To most, labels are bad things, meant to make you feel different, as an outsider. Here is my story of how labels both hurt and helped me. This blog post is definitely too much information. I wrote it because… if I could touch even one person, then I figured it would have been worth it.
My first kiss was with a girl, when I was thirteen, but at the time I didn’t think of myself as gay. Being gay was something that happened to older men, not to girls.
I lost my virginity to a girl. Our parents found out we were in a relationship, and they began to monitor how much time we spent together. I was sixteen. My mom asked me if I was a lesbian.
I literally jerked from the shock. I insisted I wasn’t, but I really didn’t know. Was I? Being called a lesbian didn’t feel right. Before I had fallen in love with my girlfriend, I had also loved a boy. We never went that far, but that didn’t matter, right? I had wanted it to happen. What did that make me? There weren’t any words at the time. As our relationship went on, my family, friends, and hell, even my girlfriend, tried to put me into some sort of category.
One day while I was running on the other side of town, my girlfriend’s dad drove by me.
He slowed and pulled his Jeep over. “Did you run all the way here?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
A huge smile split his face. “What a jock.”
With those words he created a bond between us, and I felt this crazy flush of pride and energy, but as he drove away, the feeling passed. I began running again, but stopped–suddenly crushed in a wake of disappointment and bitterness.
I wasn’t a jock. Jocks made fun of my friends. He had called me a jock because I was fucking his daughter. If he put me into “that role”, then he could still think of my girlfriend as his little princess. She’d be safe from the lesbian stigma. And in a way, he was right. She wasn’t exactly straight, but she wasn’t a lesbian either.
Like me, but not like me.
My love was supposed to be able to bring down mountains. Instead, I listened as people called my girlfriend names, fended off countless of insults from my family, and I realized I couldn’t protect her from any of it. I couldn’t protect her from me. I picked fights with my family, friends, and my lover, and destroyed our relationship with my cowardice and exhaustion. By the end of the year, there was nothing left but pain. She finally released me.
I ran back into the arms of the first boy I had loved. I was hoping for salvation, for something normal. I didn’t experience a single feeling of arousal with him during that night, and I was forced to limp on with my life.
When I was eighteen, my best friend, “S”, told me she wanted to know what it was like to be with a woman. I loved her as a friend and we had known each other for years, but that didn’t mean that I was ready for this. For me, ogling someone and sleeping with them was the difference between playing Candy Land and Chess. I told her she’d have to get me drunk first if she wanted to fool around. She did. Some people get drunk and forget. Not me.
I remembered how as I drank, I got more and more flirty, but less and less sexually interested. I remembered how the more S drank, the more she looked at me hungrily. I remembered how we were crawling on the ground, growling at each other. I remembered the way the night air broke my skin out in gooseflesh, and the dark sky swirled like a Van Gogh painting. I remembered she tried to eat my face off, with a fat slimy mouth.
I rubbed against her skin with my face, her smell smeared over my lips. I was there, but at the same time I was so far away. Numb.
I remembered that the night, and our friendship, ended with her saying, “Beth*, I want to taste you.”
In college I joined the LGTBQ Alliance group.
The lesbians I dated were all butchy types, who probably loved how adorable I was, but I wasn’t feeling anything for them, and I didn’t know why. Had my body decided I had betrayed it in high school, that by turning my back on true love, it had shut me off from ecstasy? I hadn’t figured that all out yet, when I met another boy.
The members of the LGBTQ group found out that I was dating him, and someone said, “Another one bites the dust.” I couldn’t believe they threw Freddie Mercury in my face. So, I was ostracized. I was out. Again. Fuck.
This guy I had risked all my friendships for wasn’t right for me either, and I knew it. I didn’t have any physical attraction to him, but I loved him in my own way. I think I was resigned to the fact that I’d never feel anything for anyone again. Maybe I was asexual. Ha. Those were years I wished I could get back. Deep down, I sort of knew what was going on with me, but I thought I was just making things up to punish myself. And it’s not like there was a book to help me figure it out or anything. No therapy groups for people like me.
Eventually things fell apart with that guy. Despite my best attempts, I wound up with another man. I dated this person for a year, and they became a trans woman. I felt physical things for her that I hadn’t felt in a long time, but emotionally I wasn’t interested. I still couldn’t understand why my groin and my heart contradicted each other constantly, but I finally figured out I wasn’t really a lesbian. Another thing I was realizing was that self-discovery was never over. You’re never “done”.
But if I wasn’t a lesbian, and I wasn’t straight, then what was I? The term “bisexual” was starting to be used more, but there was something… unsavory about it.
That relationship fizzled out, and I found myself with another man.
Shit, maybe I was straight? Ha. No, not really. I was probably just dating more men because most of my friends were straight boys, and I was still feeling like I had failed LESBIAN 101 long ago. I wasn’t ready to take the class again.
Things weren’t right for me on a basic level, never had been, but I didn’t know how to make it better. With the changes my ex had gone through, I wondered if I even wanted to be a woman. Since high school, I had fantasized about being a man. I wore wife-beaters and basketball shorts for many years. I played sports. I was a gamer. I cussed like a sailor. I didn’t care about the things that my girlfriends talked about, but I didn’t necessarily fit in with any of my guy friends either. I was seen as the emotional or hysterical one, and constantly shut down for violating some unknown bro code. In girl circles, they wanted to gossip, and I couldn’t give a fuck about any of that. I was told I was taciturn and bored-seeming. Apparently I have “resting bitch face” (something my guy friends never seemed to notice).
So maybe I’d suck at being either a man or a woman, but if I had to pick one, what would it be? Shouldn’t I feel more comfortable about one idea over another? Gender roles. Expectations. It was all so exhausting.
I was in between, uncomfortable with the idea of being a man or a woman, and it wasn’t until the past couple of years when I realized that feeling that way was okay. Oddly, it took reading Gay Romance to help me see that. Go figure.
MM also made me face what I had been afraid of facing, of what was wrong in my past relationships with men. There was something about being with men that wasn’t right for me all of the time, but I had to find out for sure if I could make it work… as it had worked with women.
One touch of my tongue to that inner ring of heat was all it took. My neurons fired a bajillion times a millisecond, my eyes rolled into the back of my head, and my body squirmed forward like it was trying to crawl inside. I was lost and found. In my haze, a flicker of surprise went through me. This felt the same with men and women. Deep down, I felt the same.
Sometimes labels can hurt people–I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. But it gave me a certain measure of peace to recognize myself. I clicked into place in the world. Maybe in ten years there’ll be a new term that will describe me better, but right now if I tell someone I’m a transgendered pansexual, they have a framework of where to start. It’s more accurate than assuming I’m straight, gay, or a lesbian.
I speak with other pansexuals occasionally, and sometimes I like to tease them, ask them if they are gay or bisexual, or what.
They say, “I just like people.”
I know what they mean.
Update: I now identify as a transman. Started HRT. Had surgeries. Officially changed my name to Ben. I’m still very pansexual.
*Using “Beth” for storytelling purposes. But don’t dead name me normally, lol.
Girls and Fences is a short story I published about the night my girlfriend and I were outed. I fictionalized it so that I wasn’t beholden to the utmost truth, but then again, memory isn’t beholden to that level of truth either.