I remember when I first heard the word “Lesbian”.
I was 12 years old, backed up against the schoolyard wall and surrounded by classmates as they were calling me a lesbian. I had no clue what they were talking about. All I knew is that I was scared.
I remember later sitting in the principal’s office with my mom sitting next to me, being asked what the other kids said when they were teasing me. I couldn’t tell them. I thought “Lesbian” must be something dirty, something I’d be too embarrassed to talk about.
Later I asked my older sister what a lesbian was. She told me it was a girl who was attracted and loved other girls. “Oh.” I said. “What’s wrong with that?” My sister told me that nothing was wrong with that at all.
I’m pretty sure my sister always suspected I liked girls. As a child, playing with my dolls I knew that every person had to have somebody to love, but I had an overabundance of female dolls. Therefore it was only natural that some of my female dolls would be paired up with other female dolls. If that wasn’t enough evidence, I would also become extremely jealous if any of my female friends got boyfriends, or even close friends other than me. I distinctly remember her asking me if I liked girls the same way I liked boys and though I denied it, I see now, that to me, you had crushes on boys and you were best friends with girls. It wasn’t until years later that I questioned that logic, and my sexuality.
It was late at night and I was taking a walk around the neighborhood with my best friend. She said she had something important to tell me and she turned towards me and said “I’m bisexual.” I don’t remember ever learning what bisexual meant, all I know is that something clicked for me in that moment and I blurted out “Really? Me too!”
I had many friends who were bisexual or questioning throughout my teenage years. I began to realize that for me there was very little difference between friendship and love and attraction. It was only a couple of months after my friend’s and my midnight sexual revelation that I realized I was in love with her. I then realized that even though I was in love with her, I was also very much attracted to other people. I would entertain the thought of dating more than one person at once.
I briefly dated my friend. This was my first experience with dating-related awkwardness. It would be another year before I could get up my courage to date someone else. I dated another really good friend of mine (this time male) for an even smaller amount of time. Although it was less awkward with him, I still found myself more uncomfortable than aroused. This pattern continued the next year, a brief fling with another good friend. It was around this time that I realized that my first love, who still remains a great friend of mine, and I would never fit together well in a relationship. It’s then that I came to understand that just because you love someone doesn’t mean you’ll have a perfect relationship, but that you also have to be compatible sexually and romantically.
I decided that to better understand who I was compatible with, I had to understand what I wanted in a relationship. I discovered polyamory. I knew that there was no way that I would only be attracted, or even love, one person at a time. I decided never to inflict those fences on myself or a partner and that polyamory was the only answer.
The biggest problem I have encountered with self-discovery is that you have to share it with others. I never really came out to my family. I just asked my sister for relationship advice and she took it in stride (not surprised in my choice of partners). As for my mother, my sister let it slip one day that I was off to meet my girl friend. My mother then immediately made a phone call to my dad, and he later informed the rest of my family. With friends I’d just casually go about and they’d stumble across a pronoun that’d eventually inform them of my sexual orientation and relationship model preferences. I’ve never found the need to come out and say what exactly the type of person I am attracted to.
Of course, this can lead to some assumptions. People began to assume that I was a lesbian based on the fact that I seem more comfortable around girls. In fact, I’m kind of known among friends as having a fear of male genitalia. Don’t ask, it’s a long story and this thing is already two pages long. I’ve found an increasing need to define myself to others, because if I don’t they will.
This is even less helpful since very few people even know what any of those words mean.
I wish we lived in a world where gender and the stigma we have on love and sex mean nothing. Unfortunately, they mean way too much to way too many people.
I guess the only advice I could offer anyone going through this problem, the problem of labeling yourself so others can understand you, is to create your own label. Be yourself, even if that means that there isn’t a label for you. Explain to anyone who matters who you are. You’re not your labels.