i have adventures (sometimes)

Friday, 23 September 2016

Calling Love by its Right Name

Oh hey everyone how's 2016 going for you haha great me too
[Taking a beating from life and love - Owlturd Comix]
It's been a rough year.

I do have to admit that I have a pretty charmed life overall - I really can't complain.* But 2016 hit me with an an intensely stressful work environment, my dad being in a serious car accident, the end of a two-year relationship, a mugging, and a really fun extended depressive episode, within the span of about three months.

Here pictured post-breakup and post-mugging, having an actual literal pity party, hosted by kind friend Tara.
I'll write more about my long and exciting relationship with depression another time. Probably. For now I mainly want to say that the right medication has changed my life, and I'm slightly annoyed that I haven't been on it since I was like 14, because THINGS WOULD HAVE BEEN SO DIFFERENT.

But I survived. And for the first time in a while, I've found the self-confidence to write - and a concomitant interest in sharing my every feeling with the internet at length. (You're welcome.) So I'm returning to blogging with a bang to announce that

(Is this how the coming out thing works? I'm new here.)

To be honest, I never really wanted to Come Out. A lot of people have known for ages, and I figured one day I'd just come home with a partner who wasn't a man, and the rest of my friends and family would be surprised but fine, and that would be it. A message to the family Whatsapp group to announce that I Am A Bisexual never felt particularly necessary or important.

But at the same time, I had to admit that there was a part of myself I was hiding in my "real" life. I've been very openly queer on Twitter for ages, where I do the majority of my poorly-anonymised fangirling and swearing about things. On Facebook (where I'm more restrained, and where my entire family is), I've always stopped just shy of saying it out loud.

Then I told a good friend that I was in love with her.

It was a scary thing I put off for way too long, but life is short and we're all going to die, and I'd just read that Elizabeth Gilbert post about finding love with her best friend. The thought of missing my chance to tell her suddenly became unbearable.

So I sent a terrifying email about my Big Queer Feelings, and then tried not to eat my phone from anxiety as I waited for her response. Her reply was as expected, if not as hoped - a deeply kind and compassionate acknowledgement of my feelings, which she didn't share. I already knew. I went into my confession with no intentions other than telling the truth.

It still broke my heart.

To go through that and feel like I had to be so selective about who I shared it with didn't sit well with me. I'd always argued that I didn't need to come out, but I finally had to face that it was something I should maybe - ugh - actually talk about.

So, in short, I'm queer as heck, and that hasn't always been the case. Except for the ways in which it has.

I'm so glad we cleared that up.

One the one hand, I can see that maybe I always was at least a little bit queer. I just assumed that all straight girls felt, like I did, that women were objectively more attractive than men, and had intense friendships where you feel really jealous of the other person's friends. I was in my twenties before I found out that that wasn't necessarily the case.

To quote Mallory Ortberg, who insists on being heartbreakingly poetic even as she writes about a garbage TV show, "I did not say it was love because I was young and I thought some friendships just ached like that. I would say it now, because I know how to call love by its right name."

I read that post for the first time a year ago, and sobbed for all the friendships that had "just ached like that". There have been a few.

Having said that, I distinctly remember at various points in my life -

16, and less into Channing Tatum's abs than my classmates were; or
19, very Christian, and feeling a deep sense of loss that I would never kiss a girl; or
20, crushing on a girl from church; or 
22, mesmerised by a woman whose tomboy charm reminded me of George from the Famous Five; or
24, wondering if the way I felt about my friend was love, or like, love love

- asking myself if I would want to date women. And in all honesty, the answer was no. I'd felt some degree of attraction towards people other than men for a long time, but I'd never really thought it meant anything. "Straight enough", I once answered, when a roller derby friend asked. Straight enough that it didn't matter, I meant. Straight enough that I'd only date men, whatever other feelings I might have.

It's not like I didn't consider it - sure, being queer would have been a scary thing to acknowledge, but not impossible. Even before I left the church I had started calling myself "mostly straight", if anyone asked (they mostly didn't). There was certainly a degree of repression in there, and a lot of internalised biphobia. I didn't want to be one of those fake bisexuals who make us all look bad, and I was terrified of using actual human beings for my personal experimentation. So when it came to setting up an online dating profile, my cursor hovered over the options they gave me - and I finally settled on just men.

At the same time, I really have become a lot queerer as I've got older. Some of it was a question of giving myself permission to start thinking of myself that way (helped in no small part by Julia Serano's recounting of her own shift from "lesbian" to "bisexual"), and expanding my understanding of bisexuality to realise that what I felt still counted, even if I didn't feel the exact same way about people of every gender. And with all that going on, somewhere along the line the answer to the question I'd been asking myself since I was 16 shifted - actually, I totally did want to date women.

[Pie charts showing many different ways to be bisexual - Buzzfeed]
Maybe that's why the "coming out" thing doesn't feel quite right for me. I don't feel like I've been particularly closeted, or like it took me until age 27 to cast off the shackles of heteronormativity and be true to myself. I have done my best to be true to myself - but that's looked different at different times. Right now, it looks like this.

And now that I'm dating again for the first time in a few years, I have to acknowledge what being true to myself means right now. It still feels scary. I've managed to keep myself pretty well protected in the past by making sure only to have crushes on women who are (a) straight, (b) in long-term monogamous relationships, (c) in other countries, (d) celebrities I will never meet, or (e) some combination of the above, just to really fuck with myself. But now that I've once again hovered over those binary (sigh) gender options on dating apps, this time I'm a little less afraid.

Well, I say that. I'm terrified.

Everything is new again. Like when I was having to learn for the first time what dating was like outside purity culture. At least when I was dating men I had a social script to subvert. Now I feel clueless - so awkward and shy that the first time I got a message from a woman on Tinder I had to hide my phone under a cushion and go and lie down to recover.

I know it'll get easier. I'm just coming to this party a little later than a lot of people - and not only do I have to learn all the house rules, but I also need to make peace with feeling like I missed out. I'm still working on that.

"I’ll never be caught up. I’ll never have experienced teenage love, and I’ll never have had the kind of sexy early-twenties hijinks so many of my friends have. [...] And the queer friends I’ve made have all been out much longer than I have, and around them, I don’t feel gay enough. I’m suddenly underqualified for everything." [Katie Heaney, My "Straight" Clothes Don't Fit Me Anymore]

The impostor syndrome is intense. I still doubt myself constantly, desperate to feel like I'm queer enough to belong. (One of the highest compliments I've had recently was from a friend telling me that I set off their gaydar.)

But even if it is a phase (a particularly dismissive way to describe a season of a person's life, but that's a whole nother conversation), give me an hour or six and I'll give you a non-exhaustive list of "phases" I've been through, including voting DA, being heterosexual, and thinking Nightwish lyrics were deep. People change. Maybe in 20 years I'll be happily and heterosexually married and explaining to my five good Christian children what a "blog" was. Maybe I'll be #stillbisexual. Maybe I'll be something and someone I haven't even thought of yet. I don't know.

"You don't have to explain everything," my wise friend Kate said when I asked for feedback on a draft of this post.** "It sounds like you're trying to justify yourself." She's right. But in the end, I am still trying to justify myself. I shouldn't need to - I don't need to. But right now, I'm still explaining it, even to myself.

"I hope to eventually lose interest in my own queerness in favor of something else, like, I don’t know, artisanal bread baking. But for now, it is still fresh, and I am not yet comfortable." [Katie Heaney, My "Straight" Clothes Don't Fit Me Anymore]

It's an adventure. I may be underqualified, and I don't know if I quite belong (yet). But my feelings are real and they do count - for something, at least. I can look love in the eye and call it by its right name. And that's not a bad start.

“Not queer like gay. Queer like, escaping definition. Queer like some sort of fluidity and limitlessness at once. Queer like a freedom too strange to be conquered. Queer like the fearlessness to imagine what love can look like…and pursue it.”
Brandon Wint

Tl;dr, here's my new ringtone:

**She also told me to explain hyperlinks when I post them, so that people will click on them, so here is Kate's blog, which is great. Here also is Dasia'a blog, which is also great. Thank you to both of you for helping me get my thoughts in order.


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