Why I started identifying as Queer
By Matilda Douglas-Henry
I make a point of explicitly mentioning my sexuality in everything that I do. I use my queerness as a sort of moral compass – to dictate the people I see, the things I do, and what I like.
I’m in an incredibly privileged position to have this inclination so naturally, although I have always been lucky. Being raised by two women naturally brought me into a world where acknowledging one’s lack of straightness was so common it felt relatively benign. It feels strange, then, that in the past year I have reached a heightened state of empowerment. It manifests as an undeniable obsession with my community; a perpetual, irrevocable desire for it, an inherent need to scream “I’m here, I’m queer, I’m having a beer” from the rooftops. In Maggie Nelson’s wonderful memoir The Argonauts, she says that “heterosexuality has always embarrassed me”.
That expression has stuck to me like a pleasant superglue unwilling to peel off.
Reading The Argonauts served as a catalyst for my all-encompassing love of my sexuality. It’s an incredible and life-affirming book – one that explores the nuance of queerness in the ways that so much art fails to do; telling a story that is so genre-bending and shape-shifting it made me realise that my queer identity does not fit into a binary box.
For a long time, I thought my sexuality needed to be defined. With two mothers and an almost-exclusively queer network growing up, I still had the ‘I’m definitely straight’ moment. It feels wrong to define it as a moment, actually – it was the way I chose to define myself long after I started sleeping with women. My heterosexuality was marked by a screening of Night at the Museum with a boy who I thought I had to like because he was taller than me. He brought his friend along and they talked about church camp. His lips were incredibly dry. I broke it off with him for so many reasons, but mostly because I had started habitually making out with my female best friend.
My best friend and I ended up together. We were two thirteen year-olds revelling in our unspeakable angst – on the phone late at night, weeping, listening to Bright Eyes; renting Pulp Fiction and stressing that we totally ‘got’ the highbrow concepts – and we were in love. We broke up a year and a half later because I said I loved someone else – a boy with olive skin and incredibly strong legs who had all the girls’ hearts. It always remained platonic between him and I (although one night we did go to see the Sex and the City movie alone together, sharing a Smirnoff double black).
When I think about it now, I wanted it to remain platonic, even then – I adored him as a friend, much like I still do, but I was lacking that sexual intrigue and excitement that I felt around girls. I must have been responding to some unspoken societal pressure that I needed to be straight, regardless of who I was sleeping with.
It wasn’t until my first ‘proper’ relationship (I was 17, she was 20 – naturally, I thought I knew it all) that I became more comfortable with my sexuality. I was convinced I was going to be with this girl for my entire life, so there needed to be some reconciling done with the fact that I had never slept with a man, and had no interest to, but still identified as straight. My girlfriend and I would engage in perverse, accusatory banter: “You’re 100 percent a lesbian/no, fuck off, you are/no you are”, and so on.
I fell asleep most nights feeling ashamed of my lack of sexual prowess. Having not been with a man resounded in me a feeling of profound illegitimacy.
I went to India at the end of 2013 for a couple of months with my best friend (yes, the same best friend I dated in early high school; yes we’re still inseparable, yes we’re nailing it). I was still adamant of my heterosexuality, and even though I’d been flirting with a couple of really cute girls back home I claimed to be on the lookout for a man.
I’m not sure what it was about India. I think it was mainly because we spent so much time deconstructing who we were then as people – we thought a lot about what we wanted for our future, and used the long days to talk about everything that makes us tick. It was Valentine’s Day when I had my much belated epiphany that I was actually a lesbian. A clairvoyant told me I would meet a very nice girl overseas who would change my life. I met her the day after my realisation, and we have been together ever since.
Satisfaction within myself has naturally led to an incredibly fulfilling relationship. I feel more stable and comfortable than I ever have with my partner. Yet I now seem to have moved onto another stage of awareness with my sexuality, which provides me with more of a fulfilling identity than I’ve ever had. I thought that coming out as a lesbian – a woman who sleeps exclusively with other women – would give me all the clarity that I needed. But what’s in a definition? What does identifying as a lesbian – thus marginalising so many other queer experiences – so rigidly benefit me with?
I suppose it all comes back to luck, again. I am so lucky because I exist in a new and ever-evolving queer space, where aligning myself with a cis-gendered label feels like a disservice to so many other people that I am attracted to and who inspire me. The queer community is a thrilling one – one that provides me with solace and understanding and intrigue. How close-minded it would feel, then, to adhere to a label, when fluidity and ambiguity is such a crucial part of the world I love so much.
Each to their own, of course – because at the end of the day, it’s about what queerness means to us, and how each individual person chooses to identify. Maggie Nelson explicitly wrote the words that resonated so strongly with me, but I’ve learned it from my friends too. I am one hundred percent confident that I will never be romantically entwined with a cisgendered man, but I don’t want to box up the way I choose to express my queerness.
I’m only just getting started.