That L Word
Not the TV show, but close. An addendum to a coming-out.
(A german translation of this article is also avaiable.)
Disclaimer: This post is about my personal experience and as such it is not universal. I can only speak for myself and other people will experience and see these things differently. That’s ok.
In 2014 I came out as bisexual. Or rather, I started not actively keeping it a secret. It wasn’t a singular moment when I announced this to the world and I didn’t really talk to anyone about it. Not much happened apart from me changing my preference settings on OKCupid at the time. What had a far heavier impact on my life came a few years later: coming out as trans.
After that, I didn’t really think much about my sexual identity. In part because transitioning, dysphoria, and experiencing everyday trans-hostility were such dominating parts of my life for a few years, but also because there wasn’t much reason to change anything. In a way, describing myself as bisexual first made the question of “Well, who are you attracted to now?” obsolete when I came out to someone as trans.
However, it never felt exactly right. But before I get into that I should probably clear up some terminology:
I use the “more than one gender” definition of the term “bisexuality”, meaning a person being attracted to people of more than one gender, as opposed to heterosexuality and homosexuality. Some people will claim that “bi” means “attraction to exactly two binary genders” but that definition is widely rejected by actual bi people so I won’t give it much attention.
Apart from theory and labels, my attraction in practice works so that any gender and any combination of possible human anatomy can make a person I’m romantically and/or sexually attracted to. Some people might argue that “pansexual” describes this perfectly and there’s some truth to that. However to me the term always felt somewhat … synthetic. I know, all words are made-up, sure. But if I had accepted this one for myself, it would only have been in response to people making exclusionary claims about what “bisexual” could mean.
Thinking about how using “pansexual” as a label would only be a way to protect myself from such claims and accusations, made me re-evaluate the reasons why I went with “bisexual” to begin with and why it never really felt right. If I’m honest with myself, it’s a similar issue. “Bi” was a safe way to avoid any complicated questions or confrontations and possibly uncomfortable self-reflection. If I went with “bi”, nobody could really challenge that, both before and after my transition. It was a kind of an easy way out of all that messy queer complexity.
Disclaimer 2: I don’t want to say that bisexual people have it “easy”. Bi erasure and exclusion are serious problems, many bi people are still misunderstood, not taken seriously or subjected to violence in order to punish or “correct” them, all of which is horrible.
So, if I only stuck with “bi” to protect myself, what am I trying to protect myself from? If I chose that very wide and loose term because I’m afraid of claiming something more specific for myself, what is that something? And why am I afraid?
In 2021 I attended Dyke March for the first time. I went there with a small group of women and non-binary folks and something fell into place in my head that day. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, that feeling of belonging and not feeling like an outside observer like I often did at CSD (the big Pride parade in Berlin), but also the wide variety of people I saw there, far from strictly defined and exclusionary categories. Since then, I have also started dating new people again after a very long break and when I think about how I would describe my dating life now, the first word that comes to mind isn’t “bisexual”.
Earlier this year a friend with whom I don’t even talk a lot about my dating life casually described me using a different word, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world: a lesbian.
And that’s where the fear kicks in. Am I even allowed to accept this term for myself? It feels right, but I know for a fact that some people would strongly disagree. Of course nobody can tell me how I am allowed to feel, that would be ridiculous. But what if I want to tell the world about it? What if the world has a different idea of what it means? What if I have to justify myself to others, somehow “prove” that I belong? How would I even do that?
I see two approaches here: The idea that lesbianism is exclusive (both in who can be a lesbian and who they can be attracted to) is quite recent and not at all widely accepted. Spending time among real-life lesbians, as opposed to sometimes very restrictive online discourse, quickly shows a huge variety of who people are and who they love, including both cis and trans women, non-binary as well as trans-masculine people, among others. It’s messy, with a complicated history and it continues to evolve and change. The more I looked around the more it became clear just how much space there is under this label, and there’s certainly room for me with all the complexity of who I might be attracted to.
The other way to look at it is how I’m perceived from the outside when I’m with one of the people I date, and it’s hard to imagine that they see anything other than a lesbian relationship, regardless of whether the people in that relationship would define it as such. That aspect of how the world sees me and the people close to me ultimately also informs a lot of the political struggles I find myself in since those are usually imposed from the outside, which in turn informs what communities I will feel at home through sharing those struggles.
So, if the world decides to see me as a lesbian and I’m at peace with seeing myself as one and I feel at home in that community, then so be it.
It’s still scary to say and I don’t know what’ll happen if I do, but at least I can say it and it feels right:
I’m a lesbian.
Happy Pride, everyone 💜