A couple of months ago I was at an old high school friend’s 21st birthday party. Refraining, mostly, from drinking as I had had to drive and catching up with old high school friends I hadn’t had the chance to catch up with for too long. One amongst their number was my oldest friend, and as you do when it comes to your closest mates, we got talking about our fairly non-existent love lives.
The conversation led to my old friend uttering the line ‘ . . . or does this mean you’re fully’. A fairly innocuous string of words, but of course as with any conversation, context is everything. The context of the conversation meant the line left me feeling irked and annoyed at the time, and just recently, not being able to really put the line behind me, I’ve come to realise the line has also left me feeling betrayed by my oldest friend.
So what was my old friend even talking about, you wonder. What was the all important context? Well we were talking about my last drunken make out session with a girl whose name I learnt and forgot. The fully was referring to the notion that this incident was an indication of me being ‘fully’ gay, rather than straight. Which was the option that came before the above phrase. The problem was that there were only two options. The problem was that my friend had forgotten, somehow, an important detail.
My old friend was the first person I came out to, one of a handful of my high school friends that I have explicitly come out to. I came out to them, as bisexual about 5 years ago and since then I have never once told them anything contrary to that. Due to the fact that how I understand that aspect of me hasn’t changed, in all the time since. No matter what ‘romantic’ entanglements I’ve found myself in.
So when my friend framed their question as an either/or, it ignored the personal knowledge she has of me that for me it’s neither, and when they used the word ‘fully’ it created a sense that anything other than gay, that wasn’t the polar opposite of straight was, meaningless and not real. The word fully delegitimised the way in which I conceive my sexuality and what I’ve told my friend about it since coming out. This happened because they fell into the pattern of thinking that society generally follows when it comes to relationships and sexuality. A thought process that generally negates what individuals have to say about their own self and life.
My friend was presented with a scenario and made a judgement. They decided that the facts presented indicated that I must be gay; that what I had told and shared with them previously did not matter. Humans understand the world by labelling it, we order our world by classifying what we see and hear, and we generally classify based on the here and now. It’s a natural instinct to label the world around us, and it is important as it helps us negotiate our way through life. But it’s not a failsafe system without flaws.
When humans instinctively, on the fly, label other humans it creates problems. We are complex beings, and one situation, one story, one action, does not usually do well at summing up a person. But so often one situation, one story, one action is used to impose a vast number of labels upon another being. So often one action, above all others will be used as to define and label a person it is inexplicable, and it ignores the multifaceted nature of humans and our characters’. More problematically one action of an individual will often override that individuals’ own statements about themselves when someone is imposing labels upon the individual.
This is what my friend did. They took the one action we were talking about and used that to make a judgement, to question the label I use and had shared with them, after long deliberation I might add. Rather than taking it as one representation of me they for some inexplicable reason took it as the be all and end all. They did what society does and took my latest dalliance as they only indicator of my sexuality. Problematic when your sexuality isn’t one of the two polar opposites around which my friend’s proposition was constructed.
I corrected my friend straight away and they apologised instantly and accepted my explanation no questions asked. But they hadn’t a minute earlier; they had just questioned what I had been telling them for five or so years. So it took me a couple of months to understand how I saw the situation, but I realise now they left me feeling betrayed. They fell back on the limited and imperfect labels most of society works off, and ignored what I myself had said. The majority of labels society uses work off the idea that our world is black and white that everything is simple and straightforward, without shades of grey. But no matter how much we wish for a simple world it just isn’t the reality we live in. Simple quickly slapped on labels just don’t work in a complicated world like ours.