This is the transcript of a piece I originally performed in June of 2015 at Greetings from Queer Mountain, an open mic night in Austin.
I have a Master’s degree in Performance Studies. That’s why I came to Texas.
I work part-time at a local bookstore, and sometimes we run a vendor booth at local conferences. I was at UT for the El Mundo Zurdo conference last month, and all the vendors were invited to the conference luncheon. I ended up sitting with several academics, all chatting about their various research projects.
One of the women turned to me and asked, “So, do you go to UT?”
I knew she was just trying to include me, but her question suddenly made me feel like an alien. I stuttered, “No – I-I work for a local bookstore. I’m just here manning the vendor booth.”
In that moment, I realized: I don’t belong with these people anymore.
I do some freelance writing, and some weeks it’s hard enough to keep up with one thousand-word column and a listing of local queer events. Being an independent scholar sounds sexy, but I find my brain is often already pulled in too many directions at once. I don’t know when I would begin to find the time to do an academic research project. For the first time since I was eligible at age 12, I don’t even own a library card.
Yet, I identify as an academic. Why wouldn’t I – I have spent most of my life in school. But I graduated with my Master’s degree three years ago. And the further away I get from that graduation date, the more disingenous it feels to claim it. Can I say I’m an academic if I haven’t managed to figure out how to do anything with my degree yet?
But I have too much of a penchant for talking about heteronormativity and systems of oppression to ever pretend I’m not one. I’ll never not be an academic, but since stepping out of the ivory tower, I’ve had a hard time fitting into the “real world” as they call it. Attending that conference forced me to confront the fact that I would also have to do a lot of work to be able to fit back into academic spaces – something I hadn’t previously considered.
There’s an academic term for being in transition, for the space between two realities or identities, where one has been stripped away but the other has not yet been donned: liminality.
Sometimes I feel like my entire life exists in liminal spaces.
I’m queer, or bisexual when people don’t understand what queer means. When I was in college, I identified as lesbian for a short period of time. I had some attractions to men, but usually only effeminate (read: gay) ones. But at some point, I realized those attractions were still valid, even if they were never acted upon, and my feelings were not reciprocated.
But identity policing can be really weird sometimes. First, I had people tell me I couldn’t know I was a lesbian if I’d never had a boyfriend. Then, when I started to identify as bisexual, people would say that I couldn’t be bisexual if I’d only had girlfriends. Now that I’m dating a queer femme man, people are surprised and confused to learn I’ve only dated women in the past.
I also participate in the BDSM community, and it’s the same there. Majority of my experiences have been as a submissive/masochist/bottom. But I know I have the capacity to be a service Top (i.e. not a sadist), and there are very specific circumstances under which I would want to control a scene. But since people only know me as a sumbissive, they don’t “believe” I’m a switch.
I’m also demisexual, which lies between asexual and sexual on the grey-A spectrum. It means I can’t be sexually attracted to someone without an emotional connection being present first. Not that I choose not to have sex until I have established a connection. I truly don’t know whether I have the capacity to be sexually attracted to someone I just met. Finding someone objectively attractive doesn’t mean I know if I want to do anything about it. I can feel when I’ve made a connection with someone, but struggle to know which kind. Are we destined to be bffs? Is this my new adopted sister? Or is this someone I might want to date? I find myself simultaneously flattered and confused when a stranger or even an acquaintence flirts with me, because I don’t know them well enough to know whether I might want to make out. Often, I can’t be sure of how or how much I’m attracted to someone until we’re already kissing, which can make things super awkward.
We tend to think of identities as binary, when really, they’re a spectrum. Instead of fitting in one box or the other, I end up being “mostly” a lot of things. Some people who are “mostly” something round up, but that feels disingenous to me. I’d rather claim my right to exist in a liminal space than to erase my desires and experiences to make myself comprehensible to others.
One of the things I like about identifying as queer is that it makes people ask questions. If I say I’m bisexual, someone can walk away with a clear idea of what that means to them, but their definition might not match my experiences. If I identify as queer, people either accept that I’m not straight and that’s enough for them, or they ask me questions to understand my particular sexual orientation better. I’d rather embrace my uniqueness than try to hide it, and to live a life which forces others to confront the fact that not everyone can be easily categorized, and that’s okay.
I’m predominately attracted to women, yet currently dating a man.
I often bottom for BDSM scenes, but I also have a few specific switches.
I cook pretty strictly vegetarian meals at home, but will eat meat at a party or a restaurant.
I need to live in a clothing optional environment, but I’m not a nudist – I love costumes, too.
I’m polyamorous, even though I currently have only one sexual partner.
I’m usually a femme woman, but sometimes I’m an effeminate gay man, instead.
I live in Texas, but I never planned to stay here, so who knows where I’ll live five years from now.
I’m a bi, poly, switch, genderqueer, omnivore….or what some would term “greedy.”
I won’t be forced to choose one box or the other, or let my preferences define my possibilities.
As poet Walt Whitman said in Song of Myself: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
It isn’t always easy living in between when others seem to be consistently demanding that we choose sides. But the less we try to pretend we’re all the same, the easier it will be to inhabit those liminal spaces. May we all learn to embrace our contradictions and our multitudes, reveling in our own unique expressions of what it is and can mean to be human.