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At one point in my lifetime it was used as an epithet synonymous to faggot, but nowadays queer is an umbrella term to describe people who identify with one or more letters within the LGBTQIAPK acronym. But who’s going to recite all of that when referring to the community? Over the years, the acronym has evolved from just LGBT to be inclusive of other sexual orientations and identities. People often inquire about the difference between gay and queer. In short, queer people don’t box in their sexual orientation or gender yet acknowledge that gender and sexuality are non-binary, falling on a spectrum. While my sexual and romantic experiences have helped me discover my sexual identity, they have also further complicated my journey into it.  

At 32, I realize my earliest sexual experiences foreshadowed what I feel comfortable with during sex as an adult, specifically with a man. However, for me, there’s room for fluidity. Queer people are not a monolith. Some of us were born this way. Some continue to live within the facade our society has taught us to live in. Some of us have lived different experiences that have shaped who we are and how we identify. I identify as a non-binary queer male because I’m certainly not straight but I don’t necessarily limit my sexual attraction to only men, despite my limited sexual experiences with the opposite sex.

My first sexual experience began as a November-born boy of seven years with my then-babysitter. He was the son of my mother’s friend who was accompanying me at home after-school that day. From what I recall, he was a bad boy maybe four or five years my senior at the time. I vividly remember having had an unexplainable crush on him prior to that vague encounter. We were alone in the house I grew up in. I was eventually convinced to have play sex and asked to bend over the couch while he had non-penetrative sex with me. Some would argue that I was violated. In retrospect, he had definitely awakened a sexual appetite that I was not psychologically prepared to confront. But despite my youth, I vividly remember being excited by having body contact with him. That same year follwing our encounter, he would taunt me on the school bus with his friend, calling me queer.

Though I wasn’t able to conceptualize it at the time, I knew what happened between us was wrong. I knew I couldn’t say anything. It had to be a secret. Homophobia was rampant in the 90s and showed its face throughout various points of my childhood. Gay people, especially feminine males, were frowned upon. Years earlier, my father had scolded me after picking me up from preschool to find me playing with a doll. Years after he passed away, I continued to receive messages from society and family members about masculinity and homesexuality. Though I know better now, I’d learned that mere sensitivity in males was frowned upon. I once was caught crying in front of my uncle only to overhear him tell another adult male “look at him over there crying like a little sissy.” So, guilt-ridden during the first fragments of my journey into my sexual identity, I assumed the role society expected of me. 

During the same year of that experience with my babysitter, I had a girlfriend from elementary school who excited me in a different way. Joia was a beautiful girl and she was timid, like me. Somehow we still managed to pass notes to each other, hold hands, exchange gifts and sneak kisses. Details like her smile, the shape of her eyes and the warmth of her spirit stay with me even now. The same would apply to other young ladies throughout my childhood who agreed to be my girlfriend. Still, until my twenties, my physical encounters remained exclusive to my male peers.

Throughout adolescence, I developed secret crushes on male and female classmates at school while mild foreplay encounters continued on a sporadic basis during occasional sleepovers with an older cousin. Those sleepovers ceased into my adolescence and I  managed to escape confronting my sexuality overtly until I was eventually caught watching gay porn. When my mom first confronted me, she had a judgemental tone that made me fearful of what her reaction might be. She didn’t address the situation directly; her opinion had a way of coming out when she was pissed about something. “If you want to be with another man then you should leave women alone. That’s how diseases spread.” I remember her saying once. “You should let me know now if you’re gay, you already black and have one strike against you.” She’d say another time. I remained silent about it, but she was right.
At 18, I met my first boyfriend and went all the way, and claimed my role as a bottom. As a Marine during Dont Ask Don’t Tell, he was on the down-low so we kept our relationship a secret. After introducing him as a friend to my mom, she immediately knew. She waited until I left the room and invited him to take care her baby – awkward. He eventually freaked out and left us to our bonding session as she openly accepted me, regardless of my sexuality. Moms always know.

While I can’t deny having a strong sexual attraction to men, unlike my gay peers, I do not necessarily find women sexually unattractive. Nor would I rule out the possibility of being intimate with a woman based on orientation alone. Yet, conscious of my mother’s words – and thus partially believing them – my awkwardness around women persisted. I once went on a date with a woman without realizing it was a date. At 22, I had just moved to South Africa for a study abroad and was passing through Johannesburg for a few days. While checking into my hostel, an older, busty South African woman heard my accent and invited me to go eat in the evening. While we were eating, I told her I was gay after the conversation of sexuality came up. I eventually told her the story of my first sexual experience in which she responded that I wasn’t gay. Her logic was that if I had never been sexually involved with a woman, then I can’t be sure that I’m gay. I remember thinking she had a point. From then, I wondered if I could be excited with a woman. Years later, that would be confirmed. 

I’m sure since the beginning of time, mothers and fathers have created human after human with complex sexual identities. I like to believe that our sexual identities are discovered rather than chosen. Whether sustained from birth, nurtured through societal expectation or enlightened by experiences – sexual identity is how we self-identify with regard to romantic and sexual attraction. I would define my sexual identity as “gay” or “bisexual” except the more abstract “queer” is the most fitting.

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