When you question your sexuality for a second time, those around you might wonder how that’s possible. But their misunderstanding shouldn’t discourage your self-exploration.
Questioning your sexuality is a characteristic milestone in the LGBTQ+ experience. Our questions about ourselves send us through a turbulent trial and error process, until we grow to where our skin suddenly feels comfortable around our bones.
At some point in every queer individual’s life, we come face-to-face with our sexuality. We accept and acknowledge this part of ourselves to others, believing it’s a one-time thing. What we don’t always realize, is that this reckoning may happen over and over. We may end up questioning our own sexuality–again!
Unfortunately, not everyone even grasps the existence of this struggle. We may face judgement or misunderstanding, simply because we’re trying to find our most authentic selves. But questioning your sexuality again, after coming out once, is not cause for shame. You’re not being flaky or making up some random identity.
Below, I hope to share my experience of questioning and re-questioning, as well as some firsthand tips to get through the process and embrace your own unique sexuality.
Questioning my sexuality… The first and second time
I was sitting at my desk in eighth grade, squished within a group of other girls. We all went around, answering the same question—“would you say yes if your future husband walked in through the door right now and proposed to you?” After listening intently to each of my peers answer, I replied almost thoughtlessly when it finally came to my turn: “Yes, but I wouldn’t mind if it was a girl, either.”
One girl asked me, “So, you’re gay?”
1. The early signs
From that moment onwards, I had officially begun my journey towards self-discovery. Through the end of eighth grade and into my freshman year of high school, I tentatively explored my feelings and recognized I was attracted to women.
In reflection, the early signs of my queerness became almost amusingly clear to me. I remembered choosing boys in class to call my crush just because other girls my age were doing so. I remembered being so infatuated with the ads of women speckled across New York City; but mostly, I remembered being so unusually enthralled by my best friend.
I was so enraptured by her intelligence, her independence, her style. I saw her in everything I wanted to do. When our friendship ultimately ended, I was beyond just platonically devastated. Looking back on it now, I have to laugh at how naive I was. I see middle-school-me hunched in front of my mother’s computer, blasting break-up songs that captured feelings I couldn’t quite voice at the time.
As I revisited those moments in high school, I realized that I never would have known how to name my feelings, if nobody had pointed them out to me as different. I had no idea you could have feelings for girls, as a girl—so I never paid those feelings much mind.
2. Exploring my “given” label
When I entered high school, however, I’d never been so sure of myself before. At an all-girls’ school, it was easy for me to completely integrate into my queerness. I found other LGBTQ+ students who could validate my feelings by relating to me with their own. I began dating another girl, both of us challenging not just heteronormativity, but also healthy relationship boundaries.
I was proud to be the “lesbian” in school, sneaking her girlfriend kisses in the hall, making a ruckus in the corner of the cafeteria with her friends at lunch. I came up with ways to celebrate myself with what materials I could find in the dark of a closet, and with freedom briskly approaching in the shape of college, I was ready to embrace myself for everything I was.
Yet, barely half a semester into the freedom of college, I began to notice something was… off. As I slowly separated from my high school girlfriend, I couldn’t help but find myself pulled in unexpected directions. I was casting longer glances at certain people that I once dismissed as sheer admiration, rather than adoration; I was noticing a second meaning to the flustered feeling I experienced when paired with certain students for assignments.
Once officially single, there was no escaping what the universe seemed to be throwing in my face constantly, endlessly, until I finally acknowledged it.
I had a new interest. In men.
3. Going back to square one
How could I process this information after having proudly affirmed my lesbian identity to myself and others? How could I go from self assurance to such an unexpected development?
It wasn’t easy, to say the least.
Frenetically, I reviewed my childhood all over again, searching for signs that I had missed, hints I had foolishly overlooked. What did I miss? What did I fail to recognize? Following my second dive into questioning my sexuality, I finally managed to claw my way to clarity in the end. But that clarity did not come easy.
When you’re questioning your sexuality, remember:
As I write this, I am comfortable with the fact I am attracted to both men and women. But if I could go back in time, there are certain sentiments I’d offer my past self to make this process a little less strenuous.
While I can’t quite figure out a time machine, I can write this article in hopes that it reaches somebody else in time. So, to you, reader, I offer a few pieces of advice to keep in mind when you’re questioning your sexuality… again.
1. Let yourself feel—don’t worry about labels.
Whenever you’re questioning your sexuality, you may find yourself searching the internet for labels; looking for some term to rationalize your feelings for you.
Researching is a worthy initiative; it enables us to make educated decisions about our identities. But it can also confuse us. That’s especially the case if we don’t have a solid perception of exactly what feelings we’re trying to make sense of.
When I began to question my sexuality again, I remember being so concerned about straying too far from my previous identity. This led me to stifle the new feelings I was trying to process. When I was interested in a man, I immediately searched for a woman to balance out the experience. I worried about losing my queerness. I was so focused on salvaging my previous identity, that I ended up delaying my own growth. I felt scared to explore what these new feelings meant and revealed about my authentic self.
Dr. M. Paz Galupo, a professor of LGBTQ+ psychology at Towson University, in conversation with Supportiv, shares some insights recognizing this struggle:
“Sexual identity labels can be complex–with both positive or negative impacts for the individual, as they have real implication for how someone has to negotiate social interactions with others.” They further explain that LGBTQ+-identifying labels are non-normative. That means these labels carry unique associations that can stir intimidating or even isolating emotions in LGBTQ+ folks.
We have the choice whether or not to label ourselves. But in order to label ourselves, we must first allow ourselves to experience our emotions fully. When it comes to our emotions, the only way out is–really–just through. We have to accurately understand how we feel, to know what it represents about our identity.
As scary as these novel feelings are, we don’t have to fear them! Emotions occur to inform us about our internal and external environment. While uncomfortable, new feelings about your sexuality don’t mean you were wrong all along. Rather, they simply reveal a new depth to your identity, which is completely okay.
On an additional note, while labels can certainly help us build community and generate self-acceptance, that doesn’t automatically mean they work for everyone! Where they liberate some, they limit others. At the end of the day, what matters most is understanding who you are and what your feelings mean to you.
2. Your life has its own unique timing. So does questioning your sexuality.
As we collectively move to diversify mainstream culture, there has been a recent influx of LGBTQ+ narratives in entertainment media. Coming out narratives look like the older adult finally accepting this part of themselves they’ve avoided for so long; or like the teenager defiantly embracing who they are despite disapproval. Usually, a quick period of questioning precedes prompt, flags-blazing, confidence-roaring self-acceptance.
While these depictions of sexuality are valid, such straightforward storylines represent a sliver of authentic questioning experiences. What they achieve in stirring heartwarming emotions from an audience, they lack in capturing the rollercoaster of sexual identity exploration. This kind of exploration almost never follows such a smooth, linear narrative.
Dr. Galupo clarifies why questioning identity is often a convoluted, long, winding process: “[It] is a natural process that can feel scary because one, we are taught to think of that it should be stable and certain, and two, questioning usually begins with examining whether normative, like cisgender or heterosexual, identities actually feel true for you.”
Misconceptions you might apply to yourself
When I first began to acknowledge my new feelings, I viewed my experience through a series of misconceptions. I fell back on this outdated idea that every queer individual is aware of their orientation from a young age, even if they deny it.
In my mind, I had only ever experienced significant attraction to women. So there was no way my pattern could suddenly change. When we cling to specific expectations for how our lives should progress or appear, we discredit and distort our true, informative emotions, and deprive ourselves of the experiences necessary to progress in our self-development.
There is no way I could have reached my current point of stability without first challenging that narrative. Although it’s scary to diverge from what we might perceive a normal narrative to be, there really is no definitive timing for how any one person’s life should unfold. Everyone’s experience is unique to them. And just because your journey contrasts with someone else’s, doesn’t mean one is less valid than the other!
3. Understand that sexuality is fluid.
Bisexual or pansexual people can exist in healthy same-sex or opposite-sex relationships. All the same, their sexuality is not defined by their current partner’s sex. Their sexuality doesn’t change every time someone new catches their eye. Rather, it simply means that their sexuality is or has been fluid across their lifetime thus far.
To shed some light on what fluid exactly means, Dr. Galupo explains: “Since sexual orientation is multi-dimensional (that is, it is made up of sexual identity, sexual attractions, and sexual behavior), fluidity can refer to shifts in any of these components across time. So, fluidity could refer to a shift in identity label, but it could also refer to shifts in patterns of attractions or behaviors.”
Shifts in the current
When I began to question my sexuality again, I noticed a number of days would go by in which one attraction seemed more prominent than the other. If it was towards women, a part of me, still insecure about this new identity change, would quickly belittle my former feelings towards men. If it was towards men, on the other hand, I would immediately get cold feet. I’d wonder if I’d just been deluding myself all these years.
As I grappled with these fluctuations for a few months, it finally came to a point where I had to force myself to stop fighting my feelings and simply allow them to occur as they naturally did. Once I released this control, as terrified as I was at times, I began to understand how my preferences fluctuated and realized that they were simply a manifestation of my sexuality’s fluidity.
Whenever I experience attraction towards men, my feelings for women never wholly dissipate or disappear; likewise, whenever I experience attraction towards women, my attraction to men remains. There is never a day where neither exists. If one happens to be more apparent to me than the other, then that’s all there is to it; it is not because my orientation has suddenly altered. It is because sexuality is fluid, and that phenomenon is simply representative of its flexible nature. Likewise, just because my sexuality’s fluidity expresses this pattern, doesn’t mean yours or anyone else’s does! Just as our sexuality is unique to us, so is the way it manifests.
4. Your sexuality is yours, and only yours, to define.
Our loved ones carry profound influence in our lives, and their opinions can decide even the most complicated matters for us in a heartbeat. When it comes to defining ourselves, however, Dr. Galupo understands the difficulty that such influence can present: “Sometimes…we have to think of our safety when using our labels. Or sometimes we have to consider whether the labels we use to describe ourselves will be understood by others. And sometimes that means that we have to weigh whether it is worth being ‘seen’ in a certain situation, or whether the time it takes to educate others or explain ourselves is worth it.”
No matter how much we may value our friends and family’s opinions, however, they are not at all relevant when it comes to our identity.
When I first told my friends I was questioning my sexuality again, many of them responded with denial and disbelief. They insisted they just couldn’t “picture” me with a man, which invalidated and silenced the feelings I tried to discuss with them.
Though their dissonance hurt me, over time, I realized that the only reason they seemed so against the idea of me liking men is because it directly contradicted their notion of me. My friends had only ever known me as a lesbian, so they had to challenge the schemas they had developed of my character. To come out to them again was to essentially approach them as a stranger in their minds.
Acceptance will (likely) come
Albeit slowly, my friends did eventually come around to the concept of me being attracted to women and men; although they needed to rework their concepts of me, they were willing to do so because of how happy and comfortable I was in this new skin. As you explore your sexuality, keep in mind that you are the only person who knows for certain what and how you’re feeling. If your loved ones are not supportive of that change? Then maybe, just like with your old identity, you’ve outgrown them, too.
Affirmations to take home
After everything I’ve said, one thing is undeniably true: the familiar is going to be invariably more comfortable than the unfamiliar. However, our natural apprehensions are not reasons to completely avoid exploring new experiences as they occur. Every single person, including you, has the same right to happiness as anyone else- and one key factor to achieving that happiness is feeling comfortable and confident in our own skin. Although it may take you longer than others, your feelings are absolutely valid every single step of the way.
If you are questioning your sexuality again, remember—you have so much freedom and pride ahead of you at the end of this turbulent journey, just waiting for you to claim. So, take your time. Don’t rush this. And most importantly, lean into the uncomfortable.