"What does fluid mean?" asks a random Tinder boy. I stare at the screen, silently kicking myself for adding my sexuality to my Tinder bio. I hate getting questions like these; they feel like probing questions, like someone is poking me invasively. The guy probably means no harm. He just doesn't know, and I should be happy to educate him. I should be screaming the meaning of the word from rooftops while waving a giant rainbow flag, Les Mis style. Instead I nervously wait to respond, and finally my thumbs fumble out a simple,"It means I like guys and girls.”
In my head, the words are hesitant and stuttered. To be honest, I’m probably not fluid. I’m actually probably bisexual, but that term seems more committed. I’m clearly already bad at being gay-ish, let’s not move me further up the spectrum. In my time being openly/not-openly fluid, I’ve broken most of what has been expressed to me as the “Queer Commandments” by committing three sins:
I consistently perpetuate a straight image of myself.
I comfortably allow myself to be repressed/oppressed.
I am not following Demi Lovato on Instagram.
I’m not proud of any of it. None of my problematic queer habits give me joy. But I think there might be something to be said as to why I feel the way I do. Not all of your initial feelings and thoughts about coming out are going to be PC, in fact some of them might be downright awful, but sometimes that’s part of the road.
“It’s Just a Phase.”
I still think this one, not about anyone else, just me. I’m the one girl in the world who is actually, truthfully, just super confused and one day I will realize I just like men. It’s a thought that occurs more often than I’d like it to. The worst part is, sometimes it actually makes me feel relieved. Not in a homophobic way, but in a “maybe that means I’ll never have to bring a girl home to my Catholic mother” way, or out of hoping that one day guys will never again oversexualize me or be weird about the fact that I like ladies.
So yes, as problematic as it is, sometimes I wonder if I’m just a straight girl who gets turned on by women sometimes.
“I Want Proof.”
My “it’s just a phase” doubts have come with an equally cringe-worthy friend: A desire for physical proof of my sexuality. As soon as I became confident enough that I liked women to be unable to deny it, I wanted proof that I actually like-liked women. I remember the first time I made out with a girl, a friend of mine that I had harbored a crush on for a while. I could not stop smiling while it was happening, because I couldn’t stop thinking, “Oh my god, I was right -- I’m queer!”
It was like a sigh of relief. I had proof! I like kissing girls! It seemed like a reasonable thing to think and feel more secure over, until I got home to my bisexual roommate.
“It was nice,” I told her. “And hey, like, I feel more secure now. Like, now I know for sure, I’m definitely fluid at least.”
She blinked at me. “Did you...feel like you weren’t sure?” she asked.
I stared at her for a minute, and immediately realized that she was so confident in her sexuality that she hadn’t questioned it in a long time, and most certainly hadn’t needed physical proof. Was I wrong for needing that? Was I playing into some hetero, societal mind-game by feeling like I needed proof? Was it bad to consider partners, lovers, and friends “proof” of your sexuality?
I honestly still don’t know the answer, but I do know that there’s a reason why people experiment. We’re all looking for our own sign that we are who we think we are, some confirmation of where we stand.
Jumping Back Into the Closet
I have played hokey pokey when coming out for as long as I’ve been trying to come out. Pretty much every time I’ve told someone, I’ve jumped back into the closet, never to speak of my attraction to girls again. Take for instance my first debut as a queer woman, when I accidentally told my friends back home that I liked boys and girls during an anti-Trump rant in our group chat. Their reactions were incredibly supportive; all of them encouraged me to go out and meet girls and wanted me to feel loved. Meanwhile I immediately shut down, gave several excuses as to why I didn’t want to be on the dating scene while abroad, and refused to speak to them about my sexuality until nearly a year later.
Retreating to the closet has been the result of both coming to terms with my sexuality, and also not wanting to be looked at differently. It sounds shitty, but sometimes I don’t want it to be a big deal. Sometimes I don’t want to answer the questions, or talk about “what it means” in my romantic relationships, or even watch people get taken aback by the sudden realization that I’m not straight. While letting people think I’m straight, or keeping up a straight-ish image is not the greatest, at times it has helped me to normalize my own sexuality. People don’t need you to come out to them when you’re hetero. There’s no stress, no one asks you if you’re confused, and no one looks at you like you’re a completely different person after you tell them. You don’t have to worry about which relatives find out, or if your friends will judge you, and while at Emerson that’s not typically a problem, in the larger world we live in it is a valid fear.
There are many moments when I question and deny who I am, out of convenience, insecurity, or fear. But then there are times like these, when I have a date with a cute boy later in the day, but I’m standing on the bus next to a pretty girl with a great smile. I can’t help but glance at her, I can’t help but hope that I’ll have the guts to say something before I get off, and that maybe my something could lead to drinks, or a date, or that special connection people are always raving about. When my palms sweat, and my heart races, and I’m begging my mind to clear. No phases, no masks, no closets, no expectations, just me and a chance. That’s when I know how real it is.
Illustration by: Lillian Cohen