Identity Labels Can Be Confusing
When first coming into the realization that maybe you aren’t cis or straight, identity labels can add to the confusion of identity altogether. Plenty of people will say that labels don’t matter. Sometimes, they’re right! For many people, a label isn’t that meaningful. But for others (like myself), identity labels can be really powerful once you find the right one. But until then, finding the right label can be confusing.
My first identity label: Confused
When discovering more about my sexuality, I spent a lot of time contemplating attraction and weighing different attractions against each other. I reflected on past experiences constantly, even though they were extremely limited. By the time I was 19, I had never dated anyone, or done much sexually. There were a few boys in my life that I felt attracted to on varying levels if I thought about it long enough.
Actually, when it came down to dissecting physical attraction and emotional (or romantic) attraction to boys, it became very simple and obvious to me. I experienced sexual attraction with one boy, and emotional attraction with one boy. (Not the same boy!) Plain and simple, I was attracted to boys at two points in my life.
Then the girls—another story entirely. Shortly after realizing that I was Not A Hetero, I noticed girls for the first time. Like, really allowing myself to feel the way I’ve always felt. I let myself look at a girl and think, “This is the most beautiful, ethereal being I have ever seen in my entire life. My world is complete just from looking at her from this distance. That smile just cleared my acne. I think I need to lay down.” It did wonders for my own personal freedom. I finally let myself out of my isolating prison cell and–wow–this world was so full of beautiful girls. How could I have been so oblivious before?
My point here is, I could’ve looked at girls I walked by around campus and notice that I was attracted to like, 1 out of every 2 girls I saw. (This might be an exaggeration.) (This might not be an exaggeration.)
What are identity labels? Examining the past after realizing I wasn’t straight
I started looking back to friendships in my past. A lot of feelings resurfaced in ways that verified things my subconscious had known, but also in ways that made me feel like I was watching a sad teenage soap opera about myself. Wtf Jesse? You can’t be in love with HER?? SHE IS YOUR FRIEND! Or, You don’t even know her! Are you stupid?? Or, This girl is honestly way out of your league–wtf are you doing.
So, after all this, my Internet research I had given me the following information about identity labels:
- Bisexual: Attraction to men and women. (At the time, I had not known very much about nonbinary genders or felt the need to interpret this definition in any other way.)
- Pansexual: Attraction to all genders. (Or regardless of gender.)
- Gay/lesbian: Same-sex attraction.
- Queer: ?? All of the above?
- Also romantic attractions, such as homoromantic—meaning romantic/emotional attraction to same sex, but does not equate to sexual attraction. (But I’m not going to complicate this story with the exploration of these labels today.)
My identity label: Bisexual?
With my gathering of evidence (attraction to two (2) boys and a very large sum (∞) of girls), I was definitely bisexual. I used that label in my head for a long time and felt it fitting me. I also learned lots more about it and adopted a definition that fit even better: attraction to two or more genders.
You see, around this time I went to an amateur drag show, and college kids were performing in drag (both drag queens and kings!) and I was like ~wow~ this attraction thing is WILD. So, while I was learning more about gender and its spectrum, it became evident that my attraction was not limited to just men and women.
Plus, I’d become really hung up on the idea of not limiting myself. I used to think things like, If I come out as gay, what happens if I do fall in love with a boy? I feared telling people I was gay because I thought it could limit the way I experienced attraction (to men) in the same way that believing I was straight and being perceived as straight my whole life limited the ways I experienced attraction (to women). I just got freed from those limits with straight and cis identity labels; I didn’t want any more boundaries. At that time, I thought I could love anyone.
(Little side note: For me, I always felt like pansexual was love/attraction regardless of gender as if it wasn’t a factor at all. I knew I had a preference for girls, which is why I never felt like pan was fitting.)
When I came out to my first round of people—my sister, my best friend, my roommates—I came out as bisexual, which often times coincided with a, “Btw bisexual means attraction to two or more genders and it’s not like a split 50/50 girls and boys.” And down the line, I came out to my brother, my parents, and all my Facebook friends in the same fashion.
I loved who I was. I loved being bi. I became a bisexual label warrior in my free time and made sure that people knew what it meant to me. I read a lot about bisexual stigmas in the sapphic community. I defended the bisexual label against people who interpreted it as a trans-exclusionary identity. (You can still fall for trans people when you’re bi!!) I got outraged by the blatant biphobia in so many of my favorite queer shows (Orange is the New Black and The L Word, I’m looking at you.) I bought a bisexual pride flag and hung it on my wall. I hated how straight and gay people alike treated bisexuality like a stepping stone to becoming a lesbian or gay man.
Well, several years later, and I fulfilled that last stereotype.
Identity label confusion after picking a label
After about the second year of dating my girlfriend, I felt really comfortable with myself. I loved girls; I loved that girl in particular. I stopped thinking over all these different scenarios and comparing amounts of attraction between genders a long time ago. Or so I thought.
The definition for bisexuality can be so ambiguous and expansive that it captivated me. Plenty of people advocated or a broad label here, that it’s hard to pass up. I came across so many bi-positive posts that said things like, “You’re bi and valid if you’ve only dated one gender” or “You can still be bi and be attracted to women and nonbinary genders; you don’t have to be attracted to men to be bi.” And these things are true! However, I think they kept me from letting go of a label that wasn’t quite right for me anymore. The discussion around labels were both supportive and confusing.
The truth is that I have never fallen in love with a man. I think to the future and long-ass scenarios of “what ifs” and could never see myself falling in love with a man. I think there was a single instance in my life that carried that potential, and a single instance of an experienced sexual attraction to a boy, both of which happened over a decade ago. Not once have I ever looked at a man and thought “What sexy beast,” or whatever it is the man-lovers say. But I have looked at women countless times and had the equivalent reaction of “!!!!!!!!!fdka;jfdj!!” Maybe I never found those boys attractive at all. I can’t really tell anymore.
I already came out to everyone as bisexual, but I stopped correcting people when they used “gay” instead. Anytime I talked about my girlfriend to someone who hadn’t already known, I didn’t clarify my label anymore. I took the bisexual flag off my wall. I distanced myself from the label slowly, which probably looked like nothing to anybody other than myself. For me, it was a long two years of letting go of the identity I only just created.
The final identity label?
Where am I at with labels now? How do they match my attraction? The long-time-coming-conclusion settled into my identity journey a year or so after the distance from “bisexual.” Sexuality can be fluid, I decided. Maybe mine changed.
After learning to love an identity label that I ended up giving away, I understand the need for identity labels, but know how they can trap you too—even the label I thought would keep me free.
Now, I’m a lesbian. Maybe I was always a lesbian. Maybe I was bisexual at one point. Maybe it changed, maybe it didn’t. But after several years, I’m happy to report that I don’t get caught up on it anymore. I’m a lesbian, and I’m happy with that.
How do you feel about labels? Have they helped you? Hurt you? How did you get through it?