The LGBT+ community has always been heavily centred around the idea of labels and identities. It makes complete sense; we spend years dealing with the internal strife of who we are and what our feelings mean. We toil away at the task in hand, chipping blocks off our hearts until we’re able to mould our emotions into something we understand, something that makes sense to us. But what happens when all that hard work is fruitless? When the conclusions we draw aren’t necessarily the ones which feel right, the focus on labelling and coming out feels restrictive, stifling, unnecessary almost.
It’s a difficult line to tread. The community constantly has to try and balance the rejection of binary conceptions of identity and the comfort that some people find in those very ideas. We preach that it’s okay to question yourself at the same time as we wear the stripes of our individual labels. It’s an impossible dichotomy, and one that I don’t have the answer to, nor do I think I ever will. I also think each option can be equally valid in different ways, depending upon how you feel most comfortable.
What is clear though, is the importance of distinct identities to the formation of our communities. It is invaluable to have ways to relate to each other, because as with all marginalised groups, solidarity should be at the centre. Identifying as LGBT+ for the first time means we suddenly acquire a whole new social environment that we perhaps didn’t encounter before. It’s a type of socialisation that feels right, special, easier. We can relate on levels we can’t with others, sharing both issues and celebrations with people that can truly empathise.
For me though, labels have always been restrictive. I often say that I feel coming out was taken away from me, as being from a small town where there really wasn’t many visibly LGBT+ people growing up people pushed me into the box they thought fit me the best. I went along with that, because when you can’t see past an opaque wall you just take what’s in your field of vision. It didn’t help that my field of vision had a very limited LGBT+ media presence and no lesbian role models, or even friends, either.
So much of the coming out narrative is associated with gay panic and being a young teen. There are a lot of ways in which that is unhelpful, but for me personally it became a much bigger problem when I felt the need to come out again at the age of 20, with a new label. I didn’t know how to think about myself in a way that wasn’t steeped in fear and apprehension of acceptance. Everyone already knew I was queer, I’d already told my parents I wasn’t straight, already gone public about being a member of the LGBT+ community. For me this second coming out was way more centred in self-doubt, the worry of fulfilling stereotypes, and to be frank, embarrassment.
I thought coming out again meant that I’d done something wrong. I concluded time and time again that I should just live with my mistake, because what does it matter anyway if people consider me bisexual or a lesbian? I could just go on never dating men again, and I really doubt anyone would have said a word. The bisexual community faces constant attack for just being a “phase”, and for being reserved for quirky white girls who kiss other quirky white girls when they’re drunk, and I felt so guilty for the possibility that I’d contributed to the perpetuation of this stereotype, even in a minor way.
If I’m honest, I’m still not 100% sure why I felt the urge to come out again. I’ve never been the kind of person who has felt like labels are for her, which is something I’ve always wished I could have. There are many many problems with the word queer, hence I couldn’t ever feel fully comfortable using it as an identity, but it’s a pretty good summary of how I feel. I think the real reason is that I felt like I was lying to myself, and to some extent, to others. I knew bisexuality didn’t fit for me, and as someone who is pretty engaged with activism I felt uncomfortable trying to fight for a community I just didn’t feel a part of.
I am (trying to be) a proud lesbian. I am not always successful, and I still cringe when I say it to people who knew me before. I struggle to put into words why things have changed, and tend to just go quiet when people bring up exes who identified as men. But, at the same time, I feel my most genuine now. My past experiences and feelings aren’t neccessarily invalid, they’re just the opposite of my current experiences and feelings. Just like how I used to like Black Veil Brides, and now listening to that shit makes my ears bleed, I used to like boys, and you can fill in the end of that sentence for yourself.
Identities are complex and diverse, making them prisons for some and homes for others. I see myself somewhere in the middle; somewhat comfortable and aiming to be content.