Once upon a time you were either straight (preferably) or gay. In the days of yore when LGBT+ people were coming out from closets across the globe, it was mostly lesbian and gay members who were recognised.
Us humans have a habit of being very lazy in what we believe in or understand. If it hasn’t been taught to us from a young age or spoon fed on TV we simply tune out. Seemingly, lesbians and gays were the first members of the LGBT+ community to be ‘understood’ (term used lightly) due to minor (very minor and often stereotyped) representation on our screens. Even today, when you use the terms Transgender, Bisexual, Pansexual, Gender Fluid or Non-Binary it can sound like a scientific equation.
I was in a same-sex relationship, but I was not a lesbian. My ex-partner knew this the moment we met and I made it clear that I identified as bisexual. Yet I was constantly referred to as a lesbian, by not only her friends, family and strangers but (here’s the stinger) by her too.
When I met her I hadn’t fully ‘come out’. The only people who knew I was anywhere on the LGBT+ spectrum were a couple of friends in the community because I hadn’t yet figured out exactly what I was. But I knew I wasn’t straight or homosexual. And this was made clear from the start.
My ex was bi-phobic. She thought it disgusting and didn’t want to be “anywhere a penis had been”, yet she dated me for nearly a year. Instead of walking away or learning to accept me, penis history and all, my sexual identity was erased. The sexual identity I had spent years so confused over, suppressing and shrugging off. The identity that helped define me as a person, that helped me learn to understand and love myself and finally be at peace with who I am…tippex-ed out with ‘lesbian’ scrawled over in her handwriting.
“Why didn’t you just correct people?” I hear you cry, “Why didn’t you stand up for yourself?”
Oh I did! For the first couple of months.
I remember a night we were hanging out with her housemates and their partners (all LGBT+ women) and one of them posted something online about how there had never been so many lesbians in one house. The two bisexuals (myself and one of the housemates) looked at each other and said to the group “I’m not a lesbian”.
We got stonewalled by our own community, by our friends and partners. From that point I gave up. How many times can you keep shouting out to deaf ears?
Before you say something like “you were in a lesbian relationship though” or “perhaps it was just easier to say”, it’s not a case of ‘poh-tay-toe’/’poh-tah-toe’. It’s like calling your Scottish friend Irish; they’re both Gaelic heritages but it’s nonsense to call them the same because they’re not. It’s insulting. It’s incorrect. It’s actually demeaning to have your identity not only ignored but erased and a new one dished out to you like a false prescription.
Someone’s identity does not get decided or changed by someone it doesn’t belong to.
A couple of months ago I read an article about a ‘Drop the T’ petition flying around the internet…
I was disgusted. Just NO.
The LGBT+ acronym is an umbrella term that houses all queer sexualities and varying identities inclusively and safely. This exclusion from within the community itself is exactly what our brothers and sisters fought hard (and lost lives) for – for us to live in a world where we feel included and equal and most importantly safe. So WHY on earth are we doing this to each other? It just does not make sense. It’s disrespectful, counter-productive and ungrateful for what the likes of Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, all involved in the Stonewall Riots, Mark Ashton & Mike Jackson, and so many more went through for the LGBT+ people of today and tomorrow. We, at the very least, owe it to them to be supportive of each other.
I now identify as Pansexual, a term that has actually been around a lot longer than most people think. It is, quite simply, being sexually, romantically and/or emotionally attracted to any sex or gender identity. For me it was perfect as I am attracted to people and personalities (and a cracking sense of humour. Not an exaggeration when I say you can literally laugh me into bed!) rather than a particular gender.
Being in a relationship where I had no control over what I was being portrayed as was one of the worst experiences of my life, but it also eventually gave me the strength to take the time to figure myself out.
I didn’t re-label myself immediately. ‘Pansexual’ is actually a title I’ve only recently begun to use but it’s one that now feels right. One that makes me, finally, feel proud of who I am.
Most importantly, it’s one that I found myself.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is: don’t ever let anyone tell you what you are or are not. Don’t ever feel like you need to apologise or feel ashamed of who you are or what you call yourself. The greatest thing you can ever achieve in life is the unashamedly, unapologetic, so-loud-you-can’t-stop-singing pride that comes from truly being yourself!
And what we can do for each other above all else is to accept one another for all of the above. Kindness, friendship and love don’t come with terms and conditions.
Love blindly. Give selflessly. And be excellent to one another!
And most importantly, to conclude, the wise words of our lord and saviour:
“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
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Gemma-Marie Everest is an actress, improviser and writer based in London. You can find her on Twitter @GMEverest or see her onstage with improv group “Waiting For The Call” in London, Brighton and Edinburgh!