By Sarah Nicell || Layout Assistant
This is the 19th June since I have come into this world, and I still have absolutely no idea how to adequately define myself. Aside from the fact that I am completely and utterly queer, a seemingly insurmountable pile of questions remains about my existence as a gay person.
Who am I? What is my identity? When am I going to feel entirely comfortable in my queerness? Where do I fit in best as a queer person? Am I gay enough, or is being gay becoming too all-consuming of how others perceive me? Am I too masculine to be a proper lesbian? Too feminine to be gender nonconforming? Too obsessed with queer women in the media for my own good? Will I ever get over my debilitating lesbian crush on Hunter Schafer?
I can only respond to one of these inquiries confidently (the answer is no). The others can only be satisfied with existential binary-esque labels, all of which feel heavy and wrong, like a thick insulated blanket in the dead of August. Perhaps gay people are supposed to oppose the notion that they are confused, for queer uncertainty seems to reinforce the myth that LGBTQ+ folks actively choose to be socially deviant… but I can’t help but feel that unsureness is synonymous with fluidity, and that is what queerness is really about.
Therefore, this pride month, I have absolutely no idea what it is within myself I should be celebrating, and that is a beautiful and common experience. In the closet or out, millions of people are simultaneously working to figure out who they love and how to best love themselves, constantly making decisions that will further complicate their incredible gay journeys. In an effort to explore that, here is my queer, confused story.
The world has perceived me as gay long before I had the language to verbalize my feelings, not to mention ages prior to those feelings coming to fruition in my personal life. As an identical twin, I was constantly compared to an individual whose sole difference in identity was her self-expression, so in an effort to distinguish myself as a person, I dressed more masculine. I wore camo cargo shorts, self-identified as a “tomboy”, and modeled my behavior after my best boy impersonation. For some reason, childhood boyishness was equated with future lesbianism, reinforced by the fact that I played The Game of Life with two pink passengers in my board game vehicle.
Simultaneously, however, I begged my mother to let me participate in my school’s beauty pageant, very possibly the pique of femininity for nine-year-olds. I donned a dress, danced and strutted my stuff, and hula-hooped my way to victory, all to the 2009 hit song “Supergirl” by Hannah Montana, which perhaps marked the true origins of my relentless pursuit of feminist ideals. In this same era, I tried on blonde curly wigs at my grandparents’ place, performed fashion shows after exhilarating Justice shopping sprees, and adored the color pink.
How could these two identities coexist? Did it really indicate something that I yearned to use the bathroom standing up like my father while simultaneously wanting to collect all of the Littlest Pet Shops and Monster High Dolls? Do gender and sexuality truly matter that young? Did it matter to me? More questions with no real answers.
In middle school, I became truly enamored with LGBTQ+ history and terminology, spending most of my time on technology attempting to dissect all the information social media and the Internet had to offer. Despite my already ambiguous sexual identity, my constant yammering about the community and portrayal of myself as a suddenly passionate ally left my family and friends, all of which had been raised within my relatively conservative South Jersey town, with questions of their own. Those inquiries were somewhat answered when I chopped all of my hair off following the unprecedented event of being asked to the eighth grade dance by a boy.
High school was a game changer for me, as it seems to be for many queer folks. I was the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance, the sole leftist (or anything resembling the left) and lesbian in my government class (the sole out lesbian in almost every single one of my classes, really), and one-half of the gay ticket for homecoming court. Despite gym class and being a part of the girls’ soccer team, I stopped shaving entirely, throwing myself quite willingly to the wolves. Even more significant, I endured my first gay relationship, which allowed me to fully escape the closet and confuse those who somehow believed me to be just another heterosexual when they noticed my then-girlfriend and I holding hands on the way to history class.
Like any other queer person in that environment, I faced pressures to prove or affirm my identity to others, misinformed and homophobic comments, and the consequences of othering yourself in a sea of people who are all exactly the same. And through these experiences I developed more questions that lacked definitive answers. Do I owe anyone an explanation for my orientation? How gay is too gay to be accepted by the social majority? Whose approval do I require in order to live my life in the way in which it’s supposed to be lived? Why is it that when I change my appearance, people change the way that they think about me? Why was I robbed of a true coming-out experience because the world believed me to be too gay to be perceived as anything but?
And last but not least, once I finally believed my identity to be set in stone, I began to question the core of my expected role in society: my gender. It’s something I thought I would never touch; being homosexual ultimately impacted relationships external to me. It is an identity that I can ignore when I need to ignore it and celebrate when I feel proud of it, an invisible part of me that I have chosen to activate. But gender is who I am, not who I like, and that is something very different. It cannot be invisible, and it alters the very fabric of my existence. It impacts the ways in which people refer to me, how the world looks at me, and how I perceive myself.
For me, personal identity is far more mind muddling than sexual identity, and to finally face it uprooted a billion more incredibly mystifying questions that cannot be immediately satisfied by my 2021 brain. Is my tendency to present masculinely an indicator of my gender? Or is expression entirely separate from identity? Is a connection to womanhood mutually exclusive with nonbinary identities, and if so, can woman-leaning individuals be gender-nonconforming? Can I use two separate pronouns interchangeably? And if I do decide to change them, will people even attempt to diverge from the terms that naturally come to them based on the gender assigned to me at birth? If they don’t respect them, should I care?
Throughout this story, I have asked dozens of questions and given rise to hundreds more. I’m only nineteen, a rising sophomore in college, and I’m already lost in a sea of perplexity, hesitancy, and uncertainty. After rambling on for paragraphs, I still cannot answer any of the initial questions I asked you. Who am I? Your guess is as good as mine.
The queer experience is one big evolution that will probably take your entire life, from start to finish. Whenever life begins to grow stagnant, it will turn on its end, and you’ll have a whole new you to explore. That is pretty damn spectacular.
So, I’m pretty clueless, but here’s what I do know: I’m queer. I like queer people. My favorite ice cream flavor is black cherry, but mint chocolate chip is good, too. I am atrocious at geometry. It’s June, so all of you straight people at F&M should probably follow me on Instagram. And if you’re ever confused like me, in a super Wow-I’m-Gay-But-Maybe-It’s-Not-That-Simple way, know that there is an army of LGBTQ+ folks waiting for you to figure your stuff out. You’ll become a really cool person in the process.
First-year Sarah Nicell is a Layout Assistant. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.