Labels Are Tools.


There’s a lot of questioning when you first come out. During the first six months of my coming to terms with my queerness, it was like my mind was playing the same 20 questions on a loop. Are you really queer? What are your labels? Do you even qualify to call yourself that label? Is this real or is this cop-out? This was my experience for the first six months. I didn’t know whether or not I was bi or a lesbian, constantly asking myself and checking and checking and checking if I was still attracted to men.

I feel like this is particularly difficult for the many of us who have been traumatized by men. There were too many times when I wondered if I was finally broken by the men who harmed me. After all, there is a stereotype that only broken women become lesbians. Was I running away from my “responsibilities” by dating women?

What was I now? Was I bisexual with a preference for women or was I a lesbian? I also have a strong preference for androgynous people and they usually are nonbinary so does that make me queer instead? What am I gonna say to people if they ask? How am I supposed to come out and what am I supposed to come out as? What if I pick the wrong label?

Here’s the thing about that.

Labels describe our behavior, not prescribe our behavior. They’re tools, not guides. Sometimes you use a different tool until a different one comes that works better. Picking a label isn’t about getting the “right” label down the first time. Labels are snapshots of your experience. A good metaphor for this would be what butter to use when baking a cake.

Stick with me here.

Some people start off and only use Imperial vegetable oil spread (yes, it’s not butter), some use vegetable oil, some use sweet cream butter, salted butter, unsalted butter, or even Kerrygold butter (like yours truly). You can be like me, who initially identified as bisexual for more than a decade only to come out as a lesbian at 26. You can identify as queer for the rest of your life. You can be a lesbian for a while and then end up identifying as pan or bi.

Sometimes, your sexual orientation is a sentence, not a word. I’ve heard people say that they’re queer but upon deeper inspection, they used the label because “I will date anyone except cis straight men” doesn’t fit into speech as easily as “queer” does.

I think the best piece of advice if you don’t neatly fit into any given label, is just to live for a while. Check-in with yourself from time to time and look back at your attractions (because dating history doesn’t define your sexual orientation). Then find a label that works for you and if something else fits you later on, then change it.

I know there’s a lot of policing of labels and people not believing people when it comes to labels, but remember: this is your queer journey and your queer experience.



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E.B. Hutchins

E.B. Hutchins

E.B. Hutchins is a blogger who works in education by day and blogs by night.