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On Identifying - and how I do

The first time I had sex it was with a girl my age, one of my best friends at the time, a couple years before college. She immediately told all of her friends about it, including the boys; they couldn’t stop asking if I were gay or bisexual; I said I didn’t know and felt deeply ashamed. Our friendship suffered - I didn’t see her as often after that. I stored the experience away and thought about it rarely until a game of “Never Have I Ever” in a van on a class field trip in college, where I got caught in a lie. I wasn’t trying to be dishonest, and by that time I didn’t mind talking about it, but I was still stuck in the trap of defining sex as penetration, and so I told an unintentional lie-by-omission and felt ashamed all over again at my own un-woke-ness when the whole truth was discovered.

If you asked me now, I’d give you a more nuanced answer, and parts of this answer are why I’ve never come out as LGBTQ. Mainly, the parts where I feel like I have a lot of straight privilege and gender-presentation privilege, because all of my long-term relationships have been with men, and I ultimately fell in love with, and married, a man; and because I am easily read as a fairly femme woman. It doesn’t feel fair of me to claim an identity that I haven’t had to fight for or overcome discrimination in order to fully embrace, when so many have had to fight so hard for a baseline of acceptance.

Am I straight? Not all the way. There is occasionally a woman who makes me think, goddamn, if I were single I would try to take you home with me.

Do I feel pretty damn comfortable and satisfied and happy in my monogamous heterosexual marriage? Yes. I got super lucky with this one.

Do I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth?

(What parts of it? There is so much to unpack in that question alone. Let's talk more about this).

I remember being incredibly angry as a kid, an anger that sustained its strength over years, that guys got to be generally physically stronger and faster. Just that one thing made me feel like I started out with something to prove. But I’ve never felt that my body was the wrong one for me.

I’m still incredibly angry about, and uncomfortable with, the parts of gender that are socially-constructed, the roles that are handed down to us, the assumptions that are made. Maybe a large part of the way I identify with my gender rests on actively upsetting the roles and expectations of my assigned one, and sometimes I do that in a way that maybe reinforces stereotypes about what’s masculine and feminine instead of smashing them: I am woman. Watch me do all the “manly” things better than you.

That said, I am much more comfortable with my gender because of the LGBTQ community, because of all the work that has been done to break gender out of a binary and educate the larger public about how to make space for a range of identities and relate to gender in a less-completely-awful way. I am so grateful for that gift, and for spaces that have been made safe and welcoming for the whole range of beautiful identities. Without that full range, and every person who occupies it from one end of the spectrum to the other, my life would feel much more empty and colorless. When I play a show for a crowd full of incredible, strong, vibrant queer people who show up with their hearts on their sleeves, I feel a feeling of “these are my people.” I feel safer in my own identity, including the parts of it I continue to question. I feel a responsibility to work to keep making the world safer, for every dear friend and every person who will ever be part of an audience I haven’t met yet. But I don’t want to claim anything that might not be mine to claim. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone who might need it more than me.

I expressed a much shorter version of this to a friend recently, and she said some words that felt like a balm to my soul and made tears well up in my eyes. She said, “for what it’s worth, these terms LGBTQ have been created to empower you in your body. If it feels right in your body, that’s a good enough reason! And sitting in the discomfort of identifying that way and being judged or uncomfortable (within yourself, or by others in the LGBTQ community or outside of it) is actually a very big part of what it means to be within the community.”

My gut reaction to this is something like, “I get to be home in this community? I get to choose? YEEEESSSSSSSS PLEEEEEAAASE I NEED YOU ALL SO MUCH.” But there’s definitely still a large part of me that feels more comfortable standing in the corner, being a cheerleader, waiting for someone else to invite me in, feeling like I have way too much privilege to crash the party. I am waiting for someone to say, “Don’t worry, you are queer enough to be here.” But I’m still not sure that I am.

I think this is something I’ll keep questioning and wrestling with. I would love to hear from anyone who feels similarly. What I do know is whatever side of this I come down on, if I do eventually land on one side or the other (goddamn it there’s another binary and isn’t that what we’re trying to break free of and maybe that is reason enough?) I’ll continue to be a cheerleader. I’ll keep doing everything I can to advocate for all my queer friends who I love so dearly. I will have your back. I will always be there to tell you just how much my life would suck without you, to tell you thank you for being you. Thank you for staying here.


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