I am queer. I say this for legibility and political expedience. I don't feel particularly comfortable using that reclaimed slur to describe myself. But it has become the primary umbrella term for those of us who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender, so I am forced to recognize myself as automatically part of that social and political category.
I am gay. I say this not because I am a homosexual man; I am neither of those things. Most of the people I know who identify as gay are also neither of those things. For many it has become effectively synonymous with "queer" but to me it has taken on a more personal meaning. I like the way it sounds and I like the way it feels when I say it. I like the way that my friends use it to describe affectionate feelings of all kinds (including platonic, non-intimate, non-physical). I like the way it implies such a focus on the emotive aspect of that affection. I relate a lot to the idea that my break from heteronormativity is rooted in a qualitatively different experience of affection, and that is a lot of what that word and that identity signify to me now. I like how it's nonspecific, deliberately vague: who I feel affection for and how I feel affection for them is left open. The one thing that's perfectly clear is that I don't feel it in the straight way, and, by extension, probably not in the heteronormative way.
I feel alienated by many aspects of heterosexuality; one is the seeming narrative of “opposites attract,” the idea that romantic partners are assumed to have trouble understanding each other, corresponding to oppositional roles under patriarchy. I cannot have an intimate partner that I do not understand and relate to emotionally on the deepest and most visceral levels. That is what it takes for me to feel safe and loved, and that is what it takes for me to have a strong friendship, both of which I see as prerequisites for such a relationship. The gender category someone belongs to or the genitals they have are only relevant here to the extent that they affect our capacity to form such a bond, and to enjoy being physically close with one another however we can.
I have also used the term "demisexual" to describe the aforementioned criteria for my feeling of safety and real love in a given intimate relationship. My gayness is not about the sexual acts I enjoy (although these definitely do deviate from the prescriptions of compulsory heterosexuality); it is about the way I experience feelings of affection and love, and how that relates to and breaks from heterosexuality and heteronormativity.
I reject gender-based emotional alienation in my intimate relationships. I reject the necessity of monogamous commitment in my intimate relationships. I reject the necessity of a strictly "romantic" framework for how I am intimate with my close friends. My trans identity, and especially my non-binary identity, certainly has a lot to do with this. I align primarily with transfemininity, but even with intimate partners who are not femme-aligned I still find myself resisting a dynamic of separate gender roles in the relationship. Every dynamic is different; every friendship is different. I see my gender and its associated role as reflecting and responding to those different dynamics in a given social context. I become more comfortably genderfluid in response to the set of social demands I face in navigating an intimate relationship primarily through a deep emotional bond. What I call my sexual orientation, or sexual identity, could perhaps be more accurately described as an emotional orientation, or an emotional identity.
As a result, I have often felt a certain level of alienation from heavily sexualized, explicitly queer social environments. These are spaces that others resonate with very deeply and feel deeply inspired by, but it's often different for me. The differences in our experience of and relationship to queerness may not guarantee the kind of unspoken understanding of shared sexual identity others might expect of me.
I can't really bond with most people over sex, unless they share the experience of alienation from and discomfort with sexuality. Or unless they also are generally uncomfortable with it outside of special situations, understand the sensation of sex-repulsion, and understand the fear that comes from being in a situation where you might not feel comfortable saying no. That last one is perhaps my most immediate reason for avoiding sexualized spaces, and spaces that allow for a lot of free and open PDA. When I don’t have trust in the people/space I am in, I am generally more afraid to say no when asked to engage in some kind of public, intimate contact. Even when it is unlikely that I will be propositioned in this context, the sheer possibility is enough to make me feel unsafe.
Instead, I tend to find most of my personal comfort in spaces centered on a shared interest in music and/or politics, often with other queer and especially other trans people. Certain "DIY" music circles in Philadelphia have been kind to me in very significant ways, giving me the chance to explore my gender identity and come to terms with my transfemininity while consistently respecting me and my gender every step of the way. It's also very, very encouraging for me to see so many other musicians and dedicated music fans come out as non-binary or otherwise trans in a scene that has been historically so male-dominated and hostile toward non-normative gender and sexual expression. It always helps to be surrounded by music I feel passionately about and that inspires me in so many different ways all the time.
Within spaces oriented toward political work, I have met many wonderful trans comrades who have provided me with invaluable guidance both ideologically and personally. Sometimes in doing collective work, I'll have to suppress my gender identity because the individuals we support in their struggle against reactionary class forces have not had as much as exposure to more radical narratives around gender (especially if they're older) -- but with the strong support of compassionate and respectful comrades I have found such work can be very rewarding. Uniting and building for revolution with people who can understand some aspects of my greatest struggles in life -- including gender identity, sexuality, mental illness, and other chronic illness -- has given me a greater sense of purpose than I've found anywhere else.
I can only hope for further overlap between this political world and the world of DIY music that gave me a space where I felt most comfortable exploring my gender and sexuality in more depth, which inspired me to make my own music and learn better ways to express myself instead of keeping things inside that I never had ways of communicating.
I feel incredibly grateful that I was ever exposed to an ideological framework that has allowed me to better process and understand everything I communicated above. At this point, I feel like the least I can do is present these thoughts and feelings to other people in the hopes that they might feel inspired by them in the ways they have inspired me. In fact, it is precisely this general hope which underlies my understanding of “gay” as an emotional orientation and identity: people coming together to inspire each other, to build relationships that resonate mutually as understanding, safe, and loving, and to develop a unique interpersonal dynamic fulfilling each other’s capacity for closeness.
My investment in the word “gay,” as an attitude, reflects this desire to open up a space for non-sexual intimacies, and communities of marginalized people, revolutionaries, musicians, artists and more that prioritize respect, understanding, and emotional sensitivity to the complicated situations of each individual within the whole.