Our culture loves labels. From designer jeans and dresses to sexuality and gender, it's an obsession. It's supposed to make things a little easier to understand, but lately the more I think about labeling, I only see catch-22s. So I've charged myself with repurposing labels - how to produce a positive from their dissonance.
The first aspect of this discord is always the semantic issues. The definitions of "straight," "gay," "bi," etc., vary from person to person, so we never even begin on stable ground. Then, sometimes changes occur in how we perceive our own sexual and romantic life, so our labels change, too. Even if one claims to have been "gay all along" after identifying as bi or straight in the past, how can we take the current claim to be capital-T True if they just wrote off a past identity? How can anyone know the current identity won't be similarly disposable?
There are some for whom a label fits comfortably enough, but others may not find the right fit. Using myself as an example (shameless exhibitionist that I am), there aren't many labels in the world of sexuality and gender that I haven't felt linked to at some point. At one time or another, I have identified as a straight man, a gay man, a bi man, a queer man, a crossdresser, genderqueer, transgender, a straight woman, a bi woman, a queer woman.
Combining the apparent lack of relationship-worthy men in my area code with my orientation du jour - preferring exclusively to keep things casual with women and serious with men - I'm sure there are some who'd slap a "lesbian" tag on me at present. Saddling myself with these labels is not the problem, however. The problem is the permanence and importance we attach to our labels.
When we take these categories too seriously, we can become segregationist in our relationships and social spaces, and the changes that occur can make us feel deceived or betrayed. We become understood solely within certain confines; our humanity becomes static, denied the chance to adjust or evolve. Backed into such a corner, there is a natural urge to defy categorization, to banish all use of one-word simplifications of identity.
A friend of mine likes to say, "I'm not gay, I'm not bi, I'm not straight. I'm Annie." Certainly, her approach to this issue is just as valid as mine, and I'd never try to take her personal Truth away from her. Expanding her personal policy to grander scale, however, I wouldn't advocate the unrealistic solution of a world without labels. Lumping things into groups for ease of understanding is how the human brain functions. Eons of evolution renders efforts to change it just as futile as abstinence education. Besides, I love labels for the same reason I love rules and structure in the rest of life - because it's fun as hell to push their boundaries.
Artists will tell you they work best when there are restrictions in place to focus the mind and to push up against, so why not apply this principle to our lives? To sexual orientation? For those of us not on the endpoints of the Kinsey scale, we can venture outside our identities, try on a label or two, see how we feel about it, and have some fun with it.
The status quo can be stifling; by straying outside it once in a while we get to enjoy the liberating feeling of breaking taboos. Many of our first queer experiences had the exhilarating rush of crossing a perceived social (or personal) barrier. Why not try to recapture it by creating new boundaries to violate? Who doesn't enjoy playing the rebel? When the novelty wears off, we can return to the comfort of our old spot on the spectrum. A fond refrain of mine is "Sex should be fun." By extension, shouldn't sexual orientation be fun, too?
Some may worry the frequent shifting might alienate friends or the community, but any worthwhile friend or queer community shouldn't change how it treats people based on sexual orientation. Acceptance and inclusiveness was the whole point of forming a queer community. We endure the pain of discrimination in the outside world enough as it is, we mustn't inflict it on our own kind. Fortunately, I think most are welcoming.
Regardless of the sex I'm interested in at any given moment, I'm always secure about my belonging in this community. This is why, if pressed for a serious response to the question of sexual and gender identity, I'll answer "queer." Wonderfully ambiguous, it's the label for people who hate labels. Like I mentioned earlier, one can make the case that I've inhabited every letter in the LGBTQ spectrum at some point, and "queer" functions as an umbrella term for all of it. It satisfies the inquirer's label requirement, but still allows me the wiggle room to have fun with all the variations it encompasses. I can have my cake and eat it, too.
But, of course, that is my definition of "queer." Semantically, yours might be different; and we're back where we started. If you enjoy the ride, though, going back to the start is cause for laughter, not frustration.