Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About My Sexual Orientation And Were(n’t) Afraid To Ask

I get a lot of questions from readers about my sexuality, which makes sense, considering I run a website for ‘lesbian/bisexual/queer women’ and refer to myself alternately as lesbian, bisexual and queer. Writing about “labeling” one’s sexual orientation is like jumping into a pit of lions who know how to comment on websites, so I usually avoid answering these loaded questions.

Honestly I could write about 100,000 words on this topic and, in fact, I have (mostly on my hard drive, but see also: “When I Knew”), but I’m gonna try to sort out the basics here, quickly, because otherwise I’ll change my mind and not want to say any of this at all.

In 2006, I hopped into the blogosphere specifically to connect online with potential readers of a book I was writing about bisexuality. But I didn’t think it was my place to talk about LGBT rights, especially marriage rights — I felt that, for as long as I was capable of happily marrying a male human, my gory bisexual participation would seem like self-indulgent whining.

Yes, there are very negative and misleading stereotypes about bisexuality that I hated — tropes about it being a phase or about it just meaning “slutty” or “unfaithful” — but I felt that the challenge of living as a bisexual, despite those stereotypes, paled in comparison to the lesbian challenge of fighting for basic civil rights. It just seemed different to me back then.

But here I am!

So how did I get here?

Back in the peak of my bisexual identity (2004-2006ish), my social web was getting queerer and queerer as I added “bi girls met on craigslist” to my social roster of artsy friends from boarding school, feminist sex worker friends and publishing colleagues. By the time I started Autowin, the blog that launched a thousand Autostraddles, I was dating/making out with girls exclusively, but still strongly identifying as bisexual. I hadn’t had an actual girlfriend yet and I hadn’t been with a guy since January of that year, when my ex-boyfriend slept over expecting the traditional meaningless hookup and got, instead, me feeling nauseous when he kissed me and then crying when he got on top of me.

Flashback to college, where I’d lived a hyper-heterosexual life best described as alternately uncomfortable, depressing, and anxiety-inducing. Not because I felt like a gay person in a straight world but because I felt like a crazy person in a sane world.

All my life I didn’t know what made me different, but I knew that I was different. Yet at every new school I attended I’d always best-friend the prettiest (and therefore most popular) girl and gravitate towards a “cool crowd” that mostly embraced me as, I think, a kind of Court Jester. These girls wore their heterosexuality like peacocks. Their excellence made me feel worthless and their acceptance made me feel validated. Girls were always easy for me — to befriend, to get close to.

I somehow couldn’t bear to be unpopular — I didn’t mind being feared or mysterious, but I didn’t want to be disliked or looked down upon. Maybe I would’ve been happier being friends with other outsiders but no, I had to be cool. Thus I felt entirely alone in all those crowded rooms but I thought that was just my lot in life: being apart.

But being normal came naturally to those girls, and thus they were permitted quirks and abnormalities, they were allowed to cry publicly about boys or identify as feminists. But I knew I was abnormal and therefore overcompensated by avoiding any hint of anything remotely resembling abnormality, like preferring books to people or having passionate political opinions — thinking this would help me “pass” as someone who fit in. Whatever they did, I would do double.

Boys were a huge part of this. In early adolescence, I’d been gawky/unattractive and the boys never let me forget it. So when I grew into a more visually acceptable person with an apparently enviable body, I eagerly began feeding on male desire. Boyfriends or hookups were stamps of approval that greased the wheels of my social ambitions — “I have a boyfriend” meant at least one person wanted me, wholly. Meant I had something to gossip about with other girls, meant my jeans were the right jeans and I was thin but not too thin.

Flirting with/seducing guys felt like a fun game and despite my eventual mastery of that art, winning was still a rush every time. And the way I felt with men was like I was a vampire and they were a human and I thought I needed their blood in my body to make my body exist — to make my body matter.

Don’t get me wrong — I wanted those boys. I liked sex. I loved my boyfriends. I fell in love with a boy who broke my heart and drove me crazy. It was all very real.

At the same time, I was grappling with the gnawing tug of my life-long companion “major depressive disorder,” which had been in especially high gear following my Dad’s death when I was 14. Then in my first year at Michigan I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue syndrome. After boarding school — the only place I’d ever felt like I fit in — I’d descended into a kind of private hell of self-hatred, depression, anxiety and an array of eating disorders. So that was also happening.

A lot of things changed when I graduated from University of Michigan and went back to New York where I stayed for six years. I consented to being put on meds about six months before moving, and honestly I barely even relate to the me I was before meds. She was so scared of losing things that seem absurd in retrospect.

I spent the next five years exactly where so many of you are now — fumbling around for my label, for some absolute biological truth, because, as I once wrote in my diary: we want sexuality to be biological because we want sexuality to be instinctual and natural and out of our control, because choice isn’t nearly as romantic as surrender. Love is about the absence of choice — the irresistible pull of another body. We don’t have faith in the rest of it because we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds.

I was scared, like maybe many of you are now, that in some unpredictable future I’d pick the wrong gender and then flee my husband/wife for another man/woman, leaving everybody’s soul shattered and, apparently, myself crying in a ravine wailing, “GOD! ‘QUEER’ WAS SUCH A COPOUT”!

There’d always be one of those nights, then — the ones where, feeling uncomfortable about socializing at this or that party, I’d just pick the boy I liked best in the room, decide to seduce him, and then do so. It was a rush, and of course I never went for artsy emo boys who I probably would’ve had lots in common with, I went for jocks and bankers who’d publicly demonstrate my normality by their interest in me, and I’d be their manic pixie slutty dream girl or their complacent housewife, whatever they wanted.

(I don’t really know how to talk about what happened next in my life, and I don’t think I’m ready to, on so many levels. But the rush you get from men changes, I think, when your boundaries are violated, when desire turns violent upon your body, when you nearly choke under the weight of just how much you’re ‘WANTED.’)

Similarly the girls I dated were sort of traditionally attractive femmy girls — and my desire towards them was always lukewarm enough to cement my certainty that “bisexual” was indeed the right label. See, I’d seen The L Word and I was obsessed with Shane. Furthermore, I’d always been a tomboy, I had an androgynous body and I’m not into heels/dresses so I assumed my obsession came from wanting to BE Shane.

Then I met my first girlfriend — she was dominant, wore men’s clothes and “passed” enough to use the guys restroom when the line at the girls was too long — and nothing was lukewarm, everything was on fire so hot I think my heart ended up burning to death later that summer. Which is another story. Needless to say, it’s been boyish girls for me from then on out.

I didn’t want to BE Shane. I wanted to DATE Shane!

No wonder I was so fucking scared to be myself all these years — all I’d wanted was a boyish/masculine girl — exactly the kind of girl I would’ve sooner teased than talked to in high school or college. The kind of girl who might scare my grandparents.

The kind of girl everyone pegged me as when I was a kid, when I got teased and called a dyke because I had short hair, looked like a boy and played sports.

I’d been afraid of being gay because I couldn’t give my childhood bullies the pleasure of being right about me and that had just turned into this giant complicated mess of self-loathing and confusion that took 27 years to sort itself out. If it even has.

 

So, what am I? I identify as bisexual because my relationships with men were not lies and I think that’s what bisexuality means. I loved them/sex. I never felt I was repressing lesbian urges. I didn’t have secret crushes on my female friends. “Lesbian” seems like what I am but “bisexual” honors who I was, too — it wasn’t just a filling station from there to here, it was another highway altogether. I didn’t evolve, I changed. But that girl was real, too.

Because isn’t it murky, back there? My brain is a dark swamp of memory and nomenclature is a heavy book of abstractions. When you ask me to label you I tell you “you do you” because that’s what I tell myself. I’m just me. I have so many stories, so many little lives, that I can throw together a narrative to prove I’m just about anything in the world.

Will I date a man again? No, I REALLY doubt it. Why? Firstly, I have a girlfriend who can manhandle me, I love her and I’ve trapped her in the basement with food/water to assure she never leaves me. Secondly, I don’t think I’m attracted to MEN, I liked boys a lot better when I was younger and they were younger and still looked like girls.

Thirdly, queer culture is so fucking ME. Much to my surprise, considering the internalized homophobia I’d so virulently projected onto lesbians, this feels honest. For the first time I can actually be myself and be liked — even loved! even wanted! — for it. Life used to feel like a lie, though I never consciously identified what lie I was living. Maybe this wasn’t true then.

Back then I thought I was just a total whack job and everything I did wrong and every time I didn’t fit in wasn’t because I was picking the wrong “them” it was because I was always the wrong ME.

When I try to narrow it down my memory starts screaming so loud I can barely feel myself think.

I felt like I needed to pick a label so I’d know what to wear — like I couldn’t go to a lesbian bar unless I had short hair and a gauzy vintage t-shirt and lazy jeans slouching against my hip-bones and I couldn’t go to a straight bar unless I was wearing a dress and boots. Now I know I just need to wear what I want to wear, and let the cards fall as they may. It’s so fucking obvious, I’m not surprised I missed it. It wasn’t my perception of men/women that changed, it was my perception of myself.

I don’t know how to explain this to you but what I’m trying to say is that I think we want labels to tell us who we are because figuring it out ourselves is really fucking scary especially when the lesbian option is kinda loaded and possibly catastrophic to your friends/family.

But — if you dare to let go, if you dare to stop thinking about what box you fit into and just start being who you are and letting yourself want what you want, then I think you’ll wake up one day and find yourself sitting in the right box which might not be a box at all.

The best way for me to pick a label would be to hold a poll on Autostraddle called “what do you want Riese to be?” because that word won’t change anything about who I am. It’s not about me, it’s about you. A label is an abstraction/social construct, not a directive. Desire comes first, naming it comes later. “Bisexual” feels like a lie but so does “lesbian” and so does “pansexual” and so does everything except “queer” which feels true. Because I like girls and because I’m a fucking weirdo, “queer” feels right. Sometimes “gay” feels right too, maybe because I like girls and because I’m happy.

I know labels are an important social and political construct, which is why I’m genuinely asking you the same thing you always ask me — what am I? What do you want me to be? I trust you. Just tell me what you want and it won’t change a thing.

Profile photo of Riese

Riese is the 33-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1747 articles for us.

278 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    “I didn’t evolve, I changed.” – Thank you for saying this. That is life. Change. I feel like people don’t get that.

    “Because I like girls and because I’m a fucking weirdo, “queer” feels right. Sometimes “gay” feels right too, maybe because I like girls and because I’m happy.” – I FUCKING LOVE THE THINGS YOU SAY. You write what I feel. And I feel what you write. How do you do it?

    Thank you for sharing!

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    Riese, this made me happy at almost one in the morning. I like being happy before I go to bed. Thank you for giving me lots of feelings, all of which are good. I may or may not be babbling from sleep deprivation, but I’m pretty sure the well-rested me would be just as overjoyed by this article as I am now. Thank you.

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    Yes yes yes yes

    SO DO I

    And, I mean, I’d copy and paste every single paragraph to emphasise that, except I won’t.

    “I was scared, like maybe many of you are now, that in some unpredictable future I’d pick the wrong gender and then flee my husband/wife for another man/woman, leaving everybody’s soul shattered and, apparently, myself crying in a ravine thinking, “GOD! QUEER WAS SUCH A COP OUT”!”

    I feel like if all the things I’ve been scared about were invisible snakes, or something, you really fucking turned on a fluorescent strip light and stamped on this one and laid it out. Thanks. Go YOU.

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    This was such a beautiful post and I feel like it must have been hard, in some ways, for you to write.

    I write in my own blog about my experiences and when I try to explain my history, my personal understanding of my own sexuality, it feels like there have to be so many addendums, so many references because I feel that otherwise no one will ‘get it’ – and beyond that, wondering what the post will accomplish… it’s hard. As you say, “you do you”; no one else can, in this way.

    Thank you for writing this; I think this post, more than anything I’ve read on AS so far, spoke to me the most.

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    “But if you dare to let go, if you dare to stop thinking about what box you fit into and just start being who you are and letting yourself want what you want, then I think you’ll wake up one day and find yourself sitting in the right box which might not be a box at all.”

    So inspiring, Riese. Thank you

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    “Because I like girls and because I’m a fucking weirdo, “queer” feels right. Sometimes “gay” feels right too, maybe because I like girls and because I’m happy.”

    Yes, this.

    One day I hope who we find attractive will no longer have any bearing on/meaning beyond who they are as a person and who we are as a person.

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    Thank you for this.
    I want you to be you… always.

    I personally have learned to be me through this website and articles like this. I couldnt have had the willingness to do that without knowing there are ladies like you.

    This post not only validates my appreciation for this website and for you, it makes me feel sane in a world where im told i shouldnt be the me that i am.

    ;*

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      I feel like my sleepy lack of eloquence belies my true appreciation, but you summarized beautifully: Autostraddle, and things like this especially, help me be sane when I feel like I’m constantly perceived as wrong. They calm my mind down. They get rid of all the ridiculous, preconceived notions and misinformed ideas that have been permeating my mind for so long and simply allow me to feel comfortable as myself, with or without specific terms.

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        yes! autostraddle makes me calmer and saner.

        coming out didn’t cause too much angst for me, but sometimes I just feel crushed by the sheer weight of all the heterosexuality around me – and I feel unseen and unrepresented. autostraddle (team and commenters) makes that better.

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          I couldn’t agree with you more Ingrid. I live in a super heterosexual town. I’ve lived in other states/cities where being “me” was never an issue. I feel like a fake sometimes. Like I’m being sucked in to conform. I don’t care what label people give me. I’m not offended, I’m proud. I accept all of them. People assuming that I’m str8 is something I don’t accept. Around here, unfortunately, the stereotypical lesbian really does exist. If you look like nothing her, you couldn’t possibly be a lesbian. What? “But you have long hair and wear makeup, I’m confused?” So am I. I’m about ready to shave my head.

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      AS is my escape. I’m trying to figure out exactly what from but as much as I want to be alone so the external pressure can go away while the internal pressures are sorted out, I want to be a part of this community. Thanks.

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    Holy shit! Just yes, Yes, YES to so much of this!

    I’m bi, but it feels wrong somehow to lable myself that, but lesbian isn’t right either cuz I did have a real relationship with a guy (as well as two weird…situations with some other guys), but I don’t ever see myself dating a man again not just because I don’t much care for men (vs boys, like you said) but also because I just love women so much I really wish I was a lesbian and so didn’t have that “straight option” that other people would expect of me, but then I think that’s internalized biphobia and it shouldn’t matter what other people think about my “options” and all that should matter is that I love who I love and I want to be a part of this community, but I don’t feel a part of this community because I am the Only Queer In The Village and I’ve never been able to be a part of a real life LGBT community and I still feel like a wannabe or a hanger-on, and WHY IS THIS ALL SO COMPLICATED?!?!?

    TL;DR:
    1. Riese, you are awesome and I love you.
    2. “Queer” works for me because it’s kinda easier and more forgiving/less loaded to me.
    3. “You Do You” are words to fucking LIVE by!

  9. Thumb up 1

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    sometimes i feel like you’ve been hiding in my brain. and then you took my confusing rants that were loaded with fear and made sense of them. thank you for sharing this part of yourself and for being so damn eloquent whilst doing so.

  10. Thumb up 1

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    “What do you want me to be?”

    I want you to be Riese. I like Riese. She’s the type of person I long to surround myself with. I get this weird feeling that she’d make me more me, somehow, I’m not sure. But it’s this feeling I get when I read your writing.

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    This year (my first year at college) I think I’ve finally realized the word I feel most comfortable attaching myself to- QUEER.
    I was always sort of uncomfortable with “bisexual” because that seems to imply equal attraction but really I like girls so much more than guys. I find men attractive rarely and even more rarely want to kiss them, etc. But it’s there, I won’t rule it out, which is why I feel similarly uncomfortable calling myself a lesbian. But I hate going into the whole long explanation involved when I say “yes I’m bi but not 50/50, more like 80/20 as in I can’t see myself in a long-term relationship with a guy but I would make out, but then you never know…”
    Then there’s pansexual, which is cool, but just doesn’t quite fit either. I sometimes call myself “gay”, but then people assume 100% gay, not just “not-straight but pretty damn gay”, which is what I want it to mean in my head. And “mostly gay” gets a lot of questions asked, leading again to the long explanation.
    But queer seems to be the porridge that is just right. I am queer, I’ve felt it all my life, just a little off, a little different, a little outside. Lately I also feel like I’m skirting the edges of genderqueer, playing around with mixing my masculine/feminine into something that is just right, and queer feels related to that too because it doesn’t imply any gender, unlike “lesbian” or other things. I don’t know if it adequately includes my little bit of straightness in the sea of gay, but it seems better than everything else, like a word I can tuck into my body so that it resonates next to my heart.

    Um long story short, queer is a great word and I really like it, but I have no problem with you calling yourself bi, lesbian, or queer. Or using all three interchangeably because I think that taps into a certain transitive quality of orientation.

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      Oh hey this is longer than I thought…
      Also wanted to add that I love the things you write and the way you write them down because they are always so very true. All my favorite writers write to make sense of their world and I believe you are one of them. And if you want to identify just as “Riese” that is bomb too.

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      “Or using all three interchangeably because I think that taps into a certain transitive quality of orientation.”

      Yes I really like this too. I definitely interchange them in my head when thinking about myself.

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    I love you Riese, you can be whatever you damn well want. Thank you so much for this post. I can imagine it would’ve been difficult.
    It meant something to me, I can’t quite say what. But yeah. Thankyouthankyouthankyou.

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    Riese,

    Thank you for sharing this story with us. I know it must have been difficult to share some of those intimate details.

    I myself struggle with “label”. My first issue with the term, “bi-sexual” is that it inherently rules out transgender, and thats why I tend to go for “queer”, but that is also another murky label. The second issue has been said already, the term “bi-sexual” tends not to be taken as seriously the other “-sexuals”. Even from within our community, there is definitely too much of the “its not quite legit” sentiment that floats around out there. It was the most hurtful for me when my girlfriend, with whom I was having a pretty serious relationship, told me she didn’t “believe in” bi-sexuality. She felt it was transient. I think this is a dangerous mis-conception and can be very hurtful.

    Being a female who had always been attracted to men and realized she is also attracted to women, and has had strong relationships with both still has trouble with the “bi-sexual” for these reasons. In general, I try to stick with queer and leave it at that.

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      I understand this exactly. Whenever I “come out” to the next person and tell them I’m bisexual, I feel like they don’t believe me. If I told them I was straight or gay everything would be solid but because people don’t understand what the term bisexual entails, they have trouble believing it exists.
      Another problem I have with bi-sexual, is bi means 2, this automatically makes people think 2 halves. Much to many a person’s chagrin, I do not feel the same way about men and women all the time! Sometimes I’ll feel completely straight and struggle with my identity because, in Juno’s words, all I see is porkswords. Then there are other times when I am the biggest homo on the planet. Both these times scare me. They make me feel like the Loch Ness monster, that my identity is a mythical creature I will never come in contact with. Also I don’t WANT to be one or the other. I’d like a say but I really don’t think I have one.

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      Bi doesn’t rule out transgender people, just nonbinary people.
      Trans men are men.
      Trans women are women.

      Genderqueer people, agender people (hello), and the like are the ones who do not fit into the binary system.

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        THANK YOU! I don’t like it when people say “bisexual” rules out trans people, because trans people KNOW they are either male or female, that’s why they “transitioned,” lol. I feel like it’s rude to say a trans man isn’t a male, or vice versa. It’s more like, bisexual rules out intersex, genderqueer, and other non-binary genders.

        But anyway, this is a great article. This is almost exactly how I feel. I like girls a LOT right now, I wouldn’t even think about dating a guy, but I’ve dated and LOVED guys in the past. Some guys are crazy hott to me still. So it’s not fair to say I’m a lesbian. But I just don’t feel like dating any right now.

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        I’ve also heard an argument that bisexuality is the binary of being both heterosexual (the expansive definition of it) and homosexual, both normative and non-normative – which is why the label works for me better than “pansexual” and similar terms do.

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          The arguments “bisexuality is binarist” and “bisexuality is not binarist” both fail because the truth is that some people’s constructions of bisexuality are and some aren’t.

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    Oh gawd Riese thank you for this. I mean, this spoke to my heart, like all of this was something it needed to be reminded of. I have a pretty similar journey (and it’s uncanny to some extent — an array of mental health conditions, boundary issues due to an ‘incident’, feeling like such a weirdo and having to hide it for most of my life etc etc etc)

    And I *so agree* about labels being a social construct, and sometimes meaning more to the person you’re saying them to than yourself. I alternatively call myself queer, bi, a lesbian or gay and I never feel like I’m lying – others just do.

    YOU DO YOU

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    Inspiring much?

    You’re a hero. Heroes don’t just save people from burning buildings and kiss the pretty girl upside down in the rain, they stand up; they make their lives count; they champion causes; they don’t back down; they challenge themselves and others to lead better lives. You. Are. A. Hero.

    *slow clap*

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    Hi there,

    I used to read this site silently, but now I’m gonna write something. It may be hard for me to put it right in an eloquent way cause I’m German, but anyways, f*ck mistakes. ;)
    So. What am I? What are you?
    Sometimes I feel I don’t want say and I don’t want to hear about. Cause sometimes I don’t care.
    But some other times, I passionately DO.
    That’s when I#m labeled by the outside world, when I go out to be myself I am confronted with others whome I define as someone different. It’s because, first of all, I define myself as different (from the others).
    So where is my cradle? I guess it’s a culture called queerness where I feel I belong to.
    It’s not allways (aka my daily, routined weekdays) in my consciousness; like I usually don’t reflect my queerness every single day, but it’s still there, like an invisible attendant or a sound only I can hear (and presumably 10% of wo/mankind also ;).
    Ehm, where am I going…
    yes: I call myself gay. Lesbian… I AM queer.
    But I have to state one thing: I have queer friends who are heterosexual. I am a female queer who happens to be gay. I think that’s what I call myself and feel right by saying it.
    I can understand that there lies a fear in someone’s recognisement that he or she steps outside of some heterosexual priviliged society and becomes a human member of society with less rights or the unspoken law of havig to explain him/herself (sexuality or gender identity) to others.
    There, the word again.
    Queerness to me is also having meaningful problems with stereotypical male and female behaviour in society, generally.
    No fear of labels, please, but the right to stand in for these in being them.
    Thank you for the article.

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    I like you.

    I don’t like me very much, but I like you – and Sebastian, and Annika, and Rachel, and diver, and the other inspiring contributors and members that all have names that I can’t remember at 3 AM.

    It’s interesting, orientation, bisexuality and queerness. I have trouble with my orientation label because of that nebulous gender identity thing that people seem to have.

    I want my label to be “I like girls.” and that’s all. Thing is, I don’t even know if I feel that queer about the way I like girls.

    Sorry, your post made me think about lots of stuff and it brought me out of lurk mode. Thanks Autostraddle!

    -Alex, who “likes girls”.

    P.S. Another reason I remain in lurk mode is because I never understood the appeal of Shane. Even my rather straight girly sister seemed to love Shane. Then again, I don’t think I really liked that show much. Max made me happy at first, but then it got all out of hand for me.

    P.P.S. I like doing me.

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    Okay, I cried reading this. Some of it was just so ‘this is me’ – especially the seducing boys thing. I’ve thought for a long time that I’m bi and have fooled around with girls but right now I don’t know what I am. I’m currently going with ‘pansexual’ as my preferences with both genders goes heavily towards the androgynous. I’m out as bi to all my friends (as most of my friends are through roller derby this is not a big deal) but not to my parents or co-workers. I’d be happy to come out at work as I don’t think it’d be an issue – in fact I’d like to come out as I have a massive crush on a girl here I’m pretty sure is gay. I’m kind-of scared by how much I like her, I could really fall for her which would change a lot of things in my life but scared in a good way. I’m also dating men at the moment too and I find it hard to imagine ‘giving up men’ forever. But I guess that’s what we all do when we meet the right person – we give up everyone else regardless of their gender because it’s worth it to be with that one person.
    Thanks Riese and Autostraddle x You are helping me so much right now

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    I have to get ready for work and can come back and read the rest later. This sounds very complicated. And I’ve known many even self-identified lesbians who think there is a scale. I’m just straight-up gay. I like girls, don’t like dudes, it’s very simple. Lesbian. Me. That’s it. If it was that hard, I don’t know if I would’ve ever come out to myself. I applaud you people that have more complicated sexuality issues but embrace it instead of running and hiding. Woot woot.

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    Wow Riese, this is amazing and I feel like you wrote things that eloquently untangled some of the problems in my own head around my sexuality. Thankyou. And its so reassuring to hear from other people out there who really don’t know what to do about this label business, when I shouldn’t need a label at all to admit to feeling what I feel

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    As evidenced by the bajillion comments already this morning, this was really really fantastic and I loved reading it. This right here is my jam:

    “So, what am I? I identify as bisexual because my relationships with men were not lies and I think that’s what bisexuality means. I loved them/sex. I never felt I was repressing lesbian urges. I didn’t have secret crushes on my female friends. A lesbian seems like what I am but “bisexual” honors who I was, too — it wasn’t just a filling station from there to here, it was another highway altogether. I didn’t evolve, I changed. But that girl was real, too.”

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    ” I felt like a crazy person in a sane world.”
    ” mostly embraced me as, I think, a kind of Court Jester.”
    ““I have a boyfriend” meant at least one person wanted me, wholly. ”

    This. This this this.
    God, that was (still is for the first one) f***ed up.

    Thank you for sharing what sounds like it must have been hard to.
    I really need to start adopting your “you do you”; I think that is going to be my new mantra.
    (Now just to deal with my friends who don’t want to be my friends unless I like guys as well as girls, and my housemate-to-be who loves the idea of living with me because I don’t like guys, and my general confusion of I-think-I’m-a-lesbian-and-I-don’t-like-sex-with-men-but-sometimes-I-majorly-majorly-crush-on-them. But as you’ve said, you do you.)

    Thank you! So much.

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    Riese, I think you may be favourite person on the entire internet, and that’s really saying something! This post was so beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes, and that’s no easy feat. Thank you so much for everything you do. You are a very special person.

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    Thanks for putting so much thought into this post. I think there were many pieces to this that a lot of people really need to hear and process for themselves, including myself.

    It’s funny how sometimes the LGBT community gets so far away from the acceptance that they themselves proclaim. That’s one thing about coming out in college, is that the culture is very different from the real world. Everyone’s about labels and defining themselves, and they forget to just be themselves. That’s why I we need to be back to being a QUEER community.

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    Wow. I could have written this. I mean, seriously, this part:

    I was scared, like maybe many of you are now, that in some unpredictable future I’d pick the wrong gender and then flee my husband/wife for another man/woman, leaving everybody’s soul shattered and, apparently, myself crying in a ravine thinking, “GOD! QUEER WAS SUCH A COP OUT”!

    I think I wrote that in my journal a couple of weeks ago.

    It’s so easy for me to feel, sometimes, like I’m the only one who has ever felt my own personal version of the “identity crisis”–reading this was such an incredible relief.

    In terms of labels, I use queer now. People who don’t know me tend to assume I’m straight (because of the way I look); people who do know me tend to assume I’m a lesbian (because I exclusively date women and rarely, if ever, express interest in men). But queer feels right; every time I self-identify as queer, I feel like I’m reminding myself that no matter who I date, no matter who I fall in love with, no matter what happens in my life, being queer–being a part of the queer community–will always be a part of me. That’s what’s important–to me, at least.

    Riese, thank you so much for writing this. I didn’t even know how much I needed this until I read it.

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    “I’d been afraid of being gay because I couldn’t give my childhood bullies the pleasure of being right about me and that had just turned into this giant complicated mess of self-loathing and confusion”

    FUCK

    This is me. I came to realize that a majority of my struggle with my sexuality was because of the fear of people being right about me all along. I played hockey my entire life (with boys) and the word ‘dyke’ was spat at me throughout my entire sports career. I felt like I needed to overcompensate by trying to be super girly and swoon over boys. The reality was/is, I’m a huge queer, in denial of myself because of what other people have pegged me as and the undying need to prove them wrong. I’m so happy to have had been able to read this, and know someone else felt the same way/I’m not a total nutcase. Much love.

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      Ooh, me too! I like to say I’m a Kinsey 5, but then I have to explain what that means and people just usually walk away with “she’s bi except for one guy”. It’s too bad that the labels I “fit” don’t suit me, but the ones I like I’m not…qualified for?

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      i like the kinsey scale. i think i’m somewhere between a 1.5 and a 4.5 depending upon the day. which is to say i have a short attention span and inconsistent moods.

      when people dont know the kinsey scale, i usually say “yes, i like guys. also i like people who aren’t guys. so there’s that”

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    Riese riese riese riese. Thank you so much for writing this. Sometimes it scares me to read personal writing because it feels like voyeurism but at the same time sometimes it’s so comforting and beautiful and true. I just wanted to say thank you for writing your soul. You are so brave and I admire you so much.

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    This is great and I relate to so much of it. The part about being friends with pretty/”normal” girls – so true, such a big part of my college experience (though thank goodness I had my quirky theatre friends too)

    The whole labeling thing is so frustrating to me, someone way up in the comments said something about “80/20″ and I used to say that a lot (now maybe more like 90/10) but I don’t feel like I am exclusively a “lesbian” or exclusively “bi” and I have yet to embrace queer perhaps because I am not a super politically active person, but perhaps I will embrace that someday. A kinsey 4 1/2 or 5 sounds pretty good to me. We should all just start using the kinsey scale.

    You asked us what we wanted you to be, and instead you got us (or at least me) talking about ourselves… why? Because you do you. ;) haha

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    Riese, I was thinking the other day of how I have been reading your blogs since 2007 and I’m just really, really, really glad and grateful that you’ve been that bookish/normal/weirdo/girl in sunglasses/girl in sweatpants/depressed/former waitress/current world-beater/elated/poetic queer ethereal online mentor to me all these years.

    I love this piece because I love thinking about the dimensions of attraction. As a big queer weirdo, I don’t even find myself on the Kinsey scale. What I want from boys/men is somehow qualitatively different than what I want from grrls/women/queers-of-many-flavors. Desire is not all biological…sometimes I feel like I want different things in different quantum universes. It’s very confusing. I like when you tell us that it’s OK to be human. It’s so simple but so hard and complicated — thank you for saying it over and over again.

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    Riese, thank you for this post. Labeling ourselves just makes it easier for other people. Having a word to describe the type of people/body parts I’m sexually attracted to does absolutely nothing for me.

    “I felt like I needed to pick a label so I’d know what to wear — like I couldn’t go to a lesbian bar unless I had short hair and a gauzy vintage t-shirt and lazy jeans slouching against my hip-bones and I couldn’t go to a straight bar unless I was wearing a dress and boots.”

    This was me. I spent my entire freshman year of college after I came out wearing baggy jeans & wife-beater-style tanks because I felt like I had to live up to this label that I’d somehow acquired. Because I’d never told people I was a lesbian, or gay, just that I had a girlfriend. But somehow I came to be known as the “token lesbian” in the theater program so I felt like if that’s what people were going to think of me as, that’s what I was going to be.

    Even now I say I’m a lesbian (or gay) because it’s easier for other people. My chosen life partner is a woman, we have a child together, so when other people see our family they label my partner & I as “lesbian.” Which is fine, I don’t feel the need to explain my personal sexual/romantic history & feelings to other people. The label is for them, not for me.

    “But if you dare to let go, if you dare to stop thinking about what box you fit into and just start being who you are and letting yourself want what you want, then I think you’ll wake up one day and find yourself sitting in the right box which might not be a box at all.”

    I just had to quote this because it’s one of the smartest things I’ve read in a very long time. I keep reading it over & over again and the simple beauty & intelligence of it get me every time.

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    I don’t believe there is a NEED to have labels, but I know with 100% certainty that I’m ‘bisexual’ and I’m perfectly happy with it.
    I’ve known about my attraction (equal) to both women and men for as long as I can remember… I remember that, even when I was 4 years old, all my Barbies had both a husband AND a wife. At the time, that felt completely normal to me. It wasn’t until I was in school, and I realised that none of my friends seemed to EVER develop crushes on girls, that I realised I was different.
    For a little while (I was about 8), I thought I was gay, until I realised that gay people ONLY liked the same-sex. Realising that I was not gay, but not straight, completely freaked me out. I was a massive homophobe and I was reluctant to talk about anything that might lead to people realising that my attractions were ‘different’ from theirs.
    Finally, when I was 13, someone made an offhand comment about a celebrity being bisexual.
    I’d never heard the word before. I asked what it meant, and I remember just being too stunned to speak for a minute. It was the first time in my life that I realised there were PEOPLE LIKE ME out there!!! Never in my life have I ever felt such an amazing sense of relief.
    I secretly dated both guys and girls in school, but I didn’t come out until the very end of my graduating year. Now that I’m in university, I’m completely open about it – and I currently have a girlfriend.
    So, my label is quite important to me – it was the first solid proof that my feelings were NORMAL and that I wasn’t the only one.

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    Incredibly articulated as always, thank you Riese. I find that others will mainly refer to me as a lesbian but I like to leave space round the edge for genderqueer/trans (or male although it hasn’t happened yet!) attractions, so queer is probably my preference

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    This is why people are so resistant to the idea of a “label” – because there’s just no way to explain all our romantic and sexual journey in a single word; it takes paragraphs to reveal who we are and tell our own story about where we fit in the grand spectrum of human beings, and it’s not easily done in a short neat phrase.

    We all arrive in a common place from vastly different locations and we’ve seen different things along the way that we need to share with each other in order to understand one another.

    I don’t tend to think of “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer” as labels as much as a really loose, general descriptors for ideas that are ambiguous and rough around the edges at times. We don’t always mean the same thing when we say them, but we have a general idea that we share, and sometimes we have to speak with fewer words, so these need to suffice.

    But if we all understand that there is so much more possibility underneath those words, and if we allow each other to ask for more information without judgement of one another, then we can all be a lot closer to knowing real truth about the people we want to communicate with and get to know better.

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      THIS. like jesus. I hate labels. They hurt me, always have. Yet there’s this part of me that desperately wants to claim ‘lesbian’ because oh GOD women feel so much better sexually and that person who set me on fire like you mentioned was a girl who no longer likes me at all (and the last one before that was a girl too) but there is a boy who loves me more than anything and cares for me more than anyone and i am safest with him and yet I am breaking his heart because WHY DID HE HAVE TO BE A BOY HE COULD BE PERFECT OTHERWISE…

      i’m in tears. i don’t know where to go nxt.

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    thank you so much for writing this, riese.

    as many have said before me, this echoes so much for so many people. i don’t know if you really read all the comments, but i just want you to know that the words you put on the screen impact people. really. i know the things you tell us shape some of us. i know the things you say will be remembered for years, for some of us.

    when i read “we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds,” i almost cried. i don’t know why things hurt so much but i know you know that they do and you write about it and it helps. it helps.

    thank you.

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    There’s too much I want to say about this post and the way it touched me, but I can’t seem to find the words. Which I suppose is the point. Gorgeous piece of work, Riese. Thanks for managing to articulate such complex feelings and doing so beautifully.

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    “Flashback to college, where I’d lived a hyper-heterosexual life best described as alternately uncomfortable, depressing, and anxiety-inducing. Not because I felt like a gay person in a straight world — I did identify as bi, actually, though it rarely came up — but because I felt like a crazy person in a sane world.”

    “Flirting with/seducing guys felt like a fun game and despite my eventual mastery of that art, winning was still a rush every time. And the way I felt with men was like I was a vampire and they were a human and I thought I needed their blood in my body to make my body exist — to make my body matter.”

    “All my life I didn’t know what made me different, but I knew that I was different. Yet at every new school I attended I’d always best-friend the prettiest (and therefore most popular) girl and gravitate towards a “cool crowd” that mostly embraced me as, I think, a kind of Court Jester. These girls wore their heterosexuality like peacocks. Their excellence made me feel worthless and their acceptance made me feel validated. Girls were always somehow easy — to befriend, to get close to.”

    I’ve never heard anyone else talk about feeling/acting that way. Wow amazing and better said than I’ve ever been able to express.

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    Great read, thanks! I don’t see people combining their past into their present the way you did. Glad to see your point of view! ^_^

    However, I don’t like the idea of people badgering someone (i.e. you) to get a response about something personal…

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    This is brilliant, so well-written and so-relatable.

    “just start being who you are and letting yourself want what you want, then I think you’ll wake up one day and find yourself sitting in the right box which might not be a box at all.”

    So incredibly true, it was a relief to stop focusing on the labels so much and just start being who I am.

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    If I were good with words, I would describe how perfect this whole article is, and how much these two parts:

    “GOD! ‘QUEER’ WAS SUCH A COP OUT”!

    “I don’t know how to explain this to you but what I’m trying to say is that I think we want labels to tell us who we are because figuring it out ourselves is really fucking scary especially when the lesbian option is kinda loaded and possibly catastrophic to your friends/family.”

    are applicable to me/my life, but they’re already written so perfectly that I think I’ll just leave it at that. Thanks Riese!

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    I love how honest this whole thing is. It’s beautiful.

    “It’s not about me, it’s about you. A label is an abstraction/social construct, not a directive. Desire comes first, naming it comes later.”

    ^^ This.

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    Word.

    This sounds ridiculously similar to a lot of my experiences, with some minor detail changes. I don’t date predominantly masculine/dominant women, and I’m not skinny and tomboyish :)

    But you hit the nail on the head when you describe how difficult it is to navigate identities, and how, at the end of the day, it’s just about being comfortable in your own skin and loving and living honestly. The end.

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    Dude this made so much sense to me and how I’ve been feeling the last couple of years. I’m 19 and the last couple of years were hell because I wasn’t who I really am I guess. But thank you this article made me realize I wasn’t the only one that felt like that.

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    “We want sexuality to be biological because we want sexuality to be instinctual and natural and out of our control, because choice isn’t romantic. Love is about surrender — the absence of choice — the irresistible pull of another body. We don’t have faith in the rest of it because we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds.”

    This is so raw and honest.

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      Yes yes yes. I’m not into tattoos, but sometimes I wish I was, because sometimes I find something that someone has written and I want to inscribe it somewhere to help me remember, help me never forget this important and true statement that I have found. The clarity of this paragraph really struck me and resonated with me in a way I have never been able to articulate.

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    THANK YOU. I feel like from now on whenever somebody asks about my sexuality I should direct them to this.

    —“Lesbian” seems like what I am but “bisexual” honors who I was, too — it wasn’t just a filling station from there to here, it was another highway altogether. I didn’t evolve, I changed. But that girl was real, too.—

    THIS is an exactly wonderful description of how I feel. THIS is my sexuality. Right there. Now I just need a way to explain this to my mother so she can stop hoping one day I’ll marry a boy and lead a “normal” life.

    Thank you so much Riese. This was brave and beautiful and so amazingly helpful to read.

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    So great to see this article posted!! Thank you!

    I have been (shyly) saying for a long time now that human nature will never fit into our conveniently politicized categories.

    Though, yes, I understand why those categories are so important to many people.

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    This might as well have been my life story as well. I feel so incredibly similar to you in terms of self-identity (or lack thereof). From using the word ‘bisexual’ to honor your past male loves/lovers, to coming so far to realize it’s more about self-perception than anything else, to entering into self-reflection only to find the only way past it is to take the leap toward just letting yourself want what you want… it’s all so familiar!

    Thank you so much for writing this. It’s very comforting to know there are other women out there who had/have the same thoughts, experienced the same things, and have come to the same conclusions as I have. It reaffirms my love of this community, and my choice to be a part of queer culture.

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    i love this (you?) so fu**ing hard.

    i want to quote something or pull out an excerpt that really resonates with me but i’d honestly have no idea where to start and end up reposting the whole damn thing.

    ‘you do you’ i love it. maybe i’ll buy a sticker now.
    i don’t know how to do me yet and i don’t know if any of us ever truly figure it out but i think that’s the best thing to strive for in life. it’s the main thing i’ve realized this past year and although that realization has made life a bit tougher, i think ultimately accepting our differences and being okay with who we are is the most beautiful thing out there. i don’t know what i want. in regards to anything really. but a few people in my life and your post here have made me realize that’s okay. i don’t always believe it in my mind but in my heart i know it’s true. i know it sounds cheesy but i don’t care. i’m tired of wanting external validation to know i’m okay and want to trust myself to believe this. i’m trying to do me for the first time in years and am finally learning to love myself for it.

    your post is so wise and beautifully honest. i just want to read it everyday and know that things are okay because we have ourselves and that’s all we really need. i guess i’ve written way more here than i intended to because mostly i just want to say ‘thanks’.

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    How… how did you get inside my head?

    Seriously, though, thank you for writing this. Thank you for sharing your experience so eloquently. I don’t know that there’s really anything else I can say except “Me, too.”

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    Thank you so much for this. I can’t even say how much this site has helped me since I first stumbled across it, and this piece in particular really speaks to me.

    At 30, I’m just now in the process of coming out, so I feel soooo far behind everyone else who has had this figured out in their teens or 20s. I identify as gay, but I also have this oh-so-crazy feeling of “not being gay enough” sometimes, as if there’s a minimum requirement that I’m just not meeting. I also identify as pansexual because it feels safer and less limiting to me, but sometimes I feel like I use that term as a disclaimer that I can point to if someone is disappointed in how gay I am, and then I feel like a coward and a fake. I’m slowly coming around to the idea that just being myself is enough, that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone, and reading this bolstered my self-confidence a bit (enough that I actually commented, when I’ve been mostly a lurker for so long!). Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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    This is so good. Thank you so much. I’m loving the beyond label movement.

    “we want sexuality to be biological because we want sexuality to be instinctual and natural and out of our control, because choice isn’t romantic. Love is about surrender — the absence of choice — the irresistible pull of another body. We don’t have faith in the rest of it because we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds.”

    So much about sustaining love is about choice. Oh ambivalence you playful and frightening thing.

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    I was literally just yesterday telling my best friend my fears of “flipping out again(i had a pretty big breakdown a few years back) and just leaving.” I’m in the most wonderful and RIGHT relationship I’ve ever had but sometimes I have this rushing and gripping feeling of fear because I don’t know where my life will take me and if men are something I’d want again. I also HIGHLY doubt it. Mainly because the prospect of that scares me more than anything. Anydways, thank you so much for this post because I have been there, so hard.

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    This is one of the best articles I’ve read in a long time, I can’t even imagine the strength it took to write that. I can relate a lot…
    That being said, is anyone else seeing the ad on the side saying that homosexuality is a race and a gender? Wtf is up with that. xD

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    @riese “It wasn’t my perception of men/women that changed, it was my perception of myself.”

    holy. fucking. shit. this line IS my life. for many years i, too, struggled with finding a label. i came out as a ‘gay’. had my own gender breakdown. ‘queer’ still is a curse word in my family. but my label eventually turned out to be ‘me’.

    thank you so much riese for bearing your heart and soul, not only in this eloquent piece, but with this amazing site!

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    I don’t think “lesbian” means a woman who has only ever been attracted to women.

    Am I a gold star, never-had-a-crush-on-a-boy, stereotypical dyke? Yes. But I don’t feel like I have some trademark on the word lesbian.

    I’m aware that there are lesbians that go around saying women can’t call themselves lesbians if they do or have had sexual relationships with men (and liked it). But I think that’s bullshit.

    Maybe it’s because I don’t think sexual orientation and political identity are synonymous. Political identity means you’re identifying with a political group. If I have to be precise about it, then my sexual orientation is homosexual and my political identity is gay. It can be lesbian, but gay is really the greatest common denominator since I politically identify with gay men too.

    The individuals in the group define the label, and no one person can define it on their own. The group, however, doesn’t define the individual.

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      “I’m aware that there are lesbians that go around saying women can’t call themselves lesbians if they do or have had sexual relationships with men (and liked it). But I think that’s bullshit.”

      I don’t think it’s bullshit, quite frankly. If ‘lesbian’ doesn’t mean exclusively attracted to women, then what does it mean? What then do you call women who are exclusively attracted to women? Is there now no category for them? I mean, there are plenty of labels for women who are attracted to both women and men: bisexual, pansexual, queer, etc. Why must ‘lesbian’ now be co-opted? Must a new category be found for the exclusive types? And if such a category is found, will others try to co-opt that category as well, and so on and so on?

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        Lesbian isn’t being co-opted. It wasn’t defined in such absolute terms to begin with. The only reason we have all these other terms is because of lesbians in maybe the 70s and 80s who felt the need to nail down the definition in more absolute terms and exclude others that made things complicated.

        There were plenty of feminists in the 70s who chose to be lesbian, really they chose it for political reasons not because they thought there was something in their DNA.

        I already have a name that’s only for me. It’s Michelle. Oh wait, there’s like a billion Michelle’s that aren’t anything like me. Should I change my name to Soauaha? The fact there are women who aren’t exactly like me self-identifying as lesbians doesn’t in any way change who I am.

        But I do understand why some lesbians want a precise definition. I’ve been openly gay for 18 years. It does get very annoying to have to answer, speak and represent all lesbians whenever someone has a question about why we aren’t all alike in ways they expect us to be. It’s tempting to just want to narrow down the definition if only to stop the stupid questions and stigma.

        Like, there have been people who said to me “Well there are feminine lesbians, why aren’t you feminine?” It’s not like I can just brush that off by saying femme lesbians aren’t really lesbians. Because it wouldn’t be true, and it would be pretty shitty to say that about femme lesbians. So, when people say “Well there are lesbians who sleep with men, why don’t you?” I just say, well I’m only one lesbian, I’m not all lesbians and all lesbians aren’t me.

        I’ve had lesbians say to me that I’m not even a real woman because I’m butch. And it’s the same bullshit where women are trying to nail down some concrete definition of what a woman is so they can exclude transgender and gender non-conforming women and keep the word “woman” all for themselves.

        Life is complicated it. It is not simplified by defining labels in concrete terms.

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          “Oh wait, there’s like a billion Michelle’s that aren’t anything like me. Should I change my name to Soauaha?”

          LOL LMAO

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          Whatever. These days it seems that there is so much respect given to bisexual women. But now, none to women who are exclusive to women. If I tried redefining the term bisexual on this site, I’d get shut down and branded as intolerant. But when people try to redefine what is the ONLY TERM THAT EXISTS for women who are exclusive to women, it’s not only tolerated but encouraged. Apparently, lesbian erasure is all well and good in this community. And women who are exclusive to women just have to shut up and bear it.

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          There are plenty of closeted bisexuals who identify as straight, too. Way more than ones who identify as lesbian or gay. Trust me, I used to be one.

          The culprit, believe it or not, is biphobia at both ends of the Kinsey Scale, not some vast bisexual conspiracy to co-opt your labels.

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          In other words, the reason is NOT because we get “more respect.” A few discussions about sexual fluidity don’t undo the fact that we have basically no visibility in the mainstream media, as our characters are nearly always hand-waved away as lesbian, gay or straight, and when we get visibility it’s nearly always negative and/or stereotypical (see: Tila Tequila’s reality show).

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          Lesbians face just as much grief in the media, being almost always labeled ‘lesbian’ but behaving as bisexuals. But I’m not just talking about a lack of respect in the media, but also on websites like this one. By such attitudes as those shown above, this image is perpetuated. It doesn’t really matter anymore, because it’s too late and it’s not going away. Bisexual=bisexual, Queer=bisexual, Gay=bisexual, No Labels=bisexual, and – of course – Lesbian=bisexual. Women who are exclusive to women are invisible – maybe they always have been – and that’s just the way it is. Now I’ll probably get accused of bi bashing, lol.

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          You’re offended by our very existence, and the fact that we’re vocal about it. We aren’t belittling, invalidating lesbians. You are making this about lesbians, we were talking about us.

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          I’m confused too. I’ll try and take the diplomatic approach, like Ava did.

          I’m a 21 yo bisexual girl on paper. I’ve had meaningful, lasting relationships with men and women, and I’ve been attracted to people all over the gender spectrum. I sometimes call myself a lesbian, to make it easier for people to understand.
          Lara, you talk about lesbian erasure… well when I say I’m bi, people erase my current committed, monogamous relationship with a girl. They erase my emotional connexion to her, they erase our existence as a couple. Instantly, they think ‘guy-seeking’ and ‘slutty girl’.

          They don’t consider the fact that I’m attracted 80% of the time to women and that I’ve only fallen for women in the past four years.

          They don’t think ‘freedom to marry’ or ‘hospital visitation rights’.

          So there’s that. It’s a label for them, and it’s a label that helps the community in the long run. ‘Cause next time the people I come out to on a daily basis hear about Uganda executing gays, they’ll be able to think ‘hey I know a gay!’, and it’ll be somewhat personal for them.
          I don’t think it would if they thought of me as a mere threesome aficionada.

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          No, women who are exclusive to women are still included in the lesbian label. By your logic, gay men would be invisible because “gay” is a label they share with lesbians, and yet they are probably the most visible of any subsection of the queer community.

          Anyway, if we’re going to talk about co-opting terms, you’re really showing you don’t understand what “bisexual erasure” is by comparing this petty label confusion to it. What you’re claiming to be “lesbian erasure” is actually bisexual erasure. Because they are taking characters who are actually bisexual and rather than giving the bisexual community more visibility, trying to pass them off as “lesbian.” It’s not “erasure” if they’re using your term.

          And yeah, as Janis said, you’re taking an article and discussion that are about bisexuality and making it all about you and your anger over labels, which is similar to a certain thing you see on feminist websites where male readers want to make everything all about what concerns men. It does suggest a certain antipathy toward bisexuals that you can’t read about us without having to whine about how we’re ruining your party.

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          “No, women who are exclusive to women are still included in the lesbian label. By your logic, gay men would be invisible because “gay” is a label they share with lesbians, and yet they are probably the most visible of any subsection of the queer community.”

          There’s a place where you’re coming from and a place where I’m coming from. When I refer to “Lesbian” and “Gay”, I refer to them in the context of LGBT, as in “Lesbian”, “Gay”, “Bisexual”, “Transgender”

          In this context, Lesbian=exclusively homosexual women, Gay=exclusively homosexual men, Bisexual=bisexual women and men, Transgender=transgendered women and men. I firmly believe that when MOST people think of LGBT, that’s what they think about, so that’s what I go with. Of course, some women refer to themselves as gay and not lesbian. I used to think that gay woman=lesbian. Apparently, not everyone agrees, but whatever.

          “Anyway, if we’re going to talk about co-opting terms, you’re really showing you don’t understand what “bisexual erasure” is by comparing this petty label confusion to it. What you’re claiming to be “lesbian erasure” is actually bisexual erasure. Because they are taking characters who are actually bisexual and rather than giving the bisexual community more visibility, trying to pass them off as “lesbian.” It’s not “erasure” if they’re using your term.”

          For bisexuals, the word “bisexual erasure” tends to mean people denying that bisexuality exists. I use the term “lesbian erasure”, because many people insist on taking the widely accepted definition of what it means to be a lesbian (as mentioned above) and changing it into something that it doesn’t mean, effectively erasing it or at the very least submerging it with other definitions to the point where it becomes practically meaningless. If you don’t like the term as I use it, you can call it something else. Whatever you want to call it, it’s bad.

          “And yeah, as Janis said, you’re taking an article and discussion that are about bisexuality and making it all about you and your anger over labels, which is similar to a certain thing you see on feminist websites where male readers want to make everything all about what concerns men. It does suggest a certain antipathy toward bisexuals that you can’t read about us without having to whine about how we’re ruining your party.”

          I didn’t bring this up out of the blue, but in reponse to what someone posted in this thread. I won’t apologise for it. The next time someone misrepresents bisexuality in a thread that’s not supposed to be about bisexuality, I guess you’ll just stand by and do nothing?

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          i’ve been trying to avoid commenting on this all day but it’s driving me insane.

          i think the dictionary definition of “lesbian” is “a female homosexual.” the past is the past (as ava says) but “lesbian” means you’re into exclusively to people of the same sex right now and plan to be for the rest of your life insofar as one could predict one’s future.

          i talk a lot here about how none of these labels feel right to me. i’m not advocating that we re-define words. the journey is figuring out which of those words best applies to you, or if none of them do. that’s all.

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          “If ‘lesbian’ doesn’t mean exclusively attracted to women, then what does it mean?”

          It might mean mostly or currently or essentially attracted to women. If the guy has a problem that a lesbian fucks him but another doesn’t, it’s his problem: if a straight girl fucks him, does it mean that all straight girls should??? No, it doesn’t: same with lesbians.

          And I could turn the question around: if “lesbian” doesn’t mean mostly or currently or essentially attracted to women, then what it’s called to need equal rights and probably not being interested in guys anymore and being in a happy monogamous relationship with a woman? Bisexual? Great, but good luck explaining that to the average person.

          It’s so fucking hard to get them to understand. Riese had to write tons of long and articulated posts (like this one), that have been read by educated and queer and friendly people, and we understood what she means by bisexual.

          But imagine what it’s like to communicate the same sexual orientation, or a similar one, quickly, to the general / ignorant / unfriendly public, using the word bisexual because it “honors your past”.

          For me it’s a nightmare, that’s why I say: let’s keep labels context-specific.

          And for the rest, quoting 100% of what Janis Bing said:

          “I sometimes call myself a lesbian, to make it easier for people to understand [...] when I say I’m bi, people erase my current committed, monogamous relationship with a girl. They erase my emotional connexion to her, they erase our existence as a couple. Instantly, they think ‘guy-seeking’ and ‘slutty girl’.
          They don’t consider the fact that I’m attracted 80% of the time to women and that I’ve only fallen for women in the past four years.
          They don’t think ‘freedom to marry’ or ‘hospital visitation rights’.
          So there’s that. It’s a label for them, and it’s a label that helps the community in the long run. ‘Cause next time the people I come out to on a daily basis hear about Uganda executing gays, they’ll be able to think ‘hey I know a gay!’, and it’ll be somewhat personal for them.
          I don’t think it would if they thought of me as a mere threesome aficionada.”

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          ““lesbian” means you’re attracted exclusively to people of the same sex right now and plan to be for the rest of your life insofar as one could predict one’s future.”

          I dunno Riese, I’ve know too many lesbians that defy that definition. Mostly women who have sex with men but aren’t interested in having relationships with men and women who feel an attraction to men but aren’t interested in either sex or relationships with men.

          And then I know two lesbians who are with trans men but began their relationships before their partner transitioned. So, they end up torn between wanting to continue identify as lesbians and wanting to respect their partner’s identity. And then what about lesbians who are with a genderqueer partner? I don’t feel like I can say no you’re not lesbian because your partner isn’t identifying as female. They feel what they feel I guess.

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          I think there are two issues with this whole labeling thing.

          1. Labels that define sexual orientation are political as well as personal. Muddying those labels makes it even harder for the straight world to understand us & take us seriously. That’s why we put pressure on each other to choose one & conform to it. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but it is what it is.

          2. Having an attraction and acting on that attraction are two separate things. I have a wife. I only want to be with her, therefore I only want to be with women. That doesn’t mean I never think a man is attractive, or can’t be turned on by straight porn. But I don’t act on those feelings, so I feel confident in labeling myself “lesbian.” If I didn’t have my wife and I chose to date both women & men (which is possible, since I can find men attractive) I’d label myself “bisexual.” I think the “appropriate” label is just as much about our choices as it is about our attractions.

          I agree with Riese that words mean what they mean. But when those words describe such personal feelings that can change over the course of one’s life & be felt in different ways & on different levels, it gets complicated. After all, most of us spend a lot of years not even knowing what it is that we feel – how are we supposed to pick one word that tells other people how we feel when we don’t even know ourselves?

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          I don’t think anyone here is trying to erase lesbians. I think people are just acknowledging the complexity of human sexuality. There are some people for whom sexuality is very black & white, they like one gender exclusively and have no confusion about their attractions. But I think the more common experience is for girls to start out dating boys & realize they like girls later. That doesn’t mean that their experiences with men are invalid, or that it’s impossible for them to have actually enjoyed being with men, even if they choose to only date women once they realize that attraction is there. We live in a very heterocentric society where dating the opposite sex is what’s “normal” & expected. So most people, when they first start to “like” other people in a romantic/sexual way, “like”/date people of the opposite sex.

          Just using my own experiences as an example – I’m 31 years old. When I was growing up, I didn’t know or even know of anyone who was gay. Not in real life & not in the media. Being gay wasn’t on my radar so I never even considered it as an option for myself. I crushed on the boy bands and liked the cute boys in my class, just like all of my friends. It wasn’t until I was 17 or so and my world view opened up a little that I discovered being gay & realized/acknowledged my feelings for other girls were more than just normal friendship feelings. I had a boyfriend in high school; in college I mostly identified as gay although I’d sometimes still make out with guys. I wasn’t in denial about anything, or trying to hide being gay, I just liked those guys & I liked making out.

          Now if I have to pick a label I call myself a lesbian, for two reasons – my chosen life partner is a woman and I am primarily attracted to women in general. However my past physical attraction to men was real, and I’m still sometimes physically attracted to men. But emotionally & intellectually, I don’t get men. So what does that make me? Physically bisexual but emotionally lesbian? Do I have to call myself bisexual because I enjoyed hooking up with guys & would probably still enjoy it if I wasn’t in a committed relationship with a woman?

          Sorry I’ve gotten so long-winded, I just think for most people sexuality is not black & white and their past experiences don’t always jive with their current choices. But that doesn’t make their past invalid or mean that they can’t choose whatever label they want for themselves now. Or change their label if their desires/choices change. The fact that seeing Matthew Morrison shirtless makes me swoon like a 12-year-old doesn’t mean I can’t call myself a lesbian because it’s a woman I go home to at night.

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          Lara, I don’t know you so I don’t really know where exactly you’re coming from. You’re obsessing over the word lesbian, when it doesn’t actually tell us much about you. The labels aren’t meant to be biographical. There are lesbians who are EXCLUSIVELY attracted to women that you may not have any experiences in common with.

          I’m 34 and I’ve been openly gay for 18 years. I came out in high school in the mid-90s without any sort of in-school support. Not only that, I went to school wearing a Melissa Etheridge baseball cap that said “Yes I Am” across the back. But I wore it backwards so the “Yes I Am” would be forward facing, and to top it off I affixed a pink triangle underneath it. I wasn’t just out, I was in-your-face out at 17.

          I’m proud of this fact. I’m proud that my reaction to bullying was to literally meet it head on. I got respect for that. But you don’t get respect by making other people feel like shit because they can’t pass some lesbian purity test or have different experiences. You don’t get respect at the expense of others. Unfortunately, I’ve learned some of this the hard way.

          So, I pass the damn lesbian purity test. I’ve never had sex with a man and never felt the urge to. When I see an aesthetically pleasing guy I think, that guy has nice features. I mean, before I realized I was gay I thought I just had no sexuality at all or I was some sort of late bloomer. But by 17 I figured, something had to be going on because I felt all weird and shit…but I couldn’t think of a single boy I thought was cute.

          And you know what that makes me? Alone. Well, mostly alone. My experience isn’t all that common…because when you get down to it, the sum of my experiences is just uniquely me and really doesn’t describe very many other lesbians.

          When I go to a forum that’s expressly for lesbians over 30, it ends up mostly being late-in-life lesbians that aren’t out or are coming out, and have ex-husbands and kids. But for me, coming out as a teenager shaped my experiences so much that I end up not having a whole heck of a lot in common with lesbians that came out later.

          Being butch on top of that, sometimes I end up having more things in common with trans people than I do with femme lesbians. And that’s okay. My point is just because you get a bunch of lesbians who are exclusively attracted to women together doesn’t mean they’re going to have a lot of things to bond over. And if that’s the case, what is the point having a word that only describes women who are exclusively attracted to women?

          Now you have to ask, why would a woman who isn’t exclusively attracted to women even want to call herself a lesbian? My guess is it’s because they feel they have enough in common with enough lesbians in their attraction to women that they feel a bond there. You have to stop assuming that there’s some ulterior motive or they’re trying to be deceptive.

          LGBTQ people CAN’T effectively co-opt each other’s labels because we are all in the same socio-political class. No matter how you define lesbian, people who aren’t LGBTQ can’t really tell the difference because it’s beyond their ability to comprehend the nuances. And while defining what being a lesbian means on your terms may feel empowering to you, it doesn’t empower lesbians as whole nor the LGBT community as a whole.

          In my 18 years of identifying as lesbian, most straight people I’ve met don’t get that I’m not attracted to men or haven’t been with a man or wouldn’t consider it just by my saying I’m a lesbian. And the reason for this is *not* because the existence of bisexual lesbians is somehow muddying up the definition. It’s because of plain old sexism. People just have a harder time wrapping their brain around a woman who isn’t attracted to men. They may understand why a woman would be attracted to women. But there’s still this expectation that inside every woman is an inherent attraction to men, and they’re lying if they say there isn’t. If the root cause is sexism and gender expectations, then the solution is not to define lesbian to the exclusion of bisexuals.

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          “In my 18 years of identifying as lesbian, most straight people I’ve met don’t get that I’m not attracted to men or haven’t been with a man or wouldn’t consider it just by my saying I’m a lesbian. And the reason for this is *not* because the existence of bisexual lesbians is somehow muddying up the definition. It’s because of plain old sexism. People just have a harder time wrapping their brain around a woman who isn’t attracted to men. They may understand why a woman would be attracted to women. But there’s still this expectation that inside every woman is an inherent attraction to men, and they’re lying if they say there isn’t. If the root cause is sexism and gender expectations, then the solution is not to define lesbian to the exclusion of bisexuals.”

          THIS THIS THIS

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          i think we’re all talking about different things, like i’m not sure if i understand what this is about anymore or if i understood it when i made my comment or if i was even responding to anything anyone said with my comment or if i thought we were discussing something else. i just have all these lovely comments and then there was this little spat and it made me sad

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          I’m sorry if I contributed to making you sad. Your post is beautiful & very brave. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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          So we can chalk ALL this up to good ol’ fashioned sexism, huh?

          So the countless portrayals of “lesbians” having sex with men, going back to men – in the media, and in reality, does NOT have an effect on genuine lesbians? That being told – by parents and family – that being gay is a choice (“See dear? That lesbian went back to a man. Why can’t you?”)

          Just like how “barsexuals” and so-called bicurious straight women have zero effect on how people see bisexuals? Just like how media misrepresentation of bisexuality has zero effect on how people see bisexuals? Just like how bisexuals being told they should ‘make up their minds’ and choose has zero effect on bisexuals?

          Are the bisexuals here going to tell me that the same types of prejudice that affects them does NOT affect lesbians? That they can complain about things like bisexual erasure, but lesbians – apparently – have it all hunky dory and shouldn’t have the right to complain about anything or shouldn’t care about their sexuality being misrepresented?

          I guess lesbians have no problems WHATSOEVER. Unlike bisexuals. You learn something every frickin’ day.

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          You’re fighting a straw (wo)man and you know it. No one here ever claimed that lesbians don’t have troubles, or that this doesn’t affect lesbians. We’re simply saying that the term has a more complex history, and that this idea that lesbians have it so much worse than bisexuals is bull. Both groups experience different types of prejudice. In general, bisexuals experience the general homophobia PLUS biphobia, though I won’t deny there are some types of homophobia I don’t experience because I am not exclusively homosexual. For example, I can participate in a conversation with straight friends about boys.

          Anyway, I do think sexism is the root of all this issue with lesbians-who-are-not-really-lesbians in the media. Because if it weren’t, gay men would have this problem, but they don’t. When gay guy characters are with women, it’s always a closeted dude doing it to try to get rid of the gay or put on a charade for unaccepting people. (Like Kurt from Glee in that episode where he dated Brittany.) We never see this “gay but bicurious” stuff from dudes. It’s a combination of the fact that our society still can’t accept that women (whether gay, bi or straight) can be happy and fulfilled without a man to “complete” her, and that straight men are more likely to be socialized to feel entitled to every women they like than straight women are about the men they like.

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      I think this is a very important distinction. I tend to see labels as having a practical function. I don’t need to label myself, I know myself better than any label could summarize, thank you very much. But we need labels for other people, we need to label ourselves so that others will understand what we want in given circumstances.

      In other words, labels are context-dependent and serve specific communication needs. If I am involved in a long chat with one of my longitme best friends who knows me better than I do myself, I might refer to me as bisexual or 90-10 or Kinsey 5, etc.; but if I have to explain to a politician or a population who has never seen a non-straight person who I am and what I want, “bisexual” will not work, because it carries the “choice” connotation which doesn’t pay off politically. Because people will think that if you’re bisexual you can choose so you’d better stop nagging about with lgbt rights and stuff.

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    I so appreciate your honesty. Sexuality can be so complicated it seems and unfortunately it shouldn’t have to be. We should enjoy it! I came out when I fell in love with my best friend at sixteen but identified as bisexual because I had boyfriends etc. and it scared me to be a lesbian. I started going to lesbian clubs at sixteen (I got a fake ID). Sex was very important (and still is!) and I just went for what I liked which was and still is women. But when I really had to describe myself back then I would always say bisexual because as you said liking boys even for a short period was real and also because the lesbian label was scary for me. It became evident after a decade of only being with women and not having any desires for men that I decided I am a lesbian. It just evolved and happily so.

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    i mean. everyone said everything. but i’ll add.

    personally, i’ve just been saying “gay” when someone needs a label but this hits home for me (much like all of us) because my boyfriends in the past aren’t any less valid just because of how i’ve changed since loving them. i just felt like society as a whole “understands” better with my current fallback.

    echoing many others – you’ve made me realize i’m not the only one who feels this way. i love me. that’s all i need.

    also, i think you making yourself so vulnerable on the interweb is very brave. it’s all love from my corner of the world :)

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    pretty much this is the best thing i’ve read on autostraddle. riese, you’re amazing. and so so right:

    “We want sexuality to be biological because we want sexuality to be instinctual and natural and out of our control, because choice isn’t romantic. Love is about surrender — the absence of choice — the irresistible pull of another body. We don’t have faith in the rest of it because we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds.”

    uh huh.

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    I love everything about this.

    But the part that resonates most with me is about the labels. For a while I was really into labels and finding things that felt like they fit, but now I hate trying to label myself. I like “queer”. I like that it leaves room for my sexuality and gender, and it can stay the same even if those change. I will never not be queer, regardless of who I love or what I am, and I really like that. As I go on, it feels like fewer and fewer labels really stick, or feel right, because they’re too loaded with assumptions and stereotypes. But “queer” doesn’t have those, because it’s so broad. I like having the elbow room.

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    thank you for this. i always feel really shitty for not being honest with myself years ago, and still sleeping with boys even though i knew i hated it and was gayer than shane and carmen making out on a motorcycle. i’m surrounded by a lot of lesbians who came out when they were younger and didn’t have the same sort of internal struggle that i did. i get super ashamed of my past and wish i could just erase it from my life most of the time, so it’s refreshing to see someone who embraces theirs, even if it doesn’t align with their current situation. i could go on and on about this article, but i won’t — just, thank you.

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    Riese – another poignant, beautifully written piece of yours. I know that to you I’m still a stranger, but over a scarily short period of time, I feel like I KNOW you. Your mannerisms and appearance/voice are very similar to some of my friends, and many of your emotional dilemmas and experience hit very close to home. Is this a weird thing to say? I feel like you embody so many facets of my life and yet I’ve never met you. Like many others above have said, you’re very influential for so many of us, and we’re lucky to have you.

    “I’d been afraid of being gay because I couldn’t give my childhood bullies the pleasure of being right about me and that had just turned into this giant complicated mess of self-loathing and confusion”

    Oooooh this to the millionth degree. I had to like boys and be liked by boys to verify my gender and femininity, and it has really fucked me up. However, since I’ve come to realization that I’m really attracted to women, my happiness has increased exponentially. It’s nice to really understand the realness of having a sexual orientation you’ve been avoiding your whole life. You, Riese, and Autostraddle help me everyday with that comprehension. Thank you.

    p.s. I feel like writing my own 100,000 word essay on my “identity”, but that makes me sound narcissistic.

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    Delurking to say I thoroughly appreciated this post. I was just having the discussion w/ someone I recently met about these labels and I came to the conclusion that I’d say, “I like girls and boys” because I jus don’t feel like any of the labels suit me. Brava for this brave piece of writing.

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    This feels like the most important thing I’ve read for ages. Thank you for being generous enough to write it. You are an important writer, I think.

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    This is incredible. Sharing that much of yourself is always hard. Okay, sharing even a small part of yourself is hard, so this seems like a really big thing. It made me think of this:

    “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Thank you for doing you and giving me and everyone else the power to do the same. <3

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    Thanks Riese. Feelings are complicated and crazy and hard to share sometimes, but sometimes you need to share them, and sometimes they help other people too. When I hear someone else going through any of the crazy feelings I have had, it makes me feel that much more normal. And as much as I hate to admit it, I want to feel normal. I tried to own the outcast label, but I even felt alone among the outcasts (at least at my school). I feel normal here. If I had queer friends in real life I bet I would feel normal with them too.

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    I got a chance to read it. Interesting perspective. I can’t relate at all — my sexuality has never been murky… I’m very unequivocal in every way with being a lesbian — but it takes some true courage to write something like this for the world to see, no matter what one’s sexuality is. And there are those readers who need something like this. Well done.

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    Reise, thank you so much for this post. I wish I’d had the chance to read it 15 years ago – it might have saved some time and a lot of white-hot self-consciousness and feeling like a freak. Still, I can revel in this now because I can hear my feelings and parts of my past echoed in your words and know that I’ve changed. Changed, but it’s all still true. Self-possession comes when you realise that the identity you craved/denied
    was always within reach; not impossible to own after all. Just needed some time…

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    Everything about this was inspiring and felt like continuous reassurance that things will work out. You cleared up a lot of concerns that I have had for quite a while.

    You are truly amazing and thank you so much for opening up like this and making me, and many other people, feel so much better about themselves.

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    I almost want to scream, reading this. So much of it was…me. In those paragraphs about men and the rush of pursuing them and getting them. It was all so fucking easy and I almost miss it. Not the men, exactly. Not their parts because I don’t like them. I don’t even know if I liked them when I thought I did. But the inner appreciation that came from having enough skill to bring a guy home was just…perfect. A perfect little boost to my crappy self-esteem.

    I don’t refer to myself as bisexual, not because I never was. I was. For a long, long time. But because, the minute I realized I wasn’t bisexual (anymore? IDK.), I wanted to scream it from the damn rooftops. I’m gay, goddamnit, and I LIKE IT.

    And yeah, it sucks, being gay. Because I live in a small town and there aren’t any other gays and shit, girls have ALWAYS intimidated the hell out of me. But I still like them. Lust them. Want them. And I never wanted a man the way I ache for a woman.

    I’m going to go back and read all the comments now. Just know, Reise, that I’m with you.

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    i know it must have been tough to write something so personal, but i want to thank you. i am 22, and it wasn’t until roughly two years ago that i begun to shake the denial over my sexuality. i was with my ex-boyfriend for 3 years and we were living together, so it was a tough realization, and it didn’t come quick either. i also don’t have any close lesbian friends, which may explain why i have always felt so ‘different’ from everyone else (yet i too had a compelling urge to fit in).. but it’s comforting to read autostraddle and know that i am not alone in my experience.

    it’s unfortunate that our ideology does not accommodate human sexuality’s complexities.

    “i’d lived a hyper-heterosexual life best described as alternately uncomfortable, depressing, and anxiety-inducing.. not because I felt like a gay person in a straight world.. but because I felt like a crazy person in a sane world” – way to put into words what i have such difficulty explaining to my friends. i know now, that i am queer, but there were years of depression and anxiety that led to this realization. crying during sex, self-loathe, i felt like i was inhuman or insane. upon reflection, everything makes a lot of sense.. but i think that we need to keep in mind that some things may never be understood and that that’s okay.

    you do you riese + once again, thank you.

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    Thanks for sharing your human-ness.

    I totally get the overcompensation of being into books rather than people. Story of my high school life. Hard cycle to break when you’re in the closet or confused.

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    This has made me go from silently reading the posts on autostraddle for months to actually signing up and posting, just so that I can say how much I love this…. I think the best and most important thing we can do is learn to be ok with being ourselves and not caring what label we should have or how others label us. As someone who spent a lot of time to get where I am, being ok being me, I can only imagine what it took for you to share your journey. So Thank you for making my night and possibly my week!

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    Thank you Riese. Thank you for making me feel okay. If even for a minute. Thank you for making me feel okay that I’m in love with my boyfriend, but that the love I’ve had and shared with other women was and is very very real. Thank you for making me feel okay that I’m slowly kinda really recovering from my array of eating disorders, but I lapse every couple of weeks and I learn from it and that’s okay too. Thank you for making Autostraddle a place where I can have #thefeelings and people actually GET it, or pretend to in order to make a similarly sweet or snarky (or both) Internet comment that lets us live on in some intangible way.
    Thank you.

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    As I say above, labels are context-dependent: we don’t need them for ourselves, but to communicate with others. So depending on what we need to communicate and to whom, we might want to use different labels (eg bisexual in an long intimate talk with a longtime friend, and lesbian / gay when it’s about demanding civil and social rights).

    So I say, let’s take labels for what they are (just labels!) but also concise communication devices that can improve communication in given circumstances. If the context changes, the label changes along, period. Let’s learn to use labels to our own advantage, and stop using labels to limit our choices!

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    “So, what am I? I identify as bisexual because my relationships with men were not lies and I think that’s what bisexuality means. I loved them/sex. I never felt I was repressing lesbian urges. I didn’t have secret crushes on my female friends. “Lesbian” seems like what I am but “bisexual” honors who I was, too — it wasn’t just a filling station from there to here, it was another highway altogether. I didn’t evolve, I changed. But that girl was real, too.”

    This is exactly how I explain myself. Like legit, it’s like you’re in my head. I feel so understood right now! Thank you for these words…..xo

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    When I read what you said about identifying as bisexual because your relationships with men were not lies, even though you will probably never date them again, I said “YES, THIS” out loud and everyone looked at me weird. This sums up how I feel about my own sexual orientation and labels in general, in a way that I could never articulate. So thanks tiger x

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    what am I? What do you want me to be? I trust you. Just tell me what you want and it won’t change a thing.

    Remember the “Reeboks let U.B.U.” campaign from the
    ’80s? Well, that’s my answer. Just U.B.U. :)

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    “But if you dare to let go, if you dare to stop thinking about what box you fit into and just start being who you are and letting yourself want what you want, then I think you’ll wake up one day and find yourself sitting in the right box which might not be a box at all.”

    Thank you, I needed that.

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    I really identify with the struggle to find a label. I always wondered if I was pretending to be something else other than straight when I didn’t really feel comfortable with labels like bi and lesbian, but now I know that’s not true. I have all the time in the world to figure it out, thanks for sharing your revelations and wisdom :)

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    It’s really hard for me to pinpoint what it was about this piece of writing that I liked so much but I’m going to try. (ok, style wise first, content later)

    I guess, unlike most of what people read/say about their sexuality or personalities or what have you (you know, when we create who we are in relation to other people) this didn’t have that person-making tone to it. It just was. Like not meant to convince people or perpetuate a believed personality. Just observational but intelligently. I liked it, I rarely read anything that is structured in such a way as to avoid making me feel trapped in a world of colliding illusory reality things.

    Also, I enjoyed what you were writing about because I relate and relating to words is a good feeling.

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    This piece was a wonderful gift, Riese. Thank you.

    One of the things I love about Autostraddle is the variety of experiences and histories that people can share and have respected. You’ve created a space where we can all do ourselves and still be a community. That is something very special.

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    This is really amazing. This is why I love autostraddle. A community of intelligent, open-minded, incredible people who I feel like I can truly relate to. I empathize with so much of this. I think your attitude towards sexuality is refreshing and makes me feel really happy because I too have a past that I feel doesn’t exactly fit with the label “lesbian,” even though I think that’s my most “accurate” label now. I, too, use the labels queer, lesbian, and bi interchangeably, and I would never tell you to choose one over the other because, like you said, it doesn’t change who you are. Thank you for being so honest and for helping baby queers like me feel okay about not fitting into a box. YOU DO YOU RIESE! <3

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    I love what you write. If you asked me in person to give you a label, I would refuse to say a word and instead I would just point at this post because it is beautiful and it seems very, very honest. And that would be a temporary label too, just like any word I might have used if I had wanted to use one word, because even all of what you’ve written might change, which is okay, no, good.

    I particularly relate to the idea that you can change, that you can keep possession of your past experiences, that the fact that you don’t want the things you once wanted doesn’t mean that those things won’t always be a real part of you.

    I have a problem with the “I was born this way” logic that we sometimes use to defend ourselves against harassment and discrimination. It’s a historically important argument and it’s one that’s often helpful and useful, and it depends on who you are and who you’re dealing with and where you are in the world I’m sure, but also — even if I wasn’t born liking girls (I’ve liked girls since I first started liking people I think, but that’s just me), it would still be okay, no not okay, awesome, to like girls. This isn’t something I feel unlucky to be. I could very well choose it, because girls are great and why wouldn’t you.

    Sometimes I feel like I can’t say I’ve changed, like instead I have to erase certain parts of myself from my past in order to justify who I am now and what I want. The wonderful thing that you’ve written here is a good reminder for me to:
    a) maybe go write in my journal every day for three hours at a time, and
    b) not to erase anything

    So, thank you <3
    All we want is for you to do what you want to do, and to be who you are. Because you are lovely (and freakishly articulate).

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    I feel like you broke into the sexuality file in my brain and wrote a long eloquent article with the information in that file and all the information in the sexuality file in your brain, and then cited all the sources correctly and put all of it in 12 point times new roman.
    In short, thanks for putting out there what I’ve been trying to vocalize for a year.

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    This says so many of things that I can’t say or explain to most of the people in my life. Change is terrifying but super important. I hope that I can embrace it as much as you have. Thank you for your eloquence and honesty.

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    thank you for writing this. I’m sure I can’t formulate a comment half as eloquent as your article but it really resonated with some of my fears and gave me a sense of security. I think what I’m afraid of right now is losing touch with the queer culture that you mentioned, where I feel so at home. that’s never not going to be a part of me though, and I know that. anyway, thank you.

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    Riese, thank you for writing this. It sums up a lot of what I have felt and the journey along the way to being a now-queer identified person. There is an immense freedom in ignoring the labels, or mixing and matching them when I feel like it. That’s one of the reasons why I loved your “You do you” slogan and instantly identified with it. It’s something it took me about seven years to figure out.

    Two things that you wrote really resonated with me. One was acknowledging your younger self and experiences in the label bisexual. I doubt I will ever date a man again, but I employ that label at times as well – because the experiences were genuine, I can still be attracted to men, they weren’t a stepping stone on a pre-destined lesbian path. That makes me not a lesbian even though I am only really interested in dating women. Thank god someone invented the concept “queer”, so I can easily explain that I am not heterosexual, and that this is my community. It satisfies the political and social necessity to place myself somewhere.

    The second thing that resonated was that it took time to realize that you liked boyish girls. I was fascinated with boyish girls, but I always discounted them as romantic interests, perhaps because I valued fitting in so much, even though I never fit in myself because I was a nerd. I felt like I had failed society’s standards for young womanhood and instead of righteously rejecting these bogus standards, I clung to them as I navigated my social life. Then I would meet the most amazing boyish baby dykes and it would be like the pillars supporting this heteronormative worldview would collapse, and I’d be intrigued and horrified and second-guessing myself simultaneously: why am I so drawn to her?

    I’m not sure when or how, but after a lot of times telling myself to stop processing and just roll with whatever I’m feeling, it actually started working. Thank god.

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    i can totally relate to this, when i was younger i thought that i’m only attracted to girls, but as i got older, ive had crushes on guys as well, although the guy-crushes weren’t as strong as the attraction i have for women. I dont see myself having a long-term relationship with a guy,im definitely much more attracted to women, but still i cant discount the fact that i sometimes do feel , on rare occasions, sexually attracted towards guys sometimes…

    Queer may be the right term to describe my sexuality, but i do think that everyone can be queer since i believe there is a scale between heterosexuality and homosexuality… i hope that everyone – straight or gay – would realize that there are people who just fall in-between, and that that’s okay…

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    The thing about tomboyish girls – I had the exact opposite realization when I was coming out as bisexual. I was always a tomboyish kid (now I’m a chapstick queer) and yet in middle school I had this strange fascination with the popular girls and cheerleaders. I could never understand it. I never, ever, wanted to be a cheerleader, or even a popular girl. (I just wanted to be *more* popular than I was, but I didn’t like the popular girls.) So why did I spend so much time staring at certain popular girls and cheerleaders?

    It took me until college, when I first realized I was bisexual, that I was like “Duh! I didn’t want to BE them I wanted to DATE/KISS them!”

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    Thanks for sharing, I’ve struggled with the question myself and have slipped into telling people I’m bi/les/pan/queer seemingly at random, I’ve IDed as: asexual then straight, then bi, then pan, and then finally lesbian.

    It took settling down with my butch girlfriend to cement it and I’m at a point where I’d simply *never* have any kind of relationship with a guy again, yet my previous experiences were not invalid, though similarly I was only ever really attracted to prettyish boys rather than men.

    One thing that made me ease up over this issue is having had a few dyed in the wool lesbian and always lesbian lesbians admit that they find men attractive, they just don’t want to sleep with them and that’s pretty much how I feel these days.

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    THIS THIS THIS!THIS IS A THING!

    Part of what I find so incredible and special about this is ALL THE COMMENTS! There are so many people who share this narrative (I DO I DO) and we all went around for so long thinking that we were like these strange and lonely unicorns that no one would ever understand BUT THEN we started to realize THERE ARE OTHERS THEY KNOW THIS THING. We are still strange and special unicorns but all together now AND NOT ALONE.

    So many many thousand thank yous. And my vote, obviously, is for unicorn.

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    I am curious what the “official” definition of queer would be. I always kind of wonder to myself “Doesn’t that apply to everyone who is attracted to the same sex even a percentage of the time? So couldn’t everyone bi/gay/lesbian fall under that term?” But I guess if you are strictly lesbian, and wanted to be known as strictly such, you wouldn’t use it. But for bi, I would think that the fuzzy connotations associated w/bi would prompt all bisexuals to use the term queer instead. I don’t know. Musings.

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    I think the swarms of comments are testimony to the fact that we just want you to do you, Riese, and that’s why we love it here, because you want us to do us, too.

    Definitely teared up in the middle of Starbucks while reading all of this, including the comments. Thank you everyone for being so wonderful.

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    So much of what you said sounds like what I think! It’s bizarre! Right down to the liking Shane and using queer or gay, etc. (Except I embraced the queer younger, I guess.) But other than that, reading this was really moving. :)

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    Wow, this is an incredible piece. I want to thank you for sharing it with us, it couldn’t have been easy.

    Sometimes I wonder how you all managed to somehow say exactly what I need to hear (or read I guess) sometimes before I even know that I need it.

    The part about knowing that you’re different and then sort of compensating for that really hit home for me. This is probably a drastic over share with strangers on the internet, but this place often feels like a group of friends so please forgive me.

    I have mild Cerebral Palsy due to being a preemie. I always knew that I walked differently (with a limp) but never thought that other people might think of me differently because of that until my parents pointed it out. I was talking to them about a boy I liked and hoped would like me back. I think they were trying to protect/prepare me they said I needed to be know people might not want to date me because of my CP and what other people would say/think.

    That little gem made a home for itself in my subconscious for years. I always had to get the good grades so people would assume my disability had anything to do with my mental faculties. I developed an eating disorder because I could be disabled AND fat. I might be disabled but at least I would be really smart/thin/whatever other positive attribute that would allow people to overlook my gait.

    And then I realized I liked girls. And I didn’t think that I could deal with one more thing that made me different, that gave people a reason to make fun of me, treat me poorly, dislike me on sight, and could make getting a job, friends, and living my life any harder.

    Now I’ve matured a bit and gained some perspective and feel a lot better about my CP. All the compensating I was doing was an effort to ensure that I could still be happy, that I could still have the life that I wanted even with my disability. And I kind of realized that that wasn’t even a question to begin with. I was trying to ensure that I would be okay when really there was never any doubt that I would be.

    This piece really helped me finish dealing with all of those fears and insecurities about whether just being myself will be enough. This part was especially moving: “But if you dare to let go, if you dare to stop thinking about what box you fit into and just start being who you are and letting yourself want what you want, then I think you’ll wake up one day and find yourself sitting in the right box which might not be a box at all.”

    So thank you.

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    “So, what am I? I identify as bisexual because my relationships with men were not lies and I think that’s what bisexuality means. I loved them/sex. I never felt I was repressing lesbian urges. I didn’t have secret crushes on my female friends. “Lesbian” seems like what I am but “bisexual” honors who I was, too — it wasn’t just a filling station from there to here, it was another highway altogether. I didn’t evolve, I changed. But that girl was real, too.”

    I feel like you just wrote down my life in this. From the boys and knowing you were different but not why, to the things that are hard to talk about even now, to the girl you’re in love with now. But this one paragraph really hit home for me. Before I came out (2 years ago) and am now dating an amazing girl that I am incredibly in love with. Before I was out however, I fell for a boy. To the point that I wanted to marry him. (I KNOW!!! THE SHAME!) Now, whenever I talk about him, everyone always asks how I could’ve loved him if I were gay. I always feel guilty because it makes it seem like I used him or I didn’t really love him. But I did and a part of me always will. He was my first true love and I feel like because I identify as “lesbian” now, that love is viewed as invalid. And it makes me sad. I know it doesn’t matter what other people say or think, the only thing that matters is what I know. But it still hurts because I feel like I have to fit into some mold and because I loved a boy, I am not actually a lesbian. It drives me insane that there are all these “guidelines” on how to be a real “lesbian” or any other social label. All the same though, thank you so much for putting how I feel into words when I could not. This post truly was amazing and perfect in every way. Thank you so much for putting yourself out there like you did.

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    I can only echo many of the heartfelt sentiments already here but I feel compelled to add my words to theirs and by extension yours.
    You open up and draw us in. Labels, lives, loves become irrelevant. Your unique spirit identifies and resonates with our own and we respond.
    Thank you for putting these beautiful words together and creating this place to share them freely.

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    Beautiful – thanks so much for writing this post.

    This part was especially lovely: “It wasn’t my perception of men/women that changed, it was my perception of myself.”

    Also, I’m completely with on the whole “liking boys but not MEN” thing ::queer fist pound::

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    there were so many parts of this essay that i wanted to cut out because they were so honest and i was scared people would stomp on them and you, but then i remembered that this is what you do and anyway i love you and i feel better all over when you write things like this:

    “I’m just me. I have so many stories, so many little lives, that I can throw together a narrative to prove I’m just about anything in the world.”

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      Let me just say that I appreciate you letting the honesty reach us. That’s the best part of being part of this website; you’re real humans with FEELINGS and it makes me feel like I have a safe and happy place, no matter where I am in life. So, thank you for keeping it real for us.

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    I don’t normally comment on things like this, either online or even in person because I can never seem to formulate the right words to explain myself so I rather just not do it. If I could copy & paste this entire story into conversations, I totally would.

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    This is why I love autostraddle. This. It’s so hard sometimes to articulate how I feel, but it’s amazingly comforting to know I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel any label really fits who I am. Thanks for making me feel better about life.

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    thank you everyone for your amazing comments. reading them has been the highlight of my week/day/month/life. it means so much to me every single one of them, and i don’t know how to write words like these. thank you , you are all such beautiful snowflakes.

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    Well put, Riese. Labels come and go. I identify as lesbian, but felt I couldn’t fully embrace that until I’d had sex with a man. I had a male friend I trusted completely and it turns out he was into queer kink, so that was fun for both of us. We are still good friends, and he was the last person I actually had sex with (Oh my gods, three years is a long time) but that doesn’t change the fact that I am ultimately attracted to women. I love using “queer” because it’s less structured, but so many people just don’t understand that term. Labels are tricky and in the end, don’t really matter, but they are convenient

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    You did a magnificent job of explaining yourself, and I relate a great deal. I never loathed the idea of being with women, but I was not attracted to them until I met a specific one, and that opened up a lot of world for me. I also realized I was into boyish girls. I don’t feel attracted to very feminine ones, because I feel like that’s me, and I don’t want to date myself. But the anatomy really makes no difference to me. I somewhat discontentedly call myself bi because it’s the one that gets across my meaning the best, but it’s still more complicated than that. I can’t even say I’m only attracted to masculine energy, because that’s not true. I like what my dad said to my sister when I first dated a girl, and she had all these questions about exactly “what” I was: “Lily is the Lily-est Lily there ever was.”

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    Wow, whoa, wow.

    I’m in college right now, and that part of your life you wrote about describes me perfectly. I felt as though I knew what you were going to say next, like I had read this before. I do the sorority thing, and friend the popular girls, date the frat guys, all of it. I just get drunk at the parties to not feel so out of place. I want to change,but I dont know a single person who is gay/lesbian/queer/anything considered not normal. I always tell myself that I’ll go to the gay bar alone but I chicken out. Thank you for writing this maybe I’ll open my eyes one day and stop caring about what people think.

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      Lots of queer people are normal and boring :) You probably do know some queer people but they’re so stealthily average that you didn’t even notice. They’re in your classes, they’re working at your favourite coffee shop, they’re over in the stacks at the library, they’re at the gym.

      If you want change, find a social environment you’re more comfortable in. There might be a LGBTQ group on campus, that’s a great first start. And go to the gay bar! Go in, have a drink, leave if you want to. It’s not a big thing. It’s just a room with some gay people, music and liquor. You don’t have to be intimidated.

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    One time I was on tumblr, and someone had reblogged something saying pansexuality wasn’t a “genuin sexual orientation” and we just crap that hipsters had made up to be different.

    I identify as pan. Even though it’s not the same thing, a lot of the time I tell people i’m bi, becasue I can’t be bothered to explain what pansexual means.

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    This article has made me feel so validated as a person. It’s sad that I need an article to feel validated, but it’s the truth.

    I’m in my early 20s, I’ve been out as bisexual since I was 14/15. And I still feel so insecure about it, despite my outwards attitude of “I like girls and boys, that’s just who I am, take it or leave it”. I feel like I’m in this grey, undefined area. Like I’m flailing in the water and there are people on the shore on either side calling my name, and they just don’t get that I like where I am… if they could just let me float and go with the current instead of fighting it.

    I know I’m not straight. I know I’m still attracted to some men; sometimes that attraction takes me by surprise. It feels like both of these keep me from truly being an “us” instead of a “them”. I feel like I’m not “gay enough” to be involved in my local LGBTQ community- I know that there’s a B there, but if it’s there it’s in 2 pt font. So right now I’m in this kind of limbo, where I’m just on the cusp of getting involved… but the idea of being rejected from a community I need so much scares me.

    I just have a lot of feelings.~ And you articulated them so well. It felt so, so good to read about someone going through a lot of the same experiences and having a lot of the same anxieties that I’m having now. <3

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    Thanks for this Riese, really.

    I went through the same thing, of loving boys, and sometimes feel that my previous attraction and current attraction (which is still present, but much less) cause my confusion and apprehension. Bisexual feels like a lie because it assumes that my attraction is 50/50 male/female, and it is not. Lesbian feels like a lie because I am still attracted to men in some ways, and the label feels permanent and like it hides my past relationships. I am still evolving and learning about myself, especially now that I am single again. I can see myself in lasting relationship with a woman. Until then, I may become involved with men, and I may not. I don’t know, but I feel pressure to choose, or figure it out already, at least.
    Anyway, thank you for writing this, I can relate.

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    i really appreciate this post. i’ve never been quite sure what box i fit in myself, though i’ve thought of myself as queer for more than 10 years now.

    but i feel now that this part of me is getting lost…i fell in love with an amazing guy and even moved across the world to be with him (relocating from NY to Amsterdam). since to the outside world and to every single person i meet in my new home, i’m in a heterosexual relationship, i feel that in some way i’ve unintentionally buried an important part of myself.

    i too have had this thought:

    “I was scared, like maybe many of you are now, that in some unpredictable future I’d pick the wrong gender and then flee my husband/wife for another man/woman, leaving everybody’s soul shattered and, apparently, myself crying in a ravine thinking, “GOD! ‘QUEER’ WAS SUCH A COPOUT”!”

    but now i have a second fear…what if this relationship is forever (and truly i hope it is), and i’ll lose my connection to the queer community forever?

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    Yes.
    Just, yes.

    I constantly have exactly the same thing – am I queer? Lesbian? Bisexual leaning towards cute bois who frankly look like Ash Stymest, WHO IS A MAN?! It’s confusing.

    But I think it’s important that instead of having a panic attack, we just say:

    Hey. Did I ask if you’re straight? Have you kissed a girl? How do you define this ‘straightness’? Because really, everyone is simply who they are, loves who they love, and lets just leave it at that.

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    Thank you SOO much for sharing this and speaking your truth. I’ve gone from identifyig as Bi to Gay and back to Bi again with a ton of heartache in between. It’s only been in the past year that I’ve begun to shed the weight and need for a label and this article has just made me feel even lighter. It’s still not easy and I feel like I’m at the brink of not giving a fuck and this article definitely gave me the extra boost to just be me. At parts I felt like I was reading about myself and this paragraph reall spoke to me the most.

    “I felt like I needed to pick a label so I’d know what to wear — like I couldn’t go to a lesbian bar unless I had short hair and a gauzy vintage t-shirt and lazy jeans slouching against my hip-bones and I couldn’t go to a straight bar unless I was wearing a dress and boots. Now I know I just need to wear what I want to wear, and let the cards fall as they may. It’s so fucking obvious, I’m not surprised I missed it. It wasn’t my perception of men/women that changed, it was my perception of myself.”

    ~Lauren~

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    How am I just now reading this, 20 days later, at almost 6 a.m.?

    You took words out of my brain that didn’t have a way to form until I saw you write them.

    I never had an explanation of why, since coming out of my last hetero marriage and, also, the other kind of coming out, I have preferred to identify as “gay” instead of “lesbian” and have frequently contemplated going with “queer”… fucking social constructs be damned.

    You are the Queen of Awesome. Thank you.

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    Thanks riese for posting this. You stole the words right out of my brain! I identify as lesbian now even though i struggled with what to call myself for a long time. I had two serious boyfriends in high school , and i loved both of them dearly, but i don’t think i was in love with them. The last one i felt a very strong connection to and broke his heart beyond recognition when i came out as gay. As far as the born this way argument , i was born bisexual at least i think so . Either bisexual or lesbian. When i look back in the past i’ve always been attracted to women , but i didn’t know what to call it .In middle school liking boys was cool , and like you said something to gossip about with girlfriends. Ive always felt different but i couldn’t quite place it . Then I fell in love with my first girl. Instead of saying “oh shit im bisexual” I was saying “oh shit im gay” . Thinking the feelings were going to go away , i dated my last boyfriend. Instead the feelings stayed right were they were. Being with a man , felt incomplete. I could be emotionally attracted to a man, sort of like a friend but more than that, but less than a partner. Physically , it never felt right. My own boyfriend , i didn’t want him to touch me or do anything sexual. Basically all we did was kiss. I would think, “what the hell is wrong with me?” So after we broke up i lost whatever attraction i had at all to men but i still struggled with a label. I thought that since i was still struggling with what to call myself , i wasn’t gay after all so i told my ex that i was going to give him a hand job. He was excited of course because we never did anything in our relationship. But i couldn’t do it . The previous times that i tried to give him a hand job , i couldn’t do it for more than 20 seconds. It felt wrong. I tried to explain to him that i hadn’t changed , just became more of myself. When i told my friends i was gay , they tried to label me as bisexual because i had never actually dated a girl , yet.But i knew in my heart that i was never going to date a man ever again. Labels are complicated and suck . We are who we are and thats how it is .

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    I just wanted to say thank you.

    For the past few months I’ve been “coming out” and it’s kind of been hell. Everyone I’ve told so far is extremely accepting, but there is one person who just can’t accept the fact: me. At first I just thought I was bisexual, since I thought my past relationships felt so real. I even tried explaining things to my ex-girlfriend and she thought I lied to her the whole time we were dating. But I wasn’t. The feelings I had were real, but I guess my feelings have changed as I grew up and starting becoming who I was meant to be. Even though I am now starting to feel comfortable calling myself gay, I’m not going to reject or ignore any feelings I may or may not have towards a girl in the future. I am my own sexuality, and I won’t let anyone put me in a box.

    This post is amazing, and I can’t thank you enough for writing this. It makes me feel at ease and more willing to accept who I am knowing that I’m not the only one who feels the same way.

    I really love this site and what you gals do. Thank you Grace for showing me this. =)

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    “we want sexuality to be biological because we want sexuality to be instinctual and natural and out of our control, because choice isn’t nearly as romantic as surrender. Love is about the absence of choice — the irresistible pull of another body. We don’t have faith in the rest of it because we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds.”

    This is brilliantly said! agreed.
    For love to endure through time (i don’t know that much about it but) i’d tend to think it’ll have better chances if we take a decision to love and reiterate it from time to time.
    though sometimes we loose it, don’t we? and we fall.

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    *claps*
    bravo!!!

    Brilliant essay.

    I particularly liked the bit about not wanting to give the childhood bullies the satisfaction of being right. I’v felt it too.
    and also the queer part.

    I’ve said it, too.
    I’ve only recently discovered I like girls but I’ve been weird my entire life, so I’ve had time to deal with that.

    when I was younger I wanted to be normal and I tried to be normal and I hung out with the popular crowd and when to parties and got drunk and kissed boy and then I realised I fucking hated it.

    I kept thinking (my weirdness) it would go away as I grew up, but it never did.

    I remember being a kid and seeing older girls with their boyfriends and being afraid I’d be bad/a freak at something else and I’d never get a boyfriend.
    and I didn’t, but I was already savvy enough to know that having a boyfriend would not make me normal and all my friends who wanted one just to parade around were being silly. so I never went for anyone, I always figured one day I’d meet someone I’d like and things would just happen.
    it never did. it hasnt yet at least. and when I thought about it I often thought that if it was a girl, that’d be ok,too, as long as they were a great person and right for me, it’d be ok, but I never thought of myself as someone who likes girl and I’d never liked a girl either. not that I had that much experience liking boys either. I fancied a few, went on a few dates, kissed a few but they were all toads.

    It took me forever to accept myself wholly and to really like me, as me, to stop wanting to be somebody/something else, to stop wishing to be normal and appreciate my weirdness.

    and as far as sexual attractions go, I was happy calling myself asexual.

    it was only last year I began to noticed girls differently.

    so I don’t really feel comfortable with any label. I don’t particularly feel comfortable talking about it IRL.

    But I’m quite alrght with the word queer. it’s the only one that feels right, that fits.

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    Though I’m still figuring myself out, the more I wait, the more I learn, and the more I learn, the more comfortable I become. I read this not really knowing what I was going to get out of it, and apparently, I am not the only one. You’ve analyzed everything so well… Surprisingly I found myself relating to certain aspects that I didn’t expect to relate to… and that’s because they were shared in a different perspective. Thanks so much for sharing. The cloudiness just got a little bit clearer. =]

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    Taking a moment to honor how unapologetically you’ve saluted your journey, including the past *salutes* Not to mention the boys/guys and yourself whom you’ve humanized by declaring real what was real for you at that time.

    Uncovering the “real” me doesn’t work all that well. “A” real me works a bit better. I tend to find some other nuance. And over time I look back and find I’ve gone a different direction than where I started/rested. Much appreciation for something to which I can relate. :)

    +5 Maddows to ya

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    Well, if it hadn’t been for the 2011 recap, I most probably would have missed this incredible brilliant Riese piece and all the thoughtful comments, so thanks for the handy one stop 2011 autostraddle shopping…
    Someone up there mentioned the 70s and 80s being lable obsessed, but my memory is the opposite: ‘go with the flow’ and ‘laid back’ were the cultural feelings, and it made it easy to experiment sexually without labels, as I recall. A lot of us were amazed to discover (uncover) our queerness as a result! Like me! So it lead to a lot of internal nature/nurture ponderings…
    At this point since I’m married to a woman for decades, the fact that I love Shane types, David Bowie types, androgeny in general, is moot, I guess. BTW, an awful lot of gay men idealize the female form, just sayin’.
    Aren’t we humans a kick in the head?

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    I’m so glad this was listed on Favorite 2011 posts, because I needed this so bad. I identify so much with what you described feeling. Not like you were a lesbian in a straight world, but just like you were crazy in a sane one. I’ve always felt like that, and suffered on the fringe feeling like a loser for SO MANY YEARS. Fell in love with a guy in high school who barely looked at me and tortured myself for it. To this day, hearing that someone saw him makes my heart hurt. That’s real, that’s not fake. So I say “bisexual” like I’m supposed to, like my mom wants to hear, even though she doesn’t understand what it means. But it doesn’t FEEL right. I can’t call myself a lesbian because of that boy in high school, but bisexual feels WRONG. I don’t identify with that girl anymore. I’m NOT that girl. She’s a stranger and I’m glad, because I’m so much stronger and confident and more ME now than I ever was before.

    It felt good to hear someone else say all that. I love queer culture. It makes me feel right and anchored and sane. Queer’s the only word that makes sense to me, but it DOES feel like a cop-out. And I only say it to myself. My mom wouldn’t understand. No one would.

    Thank you, Riese. I’m so glad I read this. Just to know someone else gets it.

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    I’ve read and re-read this post more times than I care to admit to, and every time it makes me a little more contemplative of what figuring out my identity means to me. When I tell someone I’m bisexual, I feel like I’m doing so in order to give them a little bit of my history: a girl who loved a boy, naively and sweetly, for a very long time before finding a truer, deeper love with an amazing woman. The me that dated her high school boyfriend for 5 years really thought she would marry him and make a happy life together. The me that exists now has a depth and breadth that younger person never would have sought, and a lot of that has to do with experiencing and loving this amazing queer community. I can’t just label a certain time period “straight” me and the current time “gay” me, so I guess bisexual is my compromise. I just can’t decide if my past is central enough to who I am now to need to share it outside my close friend group. I really usually just want to say “I’m queer, dammit, and I love it!”

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    This piece makes me feel so much better about not figuring it all out until I was 24. I could never fully identify with my peers growing up and even into college and beyond, but I couldn’t ever put my finger on what made me different. I only wish I would have read this sooner.

    Thank you.

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    First of all this: “Flirting with/seducing guys felt like a fun game and despite my eventual mastery of that art, winning was still a rush every time.” That’s something it took me a while to figure out.
    This is one of the first things I’ve read that feels similar to my experience.
    I am out and proud, but it’s harder to do that sometimes without a label that feels like it fits. I alternatively use bisexual/queer/gay/ “I date women” or let people make whatever assumptions they would like.
    Thank you for writing this more eloquently than I could.

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    Reading this article was like exhaling 20 years of uncertainty and 5 restless months of tumultuous, peer-criticized self-discovery. I think i’m starting to figure out how to fit in, be strong and fuck labels.

    Riese, you are wonderful!

  124. Pingback: so here’s the thing « 811.54

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    Thank you Riese, I’m grateful that you bothered to share something very personal which speaks clearly of the journey of becoming oneself, and acknowledging which desires can exist, solely and mutually. I am validated by you sharing your truth, as you say
    “But — if you dare to let go, if you dare to stop thinking about what box you fit into and just start being who you are and letting yourself want what you want, then I think you’ll wake up one day and find yourself sitting in the right box which might not be a box at all.”

    Choices are alive, and that is what you have communicated so well. That whatever choice for each one of us feels right and true, then it isn’t a box, it is only expansive and spacious, with a side of comfort too. Thankyou for this.

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    I can’t possibly convey how thankful I am that you wrote this and decided to share it with us. I have never, ever read or heard anyone talk about their life in a way that made me feel like I may not be completely crazy. I felt the pressure of defining myself lift of my shoulders as I read your words. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

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    “Secondly, I don’t think I’m attracted to MEN, I liked boys a lot better when I was younger and they were younger and still looked like girls.”

    I yelled, “Holly shit!” to my cat over and over again when I read that line because I relate to it so much and it filled me with so much UNDERSTANDING. Wow. It’s like you put into words what confusing unanswered anecdotes had been floating around in my head for the last seven years.

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    I (kinsey 5) don’t feel either bisexual or lesbian are false. on the contrary, it’s all true. Lookit, i’m lesbian, bisexual and pansexual simultaneously.

    Kinsey 5 is:
    Pansexual – according to a qualitative judgement on absolute terms.
    Bisexual – according to a qualitative judgement on absolute terms, rounded down to integers
    Lesbian – according to a judgement of Bayesian reasoning.
    Awesome – just because :P

    I have a no-tolerance policy for past though – if i can say something about myself that’s true, it’s TRUE, end of. Otherwise we are rehashing the old/new money discussion.

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    Thank you for sharing. Preach on sister!

    This exactly feels like what I’ve been going through these past few years. Still dealing with labels, which I don’t like by the way. We are who we are, and no label or any single descriptive word can truly describe who someone is.

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