Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about what labels I identify with in terms of gender and sexuality after reading The ABC’s of LGBT+ by Ash Hardell. I’ve made it this far without really questioning my gender or looking too hard at my sexuality, but since coming out of a relationship that’s lead to a lot more freedom, I feel like I need to get to properly know myself.
Labels aren’t something that I’ve ever really strongly connected to or questioned growing up; the biggest label I gave to myself in sixth form college was bisexual, and more recently since starting university, polyamorous. But I guess these were because I was pretty certain who I was: a woman who was into guys and girls. What more is there to say?
A whole bunch it turns out.
At the moment I’m questioning myself a lot and trying to figure out who I am (hurray for being in your 20s!), and in doing so I’ve come across lots of different labels for gender and sexuality. In order to understand these better, I watched a lot of youtube videos and read The ABC’s of LGBT+.
Since September of last year, I’ve been regularly attending LGBT+ society meetups and I feel like it’s a place where I can let my guard down and relax a little. But apart from this, I’ve never really been exposed the LGBT+ community and what it actually comprises. Going to these socials gave me an introduction to the world of LGBT+, but reading Ash’s book has really opened my eyes to the wonderful diversity within the community and has given me a much broader view on gender and sexuality (and based on this I intend to read much more into queer theory and history, and feminism!)
Reading The ABC’s of LGBT+ has made me stop and think about aspects of my life that have been/are depicted by expectations that come with the gender binary. Thinking about where I fit in all of this, I realise that non-binary is a word that I connect to.
In the past, my gender non-conformity has confused me and made me question myself and my validity ‘as a woman’, and at points when I was feeling low I tended to think of myself as flaky. I used to think that I needed to ‘choose’ one way to dress and that I couldn’t keep going back and forth between what I thought were my ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ outfits. But now I know that however I choose to express myself is perfectly fine, and even more so there are other people who feel the same as I do! And in all honesty, who gives a fuck?!
By learning words like gender identity, expression, and fluidity I was able to find and relate to other peoples’ experiences. I’d never heard/fully understood these terms, but after learning what they meant it made me feel so much better about myself. Just knowing they are there gives me a sense of ease. As I grow and change as a person, I may very well drift into feeling more connected to certain labels, and I’m looking forward to being open to change! I feel more okay now with being fluid in a way I’ve never felt before.
I didn’t really give a damn when I was a kid. I think back to when, as a young child, I used to wear a t-shirt and trousers with a chain one day, and skirts on others. How I was playing with dolls one minute and dinosaurs the next. Role-playing as both boys and girls in the playground and at home. But at some point, I started to get the sense that maybe I wasn’t doing things the way they were supposed to be. That maybe I shouldn’t be doing certain things.
I think about how, in high school, I never wanted to wear skirts, yet felt uncomfortable because many other girls did. How lots of other girls wore makeup and I never had the desire to, and how I felt that somehow this made me less attractive and desirable. How I mainly had male friends, until it was pointed out as something weird, so I changed my whole friendship group to girls. How I always hated my long hair and how it made me look, so I had it cut off, yet didn’t really see many examples of other girls doing the same thing.
I only started feeling uncomfortable in myself when I became aware that there might be a way that I was supposed to act or look. All teenagers worry about fitting in, but it’s extra hassle when gender non-conformity is thrown into the mix. Wearing trousers and choosing not to wear makeup is completely normal, yet they caused me a lot of unnecessary worry and stress because I was completely unaware that options apart from The Perfect Woman™ were available to me.
Something that I had at least some idea about growing up was sexuality. At the very least I was taught that sexuality is a thing. I’ve known since high school that I am attracted to both men and women, and I just kind of accepted bisexuality as the thing that I experienced once I learned the word. I still feel pretty similar today, although since learning more about gender my definition has expanded.
I think labels can be pretty useful to describe yourself to others and to have a clearer sense of yourself. And ultimately, I think labels aren’t something to get hung up over, but they can be handy. And it’s completely up to each person whether they choose to use them or not, and it’s okay for them to change over time.
I want to find labels in order to help me describe myself to myself. Once I have the language to understand and describe what’s going on with me, then I can tell other people what my deal is, if I want to. So my plan is to try on some different labels in terms of gender and see what feels right. But if anyone asks me, I’m gonna tell them that I’m a bisexual, gender-questioning, polyamorous individual that uses she/her pronouns. For now. Whew, that’s a mouthful. Feels good to say though.
If you’re questioning your gender identity and/or sexuality, or just want to know more about LGBTQIA+ identities, then I’d highly recommend The ABC’s of LGBT+. It serves as a great starting point to learn some basic vocabulary. If you can’t get the paperback copy, then Ash has made a condensed, free eBook version which you can download here, as well as lots of handy educational videos on their channel. Plus, you have the whole internet! Start exploring!!