It's an ongoing conversation with myself. As I learn more about the woman I am-- likes, dislikes, the kinds of relationships I want, and the politics I embody-- the clearer my self-portrait becomes. My queerness is not the sole factor through which I am defined or viewed, of course; it is so deeply ingrained in who i am but it is not some "difference", the way a lot of straight (and queer) ppl view being not hetero.
I am pansexual. For conversational purposes, I use the word "queer" to describe myself. Pansexual (or omnisexual) means my attractions to people aren't based specifically on masculinity, femininity, androgyny, or even the assumption of what genitalia are in someone’s pants. Simply put, I am romantically and sexually interested in an array of people.
That’s always been the case, ever since I can remember experiencing attraction to others. If someone asks me, “How do you know you’re not straight?”, it’s almost like asking me when I knew my own name. It’s always been that way, whether I’ve shared with others or not. In a world that normalizes being heterosexual, of course there are moments where people may not understand the experiences and/ or perspective of an LGBTQI person; curiosity is natural. It is critical, however, that non-LGBTQI people realize our sharing and even our visibility are to be self-determined. As it is often said, the personal is political-- this is where the word queer comes in for me. I am queer not because of who I do or don’t sleep with or date. I am queer because my political beliefs, sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression are shaped by one another.
Image: kwchdwah via Flickr
I’m not a rainbow flag waving kind of gal. I never was a marching-through-the-streets-in-the-name-of-pride queer femme, either. I am, however, one who always shows up. I work for an organization that serves LGBTQI persons. I create and share resources with others in my community. In my relationships (both romantic and non), I put forth my best efforts to create and love in an oppression-free space, where the isms and systems that harm us are cast off like rain-drenched clothes after a summer storm. The most important part of my queer identity, for me, is not showing it or proving it to the world -- it’s making sure I am in integrity with and for myself and the people I value. No matter how it looks to the outside world, it is imperative that I remain committed to sharing my own narrative.
When I ponder matters of sexuality, gender identity, and gender expression, I am reminded of one important thing: the right way is the authentic way. Sexuality is defined by Merriam Webster as “the quality or state of being sexual". This means that no human being’s sexuality is greater or lesser than another’s based on the person(s) with whom we are sexual. Regarding gender identity and presentation, I am reminded of the subtleties and complexities that inform who I am. I’m cisgender (meaning I more or less identify with the gender assigned to me when I was born) and I am a woman of feminine (or femme) presentation. When I stand firmly in myself and allow my identity to shift according to my needs and beliefs, I am most pleased. If I am pleased and comfortable, my interactions with other people -- dating or otherwise -- are fruitful and healthy. If I were inauthentic in any way, what joy would I have? What growth would I fully experience?
I approach romantic and sexual relationships with authenticity in mind. Of course, my goal is to learn, grow, and love another person -- but these things happen best for me in an openly communicative environment. Even being in relationship with someone is a series of conversations. Despite meeting people in queer-affirming spaces, I sometimes encounter resistance to my queerness. There are people who erroneously identify pansexual folks like me as “greedy” or “indecisive.” Even when I am amongst “my people”, I come out a second time. This challenges me when dating; misunderstandings and assumptions run rampant, and I often play the role of educator instead of person-on-a-date. It is challenging, sometimes exhausting. At some point I’ve asked myself, “Why am I explaining anything to this person?” I now choose differently: anyone with a less-than-basic knowledge of the difference between gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality probably is not for me.
So, who is for me? People who respect, appreciate, and value me. Some of those folks are on the LGBTQ spectrum, some are not. Getting to know and connecting with a new person is challenging no matter who you are or who you’re meeting. I’ve had the pleasure of loving and being in relationships with wonderful, dynamic people who aren’t dating my “lifestyle”, or the identities I claim, but me as a person. While I am currently single, I seek out people who are invested in knowing me as an individual. What I want and how I go about getting it aren’t unique approaches specifically because of my queerness; these things are unique because of me as a total person.
My first romantic/ sexual relationship with a woman was a space for me to explore my sexuality in ways that did not include reading books or participating in online discussions. That is, I was able to put into practice the things that I theorized about myself and have new discoveries. My ex-girlfriend (we’ll call her "S") was more than willing to explore sex with me. "S" and I had conversations about what each of us wanted and needed in bed. Of course, open communication about sex isn’t specific to same-gender relationships. I found a home, though, in her arms.
There was a connection that I made with "S" when we were intimate; this connection deepened my love and care for her. In short, I was able to give more of myself in this relationship than I ever had in my hetero relationships. Being authentic about what I needed and wanted brought me “home". I was comfortable, affirmed, and able to create an affirming space for my partner as well. I experienced harmony unlike any other.
As I continue to define myself, my queerness, and my womanhood, I find that I am freer than I ever was. Before I had the words to describe myself, I knew I was “different”; having the vocabulary to specifically name these parts of myself means I have an added clarity. I can use this language to seek out others like me, and create spaces for us where we are affirmed and loved. I am empowered to do and be a strong visible member of the communities I inhabit when I remain authentic to myself.