Sexuality: To Label or Not to Label?

by June 26, 2013
filed under Sex & Dating

With pride month winding down, I thought it was the perfect timing to write about queer sexuality, more specifically labeling versus non-labeling. I don’t assume everyone feels the need to check a box when it comes to labeling ones own sexuality but many individuals choose to label their sexuality for a multitude of reasons including: Personal, political and social. In many cultures and societies individuals who are heterosexual don’t think about their sexuality or go through the process of coming out due to societal normalization of heterosexuality.

However, for the rest of us who have challenged heterosexism or questioned our own sexually, either intellectually or physically, identity can be a confusing and difficult thing to acquire for ourselves. I came out of the closet as bisexual at 19 because I knew at that point I was attracted to women, as well as men. After about a year of identifying myself as bisexual I then began to feel that the term didn’t fit me. At the time, I was not dating men and I realized that I may in fact be lesbian and not bisexual after all. It didn’t take long until I was once again having a sexual identity crisis. It didn’t feel right identifying myself as a lesbian, nor was I comfortable with it. This led me to my decision to drop the lesbian label completely. Over the next two years I continued this cycle of labeling versus non-labeling. Even with the help from queer theorists that I discovered at the end of my undergrad college career, I still wasn’t at pace with my sexual identity or lack thereof.

As I continued to question my sexuality I stumbled upon researcher, Dr. Lisa Diamond from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City in one of my psychology classes. I found that she had published a book on women’s sexuality entitled Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Essentially she argues that many women’s sexuality is fluid and women’s sexual identity may change throughout her lifetime. A woman may identify as a lesbian at twenty but by the time she is 30, she may identify as queer or bisexual or drop a label all together. For many of the women in her book gender was irrelevant when it came to love. I immediately felt at ease upon reading this, knowing that I was not the only woman on the planet who bounced around labels. It also gave me insight into how many of the women in her book use the term fluid or sexually fluid. I had never heard of this term before reading her work but it began growing on me. It allowed me to fully recognize that many women’s sexuality is constantly changing and not defined in a binary gender or sexual system of man, woman, gay and straight.

Although I don’t feel pressure from friends, family or society to label my sexuality, I still  want to label my sexual identity. I chose to label my other social-political identities as a feminist and vegan, so why not do it for my sexuality? Unfortunately, we do not live in a time in human history where sexual identity is irrelevant with the continuing fight for equality all over the world. I wish I could say screw it but I am part of the social-political fight for equality and I identify with the mass movement towards equality.

Your sexuality is yours to define if you choose to do so. No one can define it for you – not society, not your therapist and not your friends or family. I only figured this out after years of trying on labels.  You may be comfortable with your label or feel you don’t even need one, but I personally identify myself as a sexually fluid, queer woman. This is my chosen label – a label that took years and years of development for me physically and intellectually. An old friend once said to me “labels are for clothes.” I love this quote in theory, but it’s not a reality for individuals who choose to label for reasons beyond just labeling.

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