As someone in the LGBTQ+ community, I have commonly been asked the question, “Are you a Gold Star lesbian?” By this, the person really asks, “Are you a lesbian who has exclusively been with females?” The answer is no. I did not even begin to explore my sexuality until sophomore year of college, but the way I see it is: once you know, you know. However, I often felt a little embarrassed by this answer. Surrounded by lesbians who have known their sexuality since high school or even earlier, I felt somewhat invalid, or lesser. In the hierarchy of lesbians (if I’m even calling myself a lesbian), I’m at the bottom.
This longing for validity in my sexuality started the second I came out as bisexual at 19 years old. I mostly identified as bisexual because I was unsure of my sexuality and was still trying to explore. I found, however, that many gay girls were not willing to date a bisexual girl because of the preconceived notion that this lead to more competition, or that bisexual girls were either “just confused” or promiscuous. A lot of my friends told me that they were happy I was “experimenting”, and it seemed like they thought this was just a phase. This frustrated me: how was I supposed to figure out my sexuality if people were already passing judgments based only on my sexual identification? A few people in my club even labeled me a lesbian after finding that I dated women; even though I explained to them that I was bisexual (or, at that point, pansexual, which means dating without regard to gender or sex but instead with regard to the person themselves). All of this labeling was starting to make me feel rushed into labeling myself. After a few months of dating women and barely even thinking about or looking at men, I started to even dress less feminine. I was on my way to a formal party, wearing dress pants, a blazer, a button up tank top, and a tie, when I texted one of my (lesbian) friends and said, “Sarah*, I think I’m a lesbian. I think I don’t like boys.” She replied, “Yeah, I know.” And once I said it, it became real. I was a lesbian. And damn proud of it.
But I still felt this looming inferiority around my other gay friends. I jokingly called myself a “baby lesbian” just to make light of the situation. While my other friends told stories about their female exes or coming out to their parents, I often shocked friends with stories of my male exes, and sometimes just kept quiet around other Gold Stars with whom I wasn’t familiar, so as not to exclude myself from this group of lesbians by mentioning my seemingly straight past. Sometimes, when I mentioned an ex-boyfriend, people would make remarks like, “So you’re just newly a lesbian then,” or “Oh, so you’ve been straight most of your life.” Even after explaining to them that I’ve had questions about my sexuality my entire life, but only recently started acting upon them, I still didn’t feel understood. It seemed like if I was going to label myself a lesbian, the best kind to be was a Gold Star. Nobody would question that. People would understand that. Nobody would think it was “just a phase”. Sure, I would still get stupid remarks about playing softball here and there, but I would be fully accepted somewhere and fully validated in my sexuality.
Now, it’s been almost a year since my last boyfriend and I broke up. I’ve proven that a lot can happen, and more specifically, a lot can change in a year. Since then, I have dated a few lesbians (all Gold Stars), a few bisexual males and females, a straight female, a straight male, and a couple individuals who were just as confused as I am. Almost this entire time, I considered myself single, still exploring myself. After each person, I tried to label myself again as something different. If I enjoyed a coffee date with a male, my whole world turned upside down because I had thought I would never enjoy the company of a man again. I almost felt embarrassed to tell my lesbian friends that I had a good time with a guy, like I was betraying the lesbian community or something. If I slept with a female and it was great, I was back to being a complete lesbian. I was at a loss. I identified as asexual at one point, and there was even a time when I would simply tell people, “I don’t have a sexuality”. Understanding my sexuality, as much as I wish it could be, is not as easy for me as it might be for a straight person or a gay person who has always known he or she was gay. To this day, I identify to myself as pansexual with lesbian tendencies (PLT, as I like to say), but to the rest of the world as gay or lesbian so that I won’t have to explain myself; they’ll just label me as whatever they want anyway, right? However, I think that’s the issue. I think I need to start explaining my sexuality instead of sparing the public the details and assuming they will label me. I will never be a Gold Star Lesbian, and I will never be straight, because sexuality is fluid, and we are much more than the labels we assign ourselves.