Am I Queer?
Let me preface this article by saying I use the term “queer” frequently. In this context, I am using “queer” to mean any identity within the LGBTQ+ community.
I started questioning my sexuality in the 5th grade. I remember my 10-year-old heart racing as I told my mom, “I think I like boys and girls”.She assured me that it was normal to feel this way, and so I mentally filed my sexuality under “straight”. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t.
Why is it so difficult to understand your own identity?
There are so many reasons why understanding your own sexual orientation and gender identity can be difficult. For starters, we live in a heteronormative society. This, essentially, means that everyone is assumed straight and cisgender until stated otherwise. In my case, my attraction to women was interpreted as “normal” (read: heterosexual). It was seen, by myself and others, as merely an appreciation of women, rather than a romantic or sexual attraction toward them, despite my concrete assertion that “I like boys and girls”. Also, living in a heteronormative society can sometimes mean that queer identities are stigmatized, demeaned, or ridiculed. It can be difficult to know your own identity when some parts of yourself are actively belittled or repressed out of fear of retribution.
Another reason it may be difficult to understand our own identities is the lack of education around queer identities. There are so many stories of people discovering the term “trans” or “non-binary” or “asexual” and feeling like, “Oh! That’s me! That makes so much sense!” Sex education is often limited in scope, if it’s provided at all, and rarely covers queer identities. Without the knowledge of LGBTQ+ identities, it can be hard to understand where you fit in.
Attraction and Fluidity
And then there is the difference between romantic attraction and sexual attraction, making things all the more difficult. This ties in with the lack of education, as mentioned above, in that we often aren’t aware that attraction can come in different forms. It is totally possible to be sexually attracted, but not romantically attracted, to a person’s gender. Some people who identify as bisexual, for example, may be romantically and sexually attracted to women, but only sexually attracted to men.
One last complication: our identities can be fluid. It is totally possible, and valid, for someone to identify as gay and then to later come out as bisexual. It is totally possible and valid for someone to come out as non-binary and later identify as trans. It is also totally possible and valid for our identities to change over time, in any direction.
These are a few of the reasons that understanding our own identities can be challenging. These societal, educational, and cultural factors create a multitude of experiences, and not one of them is the same. If you are struggling to understand your sexual orientation and/or gender identity, you are not alone.
How do I know if I’m queer?
Some people just know. Despite all the points mentioned above, some people figure out their identity quickly and confidently and just *know*. But this is not everyone’s experience. Importantly, it doesn’t make someone’s identity any less valid if they come out later in life or are in the process of discovery. It is okay to not be sure, and it is okay to explore this part of yourself cautiously, enthusiastically, openly, or secretly.
My answer to the question posed above will probably feel unsatisfactory. There are, unfortunately, no definitive decision-making trees that can tell you what your identity is. Rather, your identity is something for you to discover. By examining your thoughts, feelings, and preferences, you can get a better picture of who you are as a whole. Consider the gender expressions, the gender identities, and/or the genitalia that you are attracted to, both romantically and sexually. Consider what type of gender presentation and/or gender identity makes you feel authentic and euphoric.
Consider whether you feel attraction at all and, if so, under what circumstances. Attraction is subjective, so it is important to learn what attraction feels like for you. Romantic and sexual attraction usually bring up different feelings. Consider the difference between the thought “I would have sex with that person” and the thought “I would cuddle up on the couch and watch a movie with that person”, for example.
It would be impossible to discuss the myriad of experiences of those with queer identities in a short article like this. There are numerous reasons why it is difficult to understand our own identities and numerous ways we can begin self-exploration. Sexuality, gender identity, and attraction are all nuanced concepts, and talking with an LGBTQ+ allied therapist can help you begin to sort through your thoughts and feelings. Please know that if you are questioning your sexuality or gender identity, you are not alone. You are allowed to discover your identity at your own pace. You are not strange. You are deserving of respect. You are loved.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.