Because labels make things easier. I find myself wondering sometimes how I will come out to my parents, and what exactly I should tell them. Precision of language is highly important here.
Do I say “I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian”? No, because that would imply that I do not now nor ever will have any interest in men, when I can’t promise that. It would also be a radical statement of self-redefinition, and such an extreme thing would probably cause them to not take me seriously.
Do I say “I’m bisexual”? No, because that would imply that I am currently attracted to men as well as women. And at the moment I can’t tell you how I feel about men. Some men revile me. Some men are like big cuddly dogs – cute, but nothing more. Some men are wonderful friends. And some men have hurt me so deeply that I would feel like a traitor to myself somehow if I ever fell in love with a man again.
So…yeah. Of course “queer” is always an option, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it. It’s not your average pedestrian word to describe someone who likes the same sex. “Gay” is easy, like putting on a t-shirt and jeans. It’s confident and unwavering, and as far as labels go, the easiest term for the rest of the world (read: straight people) to understand. “Queer” feels like a term that only the LGBT community would understand, because it’s undefined and has hazy borders as to where attraction and identity begin and end and merge. All it means, really, is that you’re not heteronormative. And when you’re telling straight people that you’re not heteronormative, they want to at least hear a definite affirmation of the opposite – that you don’t, in fact, like men at all, you’re only attracted to women and have always only been attracted to women. Nobody wants room for interpretation.
And why is it that straight people have such a hard time with uncertainty, or with attraction to more than one gender? When my friend Emma came out as bi, the people at church would sometimes refer to her as “gay.” Whenever she happened to be with a guy, my parents would get confused. “So is she straight again?” they would ask. And now that she’s in a long-term committed relationship with a man, her sexuality is no longer an issue for discussion (but I can guarantee you, if she was in a long-term relationship with a woman, it would be).
I was comforted by Emma’s response when I came out to her. Part of me expected her to ask, “So…does that mean you’re bi?” or otherwise demand a label. But all I had to say was “I’m coming out of the closet.” She knew it meant “I like girls.” She didn’t find it necessary to label me at all. Since her initial coming out, she’s clarified her orientation as pansexual. “I don’t care what genitalia someone has,” she told me. “If I fall in love with a person, it’s for who they are.” And that’s a beautiful way of putting it.
For me personally, “queer” also feels like a cop-out, as if I’m uncommitted to or unwilling to grapple with my sexual identity. But really, the English language is ill-equipped to handle these issues. Why can’t there be a word for a girl who likes girls but is undecided as to how she feels about guys? We resort to making up new words and trying to normalize them, but while we wait for them to normalize, we feel awkward. And maybe I’m just WAY overthinking it, but navigating life once you realize you’re not straight when you thought you were for 24 years is hard. It really is a whole new world.
Labels are like clothing. They reflect who we are and they proclaim it to the public. They also hold us to certain expectations. If you call yourself a lesbian, you’d better not ever be seen with a guy again! But if Tina from The L Word can have a momentary lapse and date that guy Henry and still call herself a lesbian, why can’t we?
I feel stranded between two worlds because I cannot identify. I want to put my fist in the air and shout from the rooftops that I’m gay, that I belong to the lesbian community. But to do so would invalidate the first 24 years of my life and all the very real feelings, both romantic and sexual, that I’ve had for men in the past but cannot seem to access anymore. I have a fear that the gay is doomed to wear off. That one morning 5 years from now I’ll wake up and meet a man and fall in love with him, and that doing so will make a lie of my proclaimed gayness. I will panic and wonder if I was really just straight all along. I don’t want to slam the door on any future relationships with men or women. To say I am a lesbian feels like a vow I’m not sure if I can keep.
So when I come out to my parents, why can’t I just tell them I’m attracted to women?
Because it feels invasive. It feels like I am exposing myself to the whole world in a way that is crude and uncalled for. My parents do not need to know that women turn me on any more than they need to know which vibrator I like or that I sometimes find heterosexual sex traumatic or what fantasies go through my head at night. To make a more general statement, it feels unfair that any non-straight person has to “come out” at all and expose their sex life to the inspection and criticism of the majority. Straight people should have to come out too.
But then I realized something. I notice hot women everywhere, every day. I have noticed maybe 5 hot guys since 2013. And I haven’t had a single sex fantasy about a guy since then, either. Maybe I really am a lesbian…the conversation continues.
The point is, be who you are and love yourself. Don’t care so much about what people think. And don’t let labels limit you.