Ask a Queer Chick: How Can You Tell if You’re Not Straight?

And, for that matter, how do I know I'm bi and not gay?

Please reach out to me with your questions, whether they're about coming out, being a queer parent, sex toy etiquette, or culturally competent elder care: this column is for people of all ages and every wavelength of the rainbow. Marc Faletti / Rewire / Shutterstock

Hi everyone! My name is Lindsay, and I used to write this advice column for queer people and anyone who loves and wants to do right by us. For a while, it seemed like interest in my advice was waning, possibly because support and affirmation for LGBTQ folks was becoming more prevalent, and people had more avenues to seek the answers they needed. But since, oh, approximately the morning of November 9, 2016, I’ve been getting questions again. I think we’re all nervous these days, and the need to connect with each other and check in and share our stories is making itself known.

So here I am! Please reach out to me with your questions, whether they’re about coming out, being a queer parent, sex toy etiquette, or culturally competent elder care: this column is for people of all ages and every wavelength of the rainbow. I do not promise to bring your homophobic relatives into the light of Gay Baby Jesus or introduce you to hot, available girls. But I’m listening, and I care about you, so let’s do this thing.

I’ve just started high school at an all-girls’ school. I first started to consider the idea of, well, non-straightness when a friend of mine came out as bi. I’m pretty sure I’m not straight (e.g. girls are cute and boys are … not) but how do you know? Like really know. I mean, I don’t know that many boys. And what if I’m just faking to feel special? I feel like I shouldn’t lay claim to this identity when I’m not even 100 percent sure, but I really want to hold hands with a girl in my class. How can you tell if you’re not straight?

When I was around your age, dear reader, I was like, “I think I might not be straight,” because there was this girl and she was so pretty that it hurt my heart. But how could I know for sure? What was I? Maybe it was a phase. Maybe I just wanted to stand out. Maybe I just wanted to kiss this one specific girl (and I did, during a game of Truth or Dare, and it wasn’t what I imagined at all, because being dared to kiss someone isn’t the same as kissing because you both want to) but it didn’t mean anything more significant.

For a long time, I was hesitant to draw any conclusions about whether I liked girls from the fact that I liked girls. It felt like an enormous commitment. It felt like something I had to be so, so sure about. It felt like a door that could only be walked through in one direction—and then, only once. I knew there were words for people who wanted the things I wanted, but I also knew that so many people who had gone before me had struggled and suffered and even died in the attempt to wear those words with dignity, and I wasn’t sure I had the right to them. They sounded like badges from a club whose initiation I hadn’t passed, or medals for battles I hadn’t yet fought.

Here is what I wish I had known earlier, and what I wish for you to know now: There is no litmus test to want what you want. Your feelings are valid, no matter what you call yourself. You don’t have to get a Sappho poem tattooed on your bicep in order to doodle a cute girl’s name in a heart during Social Studies. Your true identity is not hidden at the heart of a labyrinth. There is no treasure map you must follow to determine who you are inside. All you have to do is identify what you want and go for it.

I’m not saying that’s easy. Going from wanting to kiss a girl to ACTUALLY kissing a girl is a pretty monumental feat of bravery (and, of course, acquiring the enthusiastic consent of the other party). I’m just saying you don’t have to spend a lot of time agonizing over where your desire fits into the grand scheme of Who You Are As A Human In The Universe. It’s worth trying to figure out what to call yourself and what that means to you, but that’s not a box you have to check off before you can move on to acknowledging what you want, and maybe even trying to get it, a little bit. You don’t have to put a name on your desires before you can act on them.

Sure, it’s possible that those desires will change over time. Maybe you’ll ask out that girl and you’ll discover on your second date that she doesn’t get your sense of humor, like, at all. Maybe you’ll be more interested in guys later in your life, or maybe you’ll grow up to be even gayer. Whatever happens, you are unlikely to spend the rest of your life with the first girl you have a crush on in high school. Sexual and romantic fluidity are real and valid, but what you want when you’re older will not retroactively cancel out what you want now.

And what you want now is to hold hands with a girl. I believe that dream can come true.

I came out to my mother last week as bisexual.  It’s wasn’t even a big deal: I just said it, she shrugged, gave me a high five, and thanked me for trusting her. I’d been struggling with telling her for months, and she just accepted me. But after I told my her, I began to think: Am I really bi?

I have never had a crush on a boy. I have been alive for 16 years, and I have had two crushes, both straight girls. But I always assumed that I probably liked guys too, and even worse, I assumed I’d have a girlfriend or two and then marry a guy. How much of this idealization of a—dare I say it—straight-passing future is heteronormativity?

I don’t know if I’m gay. I think I might be. I don’t know what to do.

Oh my gosh, this is so real. I’m almost twice your age and I’m still trying to unpack how much of my desire is organic and how much of it has been superimposed upon me by the culture in which I was raised. I’m not saying being vigorously, irrepressibly gay from the start is easier—that would be absurd—but the clarion call of inconvenient desire, the thing that won’t go away no matter how you try to suppress it, has at least the virtue of being unambiguous.

So how do you figure out whether you’re actually attracted to guys or just assume you are because you were taught that’s what it means to be a girl? I have no idea. There’s no decoder ring for this shit. If you picture yourself spending your life with a male partner, that fantasy could be significant. If you’ve never been attracted to a guy in a way that compares to how you feel about girls, that discrepancy could be significant. But neither of those things is a definite indicator of your orientation now or for the rest of your life.

I’m not going to make assumptions about how your age correlates to your judgment, but I do want you to know that when I was your age I had a pair of maraschino-cherry-red vinyl pants and I wore them a lot. Like not just to “club night” at the queer youth center, I’m saying I wore them to school.

Sometimes what seems right to you now will not be a part of your life forever.

That’s true no matter what age you are, for that matter. What is simple and obvious today might be complicated tomorrow. What looks like a tangle of brambles now might someday reveal a clear path. It’s OK if you aren’t sure. You’ll probably be sure someday. You might be unsure again after that.

I wish we lived in a culture that was more understanding of life as a journey, of the fact that human experience is layered and complex and nuanced and weird. I wish being queer weren’t so stigmatized that it feels impossible to acknowledge a specific identity unless you’re 108 percent certain of it; I wish that coming out didn’t feel like such an agonizing and life-changing declaration that it can never be revised or taken back.

I have, at various points in my life, identified as queer, bisexual, and lesbian. These days I’m pretty vehement about defending my identity as a bisexual woman in a monogamous relationship, but I don’t know if that will be true for the rest of my life. It’s OK if your truth changes over time too. It’s OK if it doesn’t. It’s OK if you end up with a man, or with a woman, or with a non-binary person or more than one partner or if long-term partnership doesn’t end up being the trajectory of your life at all. It’s also OK if you realize that your imagined future with a man is borrowed from someone else’s life and you have to mourn it for a little while, because things aren’t going to play out the way you’ve envisioned them.

I can’t tell you who you are, were, and ever shall be. No one can do that for you, probably not even you.  But anyone who tells you that they know exactly who they are (and always have), and that everything in their heart makes perfect sense, is lying-no matter how old they are.

It sounds like you have a wonderful and supportive parent in your corner while you’re getting the lay of the land. I’m so, so happy about that, and I wish every queer and questioning kid could say the same. Best of luck.

IF YOU’RE HAVING GIRL PROBLEMS—or any kind of problems—drop me a line: [email protected]. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.