Not queer enough

Sex on Tuesday

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I’m just another college girl doing the lesbian thing. In my sexual prime, I’m getting it while I can. I rotate among multiple partners like a watermill dipping into casual sex before my libido inevitably depletes the reservoir of youth and energy. I’m a quiet girl far from home for the first time, rebelling against the conservative town that bred me straight. I’m experimenting. And the glory of tits — tits other than mine — is all part of the protocol. I’m just another college girl. There’s no crazier time than now, and I’ll leave it all behind in due time.

And that encompasses the greatest fears around my sexuality. Right now, I’m dating a male, and the absence of a female-bodied partner in my life makes me feel as if I am without proof of my nonheterosexuality. I’m terrified of living a stereotype — of appropriating the queer experience as an experimental, straight-passing, traditionally feminine woman.

To clarify, my usage of the term “queer” does not mean bisexual. Where bisexuality typically entails attraction to females and males, the definition of “queer” I use broadly encompases all sexual identities that do not adhere to the heteronormative majority. (Think every LGBTQQIAAP component, and then some.)

The beauty of queerness is that it can be intentionally ambiguous. As an umbrella term, it inherently allows for fluidity. After a long time questioning my sexuality, I found so much solace in the word simply because no matter how I sorted or grappled with my feelings of attraction for the opposite, same and any sex, I always knew I was something outside normal. And that something is openly, fluidly, wholly queer.

But even after recognizing queerness within myself and publicly identifying outside heterosexuality for the first time, I found myself hesitant to claim it without any outward experience to back it up. My past record of heterosexual-identifying experiences further worked against me — they became my ghost of straightness past.

“How else would you know if you never dated a girl?” a loved one asked me after I confided in her.

Well, your body just kind of feels things, and you just kind of know. Do you expect me to have gone to every country before claiming that travel appeals to me? Do you expect me to have a traveler’s experiences before knowing that the activity itself is a thing I would like to do? No. You just know, OK?

It is, on all levels and in every universe, unfair to assume that a queer person is any less queer or any more heteronormative based on whom they are or are not dating at a single given moment.

You cannot drug test my queerness by checking the current stream of partners and assuming they’re the only substance that runs through my veins. That logic is offensive. It requires an uncontrolled, outside source, validating a person’s sexuality based on the gender status of an acquired partner.

That’s where you’ll never find my queerness. It’s not in another person’s F or M symbol on her or his government documents. My queerness is visceral, latent in the most personal and intangible parts of myself. My queerness is somewhere in my body at all times, unseen to your eyes.

People beg queerness to be visible in a way they would never demand of heterosexuality.

My gay, male friend wears rainbow sweatbands to queer-themed parties. “I want to be as obvious as possible,” he told me. One night, on a whim, he slipped one onto my wrist, and I felt weirdly affirmed — like I had earned my queerness and gotten it notarized.

I resent the rainbow sweatband for being so easily understood in a way my body alone could never be.

When it was time to return the sweatband, I felt physically lesser. It slipped off so easily. It belonged to someone else.

I then tried purchasing my own rainbow badge of queerness. But just staring at a catalog of queer gear felt vain, artificial and undeserved to me. It’s hard to shake off, but I always feel this anxious need to date more women before I can confidently claim my sexuality.

Queer was never a birthright to me. With my long hair, short dresses, and penchant for pastels and cosmetics, people will always read traditional femininity in my body. And with that reading, they’ll interpret a normative sexuality for a normative-looking, female-bodied woman.

When I challenge those norms, I’m faced with a dismissive explanation for my sexuality: the media-enforced plot point that an edgy straight girl is just doing the wild college-experimentation, lesbian-phase thing.

The accusation that I’m “not queer enough” denies my agency to identify as a queer woman. Self-claimed queerness should have enough truth on its own. Should I chose to identify differently in the future, no one should see it as a betrayal or reversion, but as a shift, a change in degree.

I refuse to turn my partners into checkmarks for my sexuality. There isn’t a quarterly report on how many same-sex partners I had in the past year to fit a quota of queerness. Queer isn’t something you fulfill or prove; it’s something you feel and prefer. Queerness does not have to be seen to be believed.

Jennifer Wong writes the weekly Sex on Tuesday column. You can contact her at [email protected].

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