“Does your experience of sexuality come with a particular identity or label?”, my friend asks. Delicately pulsing toward “personal stuff”, and gently reminding me “you obviously don’t have to answer.”
And then later she asks more directly, “what are you?”
I immediately respond, “I don’t like labels… am I allowed to just be a person?”
Side note: When I recollect this story to a friend, he says, “resist the urge to conform to labels” to which I respond with a hearty “YASSSS!”
Anyway… she replies, “Yes of course, but are you one of us? Are you part of the family?”
My first thought is to say “yep” with a confident nod, and then recognize the warmth spreading throughout me as I am validated and welcomed. Instead, more timidly, I reply, “I’m still figuring it out.”-purposely distancing myself.
In my mind, I simultaneously acknowledge an “in the middle feeling” that I can’t shake.Queer, kinda? Belonging, mostly?
Here’s the deal, if you need labels, I am Jewish, a young professional, an asexual person, a woman, an athlete, a person living with chronic pain and OCD. The list could go on and on! The fact is, I hold so many marginalized identities, and I hate labels. My worth cannot be equated to the sum of my minority statuses, and, idealistically, I wish for a world where belonging isn’t contingent on our labels or identities.
I’ve been mulling over this for a while; I’ve been thinking (and writing) a lot about belonging, labels, and identity. So, this conversation with my friend only propelled my thinking – more aptly, my ruminating. I didn’t have an answer that I was comfortable vocalizing, but I did have an answer to my friend’s question. I did.
And then two days later Orlando happened.
For my entire life, stories about the Holocaust, about my community, have been the most visceral examples of the repercussions of hate and war.
When the Boston Marathon bombing happened, that was my community.
When Sandy Hood happened, that was my community.
When Orlando happened, that was my community.
I woke up on Sunday June 12th, and without any hesitation I thought, “Yes – I’m part of the “family”.” Because it felt personal.
Among other things, one of my first thoughts was “I didn’t speak up soon enough.” I didn’t feel compelled to offer the empty “thoughts and prayers” kind of sympathy. Instead my thoughts raced to just a few weekends prior dancing downtown at a gay night club in Providence. I had the time of my life that night, and felt inexplicably confident!
I realized quickly, if they weren’t safe, I’m not either. That was daunting. I felt like I wanted to scream, yet I also felt like I wanted to be silent.
Initially, I didn’t know how to process Orlando, and my feelings; so I ignored it all. Not identifying publicly, and simply using phrases like “our stories” or “our communities” (plural) rather than being explicit, I followed the Twitter trending hashtags, and checked on my loved ones. And then, I didn’t talk about it again.
Yet, nearly a week later, I found myself eagerly taking shots of tequila to “being queer as fuck”, and wanting so badly to find solace in the celebration of Pride. I wrote, “I went to a poetry slam dedicated to elevating the voices of queer people of color. I don’t know what “out” means, but I felt safe and proud!” Later, I danced the night away at another gay club, and it didn’t dawn on me until much later the next morning that my feeling of safety, exploration, and undeniable fun was such a gift.
Orlando scared me into accessing my queer community. It made me think twice about my hesitations. Orlando did touch my community. It touched me – not directly of course, but I felt it. That’s for sure! Recognizing this is important!
And so now, I’m holding on steadfast to my feeling of pride, the rambunctious, unfiltered fun, and a firm sense of belonging.
It’s the most whole I’ve felt in a long time.