My complicated relationship with my LGBTQ+ identity. Talking about internalized homophobia, labels & authenticity, gender identity, bi & pan-erasure, and passability.
It’s Pride month, if you hadn’t already noticed the rainbows everywhere.
For anyone asking, why do we need a dedicated Pride month? Visibility is vitally important when it comes to confronting systems of discrimination and marginalization, because when you are visible it is harder for the world to hurt or ignore you. For this, I love and am grateful each year for Pride month.
And yet, I’ve had a complicated relationship with my LGBTQ+ identity and Pride month sometimes triggers those messy feelings for me. While I’ve known since I was about 11 or 12 years old that I wasn’t “straight”, I’ve never felt completely comfortable openly identifying as LGBTQ+ and participating in Pride.
Growing up in a rural community presented its own challenges with identifying as LGBTQ+. There is a lot of stigma, hate, discomfort, lack of education, and you can feel very out in the open as the community you live in is often small, and you might not have the same sense of safety in numbers. There are often few people who identify like you do, fewer role models, and just generally less awareness.
Despite being assumed as heterosexual by the world around me, I felt different and knew my experiences of attraction were not the same as those around me. I didn’t only notice the men in the magazines my friends and I would read like I was “supposed to”.
I began identifying to some close friends and family as LGBTQ+ in late high school and my first 2 years of university. But unlike some, I never had a real “coming out”, there wasn’t some big announcement, it was just sort of a gradual thing that I told people about when and if I was comfortable. And many people still might not know this about me.
“Coming out” felt weird to me as I most often dated men and so it felt somewhat unprompted of me to bring up my orientation, and yet I felt a need (and often still do) to express my identity as part of a process of fully embracing it as a part of me. And when I moved into the city for University I felt more comfortable exploring my LGBTQ+ identity, but it didn’t solve all my problems like I thought it would.
I identify now as pansexual, although for many years I identified as bisexual. Labels are a tricky thing, they can be very empowering but also sometimes feel like we are being assigned a box. I have often struggled with feelings of “not being queer enough” especially now being married to a cis-gender man and myself being a cis-gender woman. I have known people who have accused me of not being LGBTQ+, and also members of the community who made me feel bad for being “passably straight” and suggested that I may even be lying about my identity for attention.
Even if I know my own identity, I have often felt guilt about not outwardly representing my identity in my relationship, being “passable”, and not experiencing the same kind of discrimination as others who can’t necessarily pass as straight. It has at times made me doubt my identity, “am I really pansexual if my partner is the opposite gender & sex to me?”.
But what I remind myself of is that the erasure of my feelings and experiences as bisexual or pansexual is a real form of discrimination which is also rooted in homophobic and heteronormative notions. And this very real phenomenon of bi and pan-erasure has made it very difficult to embrace my identity and experiences, and has caused me and many others a lot of pain.
What is sort of ironic about all of this is that I didn’t fall in love with my husband because he is a man, his gender or sex really had nothing to do with it. But one of the things that did make me fall in love with him, was his complete acceptance of who I am, including my not always clear identity. He has helped me to work through a lot of my feelings about my identity and encourages me to be confident in who I am regardless of any labels.
On top of my seemingly “straight” relationship, I have often expressed myself in a fairly stereotypically feminine way and did not always dress in a way that would be thought of as queer. However there were years of my life, particularly in late high school and early university, where I struggled deeply with my gender identity and whether or not I really did identify as a woman. I hate to use the term “phase” because it has often been used as a word to dismiss the experiences of LGBTQ+ people, but it was a period of great uncertainty and stress about my identity. It took a lot of intense inward reflection, reading about other people’s experiences of gender, and conversations with my now husband to figure out what it was I was experiencing.
And one thing I confronted along this journey of gender questioning was that unless I decided I was going to commit to identifying as transgender or non-binary, I didn’t feel like there was much room for me to talk about what I was experiencing. I wanted to express that I was unsure and struggling with my gender identity while not having to commit to a label.
I have often felt like I should step aside and let those who are “more” LGBTQ+ speak. I have thought, who am I to talk about LGBTQ+ issues as a passably-straight, white, mostly cis-gender person? There is this pressure that if you are a part of the community you need to represent it all the time as loudly as possible, and while I completely agree that everyone should feel comfortable with their identity, and speaking out definitely helps other people in the community, no one should feel pressured to speak out if they are not ready or pressured to conform to any norms. Yes, it seems even groups about breaking social norms often have or develop their own norms.
Because of all of these experiences, my comfort level has ebbed and flowed with being vocal about my LGBTQ+ identity, especially here on the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I will always support Pride in the fight for rights, full acceptance, and love for all LGBTQ+ people because our work is no where near done. But, I don’t always feel comfortable being vocal about my own identity and journey. It is something I am working on and have been thinking a lot about.
A few years ago with my church, I marched in my very first Pride Parade and it was both a nerve racking and incredibly powerful experience. It gave me much needed validation but also made me feel very vulnerable. I think someday, I will march again.
I decided to finally share this because we are all on a journey to more thoroughly understand ourselves, and I wanted to show that this journey is often not a straight line (pun intended). I am still working to feel more safe and comfortable vocalizing my identity. I struggle with internalized shame and queer-phobia, I’m afraid of hate from others outside the community, but I’m also afraid of being ostracized from within the community.
I’m continuing to more thoroughly understand my identity. I am continuing to learn to accept and love myself, and to navigate how to most authentically express myself including navigating disclosure. If you are on a journey like this one, I want you to know that you are not alone.
I’m learning that true Pride isn’t about conforming to any norms, whether those are society’s norms or even the norms within communities of support. It’s about being proud of who we are, all of us, in all our many forms and complexities. It’s about being proud even when we aren’t sure of who we are.
Being LGBTQ+ doesn’t mean always adhering to your label, and it’s not about perfectly fitting into one category or even always understanding your identity. It’s a continual journey of self discovery, acceptance, and self-love. The colors of the rainbow overlap and bleed into one another, they are interconnected and are more similar than they might appear at first glance.
Happy Pride month!