Advice seeker tries to come to terms with being a lesbian, which is difficult due to some intersectionality with regards to race.
Welcome to J&J Chats! A series of advice and discourse discussions from J (Jess) & J (Jas, aka, my girlfriend). Read all chats here. Read a similar chat about “bisexual or lesbian” here.
So I’m still trying to come to terms that I might be a lesbian and not bi. I’m not sure if this comes into play, but it might be because I hate myself already for being gay and Asian. I’m just feeling really lost right now.–anonymous CC
Jess: Well, identity things are always hard. Let’s just start there. I’m sure you are already familiar with that because you have to do a lot of that work already when you realize that you aren’t straight. That’s something queer people relate to—having to go through that struggle of knowing they aren’t “this way” when at one point they thought they were. And then having to do that all over again? That sucks! So bad!
Jas: It does suck! And we’ve both been through it. The hardest part is the “I just don’t know.” And I’m one of those people who have in my head, “you never know what could happen.” So, I almost didn’t want to label myself as lesbian because I thought “what if I see a man in the street and think ‘oh, he’s attractive?’”
Jess: I think that was one of the things that was holding me back for a long time, too. Because I thought I was straight for so long, it stopped me from feeling things about women that I knew that I felt, but I was just so blind to it for thinking I was straight. I thought that if I identified as lesbian, that it would dictate how I felt about men even if I had real feelings for them. So that’s why I was like, “no, I can’t call myself a lesbian because it might change the way I feel about men” in the same way that thinking I was straight directed the way I felt about women.
Jess: But at the end of the day, if someone is feeling really connected to the lesbian identity, then you’re probably a lesbian. I mean—I’ve said this before and I think it applies here–but all those viral tweets that are like “bi culture for women is loving every woman you’ve ever seen and one man.” People that vibe with those messages so hard …like you might be a lesbian experiencing compulsive heterosexuality for that one man. That was me for sure.
Jas: It’s also like, you can be a lesbian who finds a man attractive, but it’s different from being attracted to them. Like you can appreciate attractiveness objectively without wanting to sleep with him.
Jess: Exactly. And straight women, for example, know when another woman is attractive without wanting to sleep with them—similar thing. I feel like you are at this point in your identity journey where you know you’re a lesbian, but you just can’t quite say it yet.
Jas: And I think that’s hard. One, we aren’t Asian and don’t know enough about the culture. But I’m sure it has an impact.
Jess: Yeah, I was gonna say that’s not really something we can speak on because obviously we aren’t Asian. Just blobs of mayonnaise. I feel like, Jas, you and I don’t cross very many identity intersects with regards to sexuality and race, sexuality and (dis)ability, that sort of thing. I mean, Jas, you have that whole mental health thing going for you in that regard. But, so does everyone. And as far as everything else is concerned, we don’t have many intersecting identities, so it’s a little hard to speak on that because I can’t even draw from other ways that this might be true for myself.
Jess: But, that being said, I can see why this would be a huge struggle, and that it can extend beyond race. For example, people who are deaf and gay, that’s another intersecting identity and might create a sense of “why am I both?” and it could be hard to reconcile this multifaceted “otherness” from the dominant culture.
Jas: And you’ll get there. It’s a lot of self-acceptance that you’ll have to do.
Jess: Yeah. I’m kinda curious how long you’ve felt this way about possibly being a lesbian. Because for me, personally, I think I felt that way since the day I started identifying as bisexual. I think it was always in the back of my mind.
Jas: Honestly, same.
Jess: [Laughs]. Yeah, I mean, I came out to everyone as bi, and even as I was doing that, I was still like, going back to those tweets again, just really vibing with those messages. Like “yeah, I’m only attracted to this one man and all these women, and I guess that makes me bi.” Even though I felt somewhat disconnected from the bisexual label at the time. So, it makes me wonder how long you felt this way, because for me this feeling lasted for years before I got to the lesbian label and was okay with it.
Jas: Yeah, same for me. I always found that I didn’t want to close myself off from men. And at the time, I felt that the lesbian label did that, you know? Whereas being bi or pan opened me up to multiple genders—or that’s how it was portrayed. I did think that I didn’t want to close myself off from being attracted to men.
Jess: Yes, I think it’s possible that you are also dealing with this because you’re already being upset with the fact that you’re gay. So, there’s some guilt or shame attached to this same-sex attraction regardless of being bi or lesbian. There’s an inner conflict dealing with same-sex attraction regardless. And I feel like holding onto the fact that you could be attracted to men is an “out” from this same-sex attraction guilt or shame. I think that’s something I held onto for years, too. For a long time, I just thought “if I never fall in love with a woman, then nobody ever has to know this about me, and I can just lead a ‘normal’ life.” It was only later on that I started realizing that I could never do that. It was not something I could ever hide behind a man. And I couldn’t keep myself open to men for that reason because it was just something I would never experience genuinely.
Jess: But, Jas, how would you say that they could get over this feeling? Of their internalized homophobia and lesbophobia?
Jas: I mean it’s hard. Like I said, a lot of it is working on self-acceptance and learning to be okay with yourself regardless of what the label is or who you’re attracted to. It’s a journey that you need to have, and it’s not a process you can rush.
Jess: Yeah, I’d agree. It’s key to not rush the process. Like I said, it took me years. Jas, it took you years. I know it feels like this is something you should already know, and that pressure is a lot to deal with. But you just have to give yourself the time to get to that point. And that’s hard because honestly what I’d recommend—because this is something I did and something else other people in the same situation did—is just “testing” this label for yourself. So, I would sometimes use the lesbian label for myself even when I was still feeling unsure to see how it felt to identify that way with people you trust—or even complete strangers online who know absolutely nothing about you.
Jess: Alternatively, if you do that online when you aren’t so sure, and somehow people online knew your label and sexuality history, I’m worried people online would attack you for it. So, I might suggest doing that with people you trust or people who don’t know you at all.
Jas: We don’t want to put you in a vulnerable position.
Jess: Yeah, queer people can be really mean, and I don’t want that to set you back in any way if people are angry at you for using a label that you aren’t certain of yet.
Jas: Yeah, because I think social media has made it a lot easier to gatekeep and callout others. In some spaces, labels can change and things are fluid, and in some spaces, labels hold more meaning. You might not be able to switch between bi and lesbian, and that’s just how people see it. That’s not okay because labels do change and they aren’t concrete.
Jess: Well, that’s hard because I know why it’s like that, with label policing. And it can be like that specifically in the lesbian community because other labels keep re-defining “lesbian” as something else. And this is why lesbians get so much bad rep of being too closed-minded and not being open enough about sexual fluidity. All that stuff is valid, and I do believe that sexuality and gender can be fluid and can change. But those “pro-fluidity” messages can negatively impact lesbians, which very few nonlesbians recognize. Those messages hit me at the wrong time, and that’s why I misidentified for so many years. And I think a lot of lesbians experienced this, and that’s why they feel that “pro-fluidity” messages are somewhat responsible for misguiding them early on in their journey. But, tragically, on the two extremes, it’s just created a culture where we attack people and the whole community does it. So, I just want that to be something you completely avoid while you’re on this journey of label-testing.
Jas: Yeah, because it really can hold you back.
Jess: I guess to summarize: practice using the label with people you trust. I feel like that’s how I eventually got to this point. I would also look to other people who have also navigated this identity journey—which you’re already doing by coming to Jas and me. Knowing what their stories are like and getting a validation from that. Hopefully knowing that it took us a long time and a lot of pain to do so is validating in some way? I’m sure there are other stories out there that do similar things.
Jas: And to specifically try to find people with an Asian background, so you can have that assurance and relation to their story. Create a conversation with them. Find the positives in their journey to help you see this is possible for you too.
Jess: There is actually a guest post. An Asian woman wrote a post for the bisexual series where she thought she was a lesbian and then later identified as bi. So this is in the reverse and the experience will be different, but she does talk about being Asian in the post so it may be helpful in that sense.
Summary: Be patient with yourself. Understand that being comfortable in the lesbian label could take a lot of time. Reach out to others who have been in a similar position and learn their stories. Test new labels where it is safe.
Want your question featured in a J&J Chat? Become a patron for $2/month, or donate for a one-time $3 ko-fi and send your question with the donation. You can also send an anonymous Curious Cat to either me or Jas, but we only select limited CCs for a chat.