A blogger at Village Q (which you should absolutely check out, by the way...) wrote a post this summer about her preference for the term queer over "GLBT" or its numerous variations. Although this is something I've articulated myself on numerous occasions and though I have long embraced "queer" over "lesbian," somehow, this particular piece still hit me like a ton of bricks. Yes, I thought. There is someone else out there speaking my language. Because that's how I frequently feel as I try to navigate a world that resists the kind of fluidity I'm seeking at every possible turn. When I'm around non-queer or non-LGBT identified folks, I sometimes feel that while I'm fluent in their tongue, I'm speaking the language in a way that nobody understands, though many are eager to learn a few words here and there. When I'm in a lesbian-dominated space, I still feel like the outsider. I don't use the right words. I can't quite grasp the dialect. Though I've been thinking about this for months, it's been difficult to get this post written. I don't want people to misunderstand. I love lesbians. I just think I'm something else, despite having difficulty at times articulating why.
I'm often uncomfortable in lesbian spaces and in lesbian community. Despite the fact that I am female-bodied and have a woman-identified female partner, I don't embrace "lesbian" as a means of describing myself. Queer, yes. Lesbian, no. I don't feel a strong connection with woman-ness and "lesbian" has always felt all wrong whenever I've used it in reference to myself. I also don't identify as transgender in the sense that I don't intend to physically transition my body, though I often feel a greater affinity and sense of identity with trans folks than I do with lesbians. Still, my community is largely composed of people who do identify as lesbians. The world at large (when not lumping me in with teenage boys) also tends to read me as lesbian. This feeling of being at a crossroads of identities is what led to the creation of this blog.
The past two summers, my partner and I have spent a number of weekends in Rehoboth Beach, which is a pretty gay-friendly place. There are a bunch of gay and lesbian bars and hangouts that we've occasionally dropped by. I feel so out of place in these places. I'm always there with my partner and with our friends, so it's always fun. It's not a feeling of being out of place that is always unpleasant, but it does feel like there's the expectation from strangers and acquaintances that I'm part of what's going on - that I'm fluent, so to speak, in this language and culture. And I'm not. There are land mines to avoid, too - like my masculinity. I'm not butch at all, but rather place myself somewhere on the trans-masculine spectrum in a way that feels very different to me than being a butch lesbian. While not generally an issue, this is sometimes problematic among lesbians who prefer exclusively female company, or women-only spaces. The assumption is that I'm on board with that and I'm not. It makes me feel a bit like panicking.
This is what feels problematic to me about "LGBT" as an acronym for the group of people that all of us queer, gay, trans, etc... folks are. Where am I in there? When I say it all together - "LGBT" it feels maybe OK, but take apart the letters and I'm lost. I'm not L. I'm not G. I'm not B. I'm not T. Or at the very least I'm not only any of those things, though my life experiences reflect all four. I've been part of many communities of both largely queer-identified and straight/cisgender-identified folks where I have not felt stuck at this particular crossroad. I feel stuck at it now and it's caused me to do a lot of thinking about how to navigate this and how to be clearer about what I feel and what I want out of community with others in a way that's not off-putting to people who feel very differently about their identities than I do. I want to be in community with lesbians, but not at the expense of my sense of self. Like the Village Q blogger, the simple thing that feels most right to me is to clearly identify myself as "queer" rather than lesbian, or some variation on "LGBT." The language of identity is complex and it's my hope that we can strive to become a more multi-lingual community - keep on talking.