most important/dominant part of my gender. However else I identify mostly falls within the range of “agender,”—which is to say that “maleness” is not at all an aspect of my gender, even if I sometimes present in a more “masculine” way. All of this is to say that being a woman makes up a significant enough portion of my gender to mean that I still feel directly impacted by misogyny/sexism, and that when people read me as a woman the discomfort I experience is not so much about them being wrong,but that I consider that reading to be incomplete.

If all or most of that resonates with you, then I think it makes more than enough sense for you to still consider yourself a lesbian. If not, then you might need to do some digging for yourself about what feels best to use as a label, if you feel like you need one.  For you “queer” might suffice. “Bi” and “polysexual” also allow you to articulate an attraction to women and non-binary people—or otherwise any formulation of “not men”—if lesbian no longer feels like a good fit for you. (Bi is now commonly defined as “attraction to two or more genders” and there is absolutely no reason why “men” has to be one of them. Polysexual means “attraction to many genders.”) As for whether you can be someone’s “girlfriend,” that is entirely up to you! If I were in a relationship right now I would probably prefer “genderfriend” (though I understand that sounds very informal) or “partner.” I have a friend that uses “datemate.” But you can use literally anything you want that feels comfortable to you. Here’s a list of some gender-neutral titles, relationship titles are featured toward the middle.

As for “girls’ nights” I would imagine that’s something to bring up with friends who are having a girls’ night. Chances are if you’ve had girls’ nights with these same friends for a long time, that whether or not you are in part a woman, they will be used to you joining in on those gatherings.  However, if your friends have more complicated feelings about including someone who isn’t a woman in those activities, you should respect that. You can obviously still hang out with all of those people on other occasions. Also, if you don’t feel comfortable including yourself in that space, then that is obviously something to share with your friends. Both you and your friends’ feelings on this may change—it may constantly change, so for something that is so interpersonal, you might have these sorts of conversations more than once.

Why exactly do you feel uncomfortable on the sports team you are currently on? If you aren’t out to your team, does it feel like you’re lying? Remaining in the closet to keep yourself comfortable or safe is not deception. Do you feel like you’re lying to yourself or that your presence on the team is inherently misgendering to you? If that is the case then that team may just not be the place for you to be. Is there a mixed gender team for the sport? You could consider switching to that team. If not, and if being on a men’s team feels more uncomfortable/unsafe than being on the women’s team, then you might just need to stick that weird feeling out for a bit. Talk to the friends that you are out to about how you’re feeling, and if one of them is on the team—or if there is someone on the team you trust to come out to—talk to them whenever you might feel like you need reaffirmation or reassurance.  I think this question might be the hardest one, because a team both includes many other people, and is also more structured than a friend group. I will admit that I don’t know the best ways to go about addressing this particular problem, but when in doubt, communicating with people tends to be the best choice.

I hope this has helped at least a bit, and please know that your gender is allowed to be complicated. It is allowed to change. You ultimately have more right to self-determination about how you identify than others, because you know yourself and your gender better than anyone else ever can (even if you knowing yourself just means you have a more sophisticated understanding of how confusing everything is—being confused is completely valid as well).

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“My friend has recently begun the process of transitioning from male to female. She hasn’t told many people (including family) and still dresses male for work etc. She is really struggling with still having to pretend, but knows she isn’t really to be fully out yet. I’m 100% supportive, but I don’t know what words I can say to help her. I can keep saying I’m here for her, but is there any other way I can help make life a little easier for her???”

- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Red Says:

I want to preface my answer by saying: I am not a trans woman. I can only answer this question from my own experience of being nonbinary and having trans friends (most of whom are men given where I currently am). My advice is also informed by the things I look for/want from allies. However, in order to be an effective ally to your friend you’re going to have to do a lot of your own reading and thinking. You also need to be prepared to know that you’re going to mess up sometimes, and that when you do you will need to take that as an opportunity to learn, whether it be from your friend or someone else, instead of getting defensive. We live in a very transmisogynistic society, so everyone who is not a trans woman, including myself, need to understand that we are culpable in benefiting from and upholding (despite our best intentions) transmisogyny.

One of the easiest things you can do to support someone who has come out to you, especially if they’re still in the closet to most other people, is to listen and to be a source of validation. What works as validation may vary from person to person, but for me sometimes validation is something as small as people using my name (i.e. not my birth name). Or hearing myself be referred to by the correct pronouns. But validation also includes not belittling negative feelings and emotions she might express.  If your friend experiences dysphoria and talks about it with you, even if it might be tempting to try to comfort her by making the problem seem less intense than it is, that might actually make your friend feel worse, or like she can’t trust you. If she needs/wants help getting clothing that she feels more comfortable in, you can offer to give her some clothes that you’re not using anymore (if she’s close to your size) or offer to go shopping with her. There are also clothing exchanges online specifically for trans people.

I think that one of the biggest things you can do to support someone is to read and learn more.  Don’t just be a “friend,” work to be an ally.  Allyship doesn’t exist in stasis, you can’t “achieve” allyship—it’s a constant process of unlearning and learning. Read! Read things written by trans women. Read things written by trans women of color. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are both pretty high profile people right now, and it’s fairly easy to find videos of both of them speaking about transmisogyny. But there’s also a lot of history of trans women’s writing and theory. Read things about and by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. Read things you can find written by trans women bloggers who aren’t famous. Learn the right language to use—especially because it can change pretty frequently. For example, most trans people don’t like the phrases “male to female” or “female to male” because it implies that they were once “actually” the gender they were assigned at birth. And question your assumptions. Learn to recognize the thoughts and preconceptions you have that are oppressive/transmisogynistic.  There is no perfect process of doing this work, and there’s no easy way to answer this question.

Here is a (short) list of books by black trans women. I would also recommend reading things written by trans women at Autostraddle. And you can always Google things and look around Tumblr for things written by trans women about allyship.

Unlearning oppression is very difficult, and trying to learn how to support a friend without accidentally hurting them in the process—especially if you don’t have any other people to talk to about it—can be scary. Coming out for the first time is also a really scary and vulnerable experience. While you might be feeling uncertain about the best ways to support your friend, your friend is probably feeling a lot more scared and unsure about how they feel being out, and how they feel about still being in the closet to people. So, again, one of the easiest things you can do is talk, listen, love, and remember that sometimes you might mess up, but that it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

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"I’m a queer high school senior, and am highly considering applying to an all women’s college that happens to have very strong LGBTQ+ life. My parents are less than thrilled and want me to just go to a regular co-ed college and not be surrounded by other queer folk. How do I explain that this is more important to me than they realize?"

- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Red Says:

I could go a couple different directions with my answer.  Firstly, I’m curious about your sentence, “My parents are less than thrilled and want me to just go to a regular co-ed college and not be surrounded by other queer folk.”  Have your parents actually said or implied the part about not wanting you to “be surrounded by other queer folk”? Or do they not want you to attend a school without (cis) men?  If they aren’t specifically hung up on the “being around queer people” detail, convincing them how important going to a women’s college is to you might be easier.  Also, while I definitely want you to be able to go to a women’s college if that’s where you want to be the most, you should also keep in mind that there are co-ed colleges that are LGBTQIAP+ positive and have strong queer communities. Oberlin and Hampshire come to mind, although I don’t know exactly what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for.  For other colleges that might be more queer-friendly, I’d recommend checking out The Princeton Review’s ranking of the “most LGBT friendly colleges.” Campus Pride also has a lot of resources for LGBT college students.

On to answering your actual question, though! I think the most important thing to do is to figure out why specifically you want to go to your given college.  One of the biggest reasons I originally became interested in Smith was that, out of all of the colleges I visited, its community felt the most welcoming and comfortable to me.  But even if you haven’t visited your preferred school(s), what about it stands out to you? What about its history, current student body/politics, academics, housing system, etc.? If it will be difficult (or just impossible) to convince your parents that you should be able to go to a school because of its queer community, building an argument about the other reasons a school is important to you might be more effective. Also, a generally good argument to use about attending a women’s college (whether you think it’s actually relevant to you or not) is to point out that a lot of women in “positions of power” graduated from a women’s college.

While you’re primarily going to college to get an education, a residential college is also where you’ll be spending the better part of four years.  And having access to a community that you know will be made up of people with similar experiences to yours, and where you will likely be safer, should be just as important as academic components of choosing a college.  Having access to queer spaces and resources will diminish the presence of at least one potential stressor in your life, and will also probably make it easier to concentrate on your school work. If you think your parents might find that a compelling argument about why access to queer spaces is important to you, you can try saying that as well. I don’t think a lot of straight people—even if they aren’t overtly homophobic—really understand the value of being surrounded by other queer people. Though queer spaces aren’t without their problems or tensions, they’re still usually a lot easier to be in, because you don’t have to navigate assumptions about your sexuality in the same way.

I wish you luck in your decision making process and hope you enjoy wherever you end up!

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"I am a feminine-appearing person who recently realized that I am genderqueer. How do I strike a balance between wanting to be open about who I am (pronoun preferences, I don’t like to be referred to as "miss" or "lady", etc) and not wanting to have to explain my admittedly confusing gender identity to every family member, friend, and co-worker?"

- Question asked by Anonymous and answered by Red Davidson as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Red Says:

I‘m going to be 100% honest with you: these are things I am also currently struggling with, down to finding my own gender confusing. So first I’d just like to say: coming out to yourself is just as hard (if not harder) as coming out to other people. So good job and congratulations.

I’m so glad that you know you don’t have/want to explain everything about your gender to other people. Because you really don’t owe an explanation to anyone (not even yourself, remain confused about your gender for however long you please).  Assuming you are surrounded by nothing but wonderful, accepting people, the way you come out doesn’t have to involve anything beyond saying “I don’t identify as a girl, and I’d prefer you use [your pronouns] to refer to me.” And you can also specify what sort of gendered (or non-gendered) language you’d like people to use for you (here’s a list of gender neutral/queer titles!) As long as people are respecting you, and referring to you using the language you prefer, you really don’t need to worry about whether or not they know the complexities of how you identify.

Of course, not all people are wonderful.  I would brace yourself for invasive and insensitive questions—even if you’re surrounded by well-intending people.  In that case you can direct them to trans 101 resources online (or just tell them to google it themselves). A quick Google search pulled up a “Tips for Trans Allies” article on GLAAD’s website.  I obviously don’t know your family, friends, or co-workers, and I definitely hope that they will at least try to be accepting, but if there is a chance someone will react with outright transphobia and hate, please know how to prepare yourself for that. Is it safe to come out at work (physically, emotionally, and for job security)? Is it safe to come out to all of your friends and family, or will you need to make some difficult decisions about who you come out to and who you don’t?

Also know that you can come out to different people at different times and in different ways. If you know a few people who are likely to respond really well, tell them first so that you have a system of support in place in case coming out to other people goes poorly. If it’s easier to come out to some people via written words, send e-mail or write a letter.  If you want a large group of people to know at once, you can make a Facebook status about it.  Maybe try buying or making a pin with your pronouns on it. I occasionally write my pronouns on my wrist in sharpie, although that’s something I do more for myself than for others. And if you want to give a more detailed explanation to some people, do!

Also know that if the way you identify and think about your own gender might change over time, and that’s okay! It might mean you are asking for different things from people, or that the way you come out may change over time. Gender (and sexuality) can be just as much of a process as coming out is.

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