What does it mean to be Questioning?
Well, we spend our whole lives asking external questions. From “wha dat?” as a baby, to “how do checks work?” as young adults, to “how will I afford this?” throughout adulthood (whomp whomp, millennial humor). From toddlerhood, we also start asking internal questions. “Why does my tummy hurt?” “What do I want for dinner tonight?” “Do I want to date that girl?” “Who am I, really?” “Am I a good person?” We want to know more about ourselves, and it can take some work to find out the answers.
Sometimes, we wonder “am I queer?”
Some people know right away, and it never changes. Toddlers who declare their gender from a young age, people who hit puberty and already know what gender of people they’re attracted to, adults who look back on their lives and don’t ever recall a time when they weren’t sure about who they were. The media loves queer stories like that. “I’ve always known I was a boy, since I was a little kid. I’d ask my mother ‘when am I going to grow a penis?’” and “my first crush was Xena – I used to watch that show when I was 7 and imagine that I was going to marry her.” It’s a favorite narrative by gay rights activists especially, because it means that our queerness is innate and immovable and there’s no changing that, and that’s the basis upon which they fight bigots.
But other people aren’t quite sure. Teenagers especially! The teenage years are period of life designed to try on different identities, to self-interrogate, to figure out who you are now and what kind of adult you want to be. It’s a time when more people are feeling secure enough to come out of the closet and to declare sexual or gender identities.
And let me tell you, that can spread like wildfire. Not because being gay is catching, but because the freedom to explore options is a radical notion, and it inspires other people to do the same thing. It’s one of the reasons so many people do come out in high school – one person says “I’m a lesbian – this is me now!” and their friends and peers go, “wait, if *she* can be a lesbian… could I be one too?”
That experience, of realizing that you have the option to identify with a particular label, and trying it on, and wondering if it fits: that’s Questioning.
Every time you learn about a new label and you think to yourself “hm, I wonder if that’s me,” you’re Questioning.
If your gender or attraction changes later in life, and you stop and look down and go, “hm, am I even still a girl?” you’re Questioning.
If your partner transitions genders, and it makes you think about your own gender, or about your sexual orientation, you’re Questioning.
Questioning can be a short phase in your life, where you put on a label and try some thought exercises. “Hm, what if I AM bisexual. What does that change about my life? Who would I date?” “Am I not actually a boy? If I’m not a boy than what am I?” That phase can end with you going “yeah – I AM this new identity! Wow!” or it might end with you going “I guess that word doesn’t actually fit. It was worth the thought!”
Questioning can be a long phase in your life, where you keep turning the identity over and over and over again, never sure if it’s quiiiiiite right for you.
There’s no minimum or maximum stay that any person has to make in the questioning phase before they’re allowed to be part of an identity, That being said, one of the reasons that some people stay in that phase for a long time is due to the queer people around them. Either because they feel guilty at the idea of coopting a queer identity if they’re not POSITIVE that it fits, or because the queer people around them say things like “this is a LGBT ONLY space, if you’re not us, stay out,” and so they don’t ever get to spend time in explicitly queer spaces.
Safe spaces are valuable and necessary in marginalized communities, but if every single queer space doesn’t explicitly make room for people who think they might be queer, then they’re not the valuable resource that they need to be for new community members. Sometimes we do need specific descriptions to demarcate who is allowed in a specific safe space, for the comfort and safety of participants, but if none of a community’s spaces include questioning folks, then those people may never get a chance to find an identity that really works for them.
If you’re queer, I’m going to ask you to remember high school for a second. Remember the social circle you were in, and how only a few people were out as queer? Now, fast forward a decade – just about all of you ended up being queer, right? It’s worth remembering that because it’s worth remembering that these friends of yours that were the “allies” in your school GSA probably spent years and years questioning their identity, and eventually realized that the reason you all got along so well is because you were ALL queerdos.
Now, when someone new starts questioning their orientation or gender or attraction style, imagine that they’re a friend of yours. Imagine that they’re wondering if they’re allowed to be queer, if they’re permitted to identify with a new label that maybe, just maybe feels right. And validate that person’s thoughts. “You might be!” you can encourage. “Give it a try! Try calling yourself ace for a few weeks, and see how you feel!”
Not all queer folks were Questioning at some point – like I mentioned, lots of people just instantly KNEW. But most of us were, and it’s worth it to pay our dues back to the elder queers who nurtured us when we weren’t sure who we were, and to spend some time validating the emotions that Questioning folks have.
Q is for Questioning