I am a woman.
I am a lesbian.
I am queer.
I am chapstick femme.
I am who I am.
Why does it even matter?
A couple of months ago, I went to a party with Exhibit A and people that she goes to school with. This school is a progressive institution that works on breaking down every barrier you know, busting it up a bit, and rebuilding you as an accepting, loving, “non-heteronormative” human. I was introduced to people by name, and then by the fact that I was dating Exhibit A. Then, from across the group of about ten people, one girl said “Oh! You’re _____’s straight girlfriend!” and the crowd breathed a collective “ohhhhh,” topped off with nods of knowledge to one another.
Needless to say, I was stunned.
First off, I’m not straight. Second off, non-heteronormative my ass! That was extremely judgmental, and from a group of queer folks to boot? I was not happy.
You may have heard the term slut-shaming, but what about identity-shaming?
I identify as many of those terms above. I am a female (sex) and woman (gender). No part of me identifies in the male/man/masculine category. Sure, I do things that heteronormatively seem to disagree: I sleep with a woman. I really dig sitting with my legs spread apart (whatever, it’s comfy!). I call myself “queer” more often than “lesbian,” because I believe that even though I am characteristically a lesbian, that the men I have been with before are not any less of men from a straight past that I formerly identified with and therefore shouldn’t be forgotten about, because love is love and I loved them. If that makes sense.
I do not identify, however, with the term “straight girlfriend.” I was so deeply offended that I left the party two hours later in tears, after having normal conversation and laughs with those same people. Why did it get to me? In what world would anyone be offended by being grouped in the heteronormative world that’s safe – straight people are in the norm, therefore giving a cushy comfort.
Identity-shaming. That’s what I was experiencing.
If I don’t feel like a straight girl, then don’t call me one. I may not know what part of the world I fit in yet, I may struggle with the term cisgender/cissexual, I may wear hiking pants one day and an A-line dress the next, but don’t you dare call me something that I’m not.
When I got in the car with Exhibit A and told her how I was feeling, she said that it was because they didn’t know me. They had heard of me through other people, and those other people started off by saying “Oh, she was engaged to a man.” They looked at me and saw an average girl: long hair, rolled-up jeans and a cute shirt, strappy sandals…I didn’t fit “butch,” but I wasn’t quite “femme,” and so there I was. The awkward in-between. The straight girlfriend.
I don’t want to have to change things, like how I dress or act. When many men and women “come out,” they go through a transformation. We’ve all seen The L Word – Jenny chops off her hair and starts publicly talking about her sexual exploits left and right in public. It’s a thing that happens (and in all honesty, I’ve been thinking on an alternative lifestyle haircut for a while: a mix of wanting to feel like I fit in and because really, it’s damn hot in Colorado) that we don’t have control over. Exhibit A once told me that when you feel like you don’t have/are losing control of something in your life, you have to do something that makes you feel strong about it. When I went home in the spring to tell my parents that they either needed to accept my sexuality or say bye to me, I cut inches from my hair and got blunt bangs. I received new workout clothes that fit my body correctly, instead of baggy t-shirts. I did some stuff that made me feel like I was the one making decisions, because coming out isn’t a decision. At some point, you do it because you have to. Staying in the closet is a decision – sometimes made for safety, sometimes made for personal reasons, but coming out…it happens because it needs to.
So, that being said: if I come out as a lesbian, at what point is it identity-shaming to call me something other than that? I believe that when I feel like it’s something I’m not and it makes me feel bad about what I’m doing and who I am for no reasons under my control, then it’s identity-shaming. You can ask me about my sexuality, but when I tell you the answer and you still respond with “straight girlfriend,” hey, guess what? It’s not funny, it’s hurtful. And it’s false.
I’m still learning. I’m almost 25, and that’s not that old. I’m coming up on one year of being out of the closet, and I feel great about who I am. I hope the world is ready to accept that: I am who I am. You do you, I’ll do me, and if that doesn’t work for you then come and let me know, because I’d rather work it out and show that being non-heteronormative doesn’t mean being non-inclusive in any other way.