Article: On Defending One’s Identity (And Why It’s Not Needed)

When you’re queer (or in some way atypical regarding sex and relationships) there’s a lot of times when you’re expected to justify yourself for others.

This happens in many ways but the most common (of the top of my head) have to be:

‘But how did you know you were gay?’

‘But if you’ve never been with [the same gender/sex] then how do you know you’re bisexual/pansexual/etc.?’

‘So…how does this even work?’ *Gesturing at poly individuals*

Or, the ever stinging, ‘Oh, so it didn’t work out; You must not have really been in to it, right?’

Firstly, for anyone saying the last phrase—fuck you—but, secondly (and most importantly) none of these questions deserve your justification.

Think about this for a moment. Would anyone ever even think to ask these questions to a straight/cisgendered/monogamous individual?

There’s a very slight chance the answer is ‘yes’ (in which case I refer you to my most incredulous of expressions), but there’s a higher likelihood that the answer is ‘no’, in which case the social bias here is clear.

Yes, queer and atypical identities can be confusing for some. At first questions might come from a place of curiosity mixed with a lack of information (mixed in, perhaps, with a bit of societal prejudice that is clearly inadvertent).

In these cases, there is nothing wrong with politely answering the question, should you wish to. People with a genuine curiosity may also be open to you pointing out the problematic nature of their questioning and, who knows, you may just find them an ally waiting to blossom.

But just because you can help people in you wish to does not mean that it is ever your obligation to answer such questions.

Your sexual/gender/relationship status is yours and yours alone and is not something that others get to decide or question for you.

No matter how much of an ‘expert’ someone considers themselves to be—no matter how well-intentioned they may think they’re being or how world-wise they consider themselves to be—there is no polite, considered, or educated manner through which to tell someone else what their identity is.

Heck, even therapists and councillors favour allowing their clients to work through their feelings, offering comping mechanisms and thought exercises but never a definite command of ‘you feel this’, ‘you identify as this’, etc.

Identity, personal autonomy, and self-association are, by description, pretty much a personal endeavor and although there may be struggles and confusions along the way, your peace of mind and personal conclusions are what matters most.

And, yes, these may evolve over time, or you may find yourself uncertain that what you once considered a valid option is right for you. But that doesn’t mean that your previous identity/status was any less valid or that you are somehow a poor advocate for an entire social group.

Because, whether they intend it or not, when someone questions an atypical sexuality/gender/relationship status the implication is that they are somehow dubious of its viability and that you have now, in their eyes, become the guinea pig for what such things are like. You are, to them, a beacon of your identifying group.

But, you know what? Screw that!

Yes, some people choose to be an advocate or activist for their identity, and that is fantastic. But no one (not even the most ardent of justice fighters) should ever feel like the entirety of their social grouping’s public image falls on their shoulders.

The weight is simply just too much, to the point where it is literally not feasible and, if someone close to you chooses to treat you as such, it might be worth pointing out how flawed and damaging their thinking really is (again, should the situation allow and your desire be present).

For those who have just experienced a break-up and worry that their friends, family, and associates will question their identity because of this, it’s hard, I know. But you will never be able to control (nor fully know) what someone else thinks and feels and, let’s be honest, you’re hurting enough, you don’t need to add other people’s judgement or the external questioning of your identity to the mix. Take all the time you need to heal and let those who would use the chance to judge you to get on with their lives.

Sometimes the phrase ‘do not serve those who do not serve you’ isn’t just wise, it’s necessary.