Graham Peacock discusses his choice to move away from the labels we use to categorise our sexuality.
There have not been many days during my teenage years where my own sexuality has not been on my mind. For a while, it seemed to control every aspect of my life. I put this down to the area where I grew up, in a town just outside of Glasgow. The people I was surrounded by in school taught me that queerness was something to be ashamed of before I had even considered what my own sexuality was. I can remember, at as young as 12, denying accusations that I was gay before I even fully understood what that word meant. Boys who I believed were my friends mocked the way I talked, the way I dressed, the female friends I had, my lack of interest in stereotypically masculine hobbies. I instantly closed up. I changed my voice and my character to mimic the boys around me; I pursued girls I wasn’t even that interested in; I watched other boys being ridiculed for their sexuality, never coming to their defence for fear of having the abuse turned back on myself. I did everything I could to blend into the background and in the process, I lost my own identity.
Because I was constantly asked by people if I was gay or straight it reinforced in me the idea of a binary that I felt I had to conform to: I was either one thing or another — and only one of those things was okay. I tried hard to convince myself and the people around me that I was straight, but part of me knew that this wasn’t an honest representation of how I felt. I knew that the feelings I had for girls were genuine, but I also knew that I was interested in boys too. The more I tried to reject and deny this side of myself the more I felt as if it was something I could never be open about. By the time I was sixteen, and had a better understanding of sexuality, I had figured out that I was most likely bisexual, and whilst I was not in an environment where I felt comfortable to come out, the self-acceptance I felt from this acknowledgement was freeing.
I still strongly denied any accusations that I wasn’t straight from anyone who asked, and didn’t even feel comfortable talking to my family about it because of the severity of internalised homophobia I was experiencing thanks to my school life. A slur or passing remark about me being gay was enough to make me feel sick and instantly defensive. For queer people who experience homophobic bullying from childhood, the labels that we define ourselves by often come loaded with negative connotations that can take years to displace, and this was something that I struggled with a lot.
Similarly, identifying as bisexual (if even just to myself) presented its own set of problems. I felt as though I constantly had to prove to myself that I was interested in both boys and girls. There is a prominent stigma in society that bisexual men are closeted gay men, or are in denial. And although I understood that there are no restrictions on who can label themselves as bisexual, I still felt as if I had to be equally attracted to both men and women at all times, which did not accurately represent how I felt, and it still doesn’t. I find that my sexuality goes through phases: there are times in my life where I am only interested in women, other times I am only interested in men, and occasionally I find I am more balanced. By putting a label on my sexuality, even one that is meant to be less restrictive, I still felt suffocated, feeling as though I had to conform to a set of expectations.
When I left high school, I felt an almost immediate weight lifted from me. Just before I left, I had finally made new friends who were much more open-minded about sexuality, and many of these friends came with me to university. Although there is still a pervasive culture of toxic masculinity and homophobia in parts of Scotland, I find Glasgow’s West End to be a surprisingly open part of the country, and this is especially the case at the University. I no longer felt pressured to act or talk a certain way, and for the first time in a while I felt as if I could be an authentic version of myself. I began to talk openly with my friends about how I was feeling, and their support was so encouraging. It was also around this time that I decided I didn’t want to put a label on who I am.
Coming to university has given me the opportunity and the confidence to explore parts of my sexuality that I had suppressed for so long. Leaving the narrow-minded community I was in and entering into a new environment where I met people who identified in so many different ways stressed to me the insignificance of sexuality. I appreciate that there are many queer people who find pride in identifying with labels, and I completely understand and support that idea, but I’ve always thought of my own sexuality as something that is complicated, unfixed, and largely irrelevant. And so, for me, to choose a label by which to define myself feels reductive.
My sexuality is still something that I do not understand, but I no longer care if I never do. There is no easy way to define sexual ambiguity, but that does not make it a less valid option than other identities that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. It is not that I still feel uncomfortable with labels such as gay, bisexual, pansexual, or queer, but because of how quickly I can move between them depending on how I feel, they all seem arbitrary, and therefore meaningless.
I find that by not using the traditional labels to define myself, it frustrates the accepted heteronormative understanding of sexuality that places anything outside the confines of “straight” in the category of “other”. Sexuality is far from simplistic, and the unwillingness to conform to labels reminds us that no one sexuality is the standard. I have never felt more comfortable with who I am than I do now. I am not even in my 20s yet — I have so much more to learn about myself and relationships — but I now feel free to talk to and date whoever I want without worrying about how it affects my identity or what others will think of me.
Just as I see sexuality as unfixed, I know my thoughts on how I identify are open to change. One day in the future I may arrive at a different understanding of my sexuality, and, if that happens, then I may reassess my relationship with labels. But for now, rather than waste anymore years of my life thinking about something as pointless as what body parts I want the person I’m dating to have, I’m perfectly happy to live my life entirely undefined.