31/08/22 - On Labels

When I was 16 I attended a Halloween party at a friend’s house. There were a lot of people there that I didn’t know, and my social anxiety was playing up so badly, I spent the majority of the first hour of the party hiding in a side room, crying, while my friend who’s party it was comforted me, missing out on her own party for my sake. I so rarely attended social events, let alone parties, and it had taken everything I had to drag myself out to this one, knowing just how many strangers would be there. My friend said that she wanted to wait until I was ok before re-joining the party, because she wanted me to be there, and she wanted me to enjoy myself. She’d even gone out of her way to abandon her original costume idea and make herself a pirate costume so we could match and be pirates together. She was so kind and patient with me and she was my angel that night, looking after my poor teenage self. Eventually I calmed down, and after some coaxing from a few of my other friends, we both left the room to join the rest of the party. Everyone seemed very nice and friendly, and assured me that sometimes they too felt overwhelmed, and didn’t hold it against me for keeping the host all to myself. Just when I was starting to relax, and dare I say- enjoy myself one girl made the remark that this might be the most gay people she’d ever seen in one room. She then clarified, “Wait, is EVERYONE in this room gay?” and started going around the room to all the people she didn’t know and asked them if they were gay or not. When she got to me I panicked. I was still very much in the process of figuring out my own identity and had no real way to answer the question, because I didn’t know. At the time, I’d recently discovered the label asexual and it has resonated with me somewhat. I’d been reading a lot of tumblr discourse about ace people at the time and in my panic at being put on the spot I laughed and said “It depends who you ask”, referencing the ongoing argument about whether or not asexuality was an LGBT identity. She responded “Are you bi?” and I answered “I’m ace.” “But would you date anyone?” she replied. I had no answer for this question. Seven years later I still don’t. The whole room was looking at me and I felt I had to say something. I muttered out an “um, maybe?” “Men or women?” She said. Again I had no answer. When she repeated the question, I panicked and defaulted to “men”. She rolled her eyes at me, “So you’re straight.” She said, and turned away. I felt like utter garbage in that moment, and quietly left the party.

This girl had also told another friend of mine who at the time identified as ace that she was straight. Said friend now identifies as a lesbian. This girl also made many comments about bi people, and referred to bi women as straight girls just experimenting, talking about how bi women used lesbians like her and shouldn’t be allowed in queer spaces. This girl now identifies as bi and has a boyfriend. This isn’t a post about hypocrisy, or even aphobia. What crushed me about this encounter was that I was simultaneously outed against my will, and closeted at the same time. Even though this happened seven years ago, between immature teenagers, the way I felt in that moment has stayed with me. I don’t discuss my identity. For all intents and purposes I am closeted. Despite the fact that my current sphere of friends are some of the most open and accepting people I have ever met, I still do not feel comfortable discussing my identity with them. I have fluctuated a lot on whether I should still identify as asexual purely for fear of judgement. The one time I managed to open up to someone about this they laughed at me, and I never mentioned it again.

I have been comfortable for a while with the label of ace, or at least being on the asexuality spectrum. What I have always struggled with is the label of aromantic. I understand that I am almost certainly on the aromantic spectrum also, and the temptation to use aroace to get people to stop asking questions has been strong, but I dislike doing so, because the label of aromantic feels wrong to me. I have had exactly one crush in my entire life. I have never felt romantic attraction to anyone before or since. No small crushes, no thinking that a person is attractive or ‘hot’, no wishing to date anyone, just nothing. If you’d only ever had one crush in your entire life, would you be able to say for certain what your orientation is? My one and only crush was the friend who hosted that Halloween party. She was my closest friend, she was a beautiful person inside and out, and I loved her deeply. Things got a bit weird between us a few years ago and through lack of seeing each other so often anymore, we fell out of contact. She’s now engaged to her boyfriend of three years and seems very happy. I’m happy for her and wish them both the best, but there’s a part of me that regrets never saying anything. I’ve never felt the way I felt about her about any other person, not even close. I love a lot of people, but they’re all my family and friends. I can’t imagine ever being in a relationship with any of my friends, no matter how much I love them. I recognise the difference in the platonic love I feel now and the romantic feelings I had for my friend. Does this make me a lesbian? If I feel like I might one day be attracted to a man, does that make me bi? Or is that just the infamous ‘comphet’? Or was this just a fluke, am I really straight and just lying to myself? Am I aromantic and this one time thing will never happen again? How can I possibly know with just one experience? I don’t want to assign a label to myself because nothing feels certain.

Recently I was outed as aroace in my friend group. I’ve been quite firm with the “none of your business” whenever somebody asks me and usually we all have a laugh about that and then move on, but this one guy was very persistent. He kept making jokes about my having a “lesbian attitude”, asking me why I was in denial etc, and it really got on my nerves. I’ve never met the man in person and we always talk over discord, but somehow he has made assumptions about me a few times, including incorrectly deciding what my race, religion and even height was. I have no idea where he thought he was getting this information from, but then he asked me to just clear things up, which I was happy to do in all except my orientation. Because I was not out to my friends. I know it might be easy to forget amongst queer friends that not everyone may be comfortable talking about that aspect of themselves, and I understand that in a discord call where everyone else was very openly and happily queer it might be hard to understand why a person might be uncomfortable discussing such things in a seemingly safe environment. But I was not and am not ready to be open or “proud” about my identity, because I’m still struggling to work it out. I was pressured into outing myself and I defaulted to a label that I don’t think accurately represents me, for not wanting to get into the details of my private life. And now it bothers me that everyone will think of me in that way. Although he didn’t have malicious intentions, I feel the same as I did at that Halloween party, outed and closeted at the same time.

I suppose what I want to say is that I wish there was less emphasis on labels and needing to know the labels of others. If someone doesn’t like using labels do not assume it is because they are some sort of bigot, or that they have something to hide. If you don’t know a person’s orientation, don’t ask. If they’re open about their identity, you’ll find out in their own time, and if they aren’t, then you don’t need to know.