Today I’d like to talk about labels. Specifically, labels used by the LGBTQ+ community – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, et cetera. (LGBTQ+ itself is a label as well!)
Even more specifically, I’d like to talk about the label of questioning.
The letter Q in LGBTQ+ does double duty – it stands for both queer and questioning. When the term is used in the context of the LGBTQ+ community, questioning has two definitions:
- “The process of exploring one’s own sexual orientation, investigating influences that may come from their family, religious upbringing, and internal motivations” (source)
- “Refers to individuals who are unsure of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity” (source)
In this blog post I will use both definitions of the word, but mostly the second one, for… reasons that will become apparent later on.
So. Questioning – it’s a handy label, isn’t it? If you’re not sure of your sexual orientation or gender identity (or both), it’s an easier and slightly more eloquent way of saying, “I don’t know. I have NO FREAKING CLUE.”
And before I start talking about my experiences with this label, I’d just like to make it very clear that LABELING ONESELF AS QUESTIONING IS COMPLETELY VALID. Because I don’t want you to have the impression that it doesn’t work well as a label – just that I have a lot of weird feelings about it because of how I used it, or tried to us it.
Like, the existence of that label has really helped some of my friends. I met a bunch of LGBTQ+ kids and teens shortly after joining the NaNoWriMo YWP program in November 2011, several of whom identified as questioning back then.
And they still do. It’s been three, four, even five years since I met some of these people and they’re still not quite sure about their gender or sexual orientation, and that’s completely OK.
Some people take a long time to figure out their identity.
Some people take no time at all to figure out their identity.
Others are somewhere in the middle – they know how they identify, but they try to ignore it.
They try really really really hard to make it go away. They hope that avoiding the subject will just make the whole thing disappear, and they refuse to assign labels to what they know to be true because that will make their identity seem more real, more concrete – and they’re not quite ready to deal with their identity being reality. Not yet.
I know because that was me.
Back to the NaNo YWP thing – when I joined their LGBTQ+ forum group, I basically already knew who I was… deep down I knew. But I labeled myself differently, because it was convenient and helped me to stop thinking about how I REALLY identified.
When I joined that group, I was fifteen. I’d had loads of crushes on girls, and both the number of crushes and their intensity made it pretty obvious that I WAS SUPER FREAKING GAY.
And yet, when I joined that forum group and introduced myself… I kind of avoided the topic. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was along the lines of, “Hi, I’m _____ and [more info about self] and I think I may still need to figure out my sexual orientation.”
HAHAHAHA. LIES. ALL LIES. I totally already knew I was a lesbian. Oops.
But hey, I wasn’t ready to accept that. It wasn’t until… several months? maybe a year? later that I came to terms with this part of me. (I don’t know exact dates because I spent so long trying to block any thoughts about this that I… I just don’t remember much from that time. Every time I thought about something gay I’d immediately switch my mind to another topic, or at least try to do so.)
After months and months of talking to the other queer YWP members I began to accept myself, but it took a loooooong time. It took a while for me to stop labeling myself as questioning, and begin to identify as a lesbian.
Because I didn’t want to be gay.
Because I didn’t want to think about all the ways being gay would affect my life.
Because I fell into the trap of thinking “I’m too young to know my sexual orientation.” From thirteen until sixteen, I kept telling myself I was just to young to know for sure! I kept telling myself that I should wait and see – maybe some boy would come along and then everything would be all right.
Except that, well, that never happened.
It was just so much easier to label myself questioning because that meant nothing was definite. I kept thinking of myself as questioning because doing so took away some of the pressure to admit to myself that I was GAY GAY GAY. Identifying as questioning didn’t necessarily mean I wasn’t gay, but it gave me enough leeway to fool my brain into thinking I was “probably straight.” By labeling myself as questioning, I could almost almost almost trick myself into thinking that no answering had yet occurred.
Soooooo that is what that particular label meant to me, once upon a time, in a gaylaxy far far away. I spent the first twelve years of my life thinking I was straight (because I didn’t even know that queer people existed), then the next four years trying to convince myself that I truly had no clue about my identity, and only during the past two and a half years (or thereabouts) have I allowed myself to identify as anything specific.
I don’t know… I don’t call myself questioning any longer because when I did use that label, I felt very differently than I do now. I needed that label a few years ago because I wasn’t ready to accept that part of myself, and “questioning” gave me a level of flexibility and comfort that was necessary while I slooowly began to acclimate to the idea – the reality – of being gay. I already knew some things about me were true, but back then I didn’t want to know. And the word “questioning” really helped me with that.
So that’s what one word, one label, meant to me, at one time, when my sexual orientation was exactly the same as it is now – exactly the same as it’s always been – but when I was also experiencing vastly different feelings about that orientation. Well, I hope this was at least mildly interesting to read, because I have a lot of feelings on labels and why they are So Very Very Helpful And Important. But that’s a subject for another day, another blog post…