People (mostly afab folks of all genders) reach out to me on a regular basis, telling me that they’ve just begun to realize that they aren’t straight or cis, but the feel like they can’t do anything about it because they’re too old.
These people are anywhere from their mid 20’s up into their 60’s.
So the first thing I’m going to say here is the most important: YOU ARE NOT TOO OLD.
Ever. Full stop.
There is, however, a difference between exploring and accepting your queerness as a teen or young adult and doing it as a full grown human who may have kids, be hetero married or hetero divorced.
Obviously everyone’s situation is their own and I’m going to be writing about this for as long as people keep coming to me with questions, but today I’m going to focus on the most common thing people ask me.
What am I?
This is the number one question I get. People in the beginning stages of realizing that they aren’t straight or cis start scrambling to find out which LGBTQ+ label applies to them.
First, I want to say: I get it.
I mean, when we’re unsure or scared about something we want to do as much research as possible about it, right? You want to know what to expect, how to do it right, how you fit in — all of it. (and by you, I mean me. This is what I do.)
But the thing about the LGBTQ+ community is that there IS no right way to do it. If you ask 10 people what the difference between bisexual and pansexual is, you’ll get 10 different answers. Some will only vary slightly, while others will be wildly different.
We are at once a community who doesn’t want to be defined by labels and one who will also label every, individual, part of their identity. There is never really a clear answer about anything, even for those of us who have been out for decades. The comfort comes in knowing that everyone gets to identify exactly as they want to, that there is no rule book, that we’re a community with very limited examples for how to be so we’re all always making it up as we go.
But lets get back to you. What are YOU?
The first thing I say to people who ask me this, especially if they’re in the first few years of sobriety, is to worry less about what you are and focus more on how you feel.
In early sobriety, as with exploring our sexual/gender identities, we’re often uncovering and experiencing feelings that we’ve been suppressing for quite some time; maybe even our entire lives. In both of those situations it’s important to notice how certain things make us feel because being out of touch with our bodies and emotions for so long can mean we’ve forgotten how to be guided by our own inner compass.
In case you’re not sure what I’m talking about, here are some examples of situations or thoughts that might evoke a strong emotional or physical response from you:
- That human has a different gender that the people I’ve been with in the past, but I’m attracted to this person.
- I’m not interested in having sex with my partner.
- Is this a really close friendship, or is it more?
- People assuming you’re cishet.
- People using language that puts you in a binary gender category based on your (perceived) genitals.
- How it feels when that cutie brushes up against you.
- Watching the L Word (either one) – or any TV show/movie with characters that reflect the feelings you’ve been having.
Every time a feeling or a thought comes up about these or any other type of situation, make a note of it. And, once you’re alone, write about it in more detail. What did your body feel like? What was your initial reaction? Do you think your reactions are due to how you truly feel or how you’ve been conditioned? …and keep going.
Be as honest as you possibly can be, and then be more honest. Eventually, things will come together for you.
An example from my life:
When I was about 2.5 years sober, I came out as agender (you can read about that here). That discovery about myself started by me noticing my feelings. I felt discomfort whenever I was lumped in with women. I felt discomfort whenever someone called me a lady or woman or girl. I felt discomfort with the binary gender separation in the recovery/sobriety community — where did I belong?
All of these feelings lead to more questions, but eventually, at the age of 37, I was able to suss out what was going on: I don’t have a gender.
If writing things out doesn’t work for you on it’s own, talk to someone you trust. It can be a friend, a therapist, a mentor, or a coach. Just make sure they’re able to give you the support and love you need, while also having a decent amount of working knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community.
So, what I’m saying here is that looking for the label isn’t what gives you the clarity. The clarity comes from noticing the signals your emotional and physical reactions to situations are giving you.
Trust that voice inside of you.
You already know who you are, you always have.
You aren’t making it up, you aren’t faking it.
You’re valid, exactly as you are.