As a girl who liked boys, I never thought when I was younger that I would be allowed to take up space in those communities meant for people who were wholly something I was only partly. I'm not a lesbian, so when I went to a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) meeting in high school, it was as an ally. Sure, I had some dreams about hiding out in closets and making out with girls, but I didn't know I was queer, because I didn't know I was allowed to be queer.
I didn't realize I could like girls and boys. I didn't have to choose, and one didn't cancel out the other. Around the same time I attended my first GSA meeting, I did think, Maybe I'm not straight. Maybe I'm gay. Maybe it would have been easier if that were the case... My queries would have had a definitive answer and I could have continued my life from that point forward.
But attraction does not work that way. Attraction doesn't care about making things simple, easy, or clear-cut. But I didn't know that. So in response to my pondering I told myself, You like boys, and that's a fact. You can't be gay, so you must be straight.
And so, for a long time, that "fact" pushed away other conversations I had within myself, and other, equally tender truths fell away. But I live in the Bay Area: Berkeley hippies, San Francisco Pride, Oakland radicals. Free love and expression in all its forms all exist here, whatever you're into.
This is a place where everyone is encouraged to live their truth, which for me meant that pretty girls on rooftops were not going to make me feel nothing for long, even in all this Bay Area fog. Needless to say, over time, the "facts" of my orientation became fluid.
The ways I thought about myself and who I was attracted to shifted. I had to amend and expand the definitions I had for my sexuality based on who I realized struck my fancy. Over time, my narrative changed. When I finally figured it out that "queer" applied to the way I felt, it was an odd sense of relief. To me, queer never meant erasing or excluding any genders or bodies from the file marked "Who I Like." That file has only expanded.
But in the Bay Area, it sometimes seems like the only thing people love more than promoting freedom and equality is, well, being right. People always want to think they know you; that they have you figured out. It's a culture that prides itself on being the most progressive and the most proactive. And the more progressive and proactive you are, the more respect you have in these spaces.
Sometimes it feels like people want to just scan the surface for meaning, like other people are just articles they want to say they've read. It's almost like people think they can read you like they can read any other text and absorb your meaning through your skin. But people can't be skimmed. And there are always some unspoken assumptions made about my queerness. Assumptions that make me want to hide half of myself in shadows, even in the corners of queer spaces meant for comfort and community. Comments are made under the false presumption that the way I'm read is just the way I am. Comments that leave me feeling like even though I've expanded, I'm still not enough.
"I'm not really into shaming people for where they're at," one person said to me. But I felt ashamed.
"I'm not saying these people aren't, like, as queer as I am or anything, but I mean, where were they in high school?" someone else said. I cringed a little, but I said nothing.
I was once told that the term "baby queer" others newly-out people, so I felt bad that I liked the term for myself.
"I think she must be queer. But her cis high school boyfriend is not welcome at the house, ha!" It was a joke, but what if I had a cisgender boy come over?
"NO STRAIGHT CIS MEN EVER!!" It's how a lot of queer folks seem to feel. It's a warning, a fact, and a badge of honor. No, I don't date straight, cis men anymore, but I do date queer ones.
And it's true. When you're bi, pansexual, or claim another identity that allows your orientation to flex and grow, there's almost this second coming out. Sometimes I have to amend the assumptions about my sexuality by clarifying that yes, I like girls, but I like boys, too. I'm left feeling sheepishly ashamed, apologetic, exposed. No one's ever said it, but I feel like I've let them down, like I've tricked other queer folks into believing that I am queer enough to share their spaces. The outline of my being blurs, my mirage settles into angles that just don't quite seem to fit, and I'm left feeling like I'm occupying a space I'm not queer enough to take.
In the queer community as I've come to know it, there seem to be a lot of stories of men who used to date women, or women who used to date men, but so many less about the experiences of those who have expanded their definitions to something less rigid. There are so many less stories of bisexual, pansexual, and queer folks who have partners on variety of points on the gender spectrum. I don't fit into the "used to" group. I'm a queer girl who still dates queer cis boys.
I know that so many of the comments and assumptions made aren't meant to be hurtful. I know they're coming from a place that wants to protect the integrity, safety, and freedom that comes from communal queer spaces. Plus, I know that a lot of it's just me. I know that a lot of these thoughts and feelings are coming from my own insecurities.
I date who fits with me, who balances and challenges me. I'm a gentleman and a princess, so I need someone a little less straightforward in their expression. I love people, not despite their bodies, but because of them and all that they are: their hearts, minds, humor, sweetness, and yes, their bodies. Sometimes, I see someone and know that I want their skin on mine.
But the question remains: If I could accept that none of my attractions cancel out the others, why do I still feel like I am not enough? This isn't a feeling that's restricted to my queer identity, either. I feel it as a mixed-race person of color and as a Jew who doesn't "look Jewish." These aspects don't define me in my entirety, but I do look for community among queer, black, and Jewish folks. It can be hard to feel like you belong when it seems like the expectations for these communities outline qualities you only partially exhibit.
I'm working hard on myself -- working on self-improvement. I'm trying to find what's true, honest, and authentic, while also practicing self-love so I don't end up being too hard on myself. I can't be anywhere besides where I am. I can't be anything besides a baby queer for now. And I'll never stop shifting or be done being who I am. But still, I wonder. If I am not enough here, who am I enough for?
When did you start feeling like you were enough? When will I?
This article originally appeared on Ravishly.