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Amy Shiner

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Is One Label Better Than Another?

Posted: 05/07/2012 6:47 pm

I dance to my own drum when it comes to my sexual identity. After years of experimenting, growth, and realization, I was faced with two realities: 1) I am pansexual, someone who is attracted to male, female, and transgender individuals; and 2) despite the advances that the LGBTQA movement has made, there is discrimination within the LGBTQA community when it comes to sexual orientation and labels. At times it reminds me of scouting badges: Which one do you get to put on your vest?

I can be legally married in many states and "civilly united" in others, and for the most part I can live with my same-sex partner without fear. My mother, who is traditionally, spiritually Catholic, embraces my lifestyle and loves me for me, but when I mention in some circles that I am bisexual/pansexual, I am discriminated against, with people telling me that I just haven't made up my mind.

If a community could simply embrace its young instead of harping on labels, that community would be stronger. And when I say "young," I'm not referring to age; I mean anyone coming out of the closet, even middle-aged people. I've been watching The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and in this season, one of the characters' mothers is questioning her sexual identity. The woman, who comes from a very dysfunctional family, is attracted to an out lesbian. So far, she has experienced more angst over this fact than acceptance; the only person who accepts her is the lesbian. She is pretty classy, in my opinion; in any case, ABC Family is doing a thorough job of showing the different reactions that can exist in situations like this.

In my own life, I've heard and seen reactions ranging from fear to being overjoyed for the person who is coming out. In my ongoing search for my identity, the most interesting experience I have had with my mother happened during the winter vacation of my freshman year in college. The gay-straight alliance at my college had decided to put on a "gender-blender" dance, and I really wanted to go, so I picked out the most masculine name I could think of: Ken. My mother, who is very supportive of the movement, me, my friends, and any project I take on, went out and purchased a pretty flamboyant shirt. I made a slightly sad, let-down face, and when she asked me what was wrong, I explained that I had had a particular image in my head of what I would look like as a guy, and the shirt didn't fit with that image. On the last day of my vacation, during the beginning of a snowstorm, my mother, stepdad, and I decided that I needed to learn the fine art of shopping for men's clothes. My mother bought my first drag outfit, from the suit jacket to the pants to the well-fitted, leather-soled men's shoes, which I still have in my closet today.

My identity has never been questioned; however, the acceptance I've experienced is not the sort of thing that would be shown on television, typically. When, in the rare instance, mentoring and coming out works, the stories that come with it can show a true growth in acceptance. However, in the LGBTQA community we have our own struggles accepting our own.

I realize that in the 1950s and '60s the LGBTQA community, which was more of an "LG" community at that time (the "B" individuals were probably in heterosexual marriages), finding an identity and fitting in was important. Now, in my generation, being bisexual is a recognized orientation (unless you're in the class of "lesbians until graduation," which is a trend whereby college females date other females in college but decide they are straight upon graduation). When I'm told that I, as a bisexual/pansexual person, am confused about whom I'm attracted to, or that I am lying to myself, that is a travesty, and it automatically undervalues my personal worth. It's not about the label; labels are really meaningless if you just slap them on to please society. It's about what I believe and stand for.

I've discovered that I can depend on friends who accept me. I can lean on them, and I am able to be out, write what I think, and have a supportive family. These sorts of support pillars are still somewhat uncommon. Last month, when I presented an idea about creating a "tribe" at church next year, I realized that even I was unaware of the need. Forming communities where resources are available, and not turning away others who don't quite fit into one defined box or another, is what we all should work toward, not segregation within our own community.

 

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