Since I’m leaving town for a long while I figured I’d get this off my chest now so you can think about it before I come back. That way you have time to decide if I can still come to your parties.
It’s kind of weird to be having this conversation just when I’m moving, but things have gotten to a point of rupture, so here goes. Do you need to sit down? Take a Percocet? The thing is, I’m not gay.
Okay, breathe. I’m sorry if you feel duped, but give me a chance to explain.
When I first came out, I identified as bisexual; it was the closest thing to my experience. I’d spent nine years in blissful long-term relationships with boys, interspersed with stellar makeout sessions with unavailable girls. I’ve fooled around on both sides of the fence since childhood — that’s where I got my climbing skills.
Bisexual went over pretty well in unexpected places — with my parents and with the straight literary scene where I published poetry — probably for all the wrong reasons. My parents could hold out hope for me to marry a nice man once I was done “experimenting.” Straight male poets thought they still had a chance to get in my pants and use their privilege to diminish my work.
Where bi didn’t go over so well was with a lot of lesbians and feminists. Mid-’90s politics suggested I was a greedy slut, a closeted lezzie, confused and a traitor to the cause. I hadn’t expected that kind of rejection, and was pretty hurt. I was also hurt by friends — both gay and straight — who insisted I had to choose. What happened to all that talk about being born that way?
I eventually switched to “queer,” a word that gave me more room to stretch. Little did I know that it would box me in just as much, that to most people it would be synonymous with “lesbian,” and that my relationships with men would be erased without me noticing or, maybe more accurately, without me protesting.
At first I was okay with the occasional slippage in terminology. After all, I was madly in love with a femme. Since we were both read as feminine, being read as a queer couple was a rare joy for us. Usually people assumed we were best friends, and straight guys were always interrupting our dates to ask one of us out.
I accepted “lesbian” where I could get it, even used it myself once in a while. Though mostly in phrases like “lesbian relationship” or “he fucked like a lesbian,” as opposed to “I’m a lesbian.” But I let it slide because it meant we weren’t invisible.
Then suddenly I look around seven years later and realize: Holy shit, almost everyone thinks I’m a lesbian — and a femme! The latter comes partly from the fact that my current partner is read as butch, and partly from the fact that I’m often considered pretty and feminine.
But here’s the problem. My partner is not exactly butch; s/he’s somewhere else on the trans/genderqueer continuum. Similarly, I’m not femme — I’m more of a pansy. Plus, my lovers range from dykes to bisexuals to trans people to nontrans straight boys. So “lesbian” doesn’t really cut it. Oh, I guess I just outed myself as nonmonogamous, too. Argh.
Look, I love my partner with most of my heart, but it has never been my intention to become a respectably married lesbian. Maybe I have only myself to blame, though I find all things sexual and gender-related to be so fluid and complex that identification of any kind just doesn’t work for me most days.
But what was I doing those seven years? I’m not a lazy person, so how did this happen?
I guess I was busy making sure my family respected my relationships, busy loving, busy getting ill and trying to get better, busy writing and reading and working my ass off to pay the rent. But now I wish I’d also been busy noticing that some of my desire for acceptance — from my straight family and from the queer community — meant that I allowed parts of myself to be misinterpreted. And it sometimes left those I loved in a strange limbo.
In my defence, my poetry has always blatantly explored my loves and identities. But I should have realized before now that most people put poetry in the same pain category as a colonoscopy or Britney Spears in concert. Anyway, as they say, better late than never, right? Here I am — pansexual, genderqueer and slutty.
The Canadian Lesbian And Gay Archives recently rejected some of my work for lack of “gay content.” Is queer only and always about genitals and sex? If I’m fucking a guy, does that nullify all my queerness that came before or during or after? Where do I draw the lines? At this point I’ve given up looking for affirmation from anyone but those I love.
So call me anytime, baby, just don’t call me the L-word. I love lesbians and I really truly still want to come to the potluck, but maybe now you won’t expect me to cook?