It being Pride Month, I figured this would be a good time to address the identity question, as well as share a little bit about my personal journey with labels.
Gender was the easy one for me. I’m a cis woman. I don’t exactly conform to stereotypes (I can’t do makeup, I curse a lot, I wear mostly jeans, and when my health was good I preferred muddy manual labor over shoe shopping), but when I reach deep down in my own soul, what I find there feels basically lady-shaped.
Sexual orientation was a lot harder.
(To anyone who knew me back in the day and happens to read the following: Hey, you. You’re probably going to be a little confused and/or surprised. Feel free to go to the comments and say “WHAT?!” I promise not to take it personally. I’m feeling quite secure like that these days.)
Though things are shifting now, and hopefully acceptance continues to grow and nudge intolerance further out of the way, I grew up thinking that everyone was presumed straight. Not just straight, but a list of things: Heterosexual, heteroromantic, cisgender, monogamous, and generally intending to breed.
I knew that I was not quite those things. However, not having any driving need to do otherwise, I amicably went along with the expectations. Boys seemed interested in me, though most of them thought I was weird, and therefor expressed their interest through a range of methods up to and including threats of sexual assault.
Once, around age sixteen, a sports-type boy stopped by the little corner where I was reading, alone, and asked “What would you do if I took my dick out right now?” I responded that I would remove it from his person. He called me a freak and left. To this day, all I can think is, You’re the one threatening to expose yourself to girls quietly reading books, buddy. I’m not the weirdo here.
This was enough to make me wish I was a lesbian, but it just wasn’t the case.
Boys who were outcasts like me were generally nice enough, and I dated a few of them. At this point, I formed my first opinion on how I felt about sex: Nice, but not necessary. I also didn’t see the need to restrict interactions based on gender. Girls seemed nice, too.
There was an aggressive atmosphere towards anyone perceived as even possibly not straight. It was a small, backwoods kind of place. Boys got the worst of it. Most who were actually gay stayed in the closet until they left town, waving middle fingers out the window on their way. My best friend (and first kiss) went away to college and promptly got a rainbow tongue stud. Surrounded by the casual use of homophobic slurs, I, too, decided to keep my head down. Not that I could magically make myself normal or popular, but at least I could dodge this particular angle of attack. I dated boys. I looked more or less like a girl was supposed to. Nobody would suspect.
Though I didn’t know at the time (and neither did they), I left high school already counting among my exes a gay man and a trans woman. My path didn’t get much straighter from there.
I left college with the following ideas: I was bi, casual sexuality was instrumental to a woman’s empowerment (yes, I was more gullible back then), and though I liked women, women didn’t like me. So men just sort of kept falling in front of me, and sometimes I dated one. Then I tried my hardest to make it work. It generally didn’t. Some of that was my fault. Some of it was that when you let romantic partners ‘just sort of happen’ to you, you tend to get ones that are a bit wonky around the edges. Especially if you hang out primarily with punks and gamers. Which I did.
Fast forward several years. Out of intellectual curiosity, as well as the drive for oddball companionship, I’ve spent time with just about every type of fringe crowd you can imagine (and some you probably can’t). I got to know a lot of people, with a lot of different sexual orientations and interests, and I finally started to see what was different about me.
I had never in my life lusted after a celebrity or a stranger. I was never actively looking for new sexual partners. Sex was obviously very important to other people, and I fumbled through that, but where most people’s internal monologue regarding sex would be, all I had was echoes. It was reactionary and rote. Not that it couldn’t be nice or meaningful in certain contexts, but whatever connection most people have between their hormones and their desires was absent in me. My hormones checked with my emotions before they even thought about making a move. Anything sexual I did that wasn’t based in a very strong romantic emotion, I did because I thought it was expected & I didn’t mind.
I spent a period of time thinking that I was a defective bi girl.
The finally, someone on the internet came along and said “Hey, there’s a word for that.”
And there are all kinds.
So I rolled around in the pile of new ideas for a while, trying on the different labels like new jeans to see what fit me best, and at 29 years old, I finally found the words for me.
Thanks for listening, folks. Happy Pride Month.