“Y’all are confused, you don’t know anything about this life.”
“You just got some pussy yesterday and want to talk about safe space?!”
“I just don’t understand why you don’t say you’re a lesbian.”
“You can’t say that. You just got in the community. And you are really not in the community.”
You would think these are quotes from a lost episode of “The L Word” the way that they read — elite, judgmental, and dismissive. However, they are very real text messages I’ve received since I started dating within the gay community a couple of years ago. For context, I identify as queer, a term I define as an umbrella that covers all the other letters of LGBTQ and allows me to exist as not straight and happy about it. Being queer leaves room for my dating experiences thus far and whatever I may choose as moving forward. I can’t say that my version of queerness has been well-received by everyone in the gay community, though.
Typically, when I meet someone new at a party or on a Tinder date, they eventually ask, “so, you’re a lesbian?” or “have you always dated women?” In the spirit of community and vulnerability, I give whatever answer I feel most comfortable with at the time and we possibly proceed to start some version of dating. Then in a moment of disagreement about the state of gentrification in New York City or what appetizer to order, my sexuality gets angrily thrown in my face as a point of disgust, unattractiveness, and mockery of how not gay enough I am to breathe the same air as the very women who I have chosen to be with. Interestingly, this never happens at a moment when it’s relevant to the conversation. The insults always spew out like word vomit that has been held down by multiple traumatic experiences from which they haven’t properly healed. So the dating situation ends as it stands, and I walk away confused about how I’m not gay enough for the lesbians, am too gay for the world, and frankly irritated with having to sit through an evening of samosas listening to all of this.
It begs to question, where do I fit?
This isn’t a hate letter to self-identifying lesbians, let’s be very clear. I’m seeking answers for myself and anyone else who, at some time, may have dated men, decided that’s not what they want to do anymore, and feels shamed for their experience by the very community they thought they’d find a home in. Shadeen Francis, LMFT, says it’s only natural that this lack of acceptance hits where it hurts.
“Human beings are wired for connection; finding community was one of our earliest natural resources for physical and psychological safety.” she explains. “For those experiencing identities that are oppressed and marginalized — for example, people who are not straight — safety is not always guaranteed. We tend to look for community through sameness, finding kinship with people who seem to be just like us.” And while “queer” is an umbrella term, the very ambiguity of it can create dissonance in a space where we take comfort in absolutes and common coming out stories. “Feeling like you don’t belong negatively impacts mental health, the most severe risks being depression and anxiety, but also including social withdrawal, pervasive self-doubt, and trauma symptoms,” Francis adds, “Identity policing is real, but it is based on fear and misunderstanding.”
My identification as queer is purposeful as I find myself not quite one thing. But I have realized it’s also based on a fear of being told I’m not lesbian enough… again. By identifying as queer I’m trying to dissuade judgement and minimize the possibility of policing but, in reality, it seems to do the opposite by disturbing my connection to the gay community. I can see both sides — those who are critical are likely more comfortable with familiar terms and experiences — but my sexuality is deserving of safety, respect, and kinship. It’s not an invitation to make jokes and exclude me from them. Casting judgement based on fear and misunderstanding, only to leave the other party afraid, sounds eerily similar to many of the struggles that marginalized communities already experience.
While I won’t call myself a lesbian to make dinner and drinks or fitting in easier, I know I have my own work to do in terms of processing my experiences so they don’t taint my future relationships. I hope that we can open up conversations about all of our pasts and see what can happen when we make the conscious decision to put our feet on common ground instead of allowing hurt feelings and failed relationships to create two separate islands in the same ocean. In the meantime, we can enjoy not being straight together and share a drink.