As I was browsing yet another lesbian website (one of my favourite activities these days), I fell upon a sentence that made me stop and think. It went something like this: being gay is not a way of life, but a part of life. In addition: your sexual orientation doesn't define you when you're straight... so why would it define you when you're gay? Why would it have to be central to your identity?
This made me stop and think because over the past few months/years, I have felt pretty much the opposite. I have felt as if my newly discovered gayness was one of the most important things about me. On my hypothetical personality diagram, "lesbian" has become one of the main traits. Why is that? Why should sexual orientation have to do just that... "orient" everything in one's life?
I think there are two main reasons to that:
First, because when your gayness decides to come to the surface (I purposefully use the word "decides" because I feel we have no control over this - sexual orientation just seems to have a mind of its own!), it can be so disconcerting and overwhelming that it indeed becomes central to our identity... temporarily at least. When our sexual orientation goes against everything mainstream society is telling us, we cannot simply accept it in a heart beat and go on with our everyday business. We need time and energy to ponder it, evaluate it, examine it, become familiar with its ebb and flow, and figure out how we're going to deal with it. The ubiquitous heteronormativity has that effect on gay people: for us, discovering and acknowledging our sexuality is a process full of complexities and obstacles that depend on a number of factors including our entourage's views on the topic.
Second, sexual orientation can become entangled with gender identification, especially when we first discover it. The lesbian sub-culture, just like mainstream culture, sends us all kinds of messages. When we "become" a lesbian, we start asking ourselves questions about our own gender: "So, I'm a lesbian. Is that related in any way to the fact I was a tomboy as a kid? And now, what kind of lesbian am I? Butch? Femme? Somewhere in between?" I think we all have to go through this phase where we wonder what we're gonna look like and how we're gonna act now that we don't have to follow the rules of heterosexuality anymore. For example, we might discover that part of our demeanor was not natural to us, that we simply adopted it - perhaps unconsciously - to "fit in" the heterosexual world. It can feel exhilarating to get rid of all those expectations and turn back inwards to discover what we really like and want. In that sense, I think being gay is liberating.
Then, as time goes by and our gayness slowly makes its way to our core, where it will lie confidently for the rest of our days (hopefully!), we paradoxically don't consider it to be the one central part of who we are. We can go back to being an intellectual, a fitness buff, a music lover. Being lesbian has become as evident as belonging to the human race. We don't have to remind ourselves of it constantly.
Parallel to this process is the discovery that being a lesbian does not only entail being attracted to same-sex people (physically and/or emotionally). Just as straight teenagers slowly evolve from fantasizing on every reasonably good-looking opposite-sex person who crosses their path to acquiring a healthy dose of discernment, we discover that being attracted to same-sex people does not mean they are all interesting to us. If we're an intellectual, we'll be looking for another intellectual. Fitness buffs will look for like-minded fitness buffs. Music lovers likewise. We will still look for a same-sex partner, but not any same-sex partner.
When this goes even further, not only do we become quite comfortable with our sexual orientation (to the point where we sometimes forget we're part of a minority) and discerning in our choice of partners, we also come to see the world with gay eyes, which means that we become ready to come out of the closet and live our gay life openly, just like everybody else lives openly and without a second thought. The fact that a certain proportion of the population will never understand/respect us does not escape us, but we have achieved something tremendous: we live in our sexual orientation as naturally as any straight person does.
Where are YOU in those processes?