For some time, I have been struggling to understand my own sexual orientation. The difficulty began when Ezekiel started to better understand his own gender, and it became clear to both of us that he was actually a man. What I have finally realized is that my previous concept of sexual orientation was far too dependent on the gender of my partner, and I need a better understanding of what sexual orientation means to me.
For me, “sexual orientation” has both an external and an internal component, and the interplay between those two is exactly where I have been struggling. My sexual orientation used to be clearly and obviously displayed by my choice of partner. My actions in the world (marrying and raising children with a presumed woman) identified me in the eyes of the world a lesbian. That fit well with my internal identity as a lesbian, so I never needed to talk about sexual orientation. It was simply an observable fact that I was a lesbian.
I no longer identify as a lesbian, since that seems too narrow of a term for my own orientation. I sometimes call myself a bisexual, and usually prefer the term queer, both because it does not confine my attraction to people aligned with the gender binary and because something about the term “queer” itself feels delightfully disruptive. Now, I know that there is tension between (some) men of transgender experience and (some) women of lesbian experience around the continued identification of some women partnered with trans men as lesbians (for a glimpse see this op-ed). So to be clear, my orientation changed, but not because the gender of my partner changed. You might say that Ezekiel’s shifting understanding of his gender was the proximate cause of my orientation shift, but the ultimate cause was that I realized that lesbian didn’t fit me anymore.
This swings right back around to my trouble with discussing my orientation — it seems to be dependent on the gender of my current partner, past partners, or possible future partners. How can I be queer if I am with a man and plan to be with that man for the rest of my life? How can I be queer when, from the inside, my relationship feels more and more heterosexual with each passing day? Perhaps choosing a sexual orientation is just too confining and ridiculous. It’s nobody’s business but mine, anyway, right?
My queerness is important to me. Perhaps it’s nobody’s business, but I want to see my internal sexual orientation reflected and affirmed by the external world. I used to rely on the gender of my partner to provide that, but now I need other ways of expressing my internal queer identity. Queerness is not a simple fact about me, it is something that I do, and something that I seek to find reflected back in others. And as my relationship has become more straight, I’ve been seeking out opportunities to be queer that don’t involve having a relationship.
For instance, I have become more interested in queer music, art, and writing. I want to be able to interact in a deep way with queer culture on my own, without having to use my partner’s trans* status as my ticket into the club. I am queer because that is my internal understanding of myself, not because I spent many years of my life in relationships with women, or because my male partner was designated female at birth.
I think sometimes about all of the queer women I have known who ended up in straight-ish relationships. There are a lot of us out here in the world. Being partnered with a man has changed my queerness, and I wonder if all of them have felt similar changes. Lots of those changes have made me feel less queer, and more a part of the mainstream heteronormative culture. No one raises their eyebrows when I talk about my husband, and I know there are people in the world that have no idea that I am bisexual. I get a lot of hetero privilege walking around the world as a presumed straight mother. I confess that I sometimes enjoy that privilege, but the cost is invisibility.
No matter what happens to me next, my experience of the world is a queer one. I came of age reading Dykes to Watch Out For, Curious Wine and Hothead Paisan, listening to Melissa Etheridge and Melissa Ferrick. I worked for a lesbian publishing company, for crying out loud. I became a parent using roughly the equivalent of a turkey baster like lots of other queer women. My family may look like Leave It To Beaver now, but June and Ward both gave birth and Ward does all of the sewing (and we can still process like nobody’s business). I cannot easily “do” queerness out in the world, and but I am finding alternate ways to be in the world as a queer, and it’s alright.