I thought it was easy to label your sexuality—until I had to label mine
June is Pride Month.
Let me start by saying that I am lucky enough not to know what it is like to grow up in a community where queer sexuality is not accepted and celebrated. I’ve had ignorant comments thrown my way and come across the occasional rude stranger, but my immediate support system has always been largely open-minded. Because I was raised in an overwhelmingly liberal part of the country, hesitating to state one’s sexuality seemed almost outdated to me—particularly because so many of my friends could bring home a partner of any gender identity, and nobody in their families would blink an eye.
I admit that I was even confused about why a non-straight person would shy away from labeling their sexuality—electing to call themselves queer or their sexuality fluid, rather than categorizing themselves as gay, bisexual, pansexual, etc. I’d think to myself, why wouldn’t a girl who only likes girls call herself a lesbian, or a boy who likes boys and girls call himself bisexual? I’ve always believed that everyone can and should define themselves any way they choose, but I didn’t understand the desire to shy away from labels.
Until I was asked to label my own sexuality.
My partners—and most of my friends—have always known my sexual preference isn’t limited to heterosexuality, but I’d never been asked to name it. I didn’t think it was a big deal to talk openly about hetero or homoeroticism. I’m an artist, and I have always felt free to explore queer romance through my work. I see beauty in men, women, and everyone in between. Sometimes I am enamored with a man’s voice, sometimes I’m fascinated by a woman’s lips. My perspective of sex and love is filled with vivid, changing colors, which is why I finally realized I struggled to make love a black and white concept.
Somehow, in spite of my suggestive artwork and occasionally provocative social media presence, I had never been asked about my sexuality directly. Then one day, I was confronted with a simple question. A family member approached me and said, “My friends have been asking me how you define your sexuality. What should I tell them?” I stammered for a good five minutes and babbled about how it’s “none of their business” without ever answering the question.
Of course, the follow up question was, “But off the record, are you straight, gay, or bisexual?”
Suddenly I remembered all of the moments when I had openly advocated for others to proudly state their romantic and sexual preferences, and I didn’t know how to label myself. My mind whirled and I felt myself drowning in hypocrisy. After all, there didn’t seem to be any specific reason why I was suddenly shying away from labels. I am open about sexual fluidity in my writing, yet I could not state my sexuality out loud. I have posted countless stills from LGBT films on social media, but I could not call myself a part of the LGBT community. The part that surprised me the most was how emotional I became as I began the internal process to accept my truth.
Our society instills a deep-rooted fear in those of us who are different from the norm. Even if it isn’t overt, and even if we are lucky enough to be accepted by our friends and family, there is still a battle inside of us to find our own self-acceptance. I have always felt confident about my identity and its various quirks, but this was evidently something I had yet to fully define and embrace within myself.
The most important thing I learned from my inability to give a clear answer about my sexuality is that it’s okay to not use labels.
Whether we are 100% confident about our sexuality, or if we’re still figuring it out, it’s okay to not be ready to vocalize it. I discovered that there are some scenarios where I am comfortable speaking freely, and there are others where I’m not. Sexuality is not black and white, and neither is the process of talking about it. We must be supportive of each other’s choices, because sometimes it’s difficult to support ourselves. Sex and love are complicated concepts for everyone to navigate, and I will admit that it took my own hypocrisy to fully understand how important it is to be sensitive to everyone’s individual process. I am so proud of anyone who wears their label with confidence, and I am equally proud of those who aren’t yet fully comfortable with their identity.