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5 Things to Remember if You’re Questioning Your Sexuality and/or Gender: Get ready to gracefully pole dance to hell


O P I N I O N


Adwiteeya Rupantee Paul


{Queerphobes are agitated to see Lil Nas X gracefully pole dance to hell and take over the throne of Satan himself in his recent music video ‘Montero’, whereas going to hell was what they’ve always expected queer people to do. ‘Montero’ has surpassed 500 million streams on Spotify and has spent five weeks on the Billboard Global 200 singles chart till mid-May 2021, making Lil Nas X the first male soloist to have stayed this long. It’s also the fastest video of him to reach 100 million views on YouTube.}

Be born, hit puberty, get little to no sex education, marry a random stranger your parents choose, get kids and make sure that they go through the same cycle again — an ideal Bangladeshi family life put in a sentence.

It’s unfortunate how this society, despite being this cis and heteronormative, expects even cisgender, heterosexual adolescents to keep their questions related to sex closeted, resulting in humans rearing age-old stigmas generations after generations. On top of that, gender-based violence is an issue even for the ones who fit into the cis-binary. 

Despite suffering from all this, cishets still have a tremendous advantage over the LGBTQIA+ community; they are way privileged in comparison to queer people, which proves how tough it must be for questioning adolescents—to realise and accept that they might not belong to the majority regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Questioning shouldn’t feel like questioning your validity. It’s just a process of realising what your already-100-percent-valid identity is.

And although it’s evident that society still has a long way to go, queer people clearly don’t. Because even if it’s hard to determine where the society would end up with this downfall, the final destination of queer people still lies way below—hell. And, we are here to help you have a graceful journey!

So, lads, lasses, and enbies, fasten your seatbelts, let us welcome you to Montero.

1. Speaking of hell, you do not have to let go of your religious faith to come out.

You do not require their blessings to validate the co-existence of your faith and identity. 

Although there are loads of disputes about whether or not queer people are religiously valid (many religious people demand that queer people have never been directly condemned in their religions and it’s a queerphobic agenda to present religions as queerphobic), a major part of the Abrahamic religion practitioners, including practitioners of other religions, strongly condemn queer activities and believe them to be sinners. Just to cite an example, Pope Francis has been criticised on various platforms after he mentioned on 15 March this year that priests cannot bless same-sex unions, as they are not according to the Creator’s plan. “God cannot bless sin,” he said. Earlier in 2016, he had also expressed concern over gender theory being taught at school, terming it as a form of ‘ideological colonisation’. 

Religious practitioners invalidating the experiences of queer people is one of the major reasons why queer people find it difficult to come out, because:

a. Often times, queer people, because of all those years they’ve spent with their religion-practising families, develop an internalised queerphobia, and think of their own selves as sinners. They stay in denial of their own identities because they perceive them to be religiously immoral. They suppress their identities and try ‘changing’ them to ensure that they’re virtuous enough. And, when they realise that their sexual orientation/gender identity is not exactly a choice, rather a part of who they are, they go through major intra-personal conflicts which embody the universal conflict between religion and queer identities proposed by cishets.

b. And secondly, of course, is the fear of being misjudged and abandoned by the family and the community. Despite the fact that a person may not necessarily be queerphobic solely because they hold religious values dear to their heart, it is still a matter of fear for children who grow up seeing their families hold their scriptures to be important; the same scriptures that are considered to invalidate their experiences. Violence against queer people originating from the perception that they’re sinners is still unfortunately a widely common thing in our society.

However, here are some pole dancing to hell tips: their hell does not equal your hell.

It’s God you’re dealing with, not the practitioners.

No matter what your religion is, all religions accept the existence of a supreme authority/authorities that control(s) the universe and demand(s) the practitioners to devote themselves to that authority/authorities. If the connection is solely between you and that authority/authorities, it should be you who decides the nature of the connection. 

Many times, NCTB teachers tend to invalidate certain questions because they consider themselves to be ‘quite experienced’ and have ‘rarely seen them appear’ in the board exams. Yet, you might find exactly that question on the paper, the one your teacher told you to ignore. And at that time, what they invalidated is the exact reality of your life. 

Just the way the questions appearing in your exams are not your choice, so isn’t your gender/sexual orientation. Them considering something to be ‘rare’ or just a ‘mistake’, be it an obsolete question in the beautiful sequence of board exams or your existence in the universe, doesn’t change or invalidate its/your identity in any way. 

Although religious preachers may seem like teachers who help you get good grades in the ‘sin vs virtue’ report card at the end of your life, it’s a completely different authority who evaluates your answers in board exams, who appear to be far more supreme here in terms of determining the fate of your script. It’s more important to ensure that the way you present your script is pleasing to this authority and not to the teachers you’ve left behind. And you might want to remind yourself that at the end of the day, it’s you who’s writing the script. Not the teachers whose experience didn’t quite seem to be of help in this particular case of yours.

All of these are being said with the hope that it’s not entirely bold of us to assume God to be far better at evaluation than the ‘way too perfect’ authority of NCTB exams. We’d also like to assume that there’s no possibility of the questions leaking. 

Anyways, back to our question of the day: how to cope with questioning

At the end of the day, every person views different aspects of the same issue in different ways, which expresses their individuality. In fact, it’s evident how the views of one religious preacher regarding a certain aspect of religion can differ greatly from another of the same community. People following the same preacher have diverse perceptions as well. At the end of the day, whether you’re queer or not, your individual perception is what becomes more important to you and takes the form of faith, and it is what motivates you towards your spiritual goals. This means every individual defines their religion in their own way. 

Blair Imani, a Black, Hijabi Muslim, and a bisexual historian/educator, known for her ‘Smarter in Seconds’ episodes on Instagram, has often faced disturbing questions from both fanatics and ‘just curious’ peoplequestions which either said, “How are you Muslim if you’re bisexual?” or simply directly invalidating her faith saying she can’t be Muslim if she’s queer. 

At this, she responded, in an Instagram Post,

“I pray to Allah. I seek approval from Allah. I am ultimately judged by Allah. Not randoms in my DMs, not commentators, not religious scholars, not theocracies. And not other Muslims.⁣..There are roughly 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. And guess what? That means there are literally 1,800,000,000 ways to be Muslim. It’s personal.”

Blair continues to spread awareness about both queer rights and work as the ambassador for an organisation called Muslims for Progressive Values which has one central message: Be yourself. Be Muslim.

Similarly, our queer jew stiletto fairy Matt Bernstein and the iconic ‘Born this way’ Lady Gaga are just only a few of the millions of religious queer people in the world!

A study by UCLA Williams Institute finds that nearly half of LGBT+ adults in the U.S. are religious.

2. To Label or Not to Label; that is the question(-ing)

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual are some of the many labels queer people use to identify themselves. However, each of these is a broad term, which includes many identities altogether. There are tons of other sub-labels under every single one of these labels which might provide a better understanding to an individual about their identity. 

For example, the terms lesbian and gay might be used both by homosexual and homoromantic individuals. Transgender is used to refer to people whose gender identity differs from the sex that they were assigned at birth. This term is an umbrella term that includes agender, bigender, pangender, genderfluid, genderqueer, etc, and of course, trans men and women! Bisexuality also has its own spectrum and includes heterosexual-leaning bisexuals, homosexual-leaning bisexuals, the varied-type bisexuals, etc. Intersex is a term used to refer to all sexes that vary from XX/XY. Asexual includes demisexuals, grey asexuals, lithosexuals, aceflux, quoisexuals, fraysexuals, etc.

Why are there so many labels? What’s the point?

Many often question the need for all these labels, and why it might be important to name one’s sexual orientation/gender this distinctively. It’s important to understand that the community is enough marginalised in society and are clearly misunderstood and invalidated in every sphere of their life. This leads them to question the validity of their existence as well, which further leads to the constant flooding of intrusive thoughts. It can get worse for the questioning individuals who consider themselves neither a part of the majority and are also unsure of whether they are part of the minority. Finding out which label suits them the best often helps them to validate their own experiences. It might also make them feel included, boost their self-confidence, and act as a barrier to intrusive thoughts.

Yes, there are many different ways of going to hell! Not all of us might want to pole dance!

Reading up on the sexuality and gender spectrum, exploring and finally finding out which label suits one the best is considered to be a liberating experience for many queer people. It has helped them to get a better insight into who they are and relate to other people with similar experiences. 

However, often, questioning individuals, despite all their endeavours to learn about each of the labels they know, looking up on what people identifying with different labels have to say, reading LGBTQIA+ books, watching LGBTQIA+ films seem to find no perfect label for themselves. This might happen due to the following reasons.

a. Unsure of the type of attraction

While questioning their sexual orientation, one might be unsure of the type of attraction they’ve been experiencing. Attraction is of many types, which include sexual, romantic, sensual, or emotional attraction. Sometimes, questioning individuals also happen to feel torn between whether their attraction is simply a form of curiosity, or if it falls between any of the categories of attraction, e.g. there exist both bicurious AND bisexual people. 

b. Unsure of the differences between gender expression and gender identity

Gender expression of an individual might differ from the traditional gender norms, but that doesn’t necessarily express their gender identity. An individual assigned male at birth might not identify as a woman solely because they’re effeminate. Differences between gender identity and gender expression aren’t properly discussed, which might lead to further questioning.

c. Misrepresentation in media

Since there aren’t enough opportunities to learn about the LGBTQIA+ community from family or academic institutions, the questioning adolescents and young adults often end up getting all their insight about the community from the media instead. The media, more often than not, stereotypically represents the community and thus causes them to develop misconceptions and feel more isolated or dubious of their identities.

For example, the media rarely represents the diverse attraction types that exist, and often only portrays queer individuals with aligned romantic and sexual attraction. LGBTQIA+ characters are oftentimes added just as a source of humour. Usually, gay individuals are represented as effeminate and lesbians as masculine, as though gender expression is bound to be aligned to sexual orientation. This can also marginalise the ones who do not necessarily fit into the stereotypical definition of gay/lesbian. Asexuals are hardly ever acknowledged in the media. Trans characters are rarely represented as protagonists, as an article by GLAAD shows: Since 2002, 40% transgender characters play the role of a victim and at least 21% are villains or killers.

d. Misconceptions within the LGBTQIA+ community

Being excluded from the majority hurts, but exclusion even from the excluded…well. There are many misconceptions within the community itself. For example, pansexuality and omnisexuaity aren’t valid orientations, asexuals aren’t inherently queer, bisexuality has to be a 50/50 split, etc. These misconceptions can largely invalidate the experiences of the ones who’ve been questioning and these have the potential to largely affect their psyche.

e. Unsure of whether they take gender into account in case of sexual attraction 

Gender might/might not be something important in terms of attraction. It solely depends on the individual. Pansexuals do not take the gender of the ones they are attracted to into account, whereas omnisexuals do. It might be difficult to identify whether one does prioritise the gender of their partner and might create confusion regarding one’s identity.

But, how can I pole dance to hell if I do not know what my label is?

The Q in the acronym LGBTQIA+ stands for both Queer and Questioning. Being in the questioning phase is also being a part of the rainbow, and hence you cannot be excluded from the community. 

Well, your label could be just your name, you might as well design your own flag!

Although the visible spectrum of light has seven major colours, the merge of two separate colours in the spectrum—indigo and green—also form a distinctive colour that is neither inherently green nor indigo. Not every individual’s sexuality might feel inherently bi or pansexual, not every asexual is sex-repulsed. Many of us lie among the two major colours, forming a new colour, and are just as beautiful. The gradient is all that brings beauty to the rainbow. 

All these shades cannot be named, and humans are even more diverse than colours! Many of us do not feel comfortable being restricted to a certain label and do not wholly relate to a label. It’s absolutely okay and it’s not mandatory to be a named shade to be a part of the rainbow. Whether or not you have a certain label in the LGBTQIA+ community, doesn’t make you any less queer. Queer is a term everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community might identify with. 

Besides, even each of the seven distinct colours, if zoomed in, can also be considered as a separate spectrum because of all the beautiful shades. Both scarlet and crimson are shades of red, yet are not the same. Two people identifying with the same label do not necessarily have the same experiences, and yet, they are equally valid—valid parts of the rainbow. There’s no need to worry about whether one can or cannot relate to a certain experience discussed by the others under a certain label. Every queer person’s experience is different and your label might as well be your name, to identify your own experience! This brings us to the next point…

3. The best way to ‘behave queer’ is to be yourself

Because of the existing stereotypes regarding queer people, they often face questions like “But you do not seem /their identity/!” These questions do not only come from cishet people, but also from people within the community itself. This might be triggering for those who’ve recently started to identify with a certain label or for those who are not yet confident of the way they identify.

Similarly, assuming someone’s identity solely because they present in a certain way that fits into the stereotypical expression of that identity might also be genuinely triggering to some queer people.

Bisexuals, when they are dating someone of the same sex, are often misunderstood as homosexuals. Again, when dating someone from the opposite sex, they face questions from both the cishets and the community, questions that might make them feel excluded from the community. 

Just because one identifies as trans doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d wish to go through transition-related surgical procedures, nor that they might wish to conform to the traditional gender roles. Questioning a trans man’s identity because they do not ‘appear’ or dress as what is traditionally considered to be masculine can be genuinely triggering to that individual. 

There are more examples of this: Non-binary people when they do not appear androgynous. Asexuals when they get into a romantic relationship. The list goes on.

It’s funny how exclusionists think of new ways to invalidate queer people. Why try fighting over someone’s place in hell if that’s where we’re all destined to?

If one is queer, whatever they do is inherently queer expression.

Would you invalidate someone’s identity solely because they do not like their name? Or invalidate a country because you don’t like the colour scheme of their flag? 

Just the way it’d be silly to invalidate someone’s identity solely if they do not like the flag representing their identity or regularly interact with others from the community, it’s also silly to invalidate someone’s identity because they do not fit into society’s perception of what it is to be queer.

One does not have to present oneself a certain way to prove that they’re queer. One does not have to fit into the stereotypes of identity expression. 

Gender roles and heteronormativity have enough negative effects on both the cishets and the LGBTQIA+ community, and none of us needs the society to impose any other stereotypes that might eventually become ‘queer roles’ to identify the perfect way to be queer.

Being queer is not a choice, but being vocal in favour of your community is, and you’re not obliged to be an activist.

Sometimes queer people are right away expected to ‘fight’ for their rights, as if being queer inherently obliges you to publicly engage in activities that’ll help ensure the acceptance of the community in the broader society. 

Queer people go through enough difficulties as a marginalised community to feel vulnerable. And it’s pretty unfair to expect all queer people to choose to be vocal about their rights or to be in the mental state to do so. It’s the state’s and the society’s responsibility to ensure their rights, not their responsibility to win them over.

Radam Ridwan, a widely known trans artist, states, “Hey trans people, it’s not a requirement of being trans to be a trans activist!”

To show trans people are right away expected to be activists, they also stated in another tweet:

4. Switching your seats in hell, I mean labels 

We thought the sun rotates around the earth because that’s what religious scriptures said. Then we found out, that it’s the earth that rotates around the sun from observations, which is less theological and more practical.

And then, we found out, there were other things to explore in the universe, nebulae, supernovas, black holes, and whatnot. The universe is way too diverse than what we thought only consisted of the solar system.

Similarly, even after finding out that one isn’t what their religion seems to have instructed them to be, and also after deciding to identify with a certain label; one might explore and find them to be comfortable with one of the other diverse labels, or even decide to leave labels and solely identify as queer instead, or go entirely unlabelled!

Switching labels is not as uncommon as it is thought to be. And it also doesn’t invalidate one’s previous experiences. Finding out that the universe has other things to discover other than the solar system, doesn’t dismiss the existence of the solar system. 

At the same time, it’s wrong to dismiss the current identity of someone because they have switched labels once, thinking that they might switch it again. Even if they do, it doesn’t invalidate their previous experiences of choosing other labels. Only a queer person can decide whether they wish to dismiss their label or not. No other person—whether cishet or queer—can question the validity of the labels they choose.

Switching labels doesn’t necessarily have to mean that a person is searching for one right label. Changing labels related to sexual attraction doesn’t also necessarily mean that the person is abrosexual, nor does changing gender-based labels mean that the person is genderfluid. Switching labels only means that they’re exploring different labels to express their identity. 

5. No age to publicly announce your seats in hell

Even when the visible light is not passing through a prism, it still has all the seven major colours in it. Even when you haven’t talked about your identity publicly, you’re equally queer. 

Questioning individuals, when they see others coming out as queer, often feel the pressure to choose a label as soon as possible. There’s no appropriate time to know your sexual orientation/gender identity and we do not have to know it right away. Questioning might take a long time, and being able to figure out a label isn’t exactly similar to finding an answer to a riddle. As it has been mentioned before, labels aren’t necessarily the only answers possible to questioning, as labels can’t always define queer people. It suffices to come out as questioning/queer, if that’s what an individual wishes to do.

On the other hand, dismissing a queer person’s identity because they might be too ‘young’ to have figured it out can also be very triggering to that individual. One has the right to choose any label they wish to if that’s what they’re comfortable in, regardless of their age.

Besides, sometimes queer people do not feel safe coming out in a certain environment because it is too queerphobic. In that case, it is important to remember that even without coming out, one is still a part of the community. Coming out is supposed to be a part of the process to liberate one’s own self, and not a requirement to validate one’s membership in the LGBTQIA+ community. You’re equally valid, whether you are closeted, or out. If you’re not ready to come out, you don’t need to feel the pressure to do so either.

Enough of pride and prejudice. Here’s to pride over prejudice.

 


Adwiteeya is a random kid who gets super soft if someone spells her name right — ’cause it’s a rarity, as you can tell.

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