Labels: For Jelly Jars, For Lesbian and Bisexual People, Or For Both?

Hey! Guess what there’s an article in ELLE Magazine today that asks if a “post-LGBT era” has arrived. I would definitely say “oh lord no” to that question, but the article contains more than just that question, it has other thoughts and ideas inside it. It starts out just talking about celebrities, which is confusing, because, well — non-heterosexual celebrities refusing to label themselves has been pretty popular for quite some time. Furthermore, celebrities, who have tightly managed public images, and orchestrated ways of speaking about themselves and evading personal questions, are dealing with a whole different set of pressures than Kids These Days when it comes to sexuality labels. So I don’t really know that Miley Cyrus and Kristen Stewart are setting a trend.

But, despite what its accompanying graphics would suggest, luckily this article talks about more than just celebrities! It goes on to surmise and then ask:

The thought of discarding it like an outdated dress feels more untethering than it does liberating, which is why I stumble on the thought that we’ve truly reached a new point in sexual liberation, where asserting an L, G, B, or T has grown obsolete. Are we really in the primordial stages of a post-coming out era? Or is this a fashionable way to stay in the closet? It is a step forward or a step backward?

Firstly — the article is pretty focused on sexual orientation, not gender, and “T” is not the same kind of “label” as L,G, or B, and shouldn’t be discussed as one. That aside, there are some interesting quotes from some interesting people in this article. Today in Slack we learned that the piece is a big conversation starter. Maybe it’s a conversation a lot of you would like to have, even!

So, we thought we’d get started by talking about how we identify, and why. I’ve got no clue if not identifying as literally nothing is becoming popular outside of Kristen Stewart refusing to grant us the honor of a headline with “Kristen Stewart” and “Lesbian” in it, but it definitely seems to be true that young people are more likely to identify as the perceived-as-more-expansive “queer” now than they used to, as data from our own Reader Surveys suggest:


So, this is how the Autostraddle team members who were in Slack at 5PM EST today identify! I put it in order by age.

IMG_5830Alaina, 24, Staff Writer: I used to call myself a lesbian (sometimes), but I now almost exclusively call myself queer. I use it because of the revolutionary political implications I associate it with, but also I use it because it makes straight people so uncomfortable. They have no clue what queer means — neither for themselves nor for me. It forces straight people to look at me and sit in the uncomfortableness of not knowing who or how I fuck and demands that they respect me regardless of that. I also use it because I’m a little confused about my sexuality — it’s not stagnant, it’s always evolving and changing. And as a non-binary person, queer fits me in a way other things don’t. Because of the constraints of language, grammatically it feels weird to call myself a lesbian sometimes, and gay feels too…normative? I associate ‘gay’ with the HRC, marriage, and an obsession with proving to straight people that I’m just like they are, so pretty please don’t deny me my rights! So I like using queer because it’s non-specific enough to confuse straight people and allow me to figure myself out in the midst of all that confusion. It has it’s downfalls that I’m trying to negotiate — primarily the class/education privilege I’ve found to be associated with it — but for now, it fits.

maddieMaddie, 24, Staff Writer: I identify as queer because it makes me feel good and it also is accurate because I’m attracted to people of various genders. I don’t really care if people call me gay or lesbian, but I like it better if they say that while at least knowing that my sexual orientation is a little more complex than those words’ direct meanings.

brittani-and-carmenCarmen, 25, Straddleverse Editor: I identify with lots of words / ideas: lesbian, gay, queer being the most prominent. I struggled for hella long when I realized I wasn’t straight to pick a label that fit, and the finality freaked me out — but lesbian felt right nonetheless. after all, that’s what I am! A gay chick who likes gay chicks. (And look! There’s the “gay” thing. You can call me gay, that’s cool. It’s not just for dudes anymore. Maybe.) I also revel in IDing as “queer” because i think it aligns a lot with my self-perception as a fringe-y weirdo outsider who also has some leftist policies, and also because it reminds me that I’m one of many brilliant shining stars who experience their sexualities similarly and differently from me but are still my companions in this strange world.

AudreypicAudrey, 25, Staff Writer: I identify as bisexual because it best describes my sexual and relationship behavior and because it feels crucial to speak out from a bi position given that bisexual people face the most violence and get the fewest resources in the LGB community. I identify as queer because queerness  is at the root of my community, my politics and my gender. I sometimes say that I was born bisexual and choose queerness.


Yvonne, 25, Senior Editor: I’m a woman who loves women. I most identify as a lesbian because it deliberately rejects men from my association —which I like very much — and most importantly it centers women in my identity. I also like to reaffirm the lesbian identity because it’s usually associated with older generations who aren’t inclusive so I like to show people that lesbians are radical in their politics and worldview and want progress for the entire queer community.

mesmall_360Raquel, 27, Intern: I identify as queer and sometimes as bisexual if I feel like being political about it but apparently the kids these days prefer pansexual and I have a lot of feelings about that but also I feel a lot of shrugs. Specifically ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Rachel_KincaidRachel, 27, Senior Editor: I identify as both as bisexual and queer — I tend to use “queer” more often in straight or mixed straight/LGBT spaces when I mostly want to indicate that I’m not straight, and bisexual more in majority-LGBT spaces when it’s more useful to indicate “what kind” of queer I am. I also fit the definition of pansexual in that I’m attracted to people of multiple different genders, but that also overlaps with the definition of bisexual that I use — “attracted to the same and other genders” — and I identify more with the history and activism around the label “bisexual.”

Erin-A+Erin, 29, Staff Writer: I identify as gay and qualify that as having no interest in cis men.

lauramLaura M, 29, Staff Writer: I identify as “queer,” “bisexual misandrist” and also “lesbian.”

MEYMey, 29, Trans Editor: I identify as a lesbian but I also identify as queer. I like lesbian because it makes it clear I’m in no way interested in men and queer because it sounds political and radical and it makes old people feel weird.

stef-schwartzStef, 32, Music Editor: I guess I identify as queer or “equal opportunity” but usually when people ask me how I identify I say I don’t.

laneiaLaneia, 34, Executive Editor: I mostly call myself queer. I like that the word itself is off-putting to most straight people, and I like that the dictionary definition of queer is “weird,” because that’s something I’ve been called since Kindergarten. I embraced my weirdness early on, so after embracing my big ol’ gayness, I decided I felt most connected to queer. I love that this one little word encompasses so much of who I actually am: a happy, unapologetic lesbian who enjoys making normcore heterosexuals feel uncomfortable and out of the loop.

Riese-BernardRiese, 34, Editor-in-Chief: I sometimes say that I am bisexual by birth, lesbian by choice. Or something. On the day-to-day I don’t really care — queer, lesbian, gay, whatever. If I had to pick one, I’d pick “queer,” because it honors who I was (bisexual) and who I am (lesbian) and it’s a weirdo word and I’m a weirdo. But the more I get into studying lesbian history, the more I find myself drawn to “lesbian.” So many women fought so hard to live openly as lesbians and to find pride in that identity and I don’t want to reject/disregard that history, I want to embrace it and understand it and build on it, not against it. (I also like that it’s a word men can’t use.) I feel weird about people saying they “reject” labels — like, you can say that labels aren’t for you, personally, without acting like labels are suffocating or retro. In straight spaces, I usually just say “gay” / hope that nobody talks to me.

ajaAja, 35, Beauty Editor: I identify as a lesbian, married w/ child.

heatherhoganHeather, 37, Senior Editor: I identify as a lesbian because I’m a woman who is primarily attracted to and only interested in having romantic relationships with other woman. And while I also label myself as gay and queer, I prefer lesbian because it’s a word that struck terror into my heart for so long because of my religious upbringing and I distanced myself from it as far as possible for two decades of my life —  but after I came out and embraced it, I found that “lesbian” didn’t seek to alienate me, but rather to connect me to a sacred and powerful history of women (women, women, women, and only women) just like me.

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, 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! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3228 articles for us.


  1. I very much relate to what Laneia said. I used the word queer around my mom once and she told me she didn’t like that word because she thought it was insulting to gay people. And while it kind of made me want to pat my mom on the head for sticking up for gay people in her own out-dated mom way, I told her, “Well, it’s not really up to you what word they use.”

    And I actually also like it because it means weird because I’ve always been called weird and I learned to embrace my weirdness, partially just because I am weird, but also, it worked as a defense mechanism. Like, if it’s obvious I know I’m weird and am cool with it, you can’t use it as an insult. That was super helpful to have already come to that conclusion when I was in elementary school.

    • I love the word ‘queer’ as well. Bigots don’t realize it, but ‘queer’ is also a recognition of that unfathomable complexity that queer people have. The enigma of their sexuality.

      Also, your mom is awesome!

    • A very similar thing happened to me with my mom! In fact, my mom told me that *I* couldn’t use the word queer because it is a slur. It made me very uncomfortable because I was, in fact, describing myself and the people I align myself with. Also, it was via Facebook messenger, which made it very difficult to respond to.

      On an only tangentially related side note, my mom only uses the gay stickers on Facebook messenger with me. I think she’s trying to be supportive?

  2. Ooooh I love this. Only in the past couple years have I come to understand why labels are important (for me, at least). All of these statements are great–Yvonne’s really resonates (connecting with a slightly older generation really gave me a different perspective on the importance of labels), as does Reise’s (I don’t think I was ever bi, but rather did not want to label because I wanted to stay “open to possibility”–eh, that’s no longer a possibility I’m even remotely interested in considering) and Heather’s (it is a scary word).

    Thank you!

    (24, lesbian/gay/queer)

  3. Really interesting to hear all the different reasons people identify as they do!

    I’ve felt most comfortable with “queer” in the past because my attractions are kind of complicated/confusing, but now that I know myself a bit better I’m liking “lesbian” because I think it more accurately reflects what I actually want. I’m feeling more and more lately like I really just want to exclusively date women (& watch movies about women & read women authors & surround myself with women in general–idk I’m just really into the ladies these days). I still like queer for many reasons but I’m also enjoying being a woman-identified woman.

    • I got into a long, exhausting discussion on AfterAllen about whether women who were sometimes attracted to men (or even sometimes slept with men, which I guess is another issue) can be lesbian – and hearing from women who’ve chosen the term because they simply don’t want relationships with men makes me feel a little less stupid. (Though I still realise that as a bisexual woman, it’s not for me to decide who gets to label themselves lesbian and I should probably have left that discussion to others…)

      • IMO labels exist to communicate something useful, e.g. advertising who you’re looking to date/fuck. They don’t necessarily need to reflect your innermost “true” self, and sexuality is often too complex for that to be practical anyway. I know a lot of people within the LGBT community take a much more black and white view, though, which is why I only felt comfortable with (and entitled to) the ambiguity of “queer” for such a long time.

  4. I feel like I’m trying to run my identity of two separate operating systems.

    One operating system is still widely used and is compatible with most people/programs out there, but it feels comparatively dated because it’s missing some updates re: gender.

    The other operating system is fully up to date with regards to variance in gender, sexuality, experience, and expression, but because it was built differently from the ground up, it’s not compatible with the most widely used operating system.

    The first operating system feels like my lesbian identity. It used to fit my needs about 99.999% of the time, but as I’ve continued to “update” as an individual, I find that the first system serves me less and less, and yet it still feels weird to move on. I’m definitely not attracted to cis men. I definitely am attracted to genders outside of women, though, I just didn’t know that could even be a *feature* of myself until just a couple years ago. These past years I’ve also been experiencing my own gender as more fluid, and now that I’m dating a trans man it just feels wrong and disingenuous to call myself a lesbian. But I’m still sad about not getting to. I don’t want to invalidate other peoples’ identities by calling myself a lesbian when I’m not just a strictly woman-loving-woman, including the identities of those I date and those who identify as lesbians. But there was a large chunk of my life I felt like a lesbian. And now I feel like I should that label should be taken from me because it only fits my attraction profile 97% of the time? I don’t know. I think, for me, the labels conversation will always pervaded by an aura of confusion. But maybe that’s how I know I’m doing it right?

    Also, sorry for attempting that analogy. I have no idea why I did because I know nothing about computers or operating systems or anything #LesbiansWhoDontTechWhoAlsoMaybeArentLesbians

    • I hope you don’t have to be confused to be doing it right, because I finally stopped being confused. XD Not that I wasn’t sure who I could be into before, I just wasn’t sure in what way and what that made me.

  5. i’m always curious how old people are, so i like that y’all included that info.

    carmen’s take on labels is pretty similar to mine, though i think i’m a little (lot) less chill about it. like, i’m more or less fine with “lesbian,” ’cause i deffo am one, and i really like “queer” both for the political connotations and the fact that i’m a big weirdo, but i use “gay” the most often because it’s the simplest and most benign. i’d love to use queer as a label more often, but i’m not quite there on being delighted at confusing heteros and making them uncomfortable. similarly, i sometimes struggle butting up against the connotations straight people apply to “lesbian” and end up not using it. i should prolly get over that.

  6. I like it when straight ppl tell me what words I can’t use

    I have a subset of friends that are all LGBTQ and who all react to straight people getting weird about “queer” by deadpanning at them

    “that’s gay”

    Because it freaks em out / short circuits their brains

    But this only works with that one group of friends who I know 100% Get Me.

    Also I feel like a bisexual lesbian if that makes any sense like

    I have absolutely no intention of dating men, specifically because of how I see myself in relation to gender and society and whatever

    But that doesn’t mean I’ve never been attracted to men

    Although that’s shifting, I think, more and more these past few years

    IDK. It isn’t a part of my identity I want to seperate myself from, because realizing I was A Queer was also really tied up in then realizing how many of my supposedly enlightened friends still had weird hang-ups about bisexuality

    So I feel a bit protective of that identity I guess

    And a bit connected to it still

  7. BUT

    While finding a label for my sexuality was, like, MASSIVE

    And a huge very validating deal since I actually didn’t know bisexuality was real until, at age 19, my brain melted and I felt the need to tentatively Google it

    My gender identity is a DIFFERENT STORy

    I spent literally years in a semi constant state of panic over this thing, this gender thing, that I couldn’t name

    Because it didn’t seem to exist in a vacuum

    I could not and cannot seperate from societal expectation and gender stereotypes

    And shelving that issue was such a huge relief

    Now I just say my gender is “lesbian dad” or “dad jokes” and everyone p much knows what I mean and it feels very freeing, y’all

    • Which is to say that I can understand how some people might shy away from labels for sexuality

      Since I’m sure the same principle holds true for squiggly sexualities as it does for grey area genders

    • “Dad jokes” as a gender identity is amazing. And so relatable. By telling me something about you, you totally just taught me something about myself. Thanks!

  8. Yeah like above, I prefer lesbian because there’s no beating around the bush about my disinterest in dudes. I called myself queer when I was in my questioning phase, but I didn’t like all the political stuff that went with it and I also felt like I was being apologetic for not liking guys by waffling around the fact. That said I don’t introduce myself as a lesbian to straight people because of all the porn/threesome/male gaze bs they associate with that word (especially since I’m so feminine), instead I introduce myself as a gay woman at least until it’s understood I’m still a person despite being a lesbian. So that’s probs real apologetic as well.

  9. Also, i didn’t even really think about this, but i say that i’m gay all the freaking time. like, I don’t think i really use it as a label, but more of a rhetorical device bc sometimes it’s just funnier or simpler to call myself gay than anything else.

    • Agreed. And gay just works in conjunction with more things, like gaydar or gaymo or gaybies or gaycation, I can go on and on and on. Like, it’s great that lesbian is a word that completely excludes men, and I’m glad that we hav that, but c’mon, lesbian is just a terrible word.

      • Allison – Yes! This is how I feel about lesbian…I sometimes deliberately say it with a lisp when bantering with the missus. Label wise if I was checking a box I am a lesbian but in life if on the reg to describe myself I say Gay, it’s less syllables and god I just hate the way lesbian as a word feels to say. I also hate Fr words.

    • Yes, sometimes I do this too! I’m bi, but I see “gay” used as an umbrella term around the internet so much that occasionally I also use it. For instance, I was at my cousin’s wedding this weekend, and I was very conscious of being “the gay cousin” in my mom’s family. Somehow “the bi cousin” just doesn’t make that point in the same way.

  10. This makes my queer <3 sing. I love hearing all the ways people take what can be a confining question and make it feel safe, & empowering, and also like we are all in on a big gay inside joke where everyone is giggling except straight cis men. Larua M- "bisexual misandrist" LOL YES. Mey, omg yesss and also to your rhetorical "gay" references! I call myself "gay" all the time but don't usually say it when people ask me how I "identify."

  11. This is so interesting! I’m 24, and I identify as bi/queer/gay.

    I try to use “bi/bisexual” as often as possible, partially because it’s what feels like it fits the best, and partially to counteract all the stigma and invisibility. But it also feels too clinical for some contexts or just linguistically inflexible. So it’s like a well-tailored suit.

    “Queer” I pretty much only use around other queer folks because I can’t be bothered to explain it to the Straights, but I like how accommodating it is and you really can’t go wrong with it. So it’s like an oversized sweater.

    And “gay” is one I’ve only adopted in the past couple years – not because I feel like I’ve changed, but because it feels like the word has. So it’s like a pair of jeans that were too tight but are now pretty loose and comfy, and appropriate for most situations.

    • (And to complete this metaphor – I considered “lesbian” for a bit because I’m basically homoromantic, but the physical attraction to men just kept it from ever feeling like a fit. So it’s the cute flannel that’s a size too small and gives me a boob window when I try to button it. But like, sometimes I’m tempted to wear it anyway.)

    • Yes–love the clothes analogies too! I sometimes describe the word “queer” as a pair of sweatpants: I’m pretty sure it’s always gonna fit me comfortably, if not very specifically.

      And when people say “labels are for clothes,” I’m like “Well yeah, that’s how I can find clothes [or dates or communities or medical research etc.] that fit me!”

      Because the generic “one size fits all” of sexuality is usually only made for straight people.

  12. Everything about Audrey’s statement pings dead on for me. Queer is all encompassing and I appreciate it for that reason, but it is so so so very important to me to identify as bisexual because of the misconceptions and hate directed towards the term and bisexual individuals from both the straight community and the LGBT community. Bisexual is a word people dodge, and I’m all about being difficult and vocal, especially because there are so many wonderful fellow bisexuals in my life who face the same bullshit as me because of their identity.

    And the sooner bisexual becomes a culturally acceptable identity instead of something to shun or shame, the sooner all these super queer celebs can stop dodging labels and join Evan Rachel Wood Bisexual.

    • Like tbh this is I think the reason I still ID as bisexual, despite never wanting to date a man

      Coming to terms with my sexuality also involved schooling a lot of people I didn’t think would need to be schooled on LGBTQ issues

      And I’m so genuinely annoyed by how often bisexuality is tied up in how we devalue the choices of teen girls

      So bisexual is what I say when I’m not emotionally exhausted and thus have the energy to be Political

    • Oh my goodness yes to all of this. I identify as queer because it encompasses the whole community and bisexual because it’s so important to me that bisexuality is acknowledged and isn’t just overlooked.

      Plus, I like the word pansexual in the abstract but it’s never quite fit for me because, although I’m attracted to multiple genders, I don’t feel like it’s “regardless of gender.” Like, I’m attracted to women in a way I’m not to men? It’s kind of qualitatively different somehow. Does anyone else get that?

  13. I’ll say “super-gay” when I’m telling somebody a story where it’s relevant to say so, but I’m pretty sure they can see that already.

    But then one guy responded to that by asking how gay super gay is and I nearly killed him with my Lazer Eyes. Now I’m on the Nobody Talk To Me team.

    • I’ve been known to use “super gay”… or, “on a scale of gay, I’m like Ellen gay”. Mostly reserve these phrases for cis-het dudes who assume that a femme saying she’s gay means she’s actually bisexual and will still consider sleeping with them.

  14. I love everything about this.

    I relate to a lot of these various descriptions. Also I’m stealing Luara’s phrase “bisexual misandrist” and adding to my collection.

    I use a shitton of labels and feel like I don’t have to be super strict about them.

    – I use bisexual because I can be and have been attracted to more than one gender.
    – I use lesbian because as Yvonne said, it deliberately rejects men. Sure I still am bisexual in that I COULD like some cis men but like I’d rather go through the entire world’s worth of women first.
    – I use wlw because I am a woman and I love women and it avoids when being both bisexual and lesbian seem like a conflict. Also I like to pronounce it “willow”. (Similarly I use “sapphic” with my “bisexual”)
    – I use Hella Gay because I’m from NorCal and everything is hella something including my sexuality.
    – I use grey-asexual and demisexual and ace all together and varyingly because that’s all wishy washy which is most accurate on any given day but mostly sex is low priority for me.

    In all of these labels I’ve found community and shared experience and identity…

    And then there’s “queer”. God the word queer.

    Queer is a reclaimed word. Queer is a political word. Queer is what the radical folx I met in college in Oregon were. Queer is bold and provocative and queer is for…. not me? I struggled with this for a long time. It basically boiled down to I am white and cis and basically privileged all to hell. Queer felt like a term I couldn’t use because I wasn’t… oppressed enough? Because I never struggled with my identity, because there were enough other ways to describe myself. I didn’t feel I could reclaim a word that never would have been used against me. I didn’t feel the fact that my identity was always very very easy for me was political enough.

    But I’ve come to find a lot of community under the umbrella of “queer” and a lot of that community has embraced me like it didn’t matter that my background felt too shiny.

    And let’s face it sometimes it’s just really long when someone asks my identity to say “oh I’m a sapphic bisexual lesbian biromantic grey-demi-asexual HELLA GAY”. As Alaina said, “queer” makes straight people uncomfortable (a fun hobby). “Queer” also makes it very clear that I am not straight without it becoming my responsibility to teach straights about all the ins and outs of more particularly labeled queer identities.

    So sometimes I’m many many things all at once. And sometimes, I’m just queer.

    • Oh man, Bee, I completely feel you on the qualms about identifying as “queer”. It has always seemed like a label I would LIKE to claim, but didn’t DESERVE to claim, because I haven’t struggled, because I haven’t done enough activism, because I’m white and cis and privileged and went to law school and want to get married in a synagogue one day and have my father walk me down the aisle. I use “queer” as an umbrella term to refer to OTHER people, but it’s always felt like it didn’t really apply to me.

    • I also totally feel your feels on the word queer. And have definitely had the experience of feeling accepted and welcomed into queer spaces and communities. But on the other hand, I didn’t come out to myself or anyone else until I was 28 and before that I lived with all the day-to-day privilege of a cis straight person… Except that I was also unhappy and super closeted. So it all feels very messy and complicated.

  15. I would also like to say that all of the pictures y’all used for yourselves in this article are so great. What a bunch of babes.

  16. When I talked to my mum about being Queer, the other day, I was surprised that she had never heard of the label before (and had thought it offensive). When I talked to my boss about being bisexual, the other day, I was surprised that he didn’t believe it was real (and had thought it selfish). To be fair I had productive conversations with both, and both were polite and acknowledged they came from a place of ignorance about the labels, but it was still, surprising. Labels aren’t just and expression (or a constraint), they are also a means to draw a deliberate boundary around yourself; which is to say they can be a protective and assertive force too. I love to see that get touched upon repeatedly in the article!

    Like Rachel, I feel the pansexual label also fits me, but I’m not especially attached to it, and I identify strongly with the political and social struggles involving bisexuality: I tried to explain to my (gay) boss that in the same way a straight person might not be able to get their head around what it was like to feel attraction to the same gender, being bisexual was also it’s own separate experience: and was quite apart from his own history of being married to a woman before he came out. I also explained how what he was expressing could be harmful, and he seemed to take both those points on board.

    Articulating what Queer meant, to my (70 yr old) Mum, was a little harder because it feels more overtly political; I think I focused on the fact that it’s a useful umbrella term for the range of identities outside hetero and cisnormative ones, while pointing out that it was not universal. I like the fact that it embraces my identity as a woman, who is trans, who does not often express her gender identity in conventionally feminine ways.

    I personally identify with Dyke and Butch, but I’m unsure they, and their history, belongs to me because I am bisexual and feel like I fall short in some respects. Plus some of the most “Butch” women I’ve know have been completely straight, which is very cool but makes me really wonder if I even understand what I am talking about.

    • I love this phrasing: labels “are also a means to draw a deliberate boundary around yourself; which is to say they can be a protective and assertive force too.” I feel like that’s an idea I’m always trying to express, and I really like the way you put it.

      (Also I feel you on the bi/pan label debate – I feel pretty much the exact way you and Rachel described!)

  17. I’m Type-A. I make to-do lists and pro-con lists, I colour-code my notes and carefully organize all the files on my computer. I like when I can fit things into neat little boxes. I need labels. So when I fell in love with a girl at the age of 20, I needed to be able to label myself. And I chose the label “lesbian” primarily because I thought the only alternative was “bisexual”, and that scared me, because it wasn’t a neat enough categorization for me. It felt too broad, too unsure. At the time, I felt hopelessly alone, and I really needed to be a part of a community, and even then I could understand that bi erasure was a thing, and I still feel very guilty about the way I’ve perpetuated that.

    But the truth is that “lesbian” doesn’t fit perfectly either. Because while yes, I identify as a woman who is primarily attracted to other women, that has not always been the case, and I have no guarantee that it will CONTINUE to always be the case. Six and a half years ago, I fell in love with a woman, and it SHOCKED me. So who knows if six years from now I’ll be shocked to find I’ve fallen in love with a man?

    But until that day comes, I’ll continue to label myself a lesbian. Or gay, the two are interchangeable for me. Why not queer, you ask? Because again, I like labels, and categories, and “queer” doesn’t feel specific enough for me. I use it as an umbrella term, encompassing the entire alphabet soup, and so in that way yes, I identify as queer. But mostly I associate queer with radical activism that I don’t feel entitled to claim, so it is a term that I use for others, but not really for myself.

    • I am also type-A, but didn’t really think about how that applied to the security I feel from labels and categories until reading your comment. Thank you for articulating. :)

      And I also feel similarly about queer–it conveys a radical and political aspect that I just don’t feel belongs to me.

  18. This discussion is so important to me as someone who’s felt 4 billion different ways about labels at different times. I definitely see the value in labels, but I’m also starting to feel more and more like I want to include it as a part of the list of facts about me like…”this is who I’m interested in dating, this is who I’m attracted to, this is who I’d be intimate with, etc.” I feel like queer really works with my attitude. I’ve always really liked “queer” for both its non-specificity and political/social connotations. It also seems to capture my feelings regarding gender identity. It feels really right because of all of this.

    I certainly don’t mind “gay” or “lesbian”. Though, of the two I do prefer “lesbian” since it’s something men can’t use.

  19. I’m 21 years old and I identify as a lesbian. I also consider myself sapphic along with all other wlw. I cannot stand being called qu**r and its prevalence is very distressing to me. I don’t have a problem with people reclaiming it for themselves but terms like “qu**r women,” the “qu**r community,” or God forbid, “qu**rs” as a noun all make me feel physically sick to my stomach (I mean that very literally). Just because some LGBTQ people have reclaimed it doesn’t mean we all have and to some of us (even younger people like me) it is still a very upsetting and violent slur.

    So that’s the main reason why I’m not qu**r, and the two other secondary reasons are 1) I don’t like using the same word for my sexuality and politics (and I disagree with some so-called qu**r politics so there’s that) and 2) I think women-specific language is very important, which is why I think words like lesbian and sapphic are so fucking important. Sapphic women are so often subsumed under the experiences and issues of gay and bi men. Heck, even qu**r was originally a word to describe gay and bi men; I like using words specific to my own community and on my own terms, not being subsumed under men’s.

    • Word. I’m so upset that my fellow WLW are constantly using qu**r as a catch-all. It’s still a slur to me and I have not reclaimed it and I find it completely offensive when people use it to refer to me. Y’all can only reclaim it for yourself. =/ When you force it on other members of your community who haven’t reclaimed it, that’s not okay. And then people get defensive and say, “Well if you don’t identify as qu**r then you’re not part of the qu**r community!” when they were clearly referring to WLW community or whatever, not some subset of WLW who identify as qu**r. Lovely. I wish they could just admit they messed up and try to do better in the future. It’s really frustrating and distressing.

      I identify as lesbian because even though I have attraction to men (mostly fictional), I don’t want to date or have sex with or even talk to almost any men. I don’t want to read about them, write about them, watch them on TV, or play them on video games. I was identifying as bisexual because I’m attracted to nearly every gender except men, but now I’m calling myself lesbian. To me, it’s just shorthand for “No Boys Allowed,” and it’s incredibly effective at communicating that. While I would prefer more nuance in my label, “lesbian” is the closest to what I want to convey when I only have a single word. (I also use “gay” interchangeably, but I appreciate that lesbian is exclusively for women.)

    • Every term has it’s issues. “Gay” as an umbrela term erases the experience of the remainder of the community. Acromyms like LGBT/LGBTQ/LGBTQAI+ risk leaving out certain groups entirely and also implicitly rank them (lesbians and gays first, followed by bisexuals, with transgender people and everyone else essentiatlly treated as an afterthought). Saying something like “non-straight and/or non-cis” defines our community only as different from the norm which I personally find very unappealing. I feel like GSM (gender and sexual minorities) is a decent option, but it’s not widely used or understood and I’m not totally sure that bisexual people actually are a minority, given that the prelevance of people acknowleging some attraction to multiple genders has grown immensely over time.

      You deserve to have your prefrences respected when possible, but to me there is value in taking terms in the spirit in which they are used. When someone accidently calls you queer they aren’t doing it to harm you, they are doing it in an attempt to be inclusive. Yes, they’ve made a mistake, and you’re certiantly with your ights to correct them – but it’s an understandable mistake and one that is very challenging to avoid, even for the most committed progressives.

  20. I like read the responses here, in addition to you guys’ summaries in the article. =)

    Me, I just go by whatever feels best to me on any particular day.

  21. I id as a lesbian and sometimes gay

    I must have been at a weird cross-generation or community where everyone in LGBT spaces was really getting into using queer as a de-radicalized catch all term, but I was still hearing it being hurled at me everywhere else. So it still carries all that baggage of a word intended to strike fear and shame, but I don’t think I can ever feel empowered by reclaiming it because I never had the choice in taking it back – it was already the *expectation* that I identify with it. For me “queer” has either too many teeth or none at all.

    But I would guess that “lesbian” is to me what queer means to a lot of people. It is something that I hated a lot when I was younger. I associated lesbians with either porn or the butt of someone else’s joke. Either too much the product of male fantasy or too exclusive/mean/ugly/political. Even when I knew I was only attracted to women, to claim “lesbian” felt like a death sentence to my worth as a person.

    But taking back the word and using it despite people’s discomfort and judgment, to finally be able to confidently state who I am without equivocation and embrace all those ‘negative’ connotations I despised in myself, it feels like the perfect balance of peace and empowerment.

  22. I’m pretty young (high school senior) so that probably affects my identity and means my identity will probably change.

    I mostly refer to myself as gay. I’m nonbinary (semi-out) and this makes the term lesbian feel a bit weird (I’ve used it to describe myself before, but I don’t really prefer it and think it feels a bit weird). I’m attracted mostly to girls and nonbinary people and non-cis men, I think, but I don’t have much experience with getting crushes (much less with relationships) so I’m not really sure. I guess my identity is mostly theoretical at this point.

    I think I might be demiromantic or greysexual or something but I don’t really like those kinds of labels because I don’t personally find them useful (if you like them for yourself more power to you). I really do want to date someone there’s just no one specific in my life that I want to date and I’m fairly sure there’s no one in my life currently who wants to date me at all.

    I like the term gay because it’s gender neutral and it’s often been used as a catch all term for the LGBT community (obviously this isn’t really a good thing and probably has some complicated political and social reasons behind it but it is true). Once while introducing myself in an LGBT youth group I said that I don’t really know how to define the attraction I feel because current labels tend to be based off of the idea that you’re a boy or a girl, but when people construed that as me being label-less I felt the need to clarify that whatever kind of attraction I feel toward whatever gender is definitely going to be gay. Gay is a word I’m attached emotionally, not really sure why. It was a word that was hard for me in the beginning to claim (a fact that my mom likes to forget, I’ve been casually out for long enough that other people forget/don’t know that it was actually hard for me to do in the first place) and a word that really made me a part of a community, but I feel like my attachment goes beyond that.

    I like the word queer, especially because the first few times I saw it were when I was reading British novels that used it as a word for “strange” or “weird”. I’ve always felt a bit weird. I’m too shy to use it most of the time, though.

    The people around me are very supportive (many of them are LGBT themselves) but many people in my high school aren’t and if I never have to pretend not to hear conversations with the f-slur or conversations between guys about girls “turning into” lesbians or making fun of pronouns again it’ll still have been too much. I think these micro aggressions are some things that have made me want to identify as gay more solidly and aggressively. Maybe partially as a quiet “fuck you” to them, just as a way to sorta hold myself up and be proud. It makes me less want to use the word queer because it makes me more aware of the word queer as a slur (I do still like the word queer for it’s openness though).

    My labels around gender identity and expression are way more up in the air at this point.

  23. I use queer because unlike “lesbian” or “gay” it doesn’t delegitimize my relationship with my cis-male-boyfriend, which was genuine for its run. I just shifted.

    I’m a label hater because I’ve only ever experienced it violently: either I get violently shoved into a label that isn’t actually mine because people won’t parse me as anything otherwise, or I’ll try to adopt a label for myself and people don’t recognize it or say I’m a faker. I find the ability to have your labels and identity recognized to be a kind of privilege, and I’ve NEVER understood the people who are all “labels help you find community!!!” because truth be told many of the deepest erasures and betrayals I’ve felt were from people who supposedly share the same “labels” as me, while people who are different to me take me at my word.

    • I think we all have different experiences here, but yeah it’s a privilege because you have the most chance of feeling like part of something through labels if a lot of people share that label. Still, it does help some of us find community.

  24. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about labels lately, since my own relationship to them has become rather complicated in recent times.

    The label that fits me best is probably lesbian- I’ve never had any real significant interest in men, and I like the female-centric vibe of lesbian. As a trans woman I find the latter especially empowering- especially since my discovery that trans lesbians are A Thing was an incredibly liberating step in my process of self-acceptance. I’ve felt a comfort within lesbian culture that I’d never experienced previously.

    Meanwhile, however, my partner’s identity has evolved to the point doesn’t actually explicitly identify as a woman (though, while she does tend to the more masculine end of the gender spectrum, she doesn’t identify as a man, either- in fact, as far as I can discern, the only consistent theme in her gender identity is “fuck you and your labels”). This has given me a bit of an identity crisis- can I still rightfully call myself a lesbian in this case? What if my partner decides they’re more comfortable with a male name/male pronouns, even if they don’t identify as a man? Or if they decide to go on T, at some point down the road? Is there a point where I have to renounce the first label that I’ve ever really felt comfortable with? I’ve heard criticism of women in relationships with trans-masculine individuals referring to themselves as lesbians, because it reinforces the notion that all lesbians are secretly attracted to men and just need “to find the right man.” But what if your partner’s identity doesn’t fit into a neat category? What labels do I have available to me?

    I’m not straight- in fact, I’m not really even bi- so those are obviously out. Queer seems like the next best fit- it’s ambiguous, covers a large umbrella of non-normative relationships and orientations, and I kind of like the implicit subversiveness of the term.

    Right now, I still identify, and a refer to myself as a lesbian (of course, just to make things confusing, my partner still occasionally refers to herself as a lesbian, or us as to being in lesbian relationship). However, I’ve been testing out simply referring to myself as a queer woman. It doesn’t feel quite as homey as lesbian does, but at the same time I don’t want to use words that I’m not entitled to.

    If anyone else has been in this sort of ambiguous situation, I’d definitely love to hear your thoughts!

  25. I use queer a lot, bisexual when I want people to know that my flavor of queerness is one that is attracted to both men and women (and also people who are neither, but I really don’t like the word pansexual and I have an old fashioned attachment to bi, so I’m keeping it).

    Occasionally I go with “practically a lesbian” or just “lesbian” when I’m either:

    1) trying to make it very clear that I don’t actually NEED men just because I am attracted to them. Like men could all be gone tomorrow and on a meta-level, I would not feel like I was missing anything either romantically or sexually even though there are individual men who I love very much and am quite attracted to. The reverse is not true – I would be absolutely devastated if all women disappeared.


    2)When I’m in a relationship with a woman/referring to a past relationship with a woman and just refer to us/the relationship as “lesbian” because it is quicker and easier and more or less accurate. (We two separately may not be lesbians, but when our powers combine…)

    • 100% supportive of people who refuse to accept the idea that bisexual erases non binary genders because THAT IN AND OF ITSELF ERASES BISEXUAL NONBINARY GENDERED PEOPLE

      I have rage about this, as a nonbinaryish bisexual person

      • I am a nonbinary bi-ish person and it frustrates the heck out of me when people try to say that “bi” erases nonbinary identities (especially when people tell me this to my face) because hi yes i am a nonbinary person who is also bi so please stop telling me what labels are acceptable for me thanks.

  26. I use lesbian to describe myself for a lot of reasons. Like others have mentioned, I like that it specifically excludes cis men. It’s also comfortable in a way that straight and bisexual (which I questioned before figuring things out) never really were. It took a while before I could even say it out loud, but once I did, I realized I like the way it feels in my mouth, the way it conveys exactly what I want to say when I use it to describe myself.

    I also use gay like Mey mentioned above, because it’s easier (it can be an adjective! Lesbian only sounds right to me as a noun!), and in the right context, lighter/funnier.

    (Age: 27)

  27. Thank you so much for this article. I feel like it’s a weight off my chest to see so many people openly discussing that the words they use to identify themselves don’t have the be consistent across contexts, because they aren’t for me either. Being able to say “I chose this label” rather than “This label is the only one that can diagnose my sexuality” is so liberating and important.

    As for myself, like many people have said I use “queer” in most contexts to keep the men away, and bi in queer spaces both to add specificity and also to assert the existence of bi women in the queer community, which can at times feel unwelcoming to those not monosexual. I’d like others to feel included by merit of me mentioning it. I wouldn’t use pan to describe myself because it would imply I have no gender preferences, but in fact I’m attracted to men far less than women and enby folx.

    • *finger snaps* to the chosen-versus-diagnosis-of-sexuality line in your comment. Yes yes yes. So much. As a queer woman I have often had friends say things like “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if they found the “gay gene” so people wouldn’t be discriminated against?”

      1) It’s so problematic to be searching for the “gay gene” and I think if something like that was found it would cause more problems than it would solve.

      But 2) I have always felt like if people choose these identities (whether or not they were “born this way”), then that is just as legitimate of an identity for that person.

  28. “I’m gay” is definitely what I use to cop out of difficult discussions with straight people

    I don’t have it in me to fight the good fight and be an ACTIVIST day in day out

    I just want to be allowed to exist without follow up questions

  29. I guess my struggle with saying I’m a lesbian versus bisexual is that both could fit and both feel slightly disingenuous

    I’m bisexual the opposite way that most women are assumed to be bisexual

    “oh so you’re straight but you’ll make out at parties”

    NO I’m mostly gay but like, I’d maybe make out with a guy maybe at a party

    I mean I don’t go to parties, but still

    Heterocurious if u will

    • There’s also the struggle of me feeling weird about an identity that hinges on my being a woman when I feel like a genderless blob most days and the closest I get to feeling like a woman is to be like

      A woman with a man’s name who likes they / them / their pronouns

      A woman with some footnotes about it and a few caveats

    • Well and it’s like

      The girls who fall under “oh so you’re straight but you’ll make out at parties” are probably actually “bisexual but you’ll make out at parties” but bisexuality is so frowned upon or they buy into “it’s normal for straight girls to be sexually attracted to other women” that they ID as straight and not bi

      So if we can get people to stop treating girls who like to make out at parties as “sluts” and “fake bisexuals” then maybe there will be a whole lot more bisexual girls to make out with at parties you guys

      • YES THIS also I’m always very mad about how the way young women act at parties is used against them like let a girl make out with another girl
        What’s the big deal here

        idgaf and neither should the self appointed identity and sexuality police

    • Yes! I wish I could describe myself as like, bicurious but coming from the completely opposite direction as most people, lol. I’m 95% gay but occasionally daydream about banging a guy. But then I meet one in real life and I’m just like “WHY ARE MEN LIKE THIS” and I go another 6 months without saying more than 5 words to any one dude.

      My problem with “lesbian” is that it’s hard to tell what it means sometimes. I use it to mean “I’m attracted to any gender except men (cis and trans alike).” but I feel weird about using men to define my orientation. I don’t know. But I’ve met so many “legitimate” lesbians who have attraction to men but won’t date them etc… So I’m kinda thinking that’s a normal part of being lesbian, whatever the cause.

      • for me its kinda complicated bc while i identify as a lesbian, i previously have felt attraction to a close friend who’s trans (he hasn’t started taking t but he wants to when financial situation is okay) like i find womens bodies attractive but its not like just aesthetics like i like both masc n fem aesthetics just not any men (except for this one friend) so im a lesbian who is hetrocurious i guess. i don’t think i’ve ever date a man and don’t feel any sexual attraction or desire for men, but the same time i can totally see myself marrying previous mentioned friend and having children together? like we just have a super intense platonic love and idk what that means for my sexuality but i find gay helpful

  30. When I was 16/17 I really started to evaluate my sexuality and the feelings that I had towards famous women and girls I went to school with. Around the end of my junior year in high school I settled on “lesbian”. I was so happy to put a namevalidated was feeling and find communities of other women who felt the same. It made me feel real and validated. I still use it mostly when someone asks and I just don’t feel like getting in to the specifics of my existence.

    But the older I get,the less I care about labels.

  31. I identify as queer, more as a default than anything else. I’m not really known for my exclusivity with women, so I can’t call myself a lesbian. But I’m also not really into men, as a group, so much as I occasionally find a person who happens to be a man that I’m attracted to for other reasons. I have identified as bisexual in the past, but have become really distanced from that over time, partly because it means that everyone assumes that I want to squee over hot guys with them, including other bi/queer/pan women. But also, I think that the effort to create a more robust bisexual community and culture has had the effect of removing me from bisexuality. I don’t begrudge bisexual women this culture, I just don’t fit into it.

    So, while I dislike the way that “queer” is an umbrella that erases some really important differences in sexual orientation, “sapphic” is not really a word that Millennials use, and queer appears to be the going label for women who are almost lesbian, but not quite.

  32. When I was 16/17 I really started to evaluate my sexuality and the feelings that I had towards famous women and girls I went to school with. Around the end of my junior year in high school I settled on “lesbian”. I was so happy to put a name to what I was feeling and find communities of other women who felt the same. It made me feel real and validated. I still use it mostly when someone asks and I just don’t feel like getting in to the specifics of my existence.But the older I get,the less I care about labels. It all started when I saw a picture of Jeffrey Star and was like “dayum”. I knew so little about gender at the time and assumed he was a woman at first glance. Blah blah blah, I learned about the gender binary, blah blah blah, I realized that I don’t personally give two shits about it, blah blah blah, I realized other people can feel the same way I do. So now, at 23 y/o I don’t care too much for labels. I know my aesthetic and personality types that I look for in partners and I just focus on that. If like Margot Robbie, Ellen Page or [insert random tattooed instagram model] or some other woman I’m in love/lust with were to say “Imma continue looking the way I look but my I.d is man.” Am I supposed to be like ‘Oh man, I lesbian, I don’t love you anymore’? Hell no I won’t.

    In conclusion: My sexuality is *agitated groan* and my gender is *glares at you and slowly backs out of the room*. But to make it easier for people that.just don’t understand, I’ll just say lesbian.

  33. Of late, I identify as a lesbian, and also as sapphic,gay,queer, woman loving woman, professional galpal, and femme.

  34. And also, really done with the stop labelling yourself, it’s only one part of you crowd. Labels work for some, and not for others. Labels have helped me find community.

    • Ooh, I should just identify as femslashed… Just one part of your favourite F/F OTP! ;)

  35. I’m turning 31 in a few days and I usually identify as queer. To me it just means “not straight,” and usually that’s all the information I want to give. If I felt like getting really specific, I’d say “homoromantic bisexual.”

    I also really like what Laura said about the “weird” connotation of “queer.” I love the sort of off-center quirky feeling of the term.

    Sometimes I’ll call myself gay if I’m being lazy or generalizing, but I’m pretty quick to correct people who refer to me as lesbian. It’s usually an assumption made because I’m married to a woman, and I don’t want my bisexuality to be erased.

    • Good for you for standing up for queerness/bisexuality while being married to a woman. Thank you for helping stop bi-erasure!

  36. I like to assign different dimensions of my identity to the words. Queer reflects my political identity in that I reject heteronormative structures, and find common bonds with others who reject that system. Lesbian is pretty direct in addressing my attraction to only femme-identified people. And gay is my qualifier, reflecting my mannerisms, humour and status as a non-straight person.

    • I love everything you just said. Although my qualifiers are slightly different (I’ve been attracted to women all across the MOC-femme spectrum and I am unfailing told that I don’t ‘seem gay’) this is almost exactly what I didn’t know how to say. If it makes a difference, I’m 31.

    • Ok, I hit post before I said the part I actually wanted to say. I love your distinction between politically queer and lesbian as a label to distinguish attraction. I’m attracted to the term ‘queer’ for the same reasons, and also the weirdo connotation/hetero upsetting that other people have mentioned. I’ve never felt quite right about using it to describe my sexuality though, I have only ever been attracted to women so it has never felt authentic in that sense.

    • Fun-fact: I have no lesbian friends who exist in my life offline, so I use “queer” as a community-building identity because every single person whom I’ve befriended (or dated, incidentally) who is not heterosexual is attracted to multiple genders. Except me. So I’m the unicorn who isn’t going to die on the Lesbian Hill alone. So, being queer means that I have common ground with people who don’t share my specific sexuality but who do share my worldview.

  37. “I also like to reaffirm the lesbian identity because it’s usually associated with older generations who aren’t inclusive so I like to show people that lesbians are radical in their politics and worldview and want progress for the entire queer community.”

    I love love LOVE this Yvonne. i definitely have been working on not automatically associating radical with queer because some of my favorite radical activists 10000000% id-ed as lesbians! thanks for that reminder!

  38. I usually just call myself gay, because that’s easier to say in passing than “nonbinary masculine-leaning person attracted mainly to other transmasculine people but also maybe interested in girls still but unsure about that due to some trauma that I haven’t hashed out yet”. I’ve also started using “queer”, since I’m tired of letting people try and hurt me with it. I like the agency of taking it back. Plus it gives me some much-needed wiggle room.

  39. I definitely don’t think we should abandon labels. Labels are empowering. Labels help provide an identity and a community. And I say this very generally, not just with regards to labels of sexuality or gender. Of course, the labels should be empowering to the individual WITH the label – not something forced upon them by society. And if a celebrity wants to be without a label, that’s perfectly fine. But it rubs me the wrong way when someone says “why can’t we just be blind to race/gender/sexual orientation/etc? Why can’t we just all be human?” Of course we’re all human and should all be treated with equality, but we should also be allowed to embrace diversity.

    Personally, I feel a much stronger connection to the term “lesbian” than “gay.” I think it’s because it’s specific to women, and historically, “gay” has referred mainly to men. I I don’t really feel much connection with the gay male community. I respect them as being a similar minority group, but I don’t know much about their culture or history. As I was in the process of coming out to myself, it was websites like Autostraddle and books like Annie on My Mind that helped me the most.

    I think I put down the terms “lesbian” and “queer” on the survey, because I think of the latter as an inclusive umbrella term. I often refer to the “queer community” because it seems more inclusive to me than LGBT (and less cumbersome than LGBTQIAA+).

    • I should also say that reading some of these comments is making me re-consider using the term “queer”. I want to be the most respectful as I can to all members of the LGBT+ community. On one hand, I don’t want to exclude anyone. On the other hand, I don’t want to offend anyone, and I know that “queer” can be used as a slur. And being a young person, I also haven’t experienced the same amount of historical context behind this term as some older people. I’m not quite sure what the best solution to this is.

      Personally, I’m comfortable calling myself a lesbian, but that term wouldn’t fit many of the other people on this website.

      • ^Edit to my last sentence – what I meant to imply is that I’m not sure what term is the best to use to refer to the LGBT+ community as a whole. Obviously, when referring to an individual, I would use whatever label they prefer for themselves.

  40. I prefer gay because my brain classifies gay as an adjective and lesbian as primarily a noun and my personal label being an adjective fits better for me.

    I don’t care if other people call me queer, but I don’t feel comfortable using it for myself because it is still a violent slur for a significant portion of the community.

    • “I prefer gay because my brain classifies gay as an adjective and lesbian as primarily a noun”
      ^Yeah, totally! Gay feels like an adjective to me.

  41. It’s very strange to me how many people seem to find queer simply an inclusive umbrella term, ignoring the amount of LGBT people uncomfortable with being called queer, and also how many people consider it inherently radical!!! I used to identify as queer and I’m ever so glad that I stopped. I did so because I did actually notice it make old people uncomfortable — GAY old people. Why anyone would want to upset our forebears on purpose I don’t know.

    Calling myself a lesbian feels like finally accepting the part of myself that means I don’t like men and I don’t need men, and getting there was a very long road, one I’m still on I think. Even if I have felt attracted to them in the past, even if I like fictional men sometimes, even if it is hard to keep them out of my life, I find power in rejecting them from my identity! And I feel hurt when it’s implied that makes me less radical than using an “umbrella term” also used by straight people who prefer threesomes or who get aroused under very specific circumstances — because it just means “weird”, right? Ha Ha! They’ve been stealing our words since forever but this one seems to be particularly hip and hot, and I don’t feel less radical for refusing to label myself in that way. I would never, ever feel like any same gender attracted or trans person is not allowed to use it, more power to you if you do, but respect those of us who don’t, please.

    Lastly, I need to know what is up with all the people who exclude cis men from their orientation, implicitly including trans men. Are they different? Is this not sort of implicitly misgendering people? “I don’t like men except for the ones that are trans, since they aren’t as bad as the real men”? Men-lite? Enlighten me, if anyone feels up to it, because it is a point of much confusion. What about trans women? Do you also include them in your lesbianism? Because if not, what the hell!?

    • Also, I do also use the word gay for myself, since it is factually correct, sounds smooth and works in jokes.

    • For some women lesbian means attracted to vulva havers, some including post-op trans women in that convo, and even lesser amount including all trans women.

    • I identify as queer for political reasons and because of the inherent imperfection of translating Pilipino sexual identity into a Western context.
      Coming from a culture different from yours, queer is the nearest equivalent of what it means to be an lgbtq person in my society.

      Since I find it unnecessary to sit people down and give them a four and half hour long explanation of the Pilipino lgbtq-ness being ‘spirit or essence-based’ (like in the case of the Bodhisattvas who posses equal amounts of Yin and Yang, and the concept of two spirited persons). It’s a concept that simply is very different from the concept of lgbtq labels you fine folks have.

      Anyway, like anyone here cares about this stuff I’m saying. Lol. Tldr: no english equivalent for my sexuality. Queer seems to be nearest, so queer.

      So while I understand that historically the word queer was used offensively, I wonder, is it still improper for me to use the word queer given this background?

      • @Santo Gato I would never assume it’s improper to use queer for any lgbt+ person, especially in this context you just mentioned. I also hope my comment didn’t come off that way!!! I was mostly questioning the use of it with the intent of “upsetting old people” and the implied lack of ‘radicalness’in other words.

        • @Cecil o no, not at all. I’m just curious. I understand what youre saying and you raise valid points about the historical use of the word as a slur.

    • When I was a teenager and then in my early twenties, two of the most important books I read were Slut! by Leora Tanenbaum and Cunt by Inga Muscio.* I loved that those authors took words that were taboo and used them shamelessly. I loved that Muscio in particular reclaimed and redefined something that was a slur. Queer feels the same way for me. I respect that some people might feel hurt by it, and in some company, I might refrain from using it if I thought the possibility of hurt outweighed my personal attachment to the term. But I’m not willing to give it up altogether just so I can seamlessly fit in.

      *I know Cunt at least is pretty problematic in places; haven’t reread Slut! in years and years, so I don’t remember. Regardless both books were incredibly important to my growth.

      • I think there is a lot to be said for reclaiming slurs and I’m also very interested in the way it is happening for queer, I just get upset at some of the culture surrounding it, which is often a bit insensitive. (Using it to refer to a group of people who haven’t all agreed to it, saying it is more radical or evolved than other labels etc.)

        • I definitely think claiming it’s more radical or evolved than all other labels is pretty bad. There’s a kind of disruption to all non-hetero labels, I think, and people should respect that.

          I’m less convinced about using it to talk about folks who haven’t agreed to it. That’s kind of the nature of labels – straight and cis people often *hate* being called those things, but those labels are still accurate and useful. Sometimes allllll the LGBQ people get lumped into the term “gay” and while I get the utility, I don’t really like it because it feels the same way as when people use “mankind” when they really mean “everyone.” Like, maleness should not be the norm/universal and I don’t really want to be grouped in that way. But I also get why it’s sometimes convenient to have a shorthand and I’m willing to accept the political necessity at least sometimes.

          (Personally I really like the QUILTBAG acronym, but it doesn’t seem to have caught on.)

          • I think the examples you cite are different though because while a cishet person may not like being called those things, cis and straight are not slurs and never have been.

            I get your point about using “gay” for lgbq and “mankind” for humanity, but again, neither “gay” nor “mankind” are slurs. They’re inaccurate in those contexts, certainly, and it’s not cool that they ignore bi and pan people (for “gay”) or women and other genders (for “mankind”), and I definitely don’t advocate their uses in those contexts, but that still doesn’t make them slurs analogous to qu**r

          • Gay definitely still does get used pejoratively – I hear it used less frequently now, but “god, that’s so gay” was something I heard negatively far more often than queer when I was younger.

            Why is queer being a reclaimed slur worse than gay which erases bi folks and potentially women and other genders? There are downsides to both labels, but both have some utility as well.

    • In my experience is the awareness of privilege that differentiates between cis and trans men. Of all the trans men I’ve met, almost all of them had an understanding that people experience the world in different ways. Cis men frequently seem to lack this understanding and hence behave like vulgar people, which is something I have no time for.

        • So, people find my personal experiences and desire to not be treated like shit disturbing. That’s nice.

          • I will say exactly what in your comment disturbed me. It was definitely not that you don’t want to be treated like shit. The reason people including trans men specifically in the label for their orientation (especially if that orientation is lesbian) because they are often more socially aware is as bizarre to me as when one would say “My sexuality is lesbian, which includes disabled men because they know better how harsh the world can be.” Just because you have certain standards for men doesn’t mean they are not men? It messes me up when people assume that all trans men are somehow better and more likely to be un-awful.

        • Why do you find it disturbing that some people only want to interact sexually with certain kinds of genitals? They’re not saying everyone has to see sexuality that way, or that genitals are the same as gender, or even that it’s an important factor to anyone else. But some people do only want to have sex in certain ways, and that’s valid.

          • I don’t think anybody should have sex or be forced to have sex with anybody they are not attracted to, ever. I totally agree with you there. I am just disagreeing with the notion that one can see immediately who has a vulva and who doesn’t (x-ray vision?) and against the labelling of trans people’s genitals against their will, and the notion that liking vulvas is what makes one a lesbian. OF COURSE this doesn’t mean people should have sex with others because it is more politically ‘pure’ or whatever and of COURSE this doesn’t mean everyone should enjoy sex in every way, I agree with you 100%

      • Not to cast too much weight onto anecdotal evidence, but in my experience trans men who are involved in queer communities get to enjoy a ‘double whammy’of privilege (which does not negate their experiences of transphobia which are real and valid).

        The double privilege I’m referring to is that a) they’re men so they are automatically afforded more respect/agency/are held less accountable in queer spaces because queer spaces are rife with (internalised)misogyny just like the rest of the world b) they’re men but they’re not cis, so they are viewed as like…special snowflakes in the queer world + they get to access lots of spaces that would otherwise be filled just with women (or with women and non-binary ppl in lots of cases) but also get to go out into the world and enjoy their raised wages and not getting cat called in public privileges etc too.

        The most harm ever done to me was committed by trans men, and I am really over people treating them like they don’t embody male privilege. People can repeat ‘genitals don’t equal gender’ but they don’t really follow through on that in a lot of cases. Trans men (and to an extent trans-masc ppl) get afforded an incredibly large amount of leeway in queer communities and its not cool and its not fair to women and femmes.

        but hey…maybe I’m just an angry dyke.

    • OK, just wanted to provide a different perspective on the “people who exclude cis men from their orientation.” I would sort of say that I am attracted to anyone who also identifies as LGBT/queer. Well, not anyone, but… it’s a pre-req? I tend not to be attracted to cis men, or straight women for that matter. I’m also not attracted to most trans men, but some trans men still identify as part of the lesbian/queer community and are interested in gay/lesbian/queer relationships (I’m not trying to use the word queer as a blanket term here, but just to catch those who do identify as “queer” as well) and I think that’s hot. I definitely also am attracted to trans women, because they’re women and I’m attracted to those (except for straight women, who aren’t interested in me anyway so who cares). Basically attraction and relationships are super complicated, murky waters and difficult to define with labels, though we keep trying because labels can be very useful/comfortable/radical. I tend not to say I’m attracted to “anyone but cis men” because I recognize who problematic that can be and I don’t want to be misinterpreted as vulva-centric or anything like that, but in my head that’s sort of an accurate description of my sexual preferences, with all the above caveats and explanations. Whew! Sorry for the rambling, complicated response.

    • I may not actually be the right person to be writing this comment because I wouldn’t absolutely rule out dating a cis man, and while I’ve never really been attracted to any of them, I am attracted to such a small percentage of people of any description that it feels entirely possible I might be someday. However, I would feel much more unsettled by dating a cis man than a trans man and it’s more difficult to imagine wanting to. Here are a few thoughts as to why.

      One, as a more-or-less lesbian, I’m reluctant to say in advance that I’m not attracted to people my beloveds might potentially become. My wife presents fairly femininely at this point, but contemplated transitioning earlier in our relationship. The idea that I might be in love with someone and then automatically cease to be attracted to them because they become more self-accualized is a pretty scary. Conceiving of my own sexuality in a way that doesn’t write that loss into my expectations for a partner’s transition makes it a lot easier to be supportive and give the relationship and the person space to evolve.

      Two, trans men are a fairly diverse group and while some would rather identify as men who happen to be trans, others identify specifically as trans men and treating them as a somewhat different category than cis men seems appropriate.

      Three, trans people are part of my community in a way that cis men, or at least straight cis men, are not–I want to date people who complicate the stories my culture tells about gender and sexuality. There’s also a way in which a relationship is partly a story, and there’s a script for women’s lives that includes falling in love with men and that story is disrupted and subverted and rewritten to a certain extent if the man in question is trans and I just find the write-your-own-story aspect a relationship with a trans man much more appealing and compelling than the cis-assuming story that my culture has been presenting to me my whole life.

      Four, in keeping with the interest in stories, I think there’s a way in which I just want something in common with the sex and gender experience of my partner. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but I think it may have to be something. So someone who got similar messages from society as I did and was born with a similar body to mine but experienced both of those things differently and ended up doing different things with them is simply more relatable and interesting than someone who everyone (including himself) assumed to be on a different track all along. (Which I think is at least part of why it’s easier to imagine being attracted to a trans man than a bi cis man.)

      I can absolutely imagine each of those things feeling off-putting or invalidating to some trans men and those would probably not be good people for me to date. Ultimately though, it isn’t up to me to decide who to be attracted to, it is up to me who I’m willing to date, and it’s up to other people whether they’re willing to date me.

      And yes, I would be open to dating a trans woman and would generally default to considering a relationship between a cis woman and a trans woman (or two trans women) a lesbian relationship, though in most specific cases I would want to know how the people involved publicly conceptualized it before I gave it any sort of label, particularly if it began before the trans person came out.

      All of that complexity aside, I usually out myself publicly by mentioning my wife, but if I need to ID explicitly it comes out as “lesbian,” “queer,” “gay,” or “more-or-less lesbian caveat caveat mumble” and I wouldn’t be likely to bring trans men into any not-very-in-depth conversations for fear that, indeed, I’d be doing many of them a disservice by suggesting that they’re the sort of people lesbians are into.

  42. Age 27

    Mentally, or filling out a form I would always use Lesbian – because I identify as a woman who is exclusively attracted to other women and that still seems to be the most succinct expression of that.
    Conversationally though I would probably use ‘gay’ more often… just seems to roll off the tongue smoother.
    I tend to use queer in an umbrella sense, refering to the queer community, and while I identify as being part of that umbrella, I wouldn’t use queer as a personal descriptor very often because it’s not specific enough for me. Especially being a conventionally attractive femme where I’ve had my sexuality doubted a lot, especially in the early years, and dealt with all the “you’re too hot to be a lesbian” bullshit and guys hitting on me anyway (because femme must = bi, *eyeroll*) it’s important to me to have a specific label to express that I’m only interested in women… no exceptions!

    Ps. I use ‘women’ in a trans inclusive sense… do I still need to point that out, or is that a given on AS?

    • I also tend to go between “lesbian” and “gay” because gay sometimes just rolls of the tongue easier. It’s less syllables!

      And yeeeees, I can relate to a lot of what you say as a femme lesbian. It’s as though straight men believe any woman they’re attracted to *must* be trying to attract them/the male gaze in general, so they’re automatically either straight or bi. If only more men would take “lesbian” as “women only, ever” and not “women only, but maybe you if you sexually harass me a little bit more”.

  43. It kind of depends on the situation for me. In in a lot of spaces I’m aggressively bi and am really passionate about making the world an easier place for bi girls. I stayed closeted for so long just because two people (of the lgbt community unfortunately) had some not-nice things to say about bi women, and therefore I lounged in self-loathing and thought I did not deserve to be in my college’s LGBTQ spaces. I finally upped the courage to go after over a year, and good thing I did… it’s where I met my girlfriend of over two years! But my experience in the closet was so horrendous, I want to empower bi girls so they know that, yes they can have happy, fulfilling relationships with women if they choose to, and yes, they deserve all the love, community and support in the world.

    I also have recently started identifying as sapphic a lot. I really love the history surrounding relationships and culture surrounding love between women, but since i’m bi I have felt like I’m not allowed to feel like it’s mine too (which is dumb, bi women didn’t just start dating women 30 years ago….they just didn’t call themselves bi before then bc the word didn’t exist yet!) Sapphic just makes me like a descendent of those battles and that history, and like, finally, part of it really does belong to me after all. [Plus, my girlfriend will most likely be my only girlfriend since exciting things are planned for our future (eeee), so even though i am attracted to men, it really has zero impact on my life at this point.]

    I also love to ID as queer, because it just feels so freeing to be like “I like girls, and the rest can’t be assumed”, letting go of a lot of the added baggage I feel when I tell people I’m bi. Also, since where i’m from it’s used as a community unifying word, it just makes me feel like I’m part of my local big queer family, idk how else to describe it. Just makes me warm and fuzzy inside with really great thoughts of really great people.

  44. So, what I am getting here is some of the writes are giving out hints of transphobia and transmisogyny. Cause since when did lesbian mean not into cis men? I was always told it means not into men, so it perplexes me when I am see this implicitly written or implied. Cause say you are dating a trans man, the world may see you as a straight couple despite your identity. In fact I’ve met trans men who identify as straight and transitioned when with his partner(she queer/bi so he didn’t feel invalidated as he would have with a lesbian). SO maybe someone clear this up for me

    • But is anyone saying lesbian = not into cis men, or are they saying they identify as lesbian BUT can sometimes be into trans men?
      I’m not sure that isn’t offensive as well, but there’s a big difference.

      • I mean…if they’re saying “lesbian BUT can sometimes be into trans men” then I’m imagining they might have internalized biphobia? Unless their attraction to trans men is suuuuuper rare and they just use the lesbian label for convenience while recognizing that they are occasionally attracted to men? But…yeah it does seem to come awfully close to saying they don’t see trans men as “real” men.

  45. I’m amazed with how a lot of you guys are able and willing to articulate your identity – or your lack of it – into words.

    As an outsider to American culture and coming from a country thats still affected by Western Neo-colonialism, I can say that the struggle of lgbtq people here in the Philippines to find a queer identity is very different.

    See, here in the Philippines, we tend to copy what America does, and so we also use lgbtq labels. However, our history shows that we had our endemic pre-colonial lgbtq culture and it came with its own identity – ‘ASOG’. However, ASOG is more of an umbrella term since it appears to have been historically used to pertain to whoever isn’t heterosexual (theres also a problem that so far only make ASOGs are recorded since the friars were the ones who did the historiography).

    On a side note: I often find theories or analyses with the word ‘post’ appended to them questionable to say the least. Like post feminist for instance and post-marxism Marxist ideology for instance.

    For one, what is a post LGBT society? Is LGBT an end, a goal? A state of society where there isn’t a necessity to label one’s self?

    Or by post LGBT, is the author referring to a society where the words lesbian, gay, trans, and bi are obsolete in as much as the denomination of a ‘Mongoloid’ race to pertain to persons with perceived East Asian characteristics have proven to be discriminatory and just plain dumb and wrong?

    I’m confused.

  46. I think I’m one of those people who gets away without having to explicitly label myself in my day-to-day. Whenever I talk about being attracted to people or about my partner(s) I often just do it without a qualifier. Or I just say ‘I like women. And men. Mostly women’, because I have a lot of issues with the word ‘bisexual’. I only use it when, as Rachel said, it’s useful to identify ‘what kind’ of queer I am to other queer people. But unfortunately for me the label ‘bisexual’ most accurately reflects my sexual and romantic life, and my partnerships with men and women (often at the time time).

    Sometimes I wonder if I could hide in the label ‘poly-queer’ because that would almost be ‘easier’ than identifying as a bisexual with two cis-gendered partners, which sometimes leaves me feeling like the kind of bisexual who is the reason for a lot of that biphobia from the queer community. But I don’t actually feel poly so much as I just prefer this duality, this balance, and that idea is something that is taking me a while to understand and accept. And I really do get away with not having to talk about too specifically unless someone asks, in which case I’m happy to explain (and I realise I’m very lucky to be able to do this because I live in a progressive, young, liberal community). Identity is a reflexive process of self-identifying and also being identified and accepted by your community as the thing you wish to say you are in a positive, reinforcing kind of way. So for me, I don’t have to be a [name] as long as I get to be the [thing]. And I totally dig what Riese is saying about not rejecting labels because they are part of the history and identity of our community, to be understood and built upon.

  47. I have many labels feelings but I don’t know. I have and will use queer, bi, lesbian, pan, gay to describe myself. I feel I want to just be what I feel and not need to describe accurately but I also feel I have to take into account the level of understanding that whoever you are talking to has and the potential for causing harm? like if you are one of the few gays they know you have to be on your best behaviour and set a good example. I agree with all the feelings about labels we don’t feel we have the right to. Sometimes I’ll refer to myself as a lesbian and sometimes I’ll correct someone else who labels me a lesbian. I consider bisexual an important identity because of the shit that is biphobia, but I do worry about the idea some people have that it excludes many gender identities. I want to know how trans and nonbinary people feel about the way their gay girl type partners identify. I like the word queer but don’t want to upset anyone with my use of it.

  48. Hehehehe. Labelsssss. I love labels.

    Well for one I really despise the term pansexual but I keep it to myself because it’s not a hill I want to die on. I call myself pretty much anything I want but mostly I like “gay bisexual”. Funny enough, I like IDing as bisexual for reasons pretty ideologically similar to the reason a lot of lesbians like IDing as lesbian: as a bisexual, my disinterest in men gets to be deliberate, it gets to be my choice, and I like taking complete ownership of that. Like, “oh sure I CAN do the whole men thing, I just don’t want to and therefore refuse.”

    Also, this is a personal thing, but I find the whole “I’m attracted to everyone except cis men” attitude kind of off-putting. Like, I understand the emotional impulse, but it seems that approach intrinsically draws a line separating the genders of trans men and cis men and that makes me pretty uncomfortable (in a whole host of different directions).

    • I love this: “as a bisexual, my disinterest in men gets to be deliberate, it gets to be my choice, and I like taking complete ownership of that. Like, ‘oh sure I CAN do the whole men thing, I just don’t want to and therefore refuse.'”

      Yes, exactly.

      • Omg this is amazing and I want to squeeze it.

        Bisexual misandry for everyone! (who wants it)

    • I love this! I had never thought about the bi label like this before, thanks for the enlightenment.

  49. I am a lesbian. Not queer. Because I like to make explicit that I’m so beyond being interested in men. Like, fuck men. They’re bloody ridiculous. And specifically, I spent soooo long caught up in the jaws of compulsory heterosexuality as a teenager and trying to pretend that I was bisexual so that I was still in some way ‘palatable’through my link to men.

    Also, I’m surprised at how many people have commented/written that they are attracted to everyone apart from cis men. But…trans men are men. They have male experiences/privileges. They are not men-lite. They are not ‘basically women’. They’re men. So, I’m interested in why people think it’s okay to section trans men off from cis men in this way? I mean, I’m not a trans man, but I think I would find it offputting to know that my partner was not into cis men, but was into me. It would like make me feel like they weren’t seeing and respecting my manhood properly?

    Also, as much as I don’t mind queer being applied as an umbrella term if that’s what people want, I also highly resent the certain subsections of self-described queers who view their sexuality/gender identity as inherently more radical, subversive and political than gay or lesbian people. For example I just read an Everyday Feminism article about the differences between gay and queer and one of the differences listed was that ‘being gay is all about sex, whereas queer is beyond that’. Like…how is that different from homophobic rhetoric that attempts to paint gay people as sex-obsessed/inappropriate to be around children etc??? Being gay is NOT just about sex. For me, as a lesbian, it’s about being in partnership with another woman and finding strength and support and romantic love in each other …and sometimes we have sex. I am a politically active lesbian, I am invested in the dismantling of oppressive gender and sexuality norms. I am not just a woman who likes to fuck other women and that’s the end of it. Yikes. When will queers stop painting us like that?

    • “Also, I’m surprised at how many people have commented/written that they are attracted to everyone apart from cis men. But…trans men are men. They have male experiences/privileges. They are not men-lite. They are not ‘basically women’. They’re men. So, I’m interested in why people think it’s okay to section trans men off from cis men in this way? I mean, I’m not a trans man, but I think I would find it offputting to know that my partner was not into cis men, but was into me. It would like make me feel like they weren’t seeing and respecting my manhood properly?”

      It’s worth remembering that some trans men — some! not all! but some — intentionally section themselves off from cis men, for a variety of reasons. It’s similar to how an afab genderqueer person might be sectioning themselves off from cis women and those expectations or ideas. We respect an afab gender-variant person’s right to section themselves off or include themselves in whatever they feel comfortable with, so it would follow that we’d respect a trans man’s need to section themselves off from cis men. And then whatever a person IDs as or has worked out with their partner is very much between them, and certainly not up to us to judge or label a relationship or life that we’re not a part of.

      To me, what’s surprising about your comment and Cecil’s and a few others, is how quickly you’re jumping in to disqualify someone else’s identity and lived experiences, seemingly under the guise of defending a group of people that doesn’t include you.

      In the same way that one woman who currently only dates women might ID as bisexual in order to honor the male partners she’s had in the past, another woman who only dates women might not be interested in honoring her past male partners. So we let her ID as [lesbian/queer] and we let the other person ID as bi because they get to make that choice. They both had male partners in the past, they both date exclusively women now, but they’re choosing different labels for themselves for different reasons. A lesbian in a relationship with a trans man might still refer to herself as a lesbian; a straight woman married to a lesbian might still refer to herself as straight (for various reasons!) — we respect those people’s choices of identity. Does it complicate things? Sure! Does it change the meaning of some words and terms to fit certain situations and not others? Yes! That’s the point of this exercise and this post: to see how vastly different certain labels and words feel to different people, and to see that one doesn’t invalidate the other.

      And to your other point, I think we should take everyone’s labels and reasons at absolute face value, meaning that for some people, saying they’re “queer” feels more radical to them than saying they’re gay or whatever. That word gives them that feeling of radicalness. Them feeling radical about themselves doesn’t automatically translate into them feeling that another person isn’t radical just bc they don’t use the same labels. I mean you could certainly make that assumption I guess? But it would be just that, an assumption, and that seems to go against everything we should’ve learned here. Because again, you can’t assume anything about a anyone. That was proven throughout the post and in the comments — we’re all human bags of guts trying our best to be our best, and we’re using different words and techniques to do that. The end.

      • Thank you for this!! You raise some very valid points. I think defensiveness about being considered as radical as people who call themselves queer does not stem from anybody within this post or the comments saying it feels radical to them, I think it comes mostly from past experiences with outside sources. At least it does for me. Also: “we’re all human bags of guts trying our best to be our best” is a good thing to keep in mind.

        It was never my intent to disqualify people’s lived experiences, and I’m happy to be… called out for it? I suppose? I ABSOLUTELY agree that people’s personal labels should be up to them and their partners, and since my first comment my opinions have already mellowed and changed a lot thanks to everybody’s comments here, but I still feel very, very wary of men in general, and men trying to distance themselves from other men possibly even more so, especially when that somehow magically grants them a place in women’s spaces. I guess every situation is just very unique and should be handled as such, I think me and probably Kesiena as well are just coming from a place of distrust, not without reason.

        • preach, I second most of this! (though I don’t think I’ve mellowed particularly, it has been enlightening to listen to other takes). And you’re right that the distancing from men by men is a massive red flag for me. We wouldn’t accept it from gay men or men of colour for example. A different experience of manhood, is still an experience of manhood. And you’re completely right that my lived experiences which have led me to distrust men, influence my views.

    • Maybe you should let the trans men, transmasculine people, and queer-identifying people speak for themselves?

    • This is an honest question – but does it matter that trans men came to manhood differently than cis men? Not that their identification as men is less valid, but that they have different experiences with transphobia and patriarchy than someone who was assigned male at birth and has always felt like that label fit? Which is not to say that trans men can’t have male privilege, but that for some people their relationship might be different and feel less like the nasty entitlement that cishet men often seem to have?

      (This is maybe not the best analogy but I know that my experiences with the handful of bi men I’ve dated have been much different from the hetero men I’ve been involved with especially in terms of them not saying gross things like “it’s soooo hot that you’re into girls.” They still have male privilege and are definitely men and that privilege definitely expresses itself sometimes, but their relationship to it seems somewhat modified.)

      • But, also, I’m bi and don’t really grok how monosexuality works and maybe that’s part of the thing?

      • I have a couple of friends who (would) only date cis men if those men were also queer, because to them, the idea of dating a straight (cis) guy who couldn’t fully understand or relate to their queer identity was just not palatable.

    • All. of. this.

      Also, I have stopped reading Everyday Feminism for the good of my health and general well-being (I’ve seen one homophobic article too many on there), but holy shit, I cannot fucking believe they said that.

  50. My go to is ‘not straight’. Mostly because labels still confusing for me.

    Sometimes I feel like I’m not a ‘real lesbian’ because of experiences in my distant past so use labels like bisexual or queer. Other times I want to express that I am a woman who exclusively wants to be with women so use gay or lesbian.

  51. I identify as bisexual, but I call myself queer when including myself in a collective. Like, I’m one of many queers, part of the queer community, but my own personal identity is “bisexual”.

    I’m also very happy with that label. I had difficulty arriving at it, not exactly because I was unsure if I liked women or men, or because I didn’t accept any one of those attractions – but because I liked women sexually and men romantically and I couldn’t figure out which was more important or how the hell I would deal with it once I started having actual relationships. Back then I didn’t even know terms like “homoromantic” existed. (“Back then” means somewhere between the ages of 13 and 16 I think – before that I didn’t think much about my sexuality).

    And before I learned that I had my first crush on a girl, and my first sexual fantasies about men.Then I created folders on my computers with “cute” pictures of women (the kind that gives you butterflies) and “sexy” pictures of men (the kind that gives you… you know what) to see if I could stir up some feelings. And I could! I think I was totally brainwashed by a society that objectifies women and makes interesting/appealing (well, ones we are supposed to find appealing anyway, I think the actual merits of these dudes can be questioned) romantic interests of men. And just in general is freaking heteronormative. Perhaps it was also about natural self-discovery and development, but I don’t think society helped much…

    I still develop crushes on more guys, and maybe find women a little sexier in general (though it’s been easier to even out the sexual aspect), but I am very sure I’m bisexual. Oh and I also realised there are more than two genders somewhere along the way. :P I thought that I was still only interested in men and women, then I found that’s not the case – but “bisexual” still works. I don’t feel at home with “pansexual”, because gender matters very much to me in attraction, just not always in obvious ways.

    Another aspect of this whole ride to Bisexual Land is that since I share almost everything with my mum, she was there for most of it. We talked a lot and when I finally figured it out there wasn’t any “coming out” to do: She basically knew it when I knew it. And yep, she knew about the folders. We even went through the woman one together, because she was curious what type of women I liked.

  52. Lebaling myself as a lesbian is healing and cathartic as I spent a quarter of a century hating and hiding myself. When I know someone well and am interested in thier identity I say what number do you identify with on the Kinsey scale? That makes it much easier!

  53. Late to the conversation (true of me in so many ways!) but I wanted to test-drive a label for myself here and see how it reads to the fine folks here. Ready?

    The closest I can come to a label I’m happy with is “queer lady”. Allow me to explain by oversharing. I experience sexual attraction to women and self-identified queer and non-binary folks. I think some men look good, but I’m still working out what I mean (to myself) by that. Mostly I think it means I want their clothes and want to look good in those clothes, but I’m not sure. Recently I’ve almost bought a binder like three times, but what stops me is that I don’t feel like a man in the way the various models on the binder store site present themselves. I’m happy with my below-the-belt bits; I’m ambivalent about my breasts and know that the clothes I like will fit me much better if I bind them. I don’t feel wrong in eyeliner and mascara, and I have deep personal and intellectual affiliations with some forms of feminism. But when I hear the word ‘woman’ I think of flowing dresses and perfume commercials and motherhood and…all the things we’ve been raised in America to think about women. But those aren’t me. Not even close. I’ve had experiences (good and bad) that many women have, but there are loads of others that I haven’t and won’t experience. Hence, queer lady. Any thoughts, anyone?

    • I realize I’m talking more about gender than sexual orientation here, but in my case they’re closely connected – I probably can’t call myself a lesbian if I’m not sure how/whether ‘woman’ applies to me. And bisexual – supposing I take it to mean attraction to one’s own and other genders – depends on establishing my gender as well. It’s all a bit messy for me, really.

    • As a trans person, I feel the need to make the obligatory “gender is not a spectrum” and “you are the final authority on your identity” schpiels :-P

      If queer lady feels right for you, then stick with it. I think it’s probably an accurate description, and doesn’t have quite as much baggage as “girl” or “woman” does, necessarily. It also covers the complexity and fluidity of sexuality.

      You could also probably lay claim to referring to yourself as a non-binary queer, a boi, or simply a GNC (gender non-conforming) woman. Or all above, or none of the above. It’s whatever you feel most comfortable with :-)

    • I always feel super conspicuous when I binder shop because I am decidedly not a trans man. But then I get it home in its nongendered packaging and put it on under my favorite shirt and feel like a million dollars and remember that it IS for me, even if no one knows how to market to me. You do you friend <3

    • I think you nailed it when you said “…all the things we’ve been raised in America to think about women. But those aren’t me.” That doesn’t make you less of a woman. It means that while the media’s idea of women is a thin, cis, white lady laughing alone eating salad (or whatever) women are a lot more than that. I think people who don’t fit that model do other women and feminism a big service by standing up and saying that they too are women, because women are over half the population of the planet, and because being a woman means lots of things.

    • Thanks (everyone here!) for sharing your thoughts, I really appreciate the different perspectives you’ve given me. I can totally see how GNC or non-binary would work for me, there’s just this immediate sadness that kicks in when I think of disavowing my place in womens’ communities. And I worry, too, Fish, about inadvertently reinforcing the idea that women are all one (femme, cis, white) way, and that any other presentation is disqualified. I feel like there are all sorts of political implications in picking a label, and I don’t want to support problematic and hurtful ideologies just by trying to understand myself. Arg.

      (I agree, Fish, that it’s weird that I’m ok with “lady”. I would lose my shit if someone called me “Miss”, and “Ma’am” always hits me oddly, too. Obviously “girl” makes me have to count to ten and chill out. But for some reason, “lady” is ok. Makes me think of Katherine Hepburn. I’d bet she wore pants with real pockets, though she was not without her faults.)

      • Just gonna second the “binders are for whoever the f*ck wants them” sentiment. In fact on this very website, some five years ago, an article told me it doesn’t have to Mean Something to you for you to want that look(although I’d recommend the Gc2b, which didn’t exist at the time) if it’s not for you, you’re out like three dinners out, and you’ve learned something.

      • I just wanted to say that talking about your experience with being GNC or non-binary doesn’t mean you have to disavow womanhood. Non-binary women exist. If non-binary (or something similar) resonates with the way you experience gender and womanhood is still meaningful for you there’s no reason to not have both. Plus, I find that a lot of LBPQ women/afab people have a complicated relationship with gender in general. Which I think makes a lot of sense when you realise that a lot of gender is really tied up in being straight as well. Like, we’re told that a “real” girl likes boys and a “real” boy likes girls. And that’s not true obviously but it definitely comes into play for complicating a lot of LGBT people’s experiences with gender.

  54. Straight people will always identify as straight. They’re not ever going to shirk their label, and they probably never have even thought of it. I don’t think this removing of labels is because of liberation or a radical movement, if people are doing it, it’s to remove a self-perceived stigma.

    • This is a great point. I also notice a lot of late-twenties/early-thirties women who are married to men (using the relatively small sample size of co-workers I’ve had and my current boss and her friends) say stuff like “well I think all women are pretty sexually fluid” when I come out to them. Which totally could be them subtly coming out as bi/pan/something, and if so, awesome! But it often feels like the “all lives matter” of the situation? Like they want credit for being “cool” and “progressive” but actually mean “please don’t talk about this in detail/i’m v uncomfortable with the word queer.”

  55. I love this post!

    It’s interesting how history plays into people’s ID choices. Like, I was called a lesbian all through childhood (before I knew anything about my sexual preferences) because all my friends were girls, and I liked my friends. I didn’t really care about other people. Now, even though I’m technically bi/queer, I still really like the word lesbian because, to me, it means a woman who allies herself with/focuses her life on other women in a world that pushes her to focus on men. I aspire to do that/be that.

    Maybe I’m a bisexual who aspires to be a better lesbian.

  56. It’s interesting to see fellow bisexuals who are also a bit meh on the whole pansexual thing. I know, for myself, I felt like it came out of nowhere, gave a new name to the same thing – while yelling about how bisexuals hate trans people (wut?!) – and basically being a way to avoid bi stigma. I had a really bad introduction to the whole pansexual label, can you tell?

    So I identify as bisexual if I want to be political. And queer if I’m too tired to argue with lesbians who act like no lesbian has ever touched a penis ever, pansexuals who tell me I’m transphobic, and straight dudes who want a threesome.

    Mostly I like queer because it’s like the Ms of the lgbt community (neither miss nor mrs because why are you asking me if I’m married). It’s identifying within the community, but it’s no one’s business who I want to sleep with. Plus, I like queer because it means odd, and I’m pretty odd.

    • “I felt like it came out of nowhere, gave a new name to the same thing – while yelling about how bisexuals hate trans people (wut?!) – and basically being a way to avoid bi stigma.”

      Pretty much this. In my experience, “pansexual” was/is used to further biphobia within the broader LGBT+ community, by implying that “bisexual” is tied to a belief in binary gender or tied to transphobia. It felt a lot like folks were choosing to ignore the actual etymology of “bisexual” to make themselves a label that they could use to be “better” than folks who identify as bisexual.

  57. I thought we’d be discussing butch and femme when I clicked here

    There’s a debate about discarding those, too, which also feels “untethering,” rather than liberating, to me

  58. I really love this, and I am (as always) so so grateful to all of you and especially to Heather and Riese for giving me the words I’ve been searching for: “primarily attracted to and only interested in having romantic relationships with other woman” and “bisexual by birth, lesbian by choice” ring very very true to me. I feel like this is maybe what the kids are calling “bisexual and homoromantic” but that has always sounded like such a mouthful to me and hard to just throw out casually in conversation.

    I usually think “gay” first when I define myself in my head, but I’m coming around to lesbian. Honestly, my main complaint with lesbian is just — why do we get a noun and not an adjective? I feel like identity terms have mostly moved towards descriptor-plus-human-word, like I hear people identify as “woman of color” and “gay man” and I know it would be redundant/not grammatically correct to say “lesbian woman” but I want a term I can tack “woman” or “girl” or “writer” or “dreamer” or whatever dumb self-defining shit I want onto at the end…does that make any sense at all?

  59. I think labels can be helpful in finding a community. I identify as queer or gay (because I dislike that ‘lesbian’ is a noun), and people usually read me as such since I tend to present a bit more masculine than most women. Recently I met a queer woman who is very femme and after she came out to me I invited her to a bunch of queer gatherings. Without labels, we might not be able to find our community or invite fellow queers into it.

    Another thing that irks me is when mostly straight people identify as queer in queer/hipster communities. I’m not trying to play gatekeeper here, but if you only identify as queer when it’s cool and easy and you never plan on coming out to other straight people, you should ask yourself why you are identifying as queer. Of course, safety is a real issue, but I have a few friends who are queer when they hang out with my queer friends and otherwise straight identified/exclusively date and hook up with people who are not their gender. I don’t think we’re close to a “post-LGBT society” and the last line of the ELLE article is a good example of why that’s the case. Homophobia and certainly transphobia is still a real problem in most places. Hopefully I’m not too late to the conversation, but I’d like to hear the AS community insight on this!

  60. I would tick the lesbian box on every form given, but in day to day life for brevity I’d use gay. I don’t find I have to state it much. I have always disliked the word lesbian in the same way I hate the word fresh. It’s just the way it feels to say. It feels cumbersome on my tongue…oh the irony.
    Where are we putting dyke? Because I’ll happily call myself a dyke. Any other dykes out there? Had it screamed at me a lot by idiots from high school (along with lesbian) and reclaiming it feels good.
    Queer is a weird one for me, much like Dyke I don’t mind when other LGBT folk/friends call me it but if straight folks do, even friends who are “joking”, it just pisses me right off.

    • Fellow dyke, checking in! I especially use it when I want to put off men–it seems more aggressively misandrist than lesbian (which I also use and love), and I’m into that.

      • Hi Jane and Hat (and others)! Quick question: how do you feel about queer ladies like myself (who dates mostly women) calling someone a dyke (with positive connotations, obvs)? Sometimes I start to and then really worry that since I don’t use that word to identify myself, it’s not appropriate to use it for others unless they have explicitly told me they identify that way…thoughts? I generally only apply it (in my mind) to MOC women, and I have been trying to avoid ever using it until I have gotten this figured out :-)

        • It’s funny I guess I have the same trepidation about how to use dyke as a lot of people have with how to apply queer, which I am obviously comfortable with :-)

        • My friends and I call each other, or our collective group, dykes on occasion and not all of us are moc. Idk if there’s a different connotation due to the fact we’re British? I’d love to see an examination of the differences in slang/terminology across the different English speaking communities to be honest, I bet it’d be fascinating.
          I kinda get what you’re saying I guess mentally I separate dyke from bull dyke, I’m the former not the latter – even though I fall into the masculine of centre category.

        • I think as long as you are using it positively, I’m good with that! The word butch is the same way to me: when I describe my girlfriend as butch, it’s a compliment; when my sister does it, it’s pejorative, a criticism.

          It’s interesting to note that I am NOT moc, not even a tiny bit! I think that for me, dyke is the equivalent of what a lot of people describe lesbian being–a word they were supposed to be ashamed of when they were younger. When I was growing up “lesbian” was fairly neutral, “dyke” was decidedly a slur. So for me, identifying as a dyke is kind of a fuck you to The Straights.

          I have more to say but I gotta go to a work meeting! Bee arr bee, lovelies ??✨

          • Yes that’s exactly it. It’s totally a fuck you to the people who tried to bully me with it -I’m defiantly dykey.
            Also semi-aside re pejoratives; when I say I’m butch I’m amazed by the number of people who say “oh no you’re not” as if it’s a bad thing…I claim it, it’s what I am and I see no negatives in that. Occasionally I reply with “but Butches are hot” which really confuses some straight people. Tee hee.

    • I use “dyke” more as a visual descriptor, like: “Oh wow, check out that person over there with the asymmetrical haircut, beanie, plaid shirt, giant belt and leather boots! Such a dykey outfit! LOOKING GOOD! I SEE YOU, FELLOW LADY-LOVER!!” But I won’t use it to identify anyone unless they’ve explicitly used it first.

  61. I just want to give a huge hug to the AS community that we can have this conversation and be so respectful with each other and speak mostly from places of personal experience and not paint each other with a broad brush (or flat-out troll). This community is a rare, rare thing! ♥♥♥

  62. I definitely use “queer” as a shorthand to escape trans and nonbinary 101. Straight people are going to assume “gay” and that’s close enough for me most of the time.

    I’m most likely to use “gay” as shorthand in queer circles because that is how attraction feels to me–me+lady? it’s gay. me+dude? also gay. me+other nb person? super mega gay.

    I sometimes feel bad for not being as outspoken about being asexual, but it is a part of my identity that I feel slightly disconnected from? I know in the asexual discourse many aces feel really connected to their aceness and that it’s a non-detatchable part of their identity, but that’s just not how I feel about my asexuality. I just don’t feel it really influences a lot of things, unless we start talking about sex, in which case it influences EVERYTHING about that, but that just feels so normal to me and sex is just like this “bonus feature” that I have no use for and only comes up in romantic relationships–it’s like how my mom’s car has heated seats, but only for the driver and shotgun. Unless you’re the lucky person sitting shotgun, whether or not you get the heated seat never comes up because it’s not an option. (Of course, in my case in this analogy the heated seats would be faulty and nonfunctioning but might electrocute you, so it’s not advisable to keep trying to use them because it will not end well.)

    And like, I do have an affinity for bi (definitely bi over pan), but as I’ve gotten older, I feel like I’m drifting closer to aromantic and so bi doesn’t feel as accurate either. And maybe things will settle down a little bit as my mental health comes into picture–I’m not at any solutions but it’s looking really likely that I have bipolar disorder that has been coloring my perceptions of romance+sexuality, and trying to disentangle the two is going to be a chore and probably going to leave me closer to aromantic than romantic and that I’m more sex-repulsed than I thought I was (because turns out most-all of the times that sex sounded not-terrible were when I was hypomanic; similarly the peak of my romantic attractions were during those time periods).

  63. I gotta say that I take issue with lesbian being seen only as a noun. It’s totally also an adjective! It’s both! Or it’s used as both. I tried looking up the term for a word that is used as both an adjective and a noun but I couldn’t find one. Nominal adjective didn’t seem quite right? Sometimes lesbian might function as a noun adjunct? I don’t know. Obviously they need a label for words that are both nouns and adjectives.

    ANYway, sometimes it’s not as snappy as the one-syllable gay, but I actually enjoy the extra time it takes to say it. It feels more intentional, like it’s drawing more attention to itself by being longer. Also I just think it’s a really fun word to say! Lesbian, lesssbian, lez-bean! Good word.

    • That’s a good point! Sometimes it’s used as an adjective as in like “lesbian culture” or “lesbian website” for sure, but usually never for a person. Right? I mean you wouldn’t say “she’s lesbian.”

      • I’ve heard people use lesbian exactly like that! (“She’s lesbian.” I’ve also heard “lesbian women” and “gay men”)(it’s interesting and increasingly frustrating to me that lesbian women is probs read as redundant but gay men is not – why do terms for dudes get to be universal? Ugh.)I think it’s just not used commonly so it sounds weird and hasn’t had a chance to sink into language patterns, and the “shape” of the word is less snappy than gay or queer.

  64. I love the word lesbian. I also love being a lesbian. And: There is nothing I enjoy saying more than “lets go lesbos”, to a group of lesbians that I am about to head out with.

      • Lesbos was the pejorative term on the playground in elementary and middle school. Somehow I can’t quite separate it from that moment in fourth grade when I held hands with a (platonic) friend at recess and someone yelled “what are you, a couple of lesbos?” and we sprang apart in shame.


        Wish I could love it! I mean, it was silly. Kids are dumb. It wasn’t a big deal. But can’t quite get to enjoying it.

        • Like I knew ‘lesbos’ was a bad thing before I had any idea what word it was short for/what it meant

        • I feel this way about “queer” – my introduction to it was that it was a Bad Thing, and although I’ve seen and heard it used in so many different (and much more positive) contexts since then, I can’t quite let go of that negative origin. I want to tell my brain to get over that!

  65. If we’re just ID flagging, I use three labels:

    You’re straight? Great, I’m gay.
    You’re LGBT? Awesome, I’m queer.
    You’re queer? Neat, I’m exactly a bisexual and a twoc.

    It’s like, layers of the likelihood of being seen as I am, I avoid having to legitimize myself. Total self-care thing. I work at diminishing the chances of being minimized or explained. Yeah, it means I really don’t talk about bisexuality with straight people.
    If they’re lesbian, I won’t reveal I’m bi or a tw. I get that for all I know, they’re perfectly versed in queer theory but if the goal is just to quickly ID as something, I’m keeping those to myself. Biphobia and transmisogyny are common.
    Until I meet a queer person. Near full disclosure. I happily hold back very little, since they’re most likely to see me as I am.

    It’s really nothing personal! This is just how I perceive the power dynamics and how I respond to them.

    • “Layers of the likelihood of being seen as I am, I avoid having to legitimize myself”


  66. It’s really lovely to see how people identify, and how many people have given nods to the fact that labeling your sexuality can be difficult and messy.

    I have an English degree. I love language that is precise, especially language that takes subtext and implications into real consideration. I think this, coupled with the fact that I’ve gone 27 years of my life thinking I was straight, only to realize that those fond feelings I’ve had about certain men don’t equate to sexual attraction at all, has made trying to label myself a real mess.

    I feel strongly about not identifying as bisexual unless I can be absolutely certain that I’m into men. Bisexuals have enough stigma to overcome without me contributing to erasure by using their legitimate, serious label as a means to soften the blow for my loved ones when I decide to come out. Plus, I feel so decidedly *shrug* about men these days. There’s nothing wrong with a good number of them, but…meh? Meh. So I abandoned the idea of identifying as bisexual a while ago. It’s not my truth, and I shouldn’t pretend that it is to make things easier for myself, or anyone else.

    If I’m honest with myself, and you good people, I know that lesbian is my label. It feels true. When I think the word, everything says “yes.” I love women, men are uninteresting, and that’s that. But I’ve only recently begun overcoming some serious denial about my sexuality, so the word “lesbian” still sounds like a sneer or a hiss. I haven’t claimed it as my own yet, and I’ve really been shrinking from it. It sounds sizzly in my mouth when I say it out loud about myself. Lezzzzbian. Written in italics and said through beared teeth, maybe. It’s not nice yet. I haven’t owned it or reclaimed it. “Lesbian” is correct, but in my head, it still sounds nasty and accusatory. But that’s probably a reflection of my own internalized homophobia. It certainly isn’t a nasty word when describing other people. Just me. :)

    When confiding in my support system, I often cop out and use “gay” to describe myself. It’s still truthful, but I feel like it’s softer, and somehow less scary? Certainly less harsh in my own ears than “lesbian.” I guess in that way, I feel like I’m excusing myself from fully accepting the reality of my sexuality. Someday, I will probably be able to refer to myself as a lesbian out loud, but I’ll probably have to forgive myself for being one first.

    Self discovery is a real bucket of giggles, dudes. >_>

  67. I’m Spanish, and sadly we don’t use queer in general to identify ourselves, and “gay” is kind of reserved for guys, so I use lesbian or bollera, which is a kind of despective-but-reclaimed word to label lesbians.

    I’m at a point in my life in which I am really vocal and proud and casual at the same time about the whole label thing (whereas before I was kind of don’t ask don’t tell about it, but if you asked I’d deffo tell), in a way it’s kind of political and a social statement, no, i don’t like men. No, but really, I don’t like men. I’m proud that I don’t! I’m proud to have arrived at this place of profound comfort with my identity.

  68. I am a pansexual genderqueer trans man and I find it a bit concerning that people are saying they are lesbian and then implying that trans men maybe okay to date. I have a brother(also pan), and you know what? I kind could pass as his twin. So, if a woman will date me, but won’t date him cause I have a click, that bothers me. I also had a lesbian ask me out at a pool party(which my brother was at). I know she’s a lesbian because her ex(female) dated my ex(trans woman). I straight up told her, I’m a dude, I don’t get why you a lesbian are asking me out? Is it cause I am out and proud trans man? Cause I have a click? She walked away red faced.

    Also, a friend of mine in the trans man support group I am in is kind of awful. I’ve told him a few times that cat calling a woman isn’t cool and that no I don’t want to see the nudes of the girl you were with last night. We are like cis men, some of us awful, some of us good people.

    I respect that you want to identify as lesbian, but also respect that not all trans men(who have transitioned/confirmed) want to date someone who identifies as lesbian. For me it would linger the back of my mind that why is she with me, is it cause I am afab and have a click, or is she truly seeing me as full 100% man that I am. If so, would she date my brother?

    • Thanks for this Sam. This is exactly what I was talking about.

      Laneia is totally right in that what a trans guy and his partner agree about what terms are okay for both of them is something that other people should have no say over. I’m not concerned with those people at all. After all You Do You. What I am concerned about is lesbians (without trans partners who have expressly okay’ed it) who honestly just do not see trans men’s manhood and think that they can overlook it.

  69. I’m a bit late to this discussion, but still want to join in because it’s so interesting (after I write this I plan to go back and read all the comments again from the start).

    I find labels can be so odd – not least because I find them not for me, but for other people. And it depends on who the other party is. I use a few different labels to describe myself, but sometimes find they fall over each other in a way that I don’t find confusing but other people do.

    For example, I always describe myself as gay to a new person I gather to be straight, and tend to describe myself as a lesbian to other not-straight people. I’m happy with this. But then both straight and otherwise folk want to know about my past and future – have I ever dated men? Would I ever consider dating men in future? What if I met a man perfect for me..? Etc.

    The long answer is, I did used to date men, that was valid at the time, but I changed (at this point if I’m speaking to someone who reads autostraddle I always, always quote Reise). So I used to be bisexual, and identify as bisexual, but just not any more. And I’m fine with that! Now, I’m a big ol’ gay lesbian. This often confuses people. And with regards to the future, I don’t see myself having a relationship with a guy, but I would be fine if I did. Just unexpectedly back to bisexual!

    What I’m not so briefly saying is I’m fine with my sexuality, and happy with my gay/lesbian labels. But other people get confused by my identified label versus my own understanding of my sexuality.

    Tldr: labels are needed until we live in a different world, but I think they act as a way for others to view you rather than as a presentation.

    If any of that makes sense?!

  70. Also, when it comes to my feelings about the “no labels” thing I think it’s important to distinguish between people who *personally* don’t identify with a particular term and those who make general claims like “who needs labels anyway.”

    It’s fine not to use labels because you don’t feel that any of the available ones quite fit, because you are not certain enough of your sexuality to define it, or because you prefer to communicate your sexuality with a sentence (or song or sculpture or interpretive dance) rather than with a word.

    And yeah, some people do avoid particular labels because of stigma. And while my political side wants everyone to reclaim and de-stigmatize those labels, I respect the fact that using different language might allow someone to express their sexuality openly before they feel personally comfortable carrying around stigmatized terms.

    The issue is when people dismiss labels for *everyone.* I guess it makes some sense psychologically—if you don’t have something (a label) you have an incentive to convince yourself and others that it’s useless anyway. But it’s not fair to assume that since labels don’t work for you, they can’t be meaningful to other people.

    • Absolutely agree. I don’t find labels very meaningful to me these days, I suppose because none of them really describe how I am, but I would never assume that the implication of that is that labels are meaningless or useless generally… It’s pretty obvious that labels are really important to a lot of people!

  71. This post and the comments are so enriching in a mind-expanding way, and the opinions and experiences being shared are so valuable. I’ve spent most of today thinking about labels, the ones I use, and why I use them. I’m far from done, but here’s what I came up with.

    I identify as a lesbian and as gay. I have always interpreted the two terms as being more or less synonymous, with one defined a bit more specifically than the other (“a female attracted to females” as opposed to “a person attracted to people of the same sex”), but I loved what Yvonne said about using “lesbian” to deliberately reject men from her association and center women in her identity. I’m definitely motivated to use “lesbian” more as a result because I love those distancing implications, and I also really liked what Heather and Riese said about honoring lesbian history.

    In terms of the evolution of my identity, the first labels I used were “lesbian” and “gay” (pretty much interchangeably) from the age of 11. I was comfortable with those for a while, then there was a period of confusion for a couple of years in my teens that can be summarized as me realizing I found a few (mostly gay) men attractive, although I wasn’t interested in the idea of a relationship with a man or doing anything sexual with a man. I somewhat uncomfortably shifted to the “bisexual” label as a result, but never felt that fit me. At that time, I didn’t realize I had the ability to CHOOSE the labels I ascribed to, so I basically adopted “bisexual” because I thought the technicality of my non-sexual attraction to a small number of men meant I HAD to call myself that. Later, I came across the term “pansexual” and decided that fit me better than “bisexual.” At that time, I would explain my orientation as “being attracted to femininity regardless of gender, but only wanting to get physical with a female.” I embraced “pansexual” for a little while and then went back to “lesbian/gay,” which I’ve stuck with since.

    TL;DR – I know from past experience that I’m capable of some degree of attraction to men, but I feel very comfortable calling myself a lesbian because: A) there was always a consistent “weakness” of my feelings toward SOME men compared to my much stronger feelings for MANY women; B) I’ve never been sexually interested in a man; and C) I haven’t been attracted to a man since that period of confusion in my teens, which was a while ago now. Honestly I don’t really like to talk about that time because I feel like it makes me seem like “less of a lesbian” somehow.

    In terms of “queer,” I have never felt an affinity for it or a relationship to it beyond the sense that when I see “queer” used as an all-encompassing term meaning “not cisgender and/or not heterosexual,” I think, “Sure, I fit into that very broad definition in a technical kind of way.” I don’t have a violently negative reaction to the word, but I definitely feel more negatively about it than positively. I think that stems from the fact that while I was grappling with defining myself as a teen, the only context I had for “queer” was my grandmother using it in disapproving, judgy, hushed tones. Also, I’ve felt like an outsider all my life, and although some people embrace “queer” for being synonymous with weirdness/oddness, I’m much too uneasy about my differentness to do that. At this point in my life, I’m not trying to change myself to “fit in,” but I’m also not celebrating or calling attention to what makes me different. I’m realizing now as I read the comments that my aversion to identifying as “queer” probably has a lot to do with my discomfort about embracing the idea that I stand out or apart from the “norm” in some way.

    This discussion has been really enlightening and thought-provoking for me to read and think about. Thanks to everyone who added their voices!

  72. When I’m talking to straight people I usually use “lesbian” or “gay” because I really want to get across to straight men that no, I’m really not interested in them. (There’s no such thing as being too blunt when it comes to hetero cis men.) When talking to other LGBT people, I’ll use “queer” or “polysexual.” I’m not fond of “queer” because of its history. (I have had people call me that as a slur before, which doesn’t help.) Both those words are shorthand for the following: I’m attracted to femme/androgynous women/nonbinary people.

  73. I prefer ‘I’m gay’ to ‘I’m a lesbian’ because (personally) I’d rather have an adjective that describes me rather than BE a noun…

    However, although in terms of behaviour, I function as a gay person, I really only use ‘gay’ in a loose casual way, like when I’m laughing with my friends about how ridiculously gay I am….

    I’m not quite sure enough of myself, or don’t feel strongly enough that ‘I am a definite woman who definitely only likes women’ to fully properly identify as gay

    – which is why I love QUEER because it conveys complexity of sexuality and gender, but is also pretty simple – i see it as meaning ‘generally not-straight’….. and if there is one certainty here, it’s that I’m not straight!

  74. I’m 35.

    I use gay, lesbian, or not straight publicly with the straights.

    I use queer within the queer family and my nuclear family. My kids hear queer the most, and know it’s not really for them to say.

    I describe my current and past relationships as lesbian because we’ve all been women, not because everyone in those relationships have been lesbians.

    Privately I call myself a lesbian or a dyke.

    Long long ago, in a college town far far away I came out to my mom and said I was a fairy because “lesbian sounds like a disease.” Yeah, I let go of that internalized homophobia and it’s all good now. My mom still jokingly calls me a fairy, though.

  75. When I first came out, I used “bisexual” because I didn’t want it to seem like the feelings and relationships I had for my ex-boyfriends weren’t legitimate. It took me a long time to wrestle with the fact that I did really care about those people, but there was a reason why our relationships didn’t work out and that reason is that I am super gay.

    I always use “gay” and not “lesbian.” I identify with it so much more, and I was never able to articulate why until I read the comments in this thread. I would much rather use a label that is an adjective and not a noun.

    The other reason why I prefer “gay” over “lesbian” is because when I first came out, I went on a lot of dates with girls who were obsessed with knowing “what kind” of lesbian I was or “what kind” of girls I wanted to be with. That whole thing made me so uncomfortable, like I had to label myself even further and I would get trapped into a box. I just want to date people who are nice and funny and all that, you know? I don’t care if she’s butch or femme or whatever…Something about calling myself “gay” instead of “lesbian” separates me from that and takes away some of that pressure for me.

    • I can definitely relate to the discomfort associated with people wanting to know “what kind” of lesbian I was. I had an experience with a lesbian who felt very intimidated/threatened/confused when I said I didn’t identify as femme or butch, to the point where I got the “Well, then, what are you? You have to be one or the other” speech.

  76. I’m 26 years old and mostly identify with the term “queer.” I like using it because people don’t think they *get it* when they hear it. When you use “gay” or “lesbian” or “bisexual” (which can all apply to me) people have their assumptions and draw unfair conclusions. “Queer” let’s people know “hey, I’m not straight” while also making them go “then what?” and either asking questions or staying out of my business.

    The other terms don’t offend me and I am trying to yell “bisexual” from the rooftops a little more to give it the credit it deserves.

  77. I identify as queer but use “bisexual” sometimes to make it simpler for those who aren’t in the LGB community. I use queer because I think it fits my identity best and I think it has radical political connotations.

    I have not read any comments yet but I am surprised at the number of staffers mentioning their use of queer because it confuses and makes straight people uncomfortable. I came out at my office a few years ago and used queer not to make the older people in my office uncomfortable but because it fits me best and I hoped it would spark a conversation. One of my coworkers did approach me afterwards to do exactly that by saying “I haven’t heard that term before. What does it mean?”

    I never feel that I should be apologetic about my identity, but I’m trying to understand why someone might choose to use a term partially because they know it would make someone uncomfortable. Is it because the straight world generally makes us feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that a bit of an “eye for an eye” argument? Isn’t that a good way to make sure allies feel unwelcome in our spaces? Don’t we want to build community? Maybe I’m missing something…

    • I think making straight people uncomfortable is a way to challenge them to think outside of a binary system that we’ve all been indoctrinated into. Queer is murky and ambiguous, so it makes it difficult for straight people to slot us into nice tidy boxes that fall along their preconceived notions of sexuality. Making people uncomfortable doesn’t have to be an act of aggression or alienation.

    • I think people have to learn to be uncomfortable sometimes – uncomfortable makes people unsettled, creates room to learn. There’s a difference between being uncomfortable and being unsafe, I think. And there’s a difference between dominant culture being uncomfortable for folks who aren’t part of it than for folks who are part of dominant culture being made uncomfortable by folks at the margins.

      • Thank you PaperOFlowers and ashurredly! Your explanations helped me see this in a different way.

  78. i’m kinda late to the party but putting labels on my sexuality is extremely complicated because of my gender

    i’m an agender afab person but for most of my life identified as a woman, and then for a while i was refusing to set a label because i had to think about other things like graduating on time and with good grades

    so at the time i identified as a woman i identified as pansexual, and i find some of the comments by bi people taking issue with the term as i was pretty sure it was just meant to be inclusive of being attracted to non-binary folx? so all three options instead of two?

    now, i tell straight people i’m gay(usually so men will leave me tf alone) because i no longer experience romantic or sexual attraction to men…like i do find men aesthetically pleasing but i don’t want to have sex or be in a committed relationship with them

    this is where it gets complicated. because i’ve had a lot of experiences that cis women have, and have been and still am seen as a woman i feel super woman-aligned as in i don’t feel like a woman but i feel like my experiences are in line with women because of how i identified and am a feminist

    i am also mostly attracted to women BUT i’m also sometimes attracted to other non-binary folks so i like to go with queer, or gay for people i don’t know too well because i know some people are uncomfortable with the term for personal reasons

    and though i am mostly attracted to women i am TERRIFIED to ever call myself a lesbian because a.) i’ve seen many a woman-aligned agender person dragged on the internet for identifying as a lesbian…by lesbians b.) because of the aforementioned dragging and the fact that i’m an anxious person i don’t feel comfortable as a lesbian c.) i already feel like people think i’m a ~fake~ because i was into men for a minute

    ALSO, because i’m attracted to non-binary folx as well, that’d make me a bisexual, but most people when they think of the term bisexual think of people attracted to both men and women, not people attracted to men and nonbinary folx or women and non-binary folx so i really do not…want to do that either

    tl;dr i’m a femme agender gay because ~it’s complicated~

    • I can’t speak for all bisexuals, but for me, my discomfort with the term “pansexual” comes from the way it was very aggressively presented to me as something “better” than “bisexual.”

      The bisexuals I know personally, as well as myself, use “bisexual” to mean “attracted to those whose gender is the same or different to my own,” which does include non-binary people, and we’re tired of being told that our identity is not what we say it is.

      • oh i see, i had no idea that there were people trying to paint being pan as “better” than being bi in my lil bubble

        i do agree and think it’s annoying that people think bisexual only means being into men and women because that’s not it at all and then even more unfair to shy away from the label because i don’t want to have to be constantly explaining myself(or, in the case of dating sites, telling men i’m not interested)

  79. I used to use dyke as my label, but now I just use queer. While I’m not attracted to men, the terms lesbian and dyke caused me stress since I felt like they ignored my gender. I used to agonize over whether lesbians would like me once I was post op and one day I had enough. I discarded dyke, took on the label of queer, had my top surgery, and now couldn’t care less about whether lesbians like me or not. Every so often I worry about if people in the LGBT community view me as my genderqueer self or if they think something along the lines of “they use gender neutral pronouns but they’re still pretty much a woman/lady/girl/female”, which also contributes to my using queer instead of lesbian. I still really like the punch of the word dyke, but it’s a label I now admire from afar.

    I’ve also stopped going to events that are specifically lesbian or women loving women parties/gatherings/etc. Attraction wise, I should be there but gender wise I don’t want to intrude upon a women’s space or feel invalidated. So personally the current use of queer as an umbrella terms works nicely and lets me feel included in whatever’s going on. I also like that it also means weird, like others have mentioned, as I’ve always been deemed as odd in one way or another by my friends and family. That being said, I don’t use the word queer around older LGBT people since I don’t want to be disrespectful or upset them.

  80. That Elle article comes right after DePaul’s LGBT student resources office held a panel discussion titled “Are Lesbians Still Relevant?”, so :/

    I think the surging popularity of “queer” as a label comes from it being undefinable. Straight cis people think they have a right to use it if they have spectacularly enlightened politics, non-normative sex practices, or just because they think it makes them sound more radicool/fringe/out there. I have a hard time identifying with it for that reason, and due to the fact that it’s a slur that I feel gets *forced* on me in a lot of LGBT spaces. I’m all for people reclaiming slurs (I personally like dyke because I feel straight people are way less comfortable with it as a whole), but it should be a personal choice.

    I like lesbian because it’s fairly straightforward, or it should be. Lesbian = women only. I wish more people understood it as exclusive. There are other labels for sexually fluid or otherwise polysexual identities. It also has a rich history that is frankly quite disrespectful to try and scrub over and label as an “irrelevant” relic of the past, as if women who are exclusively attracted to women are a thing of the past and in order to be more “radical and “progressive”, we need to open ourselves to men. The implications are gross.

    Identity labels are a shorthand for how we can describe our experiences and our social positions in this heteronormative, heterosexist world. They’re how we can find other people who share our experiences. I can’t help but think that the loudest voices from the “no labels!” movement come from more progressive areas.

    • Also agree. I wish I could’ve attended “Are Lesbians Still Relevant?” with a large piece of posterboard that read YES.

      The thing is that the only reason anybody — including so many of us here! — can declare “queer’ more radical than “gay” or “lesbian” is because of the gay and lesbian people who fought for decades to make their radical identities more acceptable to mainstream society in order to get basic rights and privileges and some kind of acceptance. So it just feels really disrespectful of all that work to hop in and be like ‘gay and lesbian are so old-school.’ Without that old school, none of us would be here with our pictures in our icons talking about how gay we are!

      • yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas

        nail on the head. us young uns don’t know we’re born.

    • Yes! I identify as a lesbian. I am a woman who is exclusively attracted, sexually and romantically, to women. Coming to this realization and accepting it was a process for me. Prior to coming out at 23, I dated guys. I tried to be what I was taught was “normal”. I had genuine affection for them and wanted to be attracted to them, but I just wasn’t. It just felt wrong. I was always a lesbian. Not bi, not fluid. I am a vibrant 47-year-old woman who is alive and out there in the world interacting with its people. I am very inclusive in my social interactions and the friendships that I cultivate. It is 100% okay for me to have specific desires in my intimate relationships. I don’t have a choice about who I’m attracted to. I am neither a dinosaur nor irrelevant. My lesbian identity is valid and unaffected by the judgment of others. I am proud.

  81. I’m label challenged but I identify as queer! That means that nothing I ever do is allowed to surprise anybody! Right?

  82. Must be jelly cause jam don’t shake
    Spread that jelly, spread it good

    *cough* the Queen Diva compels me *cough*

    If pressed to pick a label I’ll pick bisexual every time both for solidarity reasons like many have already stated and for the tiny rabble-rouser/sadistic little terror that still resides somewhere within me that just dares some fool to make me fight about it or psychologically pull them apart before make a confit of their marrow like Lecter.
    Figuratively of course, humans taste like pork and I really don’t like the taste of pork.

    Also I really love the colours of the bi pride flag that I just happen to be wearing right this minute on my Commander Rogers shirt.

  83. I used to say bi until it felt like, to most people, that means men or women, but that feels too narrow. I say pan to people who know what that means, although it feels a little tacked on, it is more accurate. I think because I’m femme when I say queer to heteronormative people they take it to be meaningless. So if I’m going to bother to explain to someone who doesn’t know me, my attraction to people who are not cis, or bianary feels important to include.

  84. I’m wayyy late to this discussion, but I like identifying as queer. It’s short and sweet unlike the mouthful that is female-identified-gender-diverse-lesbian. It’s also way to include other identities (i.e. blerd, Afropunk) that are too “alternative” for most people to consider.

  85. I am in search of a label. Had relationships with men in the past (not for a decade though) while also have flings with women and have exclusively crushed on women for a few years. So many would put me in a bisexual bucket but I don’t feel attracted to men anymore and having a relationship with one seems weird. But I don’t feel I’ve earned a lesbian or gay label, never having had to come out. Nothing fits. I tend to say I don’t label myself – not because I’m jumping on a K-Stew bandwagon or trying to be mysterious, but because there isn’t one for me.

    • i don’t think you have to come out to take on a gay or lesbian label…and i don’t think the label has to be ~earned~ just something you want to use

      coming out is not safe for everyone or not something some people immediately feel safe or comfortable doing but i don’t think that makes them less deserving of however they choose to define their sexuality

      but i totally understand not feeling comfortable taking on a label or feeling like labels don’t define your sexuality well enough

  86. Does anyone else feel uncomfortable labeling themselves in terms of who they might wanna sex for the simple reason that they haven’t gotten lucky in a hella long time? I sometimes feel like a hypocrite for claiming that I have an orientation at all or that there’s any reason why anyone should give a crap what it is.

  87. Does anyone else get really annoyed when straight people talk about how we shouldn’t need labels? Like of course you don’t need a label, society assumes your sexuality is the norm and you’ve never had to identify yourself as “other”

  88. So this is late, but it’s a topic that’s super important to me, so I wanted to join the conversation anyway!

    I’ve identified as bisexual since I was 11. Queer came a little bit later, and now I identify as both. I like “queer” because it’s ambiguous, and also – as many other people have said – because it highlights the fact that I’m weird in all the ways! I also like it as a political statement. (I’ve always loved the phrase “not gay as in happy, queer as in fuck you,” though I’m not actually that aggressive IRL – or online, for that matter.) Queer is important to me because I have never fit into even mainstream LGBT spaces, because I want to highlight that I am politically radical and being radically queer is an important part of my identity, because I am not remotely interested in being part of the gay version of heteronormativity (homonormativity??) – assimilation is awful and boring to me and I have no desire for a “normal” lifestyle. I’m also on the autism spectrum, so fitting in anywhere isn’t something that’s ever come easily to me. I’d rather put it out there that I fit in best with the weirdos and try to find community that feels good to me among them.

    Bisexual is also a really important identity to me. Of everything the editors said about their identities above, I really resonated most with Rachel. (Though I have called myself a bisexual misandrist before, too, Laura!) I call myself bisexual rather than pansexual for political reasons, and that’s really important to me. (My primary partner calls me a militant bisexual because of how much I loathe the term pansexual, in fact. I struggle to reconcile how much I hate ‘pansexual’ with my general feeling that it’s up to everyone individually to decide how they want to identify and my desire to never identity-police anyone.)

    Anyway, bisexual. I agree with Rachel in that my definition (and that of most bisexuals I know) is attraction to “same and other” genders. The historical and political significance of claiming a marginalized identity within the LGBT community, and specifically a bisexual identity, is very important to me.

    I have been struggling with my bi identity lately, as I realize more and more that I have little interest in dating men these days. However, my sexuality has always been fluid, and lesbian is not a label that I feel comfortable with for myself. I have mostly dated women (and girls, when I was younger), but I’ve also dated men(/boys when younger) and I am still very attracted to some men, though I’m much pickier in my attractions to men than in my attractions to women or genderqueer people. All the same, I don’t think I’ll ever want to call myself anything but queer and bisexual, regardless of who I date and/or sleep with in the future. Even if I never date/sleep with a man again, bisexuality is an important part of me and always will be.

    • As I’ve been reading the comments, I keep having more thoughts! I’m going to add this one to this thread, rather than adding another new comment. Partly because I’m a little wary of posting all of this information publicly and want it less easily seen, tbh. Some of this is somewhat TMI.

      -Unrelated to my sexuality: it’s interesting to me to see people of all non-straight sexualities calling themselves queer. When I hear ‘queer’, I assume not-straight and not-completely-gay, but that’s probably just me. (Not to discourage any of you who are completely gay/lesbian from calling yourselves queer! That’s just my association, for some reason.)

      – My romantic orientation and sexual orientation are slightly different. Romantically, as far as who I want to date, I’m about a 4.5-5 on the Kinsey scale (assuming I’m identifying strictly as a woman, for simplicity’s sake – see my comment right below this). Sexually, it’s more complicated. Both of my girlfriends are non-op trans women and I am probably more interested in sleeping with them/other women like them than anyone else, because I prefer to sleep with people with penises and also prefer to date/have sex with women, if that makes sense. I haven’t had much sex with women with vaginas and I haven’t had any sex with trans men, and honestly, although it appeals to me, I’m a little scared of interacting with other people’s vaginas (which is probably ridiculous since I have one). I like having sex with cis men, because I like their bodies (although not having breasts is a major minus in my book), but I’m much more likely to want a friends-with-benefits/one-night stand situation with them, because after the fact I tend to sort of be like “you are not who I want to be snuggling with right now, get out.” This could also be situational, though, as I’ve never slept with a guy I was really into, and I have been really into guys before.

      This is why I’ve been questioning my sexuality again lately, and it’s freaking me out because I’ve spent so much time being super attached to my bisexual identity and I don’t have any desire to change that. :/

      -My “type” tends to be people of any gender who are androgynous to femme-presenting. This is most likely why I haven’t dated many men – it’s hard to find men with a gender presentation I’m attracted to who are also into women. Though I’ve also found I prefer dating bi men.

      -Also! I am poly. I haven’t known that with any certainty for very long, but I fell in love with my more recent girlfriend in January, so it’s official: I am definitely poly. So now I’m dealing with feeling like a bad bisexual for playing into awful bi stereotypes, but also knowing that that’s silly and not what poly means at the same time, and it’s frustrating.

      -I really hate having my relationships with women called “lesbian relationships” and my relationships with men called “straight relationships.” I am not a lesbian or straight, so how can my relationships be? My primary partner and I are both bi, so if you wanted to say we’re in a bi relationship I’d be all for that!

      I forgot to say this before, but I’m 28.

  89. Addendum: Genderwise, I identify as a demigirl – somewhere in between female and genderqueer/non-binary. So lesbian wouldn’t 100% work/feel good to me no matter what my attractions were. Another reason queer is right for me!

  90. I identify as a lesbian and also queer. I mostly use queer in my own head, I think. Mostly when I’m talking to other people, I just go with ‘I have a girlfriend. (No, like boyfriend.)’ And I like the way lesbian feels, and like so many other people here have said, that it firmly states NO MEN NEED APPLY. But queer… feels like making a speech. ‘You don’t get to understand me. (I don’t always understand me.) You don’t get to put me inside a nice neat little box in your head and think you can predict me or make sense of me or anything.’ And I’m a person who generally is very, very open. I had a discussion, a very long discussion, with a co-worker once, which was mostly me attempting to show her how important coming out (over and over and over) was. She couldn’t grasp why I did. Or why I answered the questions that can come with it. She finally understood, mostly, when I said that I answered them so someone else may not have to. And I’m happy to do that and I know how important it is and I know it’s been going on forever, but it is exhausting. Queer, for me, says – I will do this, I will answer your questions, I will educate you – but that does not mean you get to know me.

    And I do love making people uncomfortable when they attempt to put me in a box.

  91. Interesting post. That ELLE article was frankly offensive and facile to me. I hate when straight people tell me “labels are over,” because they haven’t worked as hard as most people here have to define themselves.

    I identify as a bisexual and queer woman. Bi because I am. Queer because I’m in a relationship with a woman 2 decades older than me, which seems to make straight people especially uncomfortable, and has led to many unwelcome and intrusive conversations about my private life.

    “Gay” is a useful word for when I’m talking to conservatives, but nowhere else.

  92. I’m a little late to the party, but I have a lot of thoughts on this issue.

    I am a college student and I identify as a lesbian/gay/queer. Gay is definitely “softer,” and I find myself using it when a) I don’t want to make waves, or b) I’m not feeling certain of my sexual orientation. When I first came out, I identified as bisexual. I had never considered identifying as a lesbian until I was breaking up with my terrible boyfriend. I definitely had crushes on guys throughout my childhood – how legitimate they were is questionable, but not worth questioning. I found the label “queer” later, as I was just getting into feminism without really having any understanding of it. I adopted it immediately.

    Then I sort of had a long fuzzy period where I was very depressed and unsure of my beliefs as a feminist when it came to gender and how real it was and who could identify how. If my past self were reading this, she would vehemently disagree with what I am about to say, but I definitely identified as bisexual back then – I think I had abandoned “queer” for whatever reason – because I was interested in men and women, I guess, but was also mentally not there and definitely incapable of being in any kind of romantic or sexual relationship.

    And then I started to identify with the word “lesbian,” because on Tumblr it was the trendy thing to do. I had a very loose attachment to the term when it came to its actual definition, but when I finally got myself out of that cult-like circle I was in on that website, the term stuck for some reason. For many months after – probably more like a year – I tried to convince myself that I was 100% lesbian/had never truly been attracted to men/had absolutely no possibility of ever so much as looking at a man in that way. I am a very anxious person, a chronic over-thinker, so I spent a year of my life trying to convince myself that I was a lesbian in the way a lot of women I was attracted to were lesbians, for whom the lack of attraction to men had come before attraction to women.

    But for me, it was attraction that came before anything else. I have been feeling rather unstable in my lesbian identity lately. I have felt guilty about using “queer” because of its history. I have a relative who is a bisexual man in his sixties and I know he has been called “queer.” It seems as if it is disrespectful to him for me, a woman who loves women and has never so much as been called “dyke,” to claim a word that probably strikes fear into his heart as my own. Recently, though, I have made the acquaintance of an older lesbian who uses the word “queer” all the time, even as a noun. And she has been involved in the movement since probably the late seventies to early eighties. So lately I have been using “queer,” while recognizing it as a reclaimed slur. I don’t know how I feel about people using it to basically mean bisexual, though.

    I think that I, like Riese and a lot of the commentors, am sort of in-between when it comes to whatever my “natural” orientation is. Maybe I could “go there” – like, be interested in men – but I am so averse to it for whatever reason that it really does not feel like a choice at all. I am someone who needs labels. But I hate this schizophrenic bisexual-lesbian thing. I don’t really know how to make peace with it. I don’t know why I so desperately do not want to identify as bisexual – probably because I really don’t want to date men! – but calling myself a lesbian can feel like a lie sometimes. I’m constantly calling my dykiness into question, which is ridiculous because I am feeding stereotypes and the entire process only makes me feel like more of a fake because I have always been rather feminine and terrible at sports, etc. Anyway, I feel like I probably have made a choice, but it’s more like the choice chose me, because I don’t see any other way. But I don’t see any way to describe it, so for now it’s “lesbian.” What I do know is that I love women, I always have, and I always, always will.

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