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Sexuality is fluid: Why LGBTQ+ labels don't help us

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The acronym LGBTQ+ is a label.

Labels exist for us to make more sense of the world around us, to define and determine things. In the past (and still now), certain labels for people have been divisive, offensive and downright wrong. However, LGBTQ+ labels have a unique place in this discussion.

As a queer woman, I have had a tumultuous relationship with labels regarding my sexuality since I first realised I liked girls aged 15. I came out as a lesbian when I was 17, but I was never fully comfortable with this ‘label’.

I felt like it was restrictive, forbidding me from any potential possibility I may ever be attracted to anyone identifying as something other than a woman. However, this was all fairly subconscious so I overcompensated by making a huge deal over being gay and immersed myself in teenage queer culture. When I first went to university I ended up in a relationship with a man and came out again as bi.

Because I’d been so vocal about being gay originally, to those friends who’d known me a year before it was humbling and almost funny for me to realise I liked men too. If I hadn’t labelled myself so intensely the first time around, would it have been so bad when I realised my sexuality wasn’t as black and white as I’d thought?

Sexuality is most definitely fluid. There are some people who know they’re definitely straight, or definitely gay, from a young age, with a minuscule chance of that ever changing. The way we learn about sexuality - through the internet, exposure to queer culture and bare-minimum PSHE in the UK - often focuses on sexuality being black and white.

You’re straight, you’re gay, you’re bi, you’re trans (even then, it is usually just the first two that are focused on). This attitude can lead to many LGBTQ+ people having multiple identity crises in adolescence and later in life, thinking they HAVE to identify as one specific label throughout their life.

For some, the need to find a ‘new’ label as their feelings towards their gender and sexuality is strong, and this can cause anxiety and distress, too.

Of course, labels can help people come to terms with gender identity and sexuality. Finding a name for what you’ve been feeling – especially in regards to non-binary gender identities – can be hugely liberating and puts you more at ease with yourself.

But these ideas and identities aren’t quite in the mainstream yet – not to mention the number of people who don’t understand non-binary identities or believe that non-binary people exist. As a cisgender person (I identify with the gender assigned to me at birth: female), I can only comment on this based on my perceptions and experiences of non-binary friends, and gender can be a very different scenario with regards to labels than sexuality is.

Our society is focused on labels: White, woman, queer, Scottish, student – these are a few of mine. We label ourselves, but others label us even more.

Some labels can definitely be more useful than others, and sexuality is a good example of this. In my experience, labels haven’t helped me much and I find it much easier to identify as ‘queer’ nowadays, as an umbrella, all-encompassing term that doesn’t limit me to anything. It also acknowledges the fluidity of my own sexuality, which I know changes over time.

Other labels, such as lesbian or gay, don’t do it for me and many others. Due to its fluid nature, sexuality is difficult to split into definitive categories that can be labelled. In my experience, attempting to do exactly this has been detrimental - not useful.

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