When police rolled into the Stonewall Inn in the early hours of June 28, 1969, they could not have known how the patrons inside were going to react. They could not have known that the raid would spawn a series of demonstrations for days on end. And they could not have known that night would bring forth one of the powerful civil rights movements in modern history.
Today’s public is a bit more informed. Most are familiar with the standard LGBT acronym (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender), four titles that don't cover the entire spectrum of queer identity but hit most of the main players.
These days, the language has changed a lot. LGBT is now LGBTQ, and some would argue even that’s out of date. Some want to add in an A for asexual. Then there are the allies, cis folk, bigenders, pansexuals, skoliosexuals, and a lot more that help demonstrate why the rainbow-colored flag is such a fitting symbol for the community. But things weren’t always so varied.
Esther D. Rothblum, now a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University, told the American Psychological Association, "In the generation before mine, if you went to a lesbian bar and didn't identify as either butch or femme, they'd think you were an imposter."
Maybe it was the times. Maybe it dates back to the community’s quest to become visible in a heteronormative society. But Rothblum’s quote makes me wonder if crystalizing these identifies has been in some way beneficial to the LGBT cause. If so, that seems like a very specific chore to carry out. When I think about all the girls I knew in college who wanted to make out with each other, I can’t think of any who were attacked for abandoning their “heterosexual” identity.
In 2010, Don Dyson and Brent Satterly introduced the OBI model to help deepen our understanding of the sexual self. The triadic model covers three separate spheres: orientation, behavior and identity.
As feminist writer Melissa Fabello explains, orientation refers to the “gender(s) to which you feel sexual attraction or about which you have sexual fantasies.” Behavior, she writes, relates to the gender(s) you engage with sexually. Identity relates to the label you identify with.
The OBI model helps deliver the message that, sometimes, these three elements just don’t line up. Of course, a lot of people already know that. Ani DiFranco once wrote, “To me, being queer isn’t who you’re sleeping with; it’s just an idea that sexuality isn’t gender-based, that it’s love-based.”
When BuzzFeed invited readers to create a definition for the term, the response varied. One reader explained, “I identify as queer because it lets me comfortably move with my sexuality as it changes during different periods of my life.” Others were more blunt, writing, “Being queer means that I get to fuck who I want (with their consent) without being asked what I am first.”
For some people, sexuality is fluid. And that’s a fact some in the heterosexual community meet with a strong dose of hesitation. That’s not really news. We know biases against the queer community exist. What we don’t usually talk about are the biases within it.
Henry (a pseudonym) told me that when he was younger, he was involved in the gay movement in UK. The law had just changed, and there was a lot of campaigning to do. As he explained, “it was an interesting time." But when he began dating a woman, some in the gay community turned on him.
He told me via email, “The house I was sharing with other students, they wanted me to move out.” He added, “It was also odd because I was an activist, agitating for gay rights. I thought I should resign, but they said finish my term. In the end I found a new circle of bohemian types who didn't much care if one was experimenting with heterosexuality, as long as you were a good person.”
Not everyone’s experience is so testing.
When performer Lauren LoGiudice told me about her experience as a queer woman entering into a relationship with a man, she said, “I haven’t gotten anything but support and love from my community.”
That doesn’t mean the process wasn’t somewhat stressful. She said over the phone, “I spoke to two friends, a queer couple, when I met my current partner and asked, am I making a mistake? And they said, well, what have we been fighting for, if you don’t have the freedom to love who you want to love?"
“I had a lot of fear that [this relationship] would screw me up, that it would ruin friendships or discredit me in the queer community. So I had this concern, but that wasn't matched up with the reaction I received. I wonder if it was some sort of internalized homophobia."
She contined, "All we see in the media— it’s different now, it’s changing — but we've seen a lot of lesbians who hate men and who, if you dated men, would not be friends with you anymore. Like in Chasing Amy, she says at some point something to the effect of, 'I lost all my friends because of you.' I think we’re sold these stories again and again that we’re going to lose all of our friends, and that’s just not always the case.”
LoGiudice and her boyfriend have since gotten married. And while the outside world may see them as a heterosexual couple, that’s not a term she uses to identify herself. “I don’t consider [my relationship] so hetero. I don’t feel hetero,” she says.
Then there’s the other question on everyone’s mind: what do you do when presented with a set of genitalia you didn’t think you were wired for? How do you feign attraction? You can get the body to engage in sex, but how do you get the brain to desire it?
What I got from my conversations is that when you love someone, learning to love their body isn’t such a challenge. If sexual experimentation can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes we behave in ways we never thought we’d like. During my research, I came across a woman who has self-identified as a lesbian for nearly her entire life. Now, she’s tickled by the idea of putting a penis in her mouth. Sometimes, you just never know.
Stephanie Adams has been credited with being the first Playboy centerfold model to come out as a lesbian. So when it came out that she had entered into a relationship with a man, she was met with a few raised eyebrows.
She told me via email, “My going from hetero, to homo, and back to hetero means that sexuality is indeed fluid.” She asserts that she is not “confused,” explaining, “I've just danced and twirled from the L to the B in LGBT. When I loved women, that is how I lived and loved. When I loved men, that is how I lived and loved. When I got married, it was for love and I have no regrets for how I live.”
“I dated both sexes all my dating life. I simply became public about it. So ‘switching’ simply meant I fell in love with someone who happened to be either sex.”
She said, “If being gay means being happy like the word 'gay' was properly and originally defined, then, yes, I am very gay.” She added, “Don't call me bisexual, homosexual, or heterosexual, but instead, happysexual."
Carrie Weisman is an AlterNet staff writer who focuses on sex, relationships and culture. Got tips, ideas or a first-person story? Email her.