One by one the knots we tie will come undone

Joseph Severino on walking between labels.

Image of room with open door, text on wall says "love without sex". Artwork: Zita Walker
Image of room with open door, text on wall says "love without sex".
Artwork: Zita Walker

Mike Iamele wrote an article titled, “I’m an otherwise straight man (who fell in love with his best friend)”, in which the content is self-explanatory. However, amidst all the “no-homo” inferences, the author comes to a progressive enlightenment: we are not as simple as they want us to be. I You We Us should not be reduced to a static generalization. The sum of the parts don’t have to constitute the whole.

I’m mildly annoyed that it took a straight man’s fear of identifying as Queer to develop and articulate an ontological epiphany.

A great extent of my sexual identity had been thrust upon me by a societal imperative, with a focus on sex-positivity and binary. Reductionist checklists pervade any relevant discourse, and I felt stuck in words that just weren’t me.

The process of discovering my sexual identity was a series of false hopes. I was either straight or gay. The first one was easier to traverse. However, the parcelisation of the latter left me utterly bewildered.

It took me realising that I was gay to figure out that, actually, I am not.

You are introduced to so many labels. So many situations and circumstances in which your body can extend into pure definiteness. But you’re also given just as many situations and circumstances in which you don’t fit and where you can’t prescribe. There are so many deal breakers and fine print.

The structures of heteronormativity within me had supposedly been broken down, but the pillars and stones of queerness were too weak to lift me back up again. I was in the limbo of sexuality, with constant reassurance that “I’ll figure myself out eventually!” I didn’t quite belonging to any which letter in any which acronym, and I was not able to articulate myself in the one way I could be straight, or the fifty-four ways I could be queer.

Mike Iamele’s article states “we’re defined by who we choose to be in this very moment”, a sentiment shared by Angel Haze in her cover of ‘Same Love’: “I am living today as someone I had not yet become yesterday… I am whoever I am when I am it.” There’s a great reactionary sentiment against structural queerness.

We do not first see, and then define, we define first and then we see. – Walter Lippmann.

This is why I felt the queer community did not represent me to any large extent. Its external expectations and socials norms were (are?) constricting and can represent many barriers.

All of those labels, all of those names… they’re just external ideals about who we should be, which I think is a sure-fire way to getting to unhappy. I think the only way we can feel content is if we let our emotions, our feelings, and our internal ideals create our external reality. – Courtney Act.

For years I had apathetically defaulted with ‘gay’, even though I was not comfortable using that term. Why should I have an hour long conversation with every single person who asked me just because there was no other way to explain myself clearly?

The otherwise straight man ends up confessing his love to his best friend and is more-or-less reassured that his feelings are reciprocated. This dependency on ‘the other’ is what scared me the most about my sexuality. ‘The other’ generates a need for these labels. It is ‘the other’ who validates your identity. How can ‘the other’ accept me when I am not even sure what I am?

Is the possibility of my other discarded without a firm basis on which to define him against?

And so I walked between labels, because how could somebody begin to find me if I didn’t even appear on the map.

Fast forward two years and I get an adequate statement from Mariana Podesta-Diverio, (“Enforced sex positivity and the need for self-reflection within the queer community”, Archer, 29/7/15) that elucidates my confusion: “While it might be understood that an openly asexual person is not interested in types of sexual encounters, people who do not fit neatly into this sexual/asexual binary do not, for all discursive intents and purposes, exist.”

As an anecdotal aside, two of my friends made similar comments after hearing I had a boyfriend that essentially boiled down to “I’m glad you’ve found who you are/you are no longer asexual”.

From my experience, this situation is born out of normalised sex-positivity rhetoric, which negatively impacts the LGBTQIA+ community. Observed by a friend Dylan Rowan, there is no recourse to access queer spaces that are not inherently sexual, alcoholic, and/or online.

Embarrassment is conceptualised as a product of a repressive hetero regime; drunken hookups conceptualised as a fun tool to express a new found autonomy of sexuality. Sex is the marker of liberalisation.

And I don’t want sex. Nor do I feel liberated. This isn’t a correlation.

I’m tired of feeling like the prude. I’m tired of being asked why I look uncomfortable or unhappy. It’s unfair that I am cannot attend a queer party without feeling an immense uncertainty on when the fun, tipsy dancing turns into drunk and raging communal displays of liberation. When I have a miasmic atmosphere tapping its watch impatiently as if I have a deadline to be drunk by, less I have to come out as asexual with a tinge of guilt. I feel inauthentic. That I am lying to these people just by being present, like I’m the ‘unfun’ person with a boyfriend who ‘wasted your time’ and ‘should have told you sooner’.

Couple this with a sexuality that, if I have to find a word that closest describes it, is ‘grey-asexual’, you’re left with one big mess of conflicting stereotypes and soft-whispers behind your back. People don’t know where or how to put you. You yourself still have no idea where you belong. My liminal identity within the discourse of binary situates me simultaneously on both ends of the spectrum and nowhere in between.

And so, again, I walk between labels—but this time without my permission. Because how can anybody begin to understand me if they and I cannot articulate who I am.