I’ve gone through many stages in my life. At times I’d have described myself as heterosexual, regarding homosexual couples with a strange judgement that probably came from a deep-seated denial, helped along with an upbringing that showed very little liberal thinking and encouraged an ‘us and them’ mentality. As far as anyone told me, my dream in life was to marry a lawyer, settle down, get married and have two children. I had no role models in my life that showed an alternative to that – and, I’ve come to realise, all the heterosexual relationships I was surrounded by were dysfunctional and broken. My expectation in life really became about finding a partner who was just less dysfunctional than my immediate family were.
Being a teenager was awkward and confusing. I had a string of ‘boyfriends’ but these were really just companions. I was so afraid of intimacy that I would actually run away whenever things looked like they would cross the line into a territory I wasn’t comfortable with. At one time when I was in my mid-teens, my boyfriend leaned in to kiss me. Just as he was centimetres away from my mouth, I panicked and shouted “You’re it!” and actually sprinted off across a carpark to find somewhere to hide. So it would be no news to say that sex was completely off the menu, and I honestly couldn’t understand why people seemed to actually like, or want, something so horribly intimate.
A few years later I would have described myself as bi-curious, but this was still a little muddled. I was still confused about my identity and who I was, and really couldn’t shake off that weird sense of judgement I’d had drummed into me as a child. If that wasn’t enough, society also convinced me that being bi-curious was just something that all women were, and this was only reinforced by the fact that it seemed most men I came across were interested in women that showed more ‘exotic’ preferences. Being asked to kiss your female friend in a nightclub seemed to be something that impressed the lads, but at the same time, I wasn’t exactly mad at it. In fact, I was more than okay about it. But that’s just being a ‘bit bi’ as all women are, isn’t it?
It was a few years later that I realised that not all women who described themselves as bi-curious actually enjoyed their sexual encounters with women and regularly daydreamed about having them. I thought that was all totally normal. I don’t watch porn, and I never really have. Mostly this is because I can’t find much porn that turns me on. I’m also not exactly into all the unrealistic expectations it sets women in general – really? Am I expected to pay for a Brazilian every two months just because that’s what people are used to seeing? I remember struggling to find anything that matched my fantasies, and actually, I find my imagination in many ways far more pleasurable. I have the freedom to imagine whatever I want to.
When I did first try porn, just really out of curiosity, I remember being primarily drawn to videos that were just women, or both men and women. The only video I still remember watching and being turned on by was a home-video quality clip of a beautiful blonde woman sitting on a chair masturbating. I liked the raw ‘realness’ of it, and I guess what I took away from that was that real experiences to me felt more exciting. I didn’t want to watch someone else’s imagining of something; I wanted to know it first hand (pun intended). Sex wasn’t exciting really unless it felt ‘real’ – unless it felt human.
Then came a number of years of what I would call my ‘sexual exploration’. I didn’t really define my sexuality but instead went on a journey of self-discovery in the hopes that I could find out who I was and what I wanted. I’m bursting with pride at that younger naïve me who realised that there was a wider world out there and just wanted to try everything out, just to see what it was all like.
I actively sought out experiences with different people, mostly casual one- or two-night occasions with men and women – anyone who I thought was attractive. I wasn’t in it for any long-term relationship – I just had a burning fire inside me and I desperately wanted to learn what I liked, and what I didn’t like. It was like an evolution. I came out of it knowing that I hated it when people slapped or punched me in the bedroom. I also discovered that I actually quite enjoy threesomes. I learned that I really can’t stand it when people ‘talk dirty’. And I found out that I like to laugh a lot, I like to get to know the other person. Sex isn’t sex if it isn’t with someone else, and the best sex was sex that was shared – it was sweaty, funny, beautiful, and all about finding that happy place where you share a rhythm with that other person.
That period of my life helped me understand myself so much better, yet it still didn’t help me understand the lables that people inevitably seem to apply to each other. I still wasn’t quite able to assign myself a label I was comfortable with. I was a lesbian when I was in an unhappy whirlwind relationship with a woman I’d drunkenly hooked up with in a bar. After that, I was bisexual. I described myself as bisexual for years as it seemed to cover how I felt I was. However, the more I have felt a sense of belonging within the LGBT+ community, the more I have challenged and questioned myself and these labels we give ourselves. Being bisexual actually isn’t something I’m happy calling myself now, as it suggests that I would never date anyone who wasn’t the gender they were assigned at birth, if they weren’t male or female. The truth is that I’ve never dated anyone who wasn’t cisgender, but that doesn’t mean I’m closed off to the idea. I like to date people because their personalities are beautiful. I don’t really care about their gender. I could call myself pansexual, but pansexual seems to be specifically taking a fancy to anyone and everyone and for me, it is more than just liking anyone – it’s about acknowledging that you don’t have to look or act a certain way to be LGBT+, and feeling like there’s an uncomfortable tinge of politics about it. The role of a patriarchal society growing up did nothing to help me understand myself and I shouldn’t have to be defined by such a specific label. It’s strange to be living in a world where people feel so entitled to question or understand your sexuality, and where you’re either considered their ‘normal’ or you’re something strange to be ogled at.
I’ll be honest. I really struggled with the word queer at first. I thought for a long time that it was just another word for lesbian. I feel really stupid now, as that was clearly lack of research on my part and in some ways judgement of women in a relationship with another woman. I know this might sound really obvious, but it turns out that not every woman in a relationship with a woman is only interested in relationships with women. It also turns out that some women don’t want to appear closed minded, or feel that lesbian can be a loaded term and could exclude those who identify as women.
After a lot of consideration, and a lot of research, I’ve become much more comfortable with being queer. Queer for me is a reclaimed word, but its new meaning is just someone who doesn’t fit within the current heterosexual standard. It feels like an all-encompassing umbrella term that means that I don’t have to define who I am; I’m just not straight. And it’s that simple.