Opinion | You don’t have to declare a sexuality

By Leah Mensch, Opinions Editor

When I was in my first year at Pitt, someone asked me what my sexuality was, to which I responded, “I don’t know, but I’m definitely not straight.”

At the beginning of high school, I was pretty sure I was straight because the prospect of dating men felt fine, and the prospect of dating women felt scary. So I declared my sexuality as exactly that — straight. By the end of high school, I wasn’t sure this was right, but I didn’t have any queer friends and I’d never been with a woman. It seems so strange to me now that I didn’t make any queer friends or meet an openly queer adult until I got to college. But it’s the truth.

I re-declared my sexuality at the beginning of college, which was “I don’t know but I’m definitely not straight.” In hindsight, “queer” — which by definition refers to anyone who isn’t straight or cisgender — was probably the word I was looking for, but I’m not sure “queer” was even in my vocabulary back then. I didn’t try to hide being queer, but for the most part, I didn’t tell anyone about my sexuality because nobody asked me about my sexuality. I resisted the idea of formally coming out because I felt as though it implied there was something inherently shameful about being queer. But I also resisted coming out because I didn’t know how to explain my sexuality — because I didn’t really know what it was.

What I didn’t understand then — what I’ve only recently come to terms with — is that my sexuality is constantly shifting, and I’m likely never going to be exactly sure what it is. And I don’t have to be.

About halfway through college, I started using the word “bisexual” to describe myself, mostly because I had been with a lot of men — including one long-term relationship, and my feelings at the time were real. But bisexual didn’t seem right to me either. I wasn’t equally attracted to men and women, and though a lot of bisexual identifying people aren’t, I could no longer imagine myself in a long-term relationship with someone who wasn’t a woman.

I spent the next few years going back and forth on whether or not I was interested in men at all. The consensus most recently is no, I am not, but I thought I was tied to bisexuality because I’d had feelings for men in the past. It wasn’t until the past year or so that people started to open conversations about sexual fluidity in front of me, and I realized that sexuality can, in fact, shift over time.

Human sexuality — like all beautiful things in life, really — is messy and complex. Stanford researchers think so too. One of these researchers, Lily Zhong, describes the combination of ways in which sexuality can shift — by way of living environment, interaction in different communities, personal experiences, sexual experiences and personal choice, too. I might not have ever even questioned my sexuality had I not found a queer community in college, had I not had the space to experiment.

For the past year or so, I’ve primarily been interested in women. But I’ve gone back to just using the label “queer” because limiting my sexuality to women might give the impression to others that I’m not attracted to non-binary and trans people. I am. And anyway, I’m only about 65% woman. But I suppose, like sexuality, gender is subject to change too.

Truthfully, I’d probably still go out and have a drink with a guy — when the pandemic is over, obviously. But to echo what I said earlier, I can’t imagine being in a long-term relationship with one. Who knows, though — maybe I’ll change my mind. Maybe in 25 years, I’ll submit a follow-up op-ed and I’ll be married to a straight man.

When I think back to my first year — the “I don’t know but I’m definitely not straight” moment — I mostly laugh, because it feels like a wonderful and strange coming-of-age story. But I also think, for as confused as I was, younger me was onto something. “Definitely not straight,” is probably the only permanent label I’ll ever be able to claim. While it can be fun and beautiful, nobody is obliged to declare their sexuality — not permanently or temporarily. I am probably going to re-declare my sexuality at least nine more times before I’m 50. And I will do so gloriously.

I spent a long time trying to “figure out” my sexuality. I always thought part of the queer experince was navigating my way through confusion and twists and turns and uncomfortable hookups until I found answers about my sexual preferences. Now, I understand that constant questioning and fluidity, however it may manifest — gender, pronouns, sexuality — is the queer experince within itself. We’re not searching for answers as much as we are searching for ourselves. And throughout life, human beings change and move around a lot. I don’t have to stay in the same place. Nobody has to stay in the same place.

It took me nearly five years to find the words for this. I’m glad I finally have.

Write to Leah at [email protected].