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

I get a lot of questions from readers about my sexual orientation, which makes sense, considering I run a website for ‘lesbian/bisexual/queer women’ and refer to myself alternately as lesbian, bisexual and queer. Writing about “labeling” one’s sexual orientation online is like jumping into the internet equivalent of “a pit of lions,” so when I get those questions I simply do not answer them.

I actually could write about 100,000 words on this topic and, in fact, I have (mostly on my hard drive, but see also: “When I Knew”). But I’m gonna do my best to sort out the basics here, as briefly as possible, because I actually do want to say something about my sexual orientation and you do deserve an answer and I know that and if I don’t do this now I’ll change my mind and not want to say any of this at all.

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

Yes, there are very negative and misleading stereotypes about bisexuality that I hated — tropes about it being a phase or about it just meaning “slutty” or “unfaithful” — but I felt that despite dealing with those stereotypes, the challenge of living as a bisexual woman who mostly dated men paled in comparison to what women who only dated women had to deal with.

But here I am!

So how did I get here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best way for me to pick a label would be to hold a poll on Autostraddle called “what do you want Riese to be?” because that word won’t change anything about who I am. It’s not about me, it’s about you. A label is an abstraction/social construct, not a directive. Desire comes first, naming it comes later. “Bisexual” feels like a lie but so does “lesbian” and so does “pansexual” and so does everything except “queer” which feels true. Because I like girls and because I’m a fucking weirdo, “queer” feels right. Sometimes “gay” feels right too, maybe because I like girls and because I’m happy. [ETA: I now still don’t really care but mostly identify as a lesbian, with the “bisexual by birth, lesbian by choice” caveat. You can read more about that here!]

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


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Riese

Marie Lyn Bernard, aka Riese, is an award-winning writer, blogger, journalist, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in the midwest, lost her mind in New York City and is currently making it work in California. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better, The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image and The Hazards of Being Female," "Dirty Girls," and "The Best American Erotica of 2007," magazines including Nylon, Marie Claire, GO, Curve, Interlude, and CollegeBound, and all over the web including nerve.com, Jezebel, Queerty, Emily Books and OurChart (RIP). She was the recapper for The L Word Online and host of Showtime’s Lezberado and her personal blog has earned many dubious honors including Best Personal Blog 2008. Riese has spoken about blogging, community-building, feminism, cyberculture and sexuality at places like BlogHer, Yale, New York University, The University of Chicago and The Museum of Sex. A graduate of the University of Michigan, Interlochen Arts Academy and The Olive Garden's week-long training intensive; she enjoys eating foods, having big ideas, reading books & talking to her stuffed dog, Tinkerbell. Also, she's Jewish. Follow her smokin’ hot adventures on twitter. Contact: riese[at]autostraddle.com

Riese has written 2896 articles for us.

295 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  6. but what about all the lesbians who refuse to date bisexuals?!?!?!?!?!?!? WHAT ABOUT THEM!

    loljk

    this was nice, and the responses are also nice. i totally could relate on many of your experiences.

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

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

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

    you do you riese + once again, thank you.

  8. Thanks for sharing your human-ness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you, I needed that.

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

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

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

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

  18. There are several passages I could pull from this, that I relate very strongly to. But instead I will just echo what many others above me have said. This was a great piece. Thanks for writing it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  29. THIS THIS THIS!THIS IS A THING!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So thank you.

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

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

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

  36. Beautiful – thanks so much for writing this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  43. Wow, whoa, wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  46. Thanks for this Riese, really.

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

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

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

    i too have had this thought:

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

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

  48. Yes.
    Just, yes.

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

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

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

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

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

    ~Lauren~

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

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

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

    You are the Queen of Awesome. Thank you.

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

  52. I just wanted to say thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

  54. *claps*
    bravo!!!

    Brilliant essay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    +5 Maddows to ya

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thank you.

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

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

    Riese, you are wonderful!

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

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

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

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

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