‘Gay’ shouldn’t be a character definition

It’s official – I’m one burnt out lesbian.

As I sit here, typing this article in a crisp checked New Look shirt, I feel exhausted and weary.

With what?
Well, to be blunt, my gayness.

No, I’m not unhappy with the fact that I am attracted to women, nor am I ashamed of who I am. What I am however is bored – bored of defining myself solely by my sexual orientation.

Take my Facebook profile. Shared posts from the Lesbian Pride page litter my timeline; while my status updates consist of references to attractive celebrities such as Ella Henderson (any reader will now be aware that I’m ‘mildly’ obsessed).

In fact it was my social media use which first alerted me to the fact that I was publicising my sexual orientation at an excessive rate.

This realisation took the form of a half typed status update, relating to neck pain that I’d been experiencing. In order to hammer home the severity of my injury, I was in the process of referring to my inability to check out ‘hot girls’.

As I deleted the half formed post the following thought crossed my mind – I have become a Les – being as opposed to a lesbian.

At 26, I had lost my identity to another.

When our Minister for Health Leo Varadkar came out in January of this year, he stated that being gay did not ‘define’ him – that his sexual orientation was merely just another facet to his character.

Upon hearing this, my initial and in hindsight ignorant reaction went along the lines of “well that’s because he’s been in the closet”.

Hearing too that he had never stepped foot inside a gay bar further cemented my initial dismissive attitude. A gay man who had never been on the gay scene? Was this guy really as gay as he claimed to be?

In my view at the time, Leo Varadkar’s lack of engagement with gay nightlife, coupled with his decision not to shout his sexuality from the rooftops, didn’t in my mind live up to the behaviour that I then associated with gay people who were out and proud.

However as the weeks passed, I found myself thinking about our Ministers statement and what it meant for me. After all, wasn’t I a writer, an avid thriller fiction fan – not to mention a bit of an I.T geek? Was my sexual orientation really all that I wanted to be known for?

I also began to ask myself whether I had at some level defined myself, and the LGBT community, as a separate entity from straight people.

This concern came to the fore when a straight woman reacted negatively to my (slightly tipsy) observation that she was “sound for a straight girl”.

Her frank response however swiftly put me in my place.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for gay pride and equality, but I don’t get why you need to wear your sexual orientation on your sleeve – or label others by theirs”.

Needless to say, I sobered up pretty sharpish.

What’s ironic is that not too long ago, being perceived to be a lesbian by my peers was my idea of Armageddon. In fact, between the ages of 12 and 18, I strenuously denied any ‘accusations’ that I was attracted to women.

So what changed?

On reflection, I believe that the acceptance and subsequent confidence that I gained in regards to my sexual identity from attending the youth group Belong 2, altered my view of what it meant to be gay.

While this in itself was nothing but a hugely positive transition, my decision to align my whole self with my sexual orientation wasn’t.

By tying every aspect of my life – music, nights out and fashion sense with the G factor, I was essentially just cementing the divide that can at times already exist between the gay and straight community, not to mention feeding into stereotypes – that gay people have some sort of alternative ‘lifestyle’ for one.

I should find some solace however in the fact that I am far from the only gay person to have latched onto their sexual orientation and let it define their character upon coming out.

Looking at the reasoning behind this, perhaps at some level those of us who in the past were oppressed for who we were, and in turn made to feel ashamed, over compensate by aligning ourselves to the extreme with all things LGB or T.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making your voice heard in relation to the Marriage Equality campaign, speaking out publicly against homophobia from a non dispassionate point of view, or off – handily commenting on the attractiveness of a celebrity. That isn’t excessive – that’s just being yourself.

I also am aware that many of us are not yet welcome within straight venues and have in fact been turfed out for expressing who we authentically are while within them.

However, making a conscious decision to only RSVP to LGBT club nights, or going out of your way to make your sexual orientation known, either on or off – line isn’t necessary – unless asked directly (even then it’s the individual’s prerogative on how or if to answer.)

In fact, one could take the view that an individuals lack of a need to reveal their sexual orientation to all and sundry belies a comfort in their own skin that those of us who feel compelled to push our sexuality onto others can only dream about.

Now, before I get it in the neck, I’m not claiming to speak for every gay person on the island. Nor am I encouraging anyone to hide who they are.

With regard to our social lives and fashion sense, perhaps those of us from the checked shirt brigade (again, guilty as charged), who pledge allegiance to the lesbian night Crush on a monthly basis, are merely just living the lives that we want to lead, in a setting that we feel comfortable.

That said, I can’t help but feel that we should take a leaf out of Leo Varadkar’s book and refrain from solely defining ourselves in tandem with who we are attracted to.

At the very least, we should examine our motivations behind doing so.

Christine Allen

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