You’re probably already tired of hearing about how every story in the LGBTQIA+ community is written by a different author. Yes, we get it, each and every one of us is unique, and how that couldn’t be so, in a community with people coming from different countries, racial backgrounds, religious backgrounds, with different genders and sexual orientations, different economic and ability situations and things to remember when you’re questioning LGBT.
It makes sense, yet at the same time figuring your own sense of self and identity outside of this community, for example as a child growing up in a heterosexual, conservative family, can be very hard. Sometimes the internalized prejudices we grow up with, hold us back from accepting our feelings and identifying in a true way. Some other times, it’s just as simple as that: gender and sexuality are not simple. It’s okay if you can tell with adamant certainty you liked-liked people of the same gender from since you remember yourself. It’s also okay to go through a long-lasting, strenuous period of trying to figure out how you feel when you’re 40 years old and then come out as asexual. It’s fine if your gender or sexuality changes through the years, and it’s fine if you never come to a solid conclusion at all.
This process of giving ourselves time to either combat internalized problematic shit, or just figure ourselves out, is called questioning. It can be a short period when you’re struck with a realization and do some research for a couple of days, or it can last for a lifetime.
Which once again brings us to: every story is unique.
For example, I know that it took me a couple of years to accept I was bisexual because of the internalized homophobia I had grown up with. I liked men, but every time I liked women during high school I brushed it off as an one-time celebrity crush. As for my gender, I had trouble accepting that I might not be a cis woman after all, because all the stories I heard around me spoke of non-binary people like “people who felt like they were neither girls nor boys all along”, and I couldn’t identify with that in my twenties.
So, here are some tips to keep in mind if you go through a period of questioning your sexual orientation or gender:
- Always, always put things in your own words, and give your unique feelings credit
I told you, you’ll probably get tired of hearing that over and over again, but your story is yours and no one else’s. Thinking you may be a lesbian doesn’t have to be a journey that entails all the steps another lesbian friend of yours went through. It’s highly unlikely you’ll even going to describe your identity in the same way. Every person defines themselves and how they feel differently, and we need to validate each and every one of these definitions, as long as, of course, they don’t actively harm anyone else’s existence and identity in the process.
And you know what? It’s okay to not always be able to find those words. Questioning LGBT is pre-given that society is already making it hard for us by a process called “othering” – by setting default genders and sexualities and excluding our experiences from these. Think of your straight cousin. Did she ever have to come out as straight to a family dinner and then feel guilty of a grandfather choking on his chicken and a great-aunt following suit by coming out too? Would your cis friend just as easily question his gender identity because everyone keeps telling him that being trans is the norm? No!
And never, ever see yourself as a checklist of which you need to tick several boxes in order to qualify for something. During your questioning period you mustn’t let anyone tell you that you’re not truly gay if you’ve never been with a guy yet, or that you’re not truly asexual if you masturbate. Write your story in your own words, and demand that it is read correctly.
- Labels are either to choose, or to lose – but respect other people’s choices on them
Oh, the eternal label debate! Love’em or leave’em? The truth is, use them in any way that suits you. Many people don’t feel comfortable using a popular label for themselves, because they feel like that’s limiting them and their expression, or they can even be overwhelmed while still coming to terms with who they are. It’s okay to not want to label yourself! What’s not okay, is demanding that no one should use labels, and failing to respect a way in which someone else chooses to identify, because you feel like all these words people use oppress you.
No one should put a label on someone else based on their perception of things, but for many of us using a word to describe our identity, is also a way to feel included in a community, to find others like us and discuss their experiences, to feel that we exist. So when someone uses a word that they feel explains their existence better, especially during a journey of questioning their identity and trying to see if they fit somewhere, respect it! The point of labels is not to make people feel like cans of soup, but to empower them, give them access to phrasing their own needs, to seek and form communities, to act in solidarity.
Also keep in mind that your identity doesn’t belong to any person or group or people. You aren’t borrowing anything from anyone, and you don’t have to treat it a certain way before returning it. As long as you respect others’ self-identification, you can demand that your own is respected back! No one else can dictate your experience but you!
- Change is scary – but it’s part of the process
Change can be very, very scary, but it’s part of the human condition. Fluidity is often used as a derogatory argument from people who wish to invalidate your experience – say when they tell you that you’re just going through a phase – but it can also be part of the journey of finding out who you are. Don’t cling on labels like dear life itself. Try not to be terrified of realizing that another way of identifying suits you more. Discard what feels out of place. Be open to possibilities. Experiment, try everything – as long as it’s not harming or invalidating someone else’s existence!
What do I mean by that last part? I’m going to be real quick in explaining where I see the balance between my two previous points, and respecting others in the process, but it’s obviously gonna be my personal opinion.
I recently saw an online debate – with an unfortunately characteristic, traumatizing comment section – on how a person identifying as a lesbian should identify after her partner comes out as a trans man. Some of the lesbians on that comment section were freaking out, feeling like their label was being threatened by “some man”. However, it’s not some man if it’s your partner with whom you were together before his coming out and transition! You’re supposed to love that person and respect his identity, and continuing to identify as a lesbian (meaning a woman loving women) while dating a man (whose label is also very important to him), is invalidating his gender identity.
Do you know what was missing from that debate? The possibility of bisexuality. Not kidding! People are scared of bisexuality like it’s smallpox, or a clown in a horror movie! I know women who used to identify as lesbians but then started questioning their sexuality when their partner came out as trans – and ended up identifying as bi. When I came out as non-binary, my partner started questioning his own sexuality!
That’s just an example, and my very own view of things, but the point is, becoming less terrified of change will help you in your questioning process!
- Seek a community
Everything makes much more sense when you feel like you’re not alone in things! It took so much time and courage for me to visit one of the meetings of my local LGBTQ+ Youth groups, but it changed my life forever! I found the friends I had been writing about in my fanfiction, people who understood, who spoke the same language as me, people who thought I made sense! The support and solidarity a community – no matter how big, small, powerful or not – can give you is immense, so ask around, visit a local organization, or even just go on Tumblr, find online friends, it’s gonna change your world!
- Do your research
Even if it’s hard to seek for a real-life community in your area, look things up, research, read books, blogs, watch movies. Yes, each journey of questioning is unique, but you’re never alone out there. Sometimes reading a story that reminds us of our own can be the key in finding out more about the way we feel, or about who we are. There are countless resources online. There are some great resources and guides for people questioning their gender identity. If you think you may be asexual, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network is an amazing source of education and visibility, and you can find with a simple google search numerous novels, books and movies sharing real-life stories of people who went through a complex period of figuring out their sexuality!
- Don’t be too hard on yourself
Many of us have grown up learning that homosexuality is a sin, or that girls are born liking pink and boys are born liking blue.
Try not to invalidate your experience – it’s yours, as long as you’re feeling it. Try to overcome the shaming society wants us to feel when we’re being our true selves. It’s not always easy. Internalized means engrained, entangled, difficult to grasp and get brush off of you. Learn the key-phrases you’ll need to avoid: “you’re just asking for attention”, “your feelings are fake if you haven’t identified that way ever since you were born”, “you can’t be trans if you don’t experience dysphoria”, “you’re not a real …[insert identity] if you haven’t …[insert experience].”
People may try to make you feel bad about who you are. Don’t let them. – Questioning LGBT.
- It’s okay if it’s not easy. It’s okay if it takes time
There are a lot of people and situations out there who will try to make it harder for you. You’re brave and strong, and you have to remember this all along, even if society tries to shape you into a limited standard.
But even if your surroundings are supportive, it’s still fine to take all the time you need – this is how clarity eventually comes! There’s no deadline in figuring out who you are; in fact, it’s one of those things that are allowed to take a lifetime!
There’s also nothing wrong with feeling confused: questioning, confusion and uncertainty are all parts of the human condition! After all, as I’ve written before, gender and sexuality are concepts as complex as picking between The Smiths or The Magnetic Fileds, Captain America or Peggy Carter, or digestive reactions and neurons reacting to pineapple flavor supplements!
- Coming out – or not – is your own, personal decision
For some people the closet may be a scary, suffocating place. For others it’s just a safe place, protected from unwanted risks and reactions. Don’t let anyone open that door for you without your consent – or force you to open it, for that matter. Don’t do it at all if you don’t want to, or do it when you feel ready, in your own fabulous way!
We think that these things are indeed hard and complicated, and you have every right to feel troubled while questioning. For all that matters, your LGBT friends are here for you, with every decision you make!