"Oh, yeah, Eddie? I haven't met him, but I've heard he's a really flamboyant gay type."
"Really? I always thought he was pretty effeminate, but actually I fucked him once."
"Wait, what? I thought you were--"
"A lesbian? Yeah. Shit happens, you know?"
"So you just, like--"
"Do what I do."
"Like, you just like people."
"I just do what I do."
As a self-proclaimed misanthrope, I did not fail to see the irony in my co-worker asserting that I "just like people." Me? Like people? No, I hate people! What are you talking about? I left the conversation there, because I didn't want to argue against this statement and seem like some sort of super-hater, but being unable to "eff" the ineffable, as a professor of mine once put it, caused me to think more about the conversation later. You're thinking: You're bi. Just say you're bi! But I don't want to say I'm bi. Labels have recently left me a little frustrated. How do I answer the question "Well, what are you?" The more I try to categorize myself, the more I wonder whether it would just be all right if we all came out to each other as human.
For me, the problem with committing to the "bisexual" label is that it feels very fifty-fifty, and I don't feel very fifty-fity. I don't even really want to date men. But I have had a serious long-term relationship with a man before. So should I say, "I was just straight for him, but I'm gay," or, "I'm bisexual because I was serious with one dude"? There are so many labels to describe the same situation. Situations are concrete to me. Why commit to the "bi" label if I'm in a relationship with a woman and don't pursue men? To me it feels like saying, "I'm keeping the door open, because men have happened before and could happen again." It's just easier to say, "This is my girlfriend." And that's just a truth. I don't have to say, "I'm a lesbian, and this is my girlfriend, and yeah, I did date that guy in college, and yeah, it was real, and yeah, I did sleep with that guy that time after the New Year's party. Oh, was he gay? I don't know, but he got it up. Maybe he's bi?"
It's not that I grew up hating labels. Like anyone else in society, I found them helpful, or at least meaningful in deciphering how people are. We use labels to help us understand each other and bond with each other. But it is strange how the "LGBTQ" acronym maybe started as "lesbian and gay," then became "LGB," then "LGBT," then "LGBTQ," and so on, because everyone wants their preferred label to be accepted and included. But will it eventually become LGBTQIAARTUVWXYZ vs. everyone else? Is there even anyone left who's not covered by the acronym?
I'm not suggesting that non-LGBTQ people don't exist. We all exist. But what is this business of categorizing ourselves so finitely? When you cut out the bullshit, it turns out that we are using labels to give each other very specific ideas of what we like to do with our genitals, at least when it comes to the "LGB" part of the acronym. Why? The other day a server at my workplace came into the kitchen and said that one of the tables was "so awesome" because "it's two lesbians," before rattling off a bunch of other "awesome" attributes. And I'm thinking, "So what you really just said to me is that this table is awesome because of X, Y, and Z -- oh, and also they eat pussy. That's kind of irrelevant to their awesomeness, if we're being fair as a human race." It's sort of strange the way we identify ourselves by a certain sexuality to people we barely know: "Hi, I'm Shaina, and my bedroom is sunny with a very low chance of penis." Why do we do that?
And that is part of my curiosity about whether we could identify by an all-encompassing sexuality known as, simply, "human." Everyone has his or her own human experience and set of preferences and turn-ons, but not everyone knows them all right away. People become acquainted with themselves at different paces, and that's pretty normal. Even though it's not as though I'm writing this to explain myself, I think the easiest way to explain why labels are too black-and-white is to explain a bit of my human experience.
I am a girl, first of all, because that's the sex that was assigned to me at birth, and that's how I am happy to identify. For the first 20 years of my life, I never dated another girl. I began my adolescent dalliances phase at 11, had a couple of not-serious boyfriends in high school, and then had one serious boyfriend in college. I never had sex before college. I never really thought about girls before college, but I met my first girlfriend when I was 20 and dated her for a year. I continued to exclusively see women after dating her. And you know how they say that hindsight is 20/20? Well, you can't imagine how many times I've looked back on my behavior in life and noticed how achingly dykey I've been all along.
The first confrontation I had with my serious tomboyish nature was at my preschool's circus. Every student got to pick what performance routine they wanted to participate in. We had ballerinas, elephants -- you name it. I chose to be a strongman with a bunch of the boys in my class. I never thought twice about my decision, but when my teacher was helping us dress up and it was my turn to have my handlebar mustache painted on, she asked me if I was sure I didn't want to be a ballerina. And I really had no idea why she was asking me this question. Why would I want to be a ballerina? Strongmen are awesome. Mustaches are awesome. "No," I said. It's not that I wanted to be a man; I just wanted to dress like one.
As for being attracted to females, it's hard to say when that began. I have early memories of being interested in female bodies, but I almost think it's hard to say that anyone doesn't. So many straight girls check out other girls all the time, because the female body is sick. It's just interesting.
My serious dating life began in college. When I was a sophomore, I met a guy I really liked. We dated for two years, and things were good. It didn't last, ultimately, but it was a relationship that, in many ways, changed me into the person I always wanted to be.
During our relationship, we sometimes talked about sexuality. I would argue about the validity of hard lines in sexuality, and this was a conversation he didn't love, which is understandable, because perhaps it presaged my desire to be with women. But at the time it was more of a philosophical debate to me. Later I did want to be with women. And then I was.
I think the first time I talked to my parents about being with a girl, I texted my mom something about a girl I was interested in. And she didn't make a big deal of it. And then I didn't make a big deal of it. The "we're all cool with this" mentality was good with me. But ultimately I realized my parents weren't on the same page as me. If you've ever had anyone call your significant other your "friend," you understand me here. So the next step came with a sit-down talk that never involved the words "gay" or "lesbian" but did involve the sentences "I love her" and "She is my girlfriend." So this situational explanation worked for a while. But there's still this "gay"/"lesbian" language surrounding my romantic preferences, and that's fine, because if my family needs that to understand that I date women, then OK, but need is a strong thing. I think we want a word to explain what's happening. But it's entirely superfluous.
I was watching this movie called Waking Life with my girlfriend the other day, and in one scene a woman talks about how human languages fail to communicate nuances because of the different connotations that words have for different people based on their personal experiences. Take "love," or, extending the concept to my argument, "dating," or "gay," or "bi." How can any of these words really describe what we're doing here? It reminds me of when people try to categorize their eating habits as "flexitarian" or "semitarian." I want to say, "Do you eat goddamn meat or not?" They're eating food, just like we're all fucking people. And I'm so tired of us all defining ourselves and how we feel about each other based on the words we choose to associate with our sexual orientations.
I don't have a word for being a girl who was assigned "female" at birth; identifies as a girl; grew up dressing like (and still sometimes dresses like) a boy; once dated men but now dates women; eats meat, vegetables, gluten, and dairy; is white; has blonde hair and blue eyes; and is short. That's why we have names. I'm just Shaina. And you're just you, and if you want to classify yourself to help someone understand what you do with your genitals, then you can do that, and that's cool. But at the moment, and most likely for all the other moments, I am going to consider myself out as a human.