Like so many, my path to Pride was paved in tears, self-loathing, and years of soul-searching. Even after I stopped trying to husky-up my voice, I avoided clothing too flamboyant and mannerisms too feminine. Today, I have no problem wearing my sexuality on my sleeve -- or short-shorts, weather permitting. I listen to my heart and smile more than I ever thought possible. Embracing my gay identity was the culmination of the struggle to be true to myself. At least, that's what I thought.
A few weeks ago, in the midst of a late-night binge of RuPaul's Drag Race, something unbelievable happened. Courtney Act. As my attraction to this utterly feminine beauty dawned on me, a seed of sexual confusion was sewn in a way I thought I'd left behind with my teenage attempts at heterosexuality.
Society tells us that the opposite of "man" is "woman." But such a division melts away when a man can convincingly come across as a woman. Drag subverts the sex-gender link by showing that being masculine or feminine, a man or a woman, is just a matter of being caught in the act of projecting one or the other. I think this is captured perfectly in a quote from the sixteenth-century Scottish poet, Andrew Melville: "A man in woman's garb, a woman in man's, is neither man nor woman. That which is either is neither." Drag doesn't just challenge the reality of gender; it shatters it.
If I were straight I'd like women, gay I'd like men, and bi I'd like both. Such labels are built upon the idea that there can only be men and women. It's been so refreshing to see the world begin to embrace the full breadth of human diversity in regards to sex and gender, but I hadn't been personally affected until Courtney. She's both a man and a woman, and at the same time she's neither. So what does that make me? When I identify as gay, I'm using the object of my sexual attraction -- men -- to define myself. But what happens when the idea of "men" falls apart? I used the word without bothering to understand what it could mean, and how little it means on its own. If asked now, I'd say that I'm exclusively attracted to the male sex, but not necessarily to the male gender. When sex and gender are no longer linked, when the very idea of gender dissipates, the term "gay" doesn't seem to apply to me as truly as it did before. Once again, I find myself questioning who I really am. Does being attracted to a man embodying the female gender make me less gay?
That I took pride in my sexual identity meant that I wasn't ashamed of my desires. Gay to me meant liberation. Then why did I feel this sense of displacement after stumbling across a new dimension to my sexuality? Had I simply replaced one restrictive label for another? Did I reject heterosexuality only to bind myself into a new category also based on a limited understanding of gender?
Gay gave me a community and a sense of belonging. It showed me that I wasn't alone, that I didn't need to feel ashamed. It was the most liberating step I'd ever taken. But now I realise that's exactly what it was: a step. The label freed me, and then I let it imprison me. I allowed myself to be bound by a narrow-minded understanding of human sexuality. I made the mistake of trying to fit a drag queen onto a two-dimensional sexual spectrum that only sees things in black and white, capped by male and female, gay and straight.
I truly believe that people are limitless. No two of us are identical, and no two of us experience sexuality in the same way. I'm grateful for gay, for all it stands for and for all it does, but I seized it to do justice to myself, not to lock myself into another set of mainstream ideals. Embracing my gay identity wasn't the culmination of my journey, it was just the beginning.