This post was written for the December 2013 Carnival of Aces. This month’s theme is “change.” You too can submit!
Disclaimer: This is about my personal experiences, and should not in any way be taken as indicative of the experiences or opinions of either The Asexual Agenda or the asexual community as a whole. (It is worth noting that lunasspecto recently wrote a post on a very similar topic, though.) The fact that I feel the need to put a disclaimer up here probably means something, but that’s a topic for another post.
When I was 15, I knew I wasn’t straight. I knew because I had a raging crush on my friend, who happened to be a girl, and I knew because everyone around me was telling me that I should want to make kissy faces with boys, when really the only person I had the vaguest interest in making kissy faces with was my friend, who I was 99% sure wasn’t interested in making kissy faces back. So I stayed quiet and nothing ever came of it.
When I was 15, I did not know the word “queer.” Well, I did, but nobody around me used it. I had not been taught that it was a slur, but I think I was under the impression that it was an outdated term like “invert.” On the other hand, I didn’t know the word “bisexual” either. In fact, as far as I knew, the only two choices were “straight” and “gay” (subset: “lesbian”), and since I wasn’t straight, I had to be gay. I didn’t tell anyone, because I was too terrified, and calling myself gay felt too…final.
A year and a half later, I got a crush on a guy, my friend came out as bisexual, and there was a word for me. No wonder I felt weird about identifying as gay–I was bisexual! I still didn’t tell anyone, partially because of the raging monosexism surrounding me (I heard the awful things people said about my friend behind her back) and partially because I still wasn’t sure. I thought that if I tried hard enough to appear straight, the fact that occasionally I wanted to kiss girls wouldn’t matter.
So, needless to say, a lot has changed since I silently swore that I would try to appear as straight as humanly possible. I realized that I was asexual, for one thing, and started identifying as biromantic and asexual. Then two of the people I had been romantically attracted to came out as non-binary, and I started identifying as panromantic with a giant question mark. I’ve spent about two years waffling between biromantic and panromantic (I even tried to graph the gender identities of everyone I had ever been romantically attracted to just to see if that would shed any light on the matter).* I’ve had crushes on 6 people who have at least 4 different gender identities between them (which may seem pretty panromantic to you), but when people ask what my romantic orientation is, I tend to say something like, “I get crushes on people of genders sometimes, but statistically speaking I’m biased toward women” (which may seem pretty biromantic to you, but n = 6 isn’t an astoundingly large sample size). At this point I’ve momentarily given up on having a gender-related romantic orientation label.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I didn’t actually start hearing “queer” until I was halfway through college. I think this comic was what introduced me to the term, actually. By that point in time, I’d already started lurking in asexual communities, and so I knew how up in arms people can get about aces using the word “queer” to self-describe. I was thus extremely hesitant to use the word for a variety of reasons. First of all, I didn’t want people yelling at me about appropriation. Second of all, I had only ever dated people who presented as male the majority of the time,** and I was keenly aware of the stigma against “straight-acting” bisexuals “invading” LGBT spaces (even though I was not bisexual and was not really straight-acting). Third of all, both of my past partners were uncomfortable with me expressing interest in or attraction (including aesthetic) to anyone other than them, and so I was essentially not allowing myself to think about anyone other than my current partner, even aesthetically.*** So even though I was “technically” queer, I didn’t really think of myself as queer, because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to be.
Anyway, when I exited my last romantic relationship last spring, I had a sudden realization: I REALLY, REALLY LIKE LADIES. It was weird for me to essentially go from being partner-romantic, partner-aesthetic to “WHOA, THERE ARE SO MANY ATTRACTIVE WOMEN IN THE WORLD, DANG.” It wasn’t like I had forgotten that I get crushes on women (my two most recent crushes have been on women), but it was something I shoved into the back of my mind and marked as “not relevant right now.” So I’ve had about 8 months of me trying to get rid of all the accumulated relationship brain gunk and figure out who I am and what I want. (Part of that figuring out has involved gender and gender presentation, but this post is getting pretty long, so I’ll save that for another time.)
Fortunately, participating in asexual communities has made me much more secure in my identity and attractions. As Sciatrix has written about before, ace communities often compel you to think about and analyze your sexuality and attractions in minute detail, and a result of all that thinking and analyzing has been me getting more comfortable in my own skin. When I was 15 and got a crush on a girl, I was gripped with blind terror; when I got a crush on a lady a couple of months ago, my reaction was more like, “Welp, this is awkward.” (“This is awkward” is my standard reaction to crushes, with a side of “How do people feelings” and “Wow, I hope I’m not being weird or anything.”) Realizing that I can be attracted to women without the sky falling is probably a result of being in ace spaces where I have felt safe enough to talk about being attracted to women, having a fabulous support network of people who don’t care that I totally have a thing for ladies in suits (but seriously), spending time with some lovely bi/pan lady friends, and staying the heck away from people who are aggressively heterosexist/monosexist. I’ve gotten much more comfortable being open about the fact that, heck yeah, certain ladies are super aesthetically attractive, and occasionally I get crushes on them.
Within the past two years, I’ve also started being called queer by self-identified queer people. I try to be very careful with my language (since I know that whether aces are queer or not is a touchy subject), but in LGBT+ spaces, even people who only know that I’m asexual (and not that I’m whatever-I-am-romantic) will call me queer. The classmates I’m out to also refer to me as queer. I think part of that is that we’re all academics, and “queer” in academia has a connotation that’s fairly close to “GSRM” (i.e. it’s an umbrella term). It might also be because I’m always the one in class saying, “Can we bring gender into this discussion?” and “But what about people who weren’t heterosexual?” and “Ew, can we please stop applying Freud to this?” (My accomplishment for this semester was teaching one of my history professors about intersectionality!) One of my classmates went so far as to call me “too queer for queer theory” (which I cannot really disagree with, since it seems like a lot of academic queer theory is still stuck in the 1990s).
One final point that has contributed to my comfort with calling myself queer is that I’ve recently had the chance to explore being more physically affectionate (in a way I’m only comfortable with when I’m romantically attracted to someone) with women. I know it’s blatantly incorrect to think that makes my GSRM-ness any more legitimate, but it certainly feels more legitimate (even though it totally shouldn’t). I grew up in a super monosexist environment, and so I’ve always had this niggling doubt in the back of my mind that maybe I’m not really attracted to women, and I just think I am, but when it comes to actually initiating anything, I’ll realize that, whoops, I wasn’t into this at all. (Because, you know, I’ve only ever dated people everyone else perceived as men, so OBVIOUSLY I must actually be a straight person deep down in my soul.) Haha, guess what! I actually am way better at understanding my feelings than random monosexist (monoromanticist?) people! Queenie: 1; random people: 0.
So what it comes down to is that I’ve started self-describing as queer for a whole bunch of reasons: becoming more comfortable with who I am and who I’m attracted to, being in an environment that has allowed me to feel comfortable and safe expressing those attractions (haha, can we talk about how wrong the whole idea of the asexual community as a sexuality police state is again?), and being in spaces in which I am allowed (and encouraged) to call myself queer AND in which “queer” has a slightly different connotation than in tumblr-speak.**** Calling myself “queer” is significantly easier/less terrifying than doing Asexuality 101 all the time, but also is a simple way to say, “Hey, I am not straight; please do not think I am straight; I am really not straight (really).”***** It’s also more easily understood–at least in academic circles, which is where I spend a lot of my time–than “GSRM” (which basically nobody has ever heard of), and it keeps me from having to untangle the mess of whatever my romantic orientation is.
I titled this post “Growing into ‘queer,'” but my identifying as queer has been less of a linear growth and more of a 7+ year vague ramble with occasional detours and pit stops for tea. Perhaps a better title would have been “Stumbling vaguely into ‘queer’ and apologizing a lot along the way as I knock things over because I’m a klutz,” but that’s a bit long for a title, even by my standards. I don’t know where I’ll stumble off to next, but for now I’m okay with saying, “Hey, I’m asexual and queer,” because that seems like a good, concise way to sum up my experiences and attractions.
*For your amusement, I give you the final image in that project:
I feel that’s a fairly accurate representation of how well I am able to articulate my attractions in gendered terms.
**I’m not comfortable talking about the gender identities of my past partners, especially since I’m not sure how one of them identifies right now. It’s safe to say that both of them were perceived as men by most people when I was dating them.
***Which, by the way, is a supremely unhealthy relationship dynamic. If you’re ever dating someone who is obsessed with the idea of you leaving him for a woman even though you’ve told him a hundred times that you’re not going to leave him, that is a giant red flag, and you should be running as far away as humanly possible.
****Not to say that there’s a unified definition in tumblr-speak, ’cause I’ve seen at least a dozen of them floating around. I tend to fit in under most of the definitions, unless they’re going by sexual attraction OR it’s one of those “queer means LGBT and only LGBT” definitions OR it’s one of those “aromantics don’t get to be queer” ones, because, uh, I have no idea how demiromanticism works with that–do I only get to be queer when I’m experiencing romantic attraction??? Grey-romantics: screwing up your romantic binaries since always. (Maybe we should start a club with the wtfromantics…)
*****This is especially helpful when guys are creeping on me. For some reason, “Go away, stop creeping on me” is not quite as effective as “Hello, if you didn’t notice, I am super queer and have zero interest in you; please leave me alone before I flip this table on you.”
To be fair, though, apparently I’ve been pinging a lot of people’s GSRM-dar recently, or at least they’re getting “?????” readings from me.