Growing up, I never had the freedom to explore my sexuality. Leaving for university was an experience of relief. I finally had the chance to figure out who I was away from the prejudice of my family and culture. Sure, there were some times when I rushed into a relationship just for the sake of doing the previously forbidden. However, there were other times, times I look back on as precious and tender, when I eased myself into relationships. I relished every minute of it; my first date, my first kiss, my first time doing more than kissing. It was dizzying.

For as long as I could remember, I was attracted to other girls. But never in a way that I let myself enjoy. Only in a way that I found painfully confusing, because, surely, that couldn’t be right? Halfway through my first semester at university, I sent a set of panicked messages to my best friend.

It went something like this: “Okay, I’m freaking out. So there’s this girl and whenever I’m around her I get shy and I can’t think straight. She’s so beautiful and I love her style. I’ve thought that about tons of other girls too, though. I’m so confused. Do I think she’s attractive the same way I think my girl friends are? Or am I attracted to her? I don’t know, this feels like more than just a girl crush, whatever that is.”

Over time, I came to more readily accept my feelings of attraction. They were good old-fashioned butterflies. Trying to dissect and assign a label to them, especially in the wider context of the men and non-binary people I was also attracted to, hurt my head and my heart. I could see that for some of the people around me, having a label (some examples include gay, lesbian, or bisexual) to name their sexuality was freeing.

It allowed them to better access a sense of community and interpret their sexual identity. I have the utmost respect for that. However, I’ve also come to learn that it is valid to understand my sexual identity as queer and not want to specify it any further. This was a painstaking process.

However, I’ve also come to learn that it is valid to understand my sexual identity as queer and not want to specify it any further.

I remember one night in my dorm room, kissing a boy in my bed, when he turned to me and said, “I heard you were a lesbian. But I guess not. So what are you?” It was so absurd, I laughed out loud. I asked where he’d heard this and he said his friend told him so, citing it as information “from a reliable source.”

This encounter replayed in my head for weeks afterwards. His words disturbed me, but so did my response. In the moment, I told him that I was still exploring my sexuality and meekly asked, “Is that alright?” Looking back, that revealed a lot about myself. I was asking this boy I barely knew if my sexuality, with all its complexities, was alright with him. Essentially, I was asking if I was palatable to him. How insecure was I in knowing myself and being comfortable with myself that this was my instinctive reply? And, in the future, was I expected to have an answer ready for which box of queerness I ticked off?

Essentially, I was asking if I was palatable to him.

My emotions were in flux. One part of me wished that I felt comfortable using a specific label for my sexuality, one that I could serve up nicely on a platter. Another part of me recognized that I didn’t really want that, so it would feel disingenuous. I turned to a trusted friend to talk through everything going on in my head. I expressed how frustrated it made me feel that someone thought they had the authority to comment on my sexuality.

After all, I was the only so-called “reliable source” on that.

I felt suffocated by people’s obsession with assigning labels to others’ sexuality. I realized that I needed to work on feeling compelled to explain myself to people who have no business demanding to know my sexuality. The only people who actually mattered were my closest friends. These friends cared less about securing a convenient label for me, and more about making sure I felt safe and loved in my relationships, regardless of the gender of my partner.

Through consistently working to better accept myself, I’m learning that when I’m attracted to someone, whether it’s romantically or sexually or both, that feeling is valid.

Now, with my closest friends, I’m comfortable identifying myself as queer, but I don’t need to pressure myself to use a label more specific than that. I am enough and worthy of love as I am.