More than four years ago, when I first started to realize that I was attracted to girls and women, I tried on one label after another to see if one fit me perfectly. Questioning, bi-curious, gay, bisexual, and probably some more. These labels seem to come with neatly typed-up instructions on How to be _______. At that time, I refused to see how complex humans are and that we can’t fit into a fixed number of boxes because there are always going to be people who feel like strangers in those boxes.
I didn’t mind people who refused labels. I didn’t think they were confused or anything. They seemed pretty convinced of who they were, theirs just weren’t one of the “typical” sexual orientations. But I still wanted to fit in one of those boxes as smoothly as possible. For me, having a label ready meant I knew who I was. I firmly believed I had to know who I was. I mean, if I didn’t know myself, who did? If I knew myself, I could confidently present myself to the world. I could deal with whatever crap that was thrown in my way because I knew myself and thus believed in myself. I thought I couldn’t support myself 100 % if I didn’t know myself. And for me, having a label I identified with meant knowing myself.
There are lots of questionable thoughts in the second paragraph. It feels a bit like deconstructing my own thoughts, but what I’m doing now is an important process nonetheless (for me, I mean. I have no idea of knowing whether any of this is relevant to you.).
Anyway, none of the labels sat comfortably with me. The funny thing is, by trying to break out of heteronormativity, I had designed just another rigid box for me to fit into. I had certain preconceptions of what it means to be gay or bisexual or straight. I had a hard-and-fast rule for each of them and didn’t even consider the infinite shades of in-betweens.
It’s not about what the label means, it’s about what you make of the labels. That means that my bisexuality isn’t going to match 100% with your bisexuality. If we had a room full of self-identifying bisexuals, we would probably all define “being bi” a bit differently. Heck, I thought I was straight for the first sixteen or seventeen years of my life. Then I thought I was “just” bi-curious. Then I thought I was gay. Then asexual. Then back to hetero. My sexual orientation fluctuates, and today that feature is my identity. Yep, I’m the person whose sexual orientation changes all the time. For the general public (if anyone asks), I’m bisexual. But it’s my way of bisexuality. In this regard, no one can tell anybody what is a “valid” sexual orientation (or gender identity, or racial identity, or ethnicity, or whatfreakingever) and what isn’t. We are not the ones experiencing what X is going through, so how can we condemn that what X is going through is “not real”? It sure as hell is real for X.
Labels are just that: labels. Whether you put “bisexual” or “gay” or whatever on my forehead, I still remain the same person in essence. Of course, the public perception changes as it reacts to the various labels. But the person underneath the label remains the same person.
I’ve been struggling with labels for years. I thought I didn’t have an identity if I couldn’t showcase a certain amount of labels. Somehow it seemed incredibly lame to just offer, Well, I’m me. But who is “me”? We offer labels as “facts”, as if they are supposed to give an insight to who we are. “I’m an American. I’m an accountant. I’m a man. I’m a fan of Manchester United. I speak Amharic. I’m divorced. I’m a sax-player.” Is this what we boil down to?
I don’t have a national or cultural label for myself. I can tell you I’m legally Korean. But I don’t feel Korean.
I don’t have a label for my sexual orientation.
I don’t always have a label for my gender.
For years, I called myself a “reader” but sometimes I don’t read at all for weeks and months.
Daughter, sister, grand-daughter – they are all tied to the gender. And I don’t always feel like a daughter.
And the most common feature: I keep changing all the time.
So I can’t define myself. Until a few weeks ago, however, I always felt the need to define myself. Because if I couldn’t define me, I couldn’t be me. Right?
But that’s not true.
I’m still me. Even if I don’t have a fixed contour, I’m still me. I still breathe, laugh, sleep and cry. I’m just one shiny box among seven billion other shiny boxes. And I’m not going to force my shiny box on anyone else. So why should you force yours on me?
Inspired by Jen’s video.