I have had to come out multiple times in my life. When I was thirteen, I came out to my mother as gay, and cried my goddamn head off doing it. When I was 19, I came out as androgynous, and started to dress feminine, wearing skirts and heels and heavy (like REAL heavy) makeup. When I was 23, I came out as a transwoman, and I thought I was straight.
Haha, nope. I’m bisexual. Hella bisexual. Painfully bisexual. A disaster bi if there ever was one.
Gender and sexuality, for all that they are different, have something in common–they’re both difficult to interpret, and can take time and exploration to figure them out. One of the hard parts about language is that we have to use words to define things–this gives a rigid outline when we say “we are this thing”. It implies a level of permanence. When someone says “I am gay”, the understanding, generally, is that this person is gay, and shall forever remain that way. When in reality, it’s much more like the “‘til death do us part” clause in a marriage–you should probably see it as permanent, and know that it might still change.
As often as some people stumble right into the identity they’re meant to have, others have a rougher path to take. Some of us find something that feels right at the time, only to realize it doesn’t fit. Even more of us figure out that these aspects of ourselves, our gender or our sexuality, have changed–and what was actually right at one time is completely wrong a few years later.
If you had told me at 16 if I was anything but a gay man, I would have laughed at you, hard. Even if I had weird feelings about my body and dysphoria for days, I resisted the idea that I was anything but the label I had given myself, because that rigidity of a label works both ways. It defines who you are to other people, but also for yourself, and often if you break with that label in any way, not only do others vilify you for it, but you confuse the hell out of yourself.
You see, “coming out”, regardless of what you’re coming out as, gives a name for what you are in someone’s head. And people will stick to that defined box for you–checking a mark next to “gay” or “non-binary” or “lesbian”. Then, if you do something that breaks with that box, you get the following:
“I thought you were gay?”
“You’re not really a lesbian–I saw you make out with Billy three months ago.”
“Last year you were gay, this year you were bi, and now you’re non-binary? You just want to be the most special snowflake, don’t you?”
“Could you just like, pick one thing and stick with it? You change labels like I change underwear.”
On the one hand, this is a little understandable. A little. Humans hate change we aren’t ready for–being surprised with someone’s (seemingly) sudden statement that they are different than who you thought they were can conflict with your world view. On the other…it costs zero dollars to respect people for who they are, even if they’ve just figured it out.
Each time I came out, I had people attack me for saying I wasn’t what I said I was. Even if what I defined myself as wasn’t right in the end, I was still well within my right to explore and try to find my real self, and it was not easy. Honestly, it was hard enough to come out of one closet door just to realize that I had to open another goddamn one–it was like closetception. There’s no reason to make that harder on someone than it already is.
You see, both gender and sexuality (which again, are different things) exist on a spectrum, and where you fall on that spectrum can change. Exploring either and trying to find the right fit does not make you less of a person–in fact, it makes you more of one. People struggle to find themselves, anyone who ever had to pick a profession or a college major or hell a goddamn hairstyle knows that, and you are not lesser for struggling or continuing to search for what feels more you.
If you think you’re a lesbian, but it turns out you’re bisexual? Great! If you’re cis and you start exploring gender just to find out that you are actually cis? Wonderful. You thought you were bisexual just to realize that no, you really, really, really just like girls? Stupendous!
In fact, the more people that try to search out and find themselves either through their gender expression or their sexual identity, the more it normalizes that people can do that. That just because you ultimately find out you’re one way or another, it’s healthy to look at the entire spectrum of human experience and find out if, maybe, you’re another shade on the rainbow than you thought you were.
This sort of experience also breeds understanding for those of us who are somewhere on that spectrum that isn’t considered “the norm”, because people realize that yes, you can be trans. Yes, you can be gay. Yes, you can be pansexual. You can be a number of things, and trying to figure out who you are is okay.
So next time you have a friend that tries to change that little checkmark you have next to whatever category you’ve filed them under? Don’t berate them. Get some white out and change it–and maybe understand that you should mark it with pencil, not with pen.
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