“Oh yeah, Eddie? I haven’t met him, but I’ve heard he’s a really flamboyant gay type.”
“Really? I always thought he was pretty effeminate, but actually I fucked him once,”
“Wait–what? I thought you were…”
“A lesbian? Yeah…shit happens, you know?”
“So you just like…”
“Do what I do…”
“Like you just like people.”
“I just do what I do.” As a self-proclaimed misanthrope, I did not miss out on the irony when one of my co-workers asked if I just “liked people.” Me? Like people? No–I hate people! What are you talking about? I left the conversation there, because I didn’t want to argue against this statement and seem like some sort of super-hater…But the inability to explain myself caused me to think more about the conversation. As one of my writing professors once put it, I was unable to “eff” the ineffable. And you’re sitting there like, dude…you’re bi. Just say you’re bi! But I don’t want to say I’m bi. Labels–only really since I’ve been prodded to apply one to myself–have always left me a little frustrated. How do I answer this question of “well, what are you?” And the more I think about labels–the more I try to categorize myself–the more I wonder whether it would just be alright if we all came out to each other as human.
The topic is particularly salient to me recently, because someone close to me came out as bisexual to her family. It was important to her not to just come out as gay, as though she had switched to dating women, because she is still attracted to men and would still consider being with men in the future, should her dating status change (even though it probably shouldn’t, since the girl she is dating is actually me). She prefers to label herself as bisexual. And that works for her, and that is great.
For me, the issue with committing to the bisexual label is that it feels very 50/50. And I don’t really feel very 50/50. In fact, I don’t really want to date men. But I have had a serious long-term relationship with a man before. But just one. So by society’s rules, would I say “I was just straight for him. But I’m gay.” Or “I’m bisexual because I was serious with one dude.”? There are so many labels to describe the same situation. But situations…those are concrete to me. Why commit to “being bi” if I’m in a serious relationship with a woman and don’t pursue men? It would almost feel like saying “well, I’m keeping the door open…because men have happened and could happen.” It’s easier to me to say, “this is my girlfriend.” And that’s just a truth. I don’t have to say, “I’m a lesbian, and this is my girlfriend, and yeah, I did date that guy in college…and yeah, it was real…and I did sleep with that guy that time after the New Years party…oh was he gay? I don’t know, but he got it up, so maybe he’s bi?…”
And it’s not that I grew up hating labels. Like anyone else in society, I found them helpful or at least meaningful in helping me decipher how people were. We use labels to help us understand each other and also to help us bond with each other. But it is strange how the LGBTQ maybe started as LG…then became LGB…then became LGBT…and then LGBTQ…and I probably am missing yet another letter in this series, because everyone wants their specific preference to be identified and accepted. But then will it become LGBTQRTUVWXYZ vs straight people? Are there even any more straight people out there?
People say they are straight. So they are. Because if you think you are something, you are that. But I recently remembered this article I once read in a book. It was basically a study about arousal. The study involved homophobic straight people, straight people who didn’t give a fuck either way, essentially, and gay people. They actually were divided by those three categories, although I’m describing it in layman’s terms, because I’m a layman. Sorry. But basically (it might have been an all-male study), they put a device around the men’s penises that would measure engorgement and then showed them all gay and straight pornography. And there were various results of this study, but the interesting one was that the participants who got the hardest during the gay porn were the homophobic participants.
I’m not suggesting that straight people don’t exist. We all exist. But what is this business of categorizing ourselves so finitely? The funny part about it all is that when you cut out the bullshit, it turns out that we are using labels to give each other very specific ideas of what we like to do with our genitals. Why? A server at work the other day came to the kitchen and said “Table X is so awesome. It’s two lesbians, etc., etc., etc…” And I’m thinking…so what you just said to me is, “Table X is awesome because of X, Y, Z, and also they eat pussy!” Personally, I was glad to hear they were into that, because so am I, but it’s irrelevant to their awesomeness, if we’re being fair as a human race. It’s so strange the way that we do this. And it’s the same with the introductions involving sexuality. Or identifying ourselves as a certain sexuality to people we barely know. “I’m Shaina, and my bedroom is sunny with a very low chance of penis.” Why do we do that?
And that is part of my curiosity about whether we could be an all-encompassing sexuality known as, simply, “human.” Because everyone has his or her own human experience and set of preferences and turn ons. But not everyone knows them all right away. People become acquainted with themselves at different paces, and that’s pretty normal. Especially with the norms around which we grow up and the repressions present in our various cultures. Even though it’s not as though I’m writing this to explain myself, I think the easiest way to explain why labels are too black and white is to explain a bit of my human experience.
I am a girl, first of all, which is how I was born and how I am happy to stay. I never dated another girl for the first twenty years of my life. I began my adolescent dalliances phase at eleven, had a couple not serious boyfriends in high school and then had one serious boyfriend in college. I never had sex before college. I never really thought about girls before college. The idea of being a lesbian seemed foreign to me. I met my first girlfriend when I was twenty and dated her for a year and continued to exclusively see women after dating her. And you know how they say hindsight is 20/20…well, you can’t imagine how many times I’ve looked back on my behavior in life and thought how achingly dykey I have been all along…and that it only makes sense…and it all started when I was four.
The first confrontation I had with my tomboyish nature and desire to delve into the manly side of things was at my preschool’s circus. Every year, we put on this circus, and every student got to pick what group and performance routine they wanted to participate in. We had ballerinas, elephants, you name it. I chose to be a strong man with a bunch of the boys in my class. I never thought about my decision twice, but when my teacher was helping us dress up and it was my turn to have my sick, black handlebar mustache painted on my face, she asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to be a ballerina. And I really had no idea why the fuck she was asking me this inane question. Why would I want to be a ballerina? Lame. Strong men are awesome. Mustaches are awesome. “No,” I said. I wish I had known to tell her I wouldn’t be an object of her consciousness and that I had free will.
When I was seven, I dressed in full drag for the first time on Halloween, when my friend and I went as Danny and Sandy from “Grease.” I was obsessed with “Grease,” and at that point in my life, my dream probably was to be Danny in real life. But I didn’t want to be a man. I just wanted to dress like one.
As for being attracted to females, it’s hard to say where that began. I have early memories of being interested in female bodies, but I almost think it’s hard to say anyone doesn’t. So many straight girls check other girls out all the time, because the female body is sick. It’s just interesting. But I also went through my own period of self-inflicted repression, which I think may have stifled my acquaintance with my sexual id for a long while, sort of like being cryogenically frozen–er–frigid?
I went through puberty at a young age–somewhere around eleven, which was hard. Although it was pretty cool to be the tallest in my grade for a year (this allowed me to be a point guard in recreational basketball), it was not that exciting to gain weight and get boobs and acne while my friends were all still thin little waifs. Actually, I took it kind of hard. So I decided to lose some weight and get myself looking like everyone else. And that went well for a while–I had better self esteem, I felt good, and I started to feel good about my body. But I did become obsessed with diminishing myself and ultimately fell into this quasi anorexia.
This may seem totally irrelevant, but it’s not. What I’m starting to get at is that although I was turning into a sexually curious, hormone-infused teen, I was so consumed by this power struggle with starvation and succeeding in school and winning at everything that I never really got to know my sexual id. Id–not ID. I sort of just went with the whole society’s ego “girls date boys” mentality and had a couple blasé high school relationships involving a lot of kissing and watching tv–nothing that really moved me (sorry to those boys, but I’m sure I wasn’t much fun either). And the eating issues colored my mood, so being freezing cold, skinny, hungry, and depressed all the time was not fun. And it made me hate everyone. And when you hate everyone, you don’t really find out what kind of people you’re interested in dating.
When I went to college, I started having fun, drinking and starting to give less of a fuck about my body. I still did, because as anyone with eating issues will tell you, they don’t go away overnight, but I was happy. I started liking people and having fun, and when I was a sophomore, I met a guy I really liked, and my life changed. We dated for two years, and I became happy. My focus shifted from being power hungry and angry to being fun-loving and happy with someone. Things were good. And it didn’t last, ultimately, but it was a relationship that changed me in many ways into the person I longed to be under all the angst and desire to live in a body of straight lines.
During our relationship, though, we sometimes talked about sexuality. I would argue about the validity of hard lines in sexuality, and this was a conversation he didn’t love. Which is understandable, because perhaps it was a prequel to my desire to be with women. But at the time, it was more of a philosophical debate to me. Later, I did want to be with women. And then I was.
The first time I talked to my parents about being with a girl, I was drunk. I think I texted my mom something about a girl I was interested in. And she didn’t make a big deal of it. And then I didn’t make a big deal of it. The “we’re all cool with this” mentality was good with me. But ultimately, when she and I became serious, I realized my parents weren’t necessarily on the same page as me. If you’ve ever had anyone call your significant other your “friend,” you understand me here. So the next step came with a sit down talk that never involved the words “gay” or “lesbian” but did involve the words “I love her” and “she is my girlfriend.” And so this situational explanation worked for a while. I never asked my mom how she reacted toward this quasi coming out until over a year after it happened, and she actually admitted she was a little nervous about what other people would think.
What the fuck? What who would think? Her friends? Our relatives? I never thought that would be a concern to her, because we have a family of very open minds and a sort of “whatever makes you happy” mentality. But I did understand that she had to go through this process of accepting something unexpected. And that was OK. But there’s still this “gay gay gay gay gay gay gay//lesbian lesbian lesbian lesbian” language. And it’s fine, because if my family needs that to understand that I’m dating a woman, then OK, but need is a strong thing. I think we want a word to explain what’s happening. But it’s entirely superfluous.
I was watching this movie called “Waking Life” with my girlfriend the other day, and in one scene, a woman talks about how the human language fails to communicate nuances through its words because of the connotations words have to different people based on their personal experiences. Like love. Or, extending the concept to my argument, “dating. “Gay.” “Bi.” How can any of these words really describe what we’re doing here? It reminds me of when people try to categorize their eating habits as “flexitarian” or “semitarian.” I want to say, “do you eat goddamn meat or not?” And it’s like…they’re eating food. Just as we’re all fucking people. And I’m so tired of us all defining ourselves and how we feel about each other based on the words we choose to associate with our sexual preferences.
What I’m trying to illustrate, here, is that I don’t have a word for being a girl who was born a girl, stayed a girl, dressed like and still sometimes does dress like a boy, who once dated men and now doesn’t, eats meat, vegetables, gluten, and dairy, is white, has blonde hair, blue eyes, and is short. That’s why we have names. I’m just Shaina. And you’re just you, and if you want to classify yourself to help someone understand what you do with your genitals, because we’re a society so obsessed with sex (not that that’s by any means bad), then you can do that, and that’s cool. But at the moment, and most likely for all of the other moments, I am going to consider myself out as a human. C’est la vie.