Not queer enough

Sex on Tuesday


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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  • Nunya Beeswax

    “The feels”? Are you 5?

  • MoDare

    PS: you’re trying way too hard. Did you have a ‘tiger mom?’ lol. Learn to relax.

  • MoDare

    ‘ In my sexual prime, I’m getting it while I can.’ You’re about 15-20 years away from it….

  • Paul Smith

    Thank you for writing this! I am a gay male but prefer to label myself as queer to draw a bridge between gay and the wide spectrum of sexual and gender identities. I have felt anxious that I don’t outwardly present myself as queer or that my actions aren’t queer enough. Interestingly, I question if in my attraction towards only males places me in a rigid category that denies the fluidity of sexuality. Perhaps that identity anxiety is a good thing because it keeps us in a mode of questioning.

  • I_h8_disqus

    Scared of living a stereotype? Either way you go, you are living a stereotype.

    • MoDare

      Bingo. And self-indulgent to boot.

  • Sister Neurotica

    For the most part, I would say “Good for you. Do what whatever you think best.” My major concern about you is that you appear to have a very high need for some sort of real or imagined external validation. You seem to be saying that with or without your rainbow armband you are constantly asking yourself “Do people think I am queer enough.” Is this any better (or worse) than constantly thinking “Am I rich enough” or “Am I thin enough” or “Am I beautiful enough?”

    From the perspective of someone much older, I would say that your sexuality is NOT likely to burn out anytime soon, despite what you may think now. What may burn out (and perhaps should) is the self doubt and the concern about what others think of you. Don’t get me wrong. It is important to be reflective and to try to see yourself in the eyes of others. But when you get more comfortable with yourself, I hope you won’t care as much about whether people are constantly evaluating your percentage of queerness or your percentage of anything else.

    Just my observations, which may be off the mark.

  • Mia Shaw

    Finally! A Sex on Tuesday columnist who is a really, really good writer!

  • Cal Queer

    Hi, queer was a slur used against gay/bi men and trans women. Cis women no matter who they are attracted to should’t erase and appropriate the identities of others.

  • Left Unsaid

    “I am without proof of my nonheterosexuality.”

    Keep looking, you’ll find it. Right next to the La Tigre CD?

  • Pixilicious

    Those who suffer angst from labeling themselves probably shouldn’t do that. What you are at the moment is what you do at the moment and vice-versa; no label need be involved. Nor should it.

    Believe it or not, the world doesn’t really care what you do with another consenting adult. You might see yourself now as a rebel wild-child and this column your manifesto but, with maturity, you’ll likely view it later for what it is: A paean to your ego and not much more. It is well-written. but self-indulgent crap nonetheless.

    Of course, no one forced me to read your words and I wasn’t put on this earth as your guide nor your editor. It just sorta needed saying.

    • Dora Ng

      I’m sorry but the world really care a lot about what we do with other consenting adults. If you read the news there are kids getting kicked out of their homes, women subjected to “corrective rape,” people getting killed every day. The world cares a whole lot.

      Identity consists of at least two parties, how you see yourself, and how others see you. I am a Canadian-born Canadian who speaks English as a native language, and yet when I go job hunting, people will almost always tell me how impressed they are by how well I speak English. People don’t stop seeing me as Chinese with my “maturity” and stopping my “self-indulgence.” That’s how identify works.

      She brings up important points. Reconciling your own sense of identity and self with how others recognize your identify is very affirming and importance to one’s mental health, confidence, and overall well-being. Queer-invisibility, or not feeling like you’re included in a potentially supportive and affirming community, when you’re at the same time rejected by the straight community, is one of the loneliest feelings you can experience.

      So no, this article is not self-indulgent crap, but your refusal to listen and empathize with the experience of others, is.

    • Kreamy

      To you, it’s crap. To me, it was comforting knowing someone else felt
      the same way & was also inclusive and well articulated.. but it’s not like sympathy’s a thing for you.

  • rekii

    I’m glad for this column. I also end up with the problem of not feeling queer enough, and I’ve definitely resented rainbow merch at some point or another for the same reason you did. It really bugs me that we feel pressed to have to fill some kind of queer quota, that there’s even the concept of “not queer enough” that intimidates me when trying to tap into queer spaces. It’s a strange problem to have in the community but there it is, I guess.

  • s randall

    You are correct. It’s all in your head.

    I started looking at some of the older columns and ran across Mustafa’s work. I loved how he started one of his columns with something like, “Mom, don’t read this.” What I liked about his work is his unpretentious honesty. He was unapologetic, and he seemed to be having a good time with both his writing and his research. This stuff is supposed to be fun isn’t it?

    No one cares how you want to define your sexuality. It’s all in your head.

  • Kelley

    Jennifer I love all of your articles! My thoughts on queerness… from how I identify as queer and how I’ve read about it in class, the roots of the term queer didn’t originally encompass all of the sexual identity constructions (LGBT…etc.). Rather, originally the term is meant to be a way to disengage from categories and sexual identity constructions (which connote implicit boundaries, patriarchies, roots in imperialism, etc.). Thus, not only can people be queer, but art can be queer, a scholarly work can be queer, you name it! For me, I like to think of queer more as a way of actively disengaging from identity constructions, which I’ve always found problematic and never quite fit me anyway. So when I read that you don’t feel like you fit as “queer,” that makes me sad because I think the point of queer is less to serve as a category, but more to defy and deconstruct categories–something that you do very actively! Here’s a great article you can skim with Donna Haraway’s description of an artist’s work as “queer”: My favorite part, which I think describes how you feel in this article: “The Surrogate remains a creature that nourishes indigestion; i.e., a kind of dyspepsia with regard to proper place and function that queer theory is really all about. The Surrogate is nothing if not the mutter/matter of gestation out of place, a necessary if not sufficient cut into the female-defining function called reproduction. To be out of place is often to be in danger and sometimes also to be free, in the open, not yet nailed by value and purpose, but full of pastpresents. “

  • Nunya Beeswax

    Save this article and read it again 10 years from now.

    Your sexuality is your own business and your own decision. Instead of railing against people who are skeptical, ignore them. Why should they matter?

    If anything, the glaring subtext of “No rilly I’m queer, no I rilly rilly am” is what’s going to give your critics and detractors even more ammunition.

    • Linh

      Coming from someone who can relate wholeheartedly with this article — I’m happy she wrote it and decided to post it publicly. Yes, your sexuality is your own business (uh not really a decision but sure lets go with that for the sake of parallelism), but that doesn’t mean you can’t vulnerably and courageously share your experiences for others to read, understand, empathize, and maybe even relate to.

      • Nunya Beeswax

        I’m really fine with her sharing her experiences. I just don’t get why she feels she has to defend her identity to anyone else–especially when that defensiveness makes her seem insecure about her queerness.

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