As far as being gay goes, I’ve had it pretty easy. I grew up in a fairly liberal household in Canada. I wouldn’t have been kicked out if I’d come out to my parents while I lived with them. I would have received the minimal teasing in high school that any kid slightly out of the norm faces if I had been out at the time. (And let’s face it, I was probably already far enough out of the normal kid spectrum for it to have made much of a difference.) I’ve only had a handful of close friends who I didn’t come out to for fear of their homophobic beliefs.
Would I describe my gayness as a traumatic and definitive aspect of my life, like it always seems to be portrayed in movies? No. Does that mean that I’m content with my experience as someone who falls outside of the category of hetero-normativity? Not even a little bit.
I have a lot of bones to pick, you guys. A lot. But for today, I’m going to talk about something that I think particularly pertains to the theme of “Sex, Lies, and Storytime” in that it is a HUGE gaping lie. It is a lie that I like to call Fabglitter.
What, for the love of all things rainbow, am I talking about? Well, FABGLITTER is actually an acronym. It’s an expansion of the commonly used LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans) and stands for Fetish, Allies/poly-Amorous, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Intersexed, Transgender, Transsexual Engendering Revolution/inter-Racial attraction. There have been many, many expanded acronyms suggested by the queer community. My second favourite is QUILTBAG (Queer/Questioning, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay), but I digress.
As much as I appreciate a witty acronym, and as much more as I appreciate the recognition of a wider range of categories of sexuality, there is a fundamental problem with Fabglitter and any other acronym. We will NEVER be able to add enough letters to encompass everyone. Ever. Because categorising sexuality just doesn’t work.
I don’t just mean to nitpick what letters are painted across banners at pride parades. My qualms with Fabglitter are because of what categorising sexuality means to those who exist outside of the sexual norm. Because what it means, is a lot of confusion and expectations.
For me, this has manifested in several ways. When I was a kid/preteen going through the joys of puberty and realising quite suddenly that I was most definitely attracted to girls, it meant quite the personal crisis. And at age 12, we have a lot less tools and understanding to deal with identity crises. My big gay epiphany sounded something like: “Oh my God I am a lesbian everything is going to suck always why me whyyy?!”. I may not have even heard of any LGBT acronyms at the time, but what I knew from limited (read: nonexistent) education and explanation of homosexuality was that people are usually straight except for an unusual minority of people who liked the same sex. So I was in the weird minority. Well, crap.
It was a long, confusing, and rocky road, but gradually I figured out that I liked boys too. I dated a bunch of those, but along the way I have never been able to identify as fully straight and ignore the feelings I have had for particular girls and the blatant non-straightness of my sexual orientation. As much as that would have been easier. Over the years I came to terms with being “not straight”, but I was never comfortable with calling myself the B of LBGT/FABGLITTER. However, I needed a word to come out with, so bisexual it was.
Coming out wasn’t a big deal for me. It was the end of grade 12, I’d broken up with my high school boyfriend, and I figured that since I was single for the first time in a long time I’d let people know that I was interested in girls too. So I told one or two friends knowing that the word would spread, and that was that. My concern had always been that people wouldn’t view me in the same way; I have always been resolute that my sexuality is a relatively insignificant aspect of my identity and that I don’t want it to affect any judgement of me. It may have, but fortunately I didn’t perceive any significant change. The challenge that I’ve experienced post-coming out, rather, has been the expectations.
I have wonderful, intelligent, sweet, open-minded friends. But they are human beings, and like all human beings, they latch on to language and labels. And so, for the last few years, I have felt as if under a near-constant barrage of “Do you have a girlfriend yet?” “Let’s go to the gay bar and hook you up with a lady!”, “You’re dating a guy AGAIN?”. And the worst of it is the sense I get (from some, not all) that they believe that it was a phase, I was just bi-curious, I sure look and act straight so I’m probably straight.
Picking a word apparently meant that I was expected to live up to it. As if the process of realising that you aren’t hetero-normative isn’t difficult enough, you have to pick a word to explain where in the range on non-hetero you lie, and then you have to stick with it and own up to it.
God help you if you don’t align with all the stereotypes and behaviours associated with your chosen label. If you’re the non-flamboyant gay man, the feminine bisexual guy who MUST be gay, the “butch” straight lady, the trans lesbian who doesn’t have a vagina. And God help you even more if your sexuality or gender identity changes over your lifetime.
Trying to sum my sexuality up in a word, I still certainly don’t identify as straight, but I still don’t like the word bisexual. The most succinct way I can describe my sexuality is: “I am a person who likes other people on an individual basis. People are cute.” Maybe that makes me pansexual or some other word. Cutesexual? I could maybe dig that. The reality is that as human beings we need words to understand things. But a single word has so many limits, especially when it comes to something as diverse as sexual identity, and so I beg of you not to expect to put a single word on someone’s forehead, or have too many expectations surrounding a word which they may use.
There are so many people out there who do sex and love in so many ways. All of them, at some point, have to choose a word/words to explain and describe it to themselves and others. But these words are not binding, and are not exhaustive. The number of sexual preferences combined with the number of ways that those sexual preferences interact with a vast number of gender identities means that there are an endless number of ways of describing the sexual identities of individuals.
We will have to realise that the idea that we must use one set of words to label each person’s sexuality is a lie. Either that, or we’re gonna need a lot more letters than FABGLITTER.
[Contributed by Michelle K.]