"I feel so mixed up. I don’t know if I’m lesbian or bisexual (currently out as lesbian), and even though I’m open, I still feel a significant amount of internalized homophobia that keeps me from being 100% happy. Other queer women make me uneasy, and depictions of lesbians/lesbian sex in media (even indie stuff) leaves me with this weird disgust and anxiety. I love my gf and having sex with her, and I’m an activist. But I still find myself depressed that I’m not straight. I don’t know what to do."
-Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Kai Davis as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
It seems to me like you are experiencing a lot of different conflicts right now in regards to your sexuality, and that is completely normal and understandable. Identity and orientation are complicated, and no one’s experience is exactly the same. The first conflict you mentioned, about whether or not you’re lesbian or bisexual, could be causing you some anxiety because of the labels themselves, rather than the feelings attached to them. Both identities are often left up to interpretation, and the definitions of these identities vary from person to person, so do not burden yourself with the task of trying to fit into a box. Sexuality is supposed to be confusing because there is nothing concrete about something so fluid. Perhaps on some days you feel more like a lesbian, and on other days you feel more bisexual. I too used to find it hard to place myself within any particular orientation; however I found a solution. I began to identify as queer. It allowed me the freedom to move through different queer identities without feeling guilty about the fact that I hadn’t found my “place” yet. It also allowed me to assign myself a label, which in all honesty is sometimes very satisfying despite the whole “I don’t subscribe to labels” thing becoming so popular. (Not subscribing to labels is also perfectly fine.)
I also think it is fairly normal to be uncomfortable with queer identities because we are constantly told that they are unnatural or wrong. All marginalized groups have internalized hateful messages in one form or another. It is a good thing that you are self-aware and involving yourself in activism. I think that the more you read and watch queer centered books, films, articles, etc, the more comfortable you will become with your identity. Heterosexuality is heavily normalized (duh HeteroNORMAtivity) so anything outside of that specific box may feel undesirable or foreign or unnerving. It might take some getting used to at first. I remember when I was first coming into myself, queer media (especially films or TV) was very confusing and unsettling, despite the fact that I had already begun accepting my queer identity. However, after a while it started to become intriguing and even exciting in the sense that I was able to see myself in the characters and story lines. Yet you must remember that this is a process and not an easy one. You have to unlearn all of the stigmas you were taught about queerness so that you can love yourself properly. It’s worth it. Don’t worry.
Also, try your best to form a safe circle of like-minded individuals. Cut-off anyone that makes you feel bad about yourself and your sexuality. If there is even the tiniest inkling that you have to conceal part of yourself around a person, then don’t allow them in your space.
In my opinion, becoming comfortable with who you are is one part knowledge and two parts positive energy. Loving yourself is a constant journey. There is no clear-cut answer. The best thing you can do is become familiar with people, art, and literature that don’t make you feel so alone.
Click through to read more about Kai and our other Second Opinions panelists!
LGBTQ Inclusion: "I’ve identified as queer since I was 12, but recently got together with a male friend of mine. Identifying as gay was such a huge part of my life, and now I am afraid I won’t be welcome in the LGBT community."
"Hi, I’m really confused about my gender identity. Usually my gender expression is more feminine, but sometimes I like to look more masculine and find it irritating to be called a girl, female, daughter, etc. However, I don’t like being identified as male, even when I present myself more masculinely. (I’m biologically born female)"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
This is exactly why the idea of having two genders is such a mindfuck. Especially in this world that we’re all raised in where gender is associated with clothing, toys, games, and colors… YOU GUYS COLORS… GENDER IS ASSOCIATED WITH COLORS… It’s so ridiculous. It’s also hella hard to break yourself out of that mindset, this is what you’ve been taught since before you were even a fully-formed fetus.
On top of all that hoopla, we’re taught (sometimes more indirectly) that being feminine or a woman means you’re weak or less than. If you’re carrying a box and a nice older man says “Here sweetie let me help you with that,” he is not outright saying “you are weak and you need me to be an actual whole human,” but that’s exactly how it feels and what is implied on some level. So, being referred to as “girl/female/daughter” can be infuriating at times.
The important thing here is to recognize that it’s a process. We’re basically conditioned to be confused, and you are certainly not alone. I think, personally, gender is a little harder to nail down than sexuality. It’s not as tangible or something? If I’m a girl and I have 10 relationships with girls and none with boys, I can think to myself “Ok cool so I’m prolly a lesbian, or at least that label works for now.” If I’m a girl and I wear boy’s clothes for 10 years, I can think to myself “WAIT WHY ARE THESE BOY CLOTHES AM I A BOY WHAT IS A BOY EVEN WHO INVENTED THIS WHAT IS GENDER WHY DO I HAVE TO CHOOOOOOSE HAAALP”
I think it’s okay to be confused, in fact, I think it’s healthy and inspiring to be confused. We have to keep talking about this shit, so we don’t fall back into 1942, you know??
My response to Dannielle’s words is, I agree… BUT ALSO.
I agree, and think that gender is an extremely complicated and nuanced experience for many of us. You should absolutely know that your questions and confusions make complete sense.
BUT ALSO, while being confused makes a ton of sense, and is an important part of the process, I am going to guess that you don’t want to stay confused. You are in good company — these days there is a wealth of information and ways to find communities of people who share similar thoughts on gender, gender identity, gender expression, etc. Seek out those people and communities and to read and watch and take in as much as you can about the complexities of gender.
For starters, check out this incredible resource list for genderqueer and non-binary trans* people, created by The Art of Transliness. (Whoever said knowledge is power wasn’t kidding.)
Like Dannielle said, most of us (all of us?) come from a place where we are taught that gender is one of two things, and that people are one or the other. The gender binary is one of the biggest and most fucked up lies out there… and many of us instinctively spit out that false information and then are left looking around wondering what comes next.
You decide what comes next. You can be exactly who you are right now: a person who doesn’t associate with particular pronouns, and whose dress varies depending on how they feel that day, week, or year. Perhaps you will learn more and hear stories from others who inform your experience and help you to find an even more comfortable place for you to be you.
You don’t have to fit a mold. None of us do. Your experience with gender and all its complexities makes sense, and no one should ever make you feel otherwise.
“Do you believe that you have to physically be with the same sex to identify as gay?”
- Question submitted by Anonymous
Not at all, but you will face a lot of people who think that.
To me, if you’ve recognized you’re only attracted to members of the same sex. If you’ve decided the label that fits you best is “gay” then boom. There is your answer.
THIS DOESNT MEAN it won’t change. You might change your label one billion times, you might never change it, you might think about changing it and change you mind. changechangechangechange.
This is all up to you. You can’t help who you’re attracted to, you can’t control who you fall for, you can’t always explain your feelings to the people around you. BUT, you can pick a label based on what feels best to you. Which of those words makes you feel like you belong, like you have an understanding of self, like you can meet people who identify with you? That’s why we have labels, to make us feel GOOD and A PART of something and like we have an ultimate group of people who get us, without having to explain ourselves.
However you identify, you are right.
I certainly do not think you need to mash mouths with a particular person to be sure of your sexuality. So, short answer is: no.
Slightly longer answer: sexuality is informed by wayyyyyy more than who you have mashed mouths with. The way you understand gender affects your sexuality, the way your emotional attachment informs attraction affects your sexuality, the things you mean when you use words like “gay,” or “physically be with someone,” also affect your understanding of your sexuality.
When I was coming to understand myself, I still only understood the world as made up of boys and girls. I was very young, so my gender concepts had only come from the media and the fairly sheltered world around me. That understanding of gender has shifted dramatically and so, even now, it still shapes and continues to shape how I view my sexuality. That had and has nothing to do with who I I may be making out with!
BACK TO YOUR QUESTION.
This is personal. You may need to be physical with someone to better understand how you identify. I needed this when I was younger, and it did help me better understand myself. You may not have any interest in being physical with someone but still know that you identify a certain way — that is absolutely possible and completely acceptable. To repeat ourselves just one more time: this is all about you and what you feel you need to express and understand yourself. That is different for EVERY person, and no one person’s experience or understanding is any less than someone else’s based on physical experiences.
"I recently came out the majority of my family and they’ve all been super loving and supportive but I’m now starting to think that I’m actually REALLY straight… what should I do??"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
At the next family reunion scream “I WAS BORN A LIAR AND I KNOW NOTHING,” start scream-crying and thrashing around, knock over the potato salad (both bowls – we all know you have one with onions and one without), point to your newest aunt-in-law and scream “THIS IS YOUR FAULT!!!” Then look at your feet, grab your knees, and start lamaze breathing. Once there has been a full minute of awkward silence, say, “END SCENE.” Take a bow and leave.
A cool alternative could be to casually bring up your huge crush on a boy and when someone in your fam says “wait, I thought you were a gay” you can just tell them we are all people attracted to people and labels don’t mean much to you. Also, letting them know that you appreciate their support regardless of who your dating is a nice thing to add.
OH or you can just hide your feels from them until you are married to a member of the opposite gender and send them a holiday card that says “gotcha.”
HAHAHAHA. You guys. Dannielle.
I am in full support of most of these approaches (especially the “Gotcha!” holiday card), but also this was one of my biggest fears when I was in my twenties so I FEEL YOU, ANONYMOUS.
There were a few boys that I had LEGIT crushes on wayyyyyyy after “coming out” to family and friends, and I would only tell a few people about those feelings and spend most of my days in a complete panic about what the hell that meant about my sexuality and how I would EVER explain this to my family if me and crush-boy were to ever date and HEAVEN FORBID fall in love…
I mostly felt like, since I had worked so hard to explain to so many people that I liked girls, if I ever liked a boy I would be admitting defeat. That even though I knew that liking a boy didn’t undo my sexuality, that even though I knew that liking a boy didn’t invalidate me liking girls… THEY wouldn’t know that, and somehow that would mean they would win and I would lose.
Of course, none of that is true — but it doesn’t take away the feelings you may well be having. Now that I am some distance from that place, I can say that only you will ever completely understand your sexuality. You don’t have to “come out” as anything other than who you are, right now. Tell your family what you would normally tell your family about people you are dating or interested in. If people challenge who you “said you were” before because of who you are attracted to at this moment, tell them you are still the same person. People are complex. Sexuality is complex. Gender is complex. No one can fully understand the sexuality of ANYONE else, so just own yours for yourself, hold your head high, and describe yourself using words that make you feel comfortable. If that means you want to wear t-shirts that say PROUD TO BE STRAIGHT, awesome. If that means you want to just be you, and not use any words to define yourself, also totally awesome.