Keep your Baggage Light
Carlos came to me the other day very upset. He’s in his mid 20s, and he’s about to be engaged to his beautiful girlfriend who he loves very much. He’s always been straight, except… you know where this is going.
He met Zeb a few weeks ago, and Carlos can’t get Zeb off his mind. Carlos is intensely attracted to him, romantically and sexually.
Carlos’ question is: what does it mean? Am I gay and I just didn’t know?
Imagine you live in the world were only sneakers and sandals exist. People for whatever reasons tend to just wear one or the other. So we invent labels and attach our identities strongly to being either a Sneaker or a Sandal. Then I come along and I’m like “I sort of like both?” and everyone says “whatever man, you really only like one, you’re in denial.” and I’m like “No, I mean, when I’m running I like sneakers, but when it’s hot out and I’m at the beach, sandals are nice.”
So then we made up a bunch of other words that try to encapsulate people who like both to some degree or another.
Then people in high heels and dress shoes showed up, and we’re running around trying to define and categorize it all.
But there’s nothing to categorize here, it’s just people doing things at various times according preferences, some of which are innate, some of which are driven by culture.
In other words:
The discussion of what a person’s sexual orientation “really is” actually contains no information.
We invented a concept that’s supposed to group certain traits and behaviors together, then we forgot that we literally just made up the labels, and now we’re talking about what the labels “really” mean, as if they have some objective meaning at all. They mean whatever. They mean nothing.
The thing is that we used to think the labels meant something. But now that people are a little more open about what they’ve done and what they are into, we have all these infinite scenarios that don’t neatly fit any of the older labels. When that started happening we should’ve collectively said: “ohhhh, I get it, there’s nothing here, we’re literally talking about nothing at all.”
Instead we invented “pansexual,” and “sapiosexual,” and we needed Kinsey to give us a scale; we’re clinging to a bankrupt nothing here.
People just do things, and the variety of things that people do defies simplistic labels much the same way that our choice of footware defies simplistic labels, and in fact we are chasing our tails and wasting our time trying to come up with a labeling scheme for sexuality in much the same way that we’d be wasting our time trying to come up with a precise labeling scheme for what shoes you like.
So Carlos’ problem isn’t that he likes Zeb, that’s just a fact of the matter. Carlos’ problem is that his identity as a masculine, heterosexual man has come into conflict with his feelings toward Zeb. They can’t coexist, so they are in gridlock.
Many people fight hard to suppress their feelings at this point. They reaffirm their heterosexuality by bashing gay people, maybe. Some people accept their feelings, and they shift the label they use. Maybe Carlos can identify as bisexual. Maybe he doesn’t like that label, so he uses pansexual. Maybe he tries on something cute like heteroflexible.
But all that is missing the point.
The entire concept of labeling that group of feelings and behaviors is bankrupt now. Maybe it was useful to him at one point, but now it’s just upsetting him. He doesn’t have to shift identity: he can just drop it entirely.
The real issue here is that the label “straight” contains way more information than “I like girls.” That information is often hidden under layer upon sweltering layer of cultural conditioning. For example, now that Carlos’ is attracted to Zeb, he wonders: do I really love my girlfriend? How can I love a girl if I’m gay? Because straight means I don’t like guys. But I like this guy. But gay means I don’t like girls. But I do like girls. Don’t I?
And that’s without getting into the other hidden beliefs like: If I’m in love that means I can’t be attracted to anyone else. If I am attracted to other people that must mean I’m really not in love.
Many a relationship has been destroyed by that one.
If he didn’t have any concept of sexuality or romance there would be no conflict at all: he’d simply notice he’s attracted to Zeb, and notice he’s in love with his girlfriend, and move forward effortlessly according to whatever principles he chose.
Think about Sneakers and Sandals. Can you see how silly it would be for a person to have an existential crisis about wearing sandals? For them to wonder if they “really” enjoy running in sneakers after all? And how useless it would be to try to find a new label to precisely identify the degree to which they like sneakers and sandals at the same time?
In real life, you just put on whatever shoes you want. You buy the ones that you like or that fit some criteria you have for the moment. You change them later if you feel like it. Who gives a shit?
Everyone seems to give a shit, for a variety of reasons. But it’s bullshit, it’s just baggage that you’re creating for yourself. Part of your baggage is the labels you put on yourself and the stories you tell yourself about what your identity precisely is.
Most of the time, those labels and stories don’t serve you. Most of the time you serve them.
So pack light. Define as little as possible about yourself. It saves you from fighting through a rat’s nest of cultural baggage that you didn’t ask for. It makes you flexible, and makes the conscious decisions about the important aspects of your identity all the more meaningful.
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