I want to talk about sexual orientation. I promise to get to other kinds of identity soon, but for now I want to focus on who makes me feel all blushy and weird, and what that means for how I see myself.
Labels can be incredibly powerful. They are also complicated, as you will know all too well if you have even a vague adjacency to Queer Internet. I see labels as important tools that are not meant to define our whole selves. The words I like, for example, shift depending on the situation I'm in and what I am trying to communicate. I use the label ‘bisexual’ to align myself with a specific community, or to describe myself to people who demand to know “ok but so are you gay?” I like that people have been calling themselves bisexual for a while now; there is a community history there and it’s at least kind of understood by most people. Interestingly, I also find myself using ‘bisexual’ more now that I am dating an actual lesbian. ‘Pansexual’ also kind of works, and I’m ok if that’s what people want to call me, but I don’t ever use it for myself for reasons I am not going to go into today. I do really like the term bisexual for myself, and I don't want to gloss over that.
The word I use most often just for myself, though, is 'queer.' There are way more than two genders, and I am frankly most often attracted to people who have genders that defy the binary – genders that are, well, queer. Queer is what I am, but queer also describes the people I'm attracted to. Queer feels the most true. The notion seems to encompass more possibilities and so lends itself to more fluid identities. I like that. I am sexually fluid. I may not have always been bisexual, but I was probably always a little tiny bit queer.
An extended metaphor.
You may have noticed that I’m a little hung up on fluidity and water metaphors lately. But what does that actually mean? I resent that the term ‘fluid’ calls to mind complete transience, or that the idea of a truly transient identity is taken less seriously. I see this sentiment aimed at my genderfluid friends in particular, and it is infuriating. We talk about this a lot in the bisexual community as well; even though I go through phases where I might be more attracted to people with a specific gender presentation, it does not invalidate my previous experience of attraction. If I am dating people of only one gender, that doesn’t mean I stop being bisexual. Sexual identity is complicated; it’s not just one feeling, or one experience. My identity is also not a stepping stone, but even if it were (it happens!), it would still not be any less important.
My sexuality is fluid, but it is not ‘wishy-washy’. It is not weak. I take my metaphors seriously, and water is powerful. It nourishes life and breaks the hardest materials apart. Its movement shapes our world. The actual substance that runs through a river might be constantly renewing, but the path a stream takes one day influences the flow of water the next.
Our choices create grooves in our psyche – we can choose to direct our emotions in a way that carves out deeper and deeper canyons, or we can allow a pool to fester or run dry. Sometimes, if we don’t create the proper outlet, dams burst and destroy what we were trying to protect. I don’t know what determines whether an emotion or identity will dry up or rage forth, but I also don’t know that it entirely matters. Either way, directing emotions consciously can have serious impact. The easy-to-ignore girl-curious puddle of my youth is no less precious to me because it did not immediately demand my attention. I have dug a well and found an underground cavern that runs deep and true.
The power of choice.
If I had made different choices would I have continued to see myself as straight? I’m not sure. I think any relationship would have to look pretty different from the norm in order for me to be happy in it, but I don’t know that I would have necessarily explored my attraction to different genders if I had stayed in my hometown, or fallen in love with someone different, or simply ran with a different social group. That scares me a little bit, because wow am I happier being queer. I suspect I would have gotten there eventually, because I have always been extremely curious, but I just don’t know.
The tension between the chosen and innate aspects of sexual identity is different for everyone, and I certainly do not want to deny the reality of those who experience inherent 'born-this-way' orientations. Nevertheless, in the battle between nature vs. nurture the truth is rarely to be found in solely one or the other. All of our identities are constantly shifting, and even those that feel the most long-lasting and integral to who we are can evolve and be understood in new ways depending on the choices we make and the people around us. At least, that’s what I believe.
In some ways, I am pretty privileged to have this perspective – to have been able to choose to hold on to a semblance of straightness for so long. I am deeply sad that it took me so long to embrace my queerness, but it is a bizarre kind of blessing to not have worried about who I was attracted to while I was an impressionable kid in a homophobic setting. Most of my dam-bursting, destructive moments have been around self-love or attraction more generally. It was much harder for me to accept that I could be sexual at all than it was for me to accept that those feelings were directed towards all sorts of people.
It's still hard
The reason why I am so fixated on the concept of fluidity is not because I've got it all figured out. Quite the opposite. Fluidity intrigues me so much because I struggle with accepting ambiguity. I tend to think in very black and white terms - it’s hard for me to not excessively go back and forth, trying to pinning down the most accurate definition. Particularly for something as amorphous as my sexuality, that gets pretty exhausting. Musing on the nature of literal water helps me shift away from either-or thought patterns and towards a more holistic, multi-dimensional understanding. I am proud that I’ve gotten to a place with my sexuality where I can usually approach various types of attraction with open curiosity rather than crisis or concern. I aspire to apply what I’ve learned through accepting my sexuality to other aspects of my life where I am still stubbornly trying fit myself into ill-fitting categories.
Also, there are just so many attractive people, and that's pretty cool. Here’s to cuties!