Thanks, dad. Exploring my gender and sexual identity has given me energy and freedom.
John Walter ⭐Feb 21 · 6 min read [First published in The Ascent on Medium]
Is it possible that we are all one of a kind? That gender and sexuality are as individual as our fingerprints or the patterns of our irises?
My father took my face in his hands, kissed me on the lips and said:
“I always knew you were gay, but we support each other, that’s what family do.”
I was 62, and he was almost 90. He died shortly afterwards and was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, I could not follow up that conversation.
This interaction sparked a line of curiosity regarding my gender identity and sexuality and how I have dealt with it.
Identity in terms of gender and sexuality has never been as simple as male/female, gay/straight binary divisions.
Among historical figures, some were recorded as having relations with others of their own sex — exclusively or together with opposite-sex relations — while others were recorded as only having relations with the opposite sex. However, there are instances of same-sex love and sexuality within almost all ancient civilizations. Additionally, people who are third gender or what we would now think of as intersex have been recorded in almost all cultures across human history.
We are moving beyond the simplistic labels.
First, we had LGBT. Nice and simple. You are either Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual. The trouble is, that doesn’t feel like a good enough fit for some people.
In my case, if that is all there is, then I’m straight as a die.
Pretty soon the label had expanded to include queer, intersex and a whole host more.
Peter Tatchell, who has done more for gay rights than almost anyone, is bewildered by the proliferation of incomprehensible acronyms. “It’s great to be inclusive,” he says, “but the new alphabet soup is a confusing and alienating mess — made even worse when people get into spats over missing initials or the inclusion of initials they disagree with. The longest I’ve ever seen is LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA. This is absurd. It makes us a laughing stock and devalues serious issues around sexuality and gender.”
Embracing some vagueness
Unlike Peter Tatchell, I welcome this proliferation of acronyms. I can identify as part of the LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA community because I don’t have to be specific.
I can be someone who is a bit gay in my own extraordinary individual way, and I am happy with that. I can also walk around as a male but still sometimes feel more in tune with the feminine world than the masculine.
On the surface, I am a heterosexual male, married with two children. However, that does not explain why my dad always thought I was gay. For him, I did not fit into the straight male stereotype so I must be gay.
Although I have felt an attraction to both men and women, it was never really a big deal to me. I have chosen a monogamous heterosexual long term relationship, and I am super happy with that.
As a society, it seems we are terrified of gender ambiguity. Surgeons have committed horrific crimes against thousands of intersex children across the centuries. It has been seen as routine to reassign gender to intersex children surgically. Better to mutilate their genitals than allow them to live an ambiguous life.
Sexual ambiguity is also tricky for us to handle. You are either gay or straight, bisexual or transexual. We tie ourselves in knots, trying to fit our identity into these narrow, rigid divisions.
I am in love with a person, not a gender.
I am in love with a woman I have been with for 40 years.
That does not necessarily mean I am a completely 100% straight, 100% male human. What is that anyway? Is it even possible?
Afraid to be gay
In therapy, I became aware that through my history, I had several uncomfortable moments where I had said or done something that might lead people to think I was gay. I was unconsciously afraid to be seen to be gay.
I was a bit drunk with some friends watching a 20 yr old singer-songwriter in a local pub. As we gave him a standing ovation, I was overwhelmed with appreciation and said something along the lines of:
“He is totally gorgeous.”
As soon as it plopped out of my mouth I wished I could drag it back in, press replay then delete. In my world, I had just allowed myself to unleash a secret that was a secret even to me.
I vowed there and then to never get drunk again because I could not trust myself.
I could see a picture painted where I was seriously modifying my actions to appear straight. Put another way I was unable to express myself authentically because of the narrow classifications I perceived society to be drawing around my behaviours.
How do I identify myself?
I took an unconscious bias test relating to sexuality which revealed that I had a moderate preference for the company of gay people over straight. Consciously I was not aware of this.
That doesn’t mean I am gay; it just means I prefer the company of gay people. I have some experience of being attracted to men but also a couple of infatuations with women identifying as Lesbian. Maybe I like gay people of either gender.
How do you categorise that?
You may say I am bisexual, but that does not cover it at all. That’s a binary thing, and to me, this whole area does not feel binary. It is a multi-faceted concept.
There is energy and freedom in ambiguity.
Gender is more than a binary and more than a spectrum. The number of categories and labels for gender cannot ever be expanded enough. No taxonomy can ever fully capture the array of diversity that is observable, because every individual person is a phenomenon of gender all their own.
Every person’s gender is a unique special snowflake. Including yours, cis person.Hey cis people! I have some questions for you, about what your gender means to you. These questions are not intended to…link.medium.com
Thanks, dad. Those few words — “I always knew you were gay” — sparked an exploration. I have many characteristics, habits and behaviours that could be characterised as female, a whole bunch of others that could be seen as male.
Raising my awareness of this has given me energy.
I don’t need to hide anything. I can explore anything I wish to explore — if someone wants to categorise me in terms of gender or sexuality that is entirely up to them.
There is massive freedom in allowing myself to express anything. I feel I am walking around the world in a completely different way. I am not judging the way I act, and I no longer invent scenarios where I assume others are judging me.
If you want to explore this yourself, I leave you with ten questions from Devon Price:
- What does it mean for you to be a [woman/man]?
- What makes you feel like a [woman/man]?
- Do you always feel like a [woman/man]? If not, what do those other times feel like?
- What stereotypes about [women/men] do you feel do not apply to you?
- How does being a [woman/man] impact your personal style, grooming, and other aspects of how you present to the world?
- Did you ever feel like being a [woman/man] kept you from enjoying gendered activities you would have liked to engage in?
- Growing up, who were important figures that illustrated to you what it meant to be a [woman/man]? How have you emulated them as an adult?
- What are some traits or preferences of yours that are consistent with society’s image of a [woman/man]?
- What are some traits or preferences of yours that are inconsistent with society’s image of a [woman/man]?
- How has your identity and your relationship to [womanhood/manhood] changed over the course of your life?
Most civilizatons and cultures — ancient and modern — have never been studied in any way, let alone in terms of gender and sexuality.
I think you should take that up with Wikipedia. It was certainly not a driving argument in my article.