Headshot of GLSEN National Student Council member Sayer Kirk

Gay. Sapphic. Female. Queer. These are ways that I identify myself as a woman in high school. As an individual, you are the expert on how you identify. No one else can force you to identify as X or Y unless you say that you identify with identity X or Y.

Language and the way that people identify continues to change in the LGBTQ community. My great uncles are from the era of Stonewall. During their time, “queer” was used as a slur much like “faggot” and “dyke” are used today. In a school project a couple years ago, I used “queer” as an umbrella term for all non-heterosexual orientations, and my uncle’s response was, “I wish teens would stop using the word ‘queer.’ It implies that they are strange and weird, but they’re not! They’re perfectly normal!” While I understand his reasoning, I also understand that teens are in search of a term that they can use when still exploring their identity, or if they don’t want to identify with one specific label.

I asked a few of my peers how they identify and whether any of their identities are considered controversial to either older or younger generations. And I wasn’t surprised by the answers I received: All of them said that at least one part of their identity was considered controversial.

One friend identifies as gender non-conforming, non-binary, and sexually fluid, and she said that both her gender and her sexuality are considered controversial. She will usually say she is gay, because that’s a label that she identifies with, though her attractions may fluctuate. Because of this fluctuation, people tell her that she just can’t make up her mind. In terms of her gender identity, people often dismiss her gender non-conforming and non-binary identities because she uses she/her pronouns, causing her problems with her self-esteem.

Another friend identifies as female and is currently rethinking her previous label for her sexual orientation. She used to identify as a gay but after some consideration, she thinks that she may be bisexual. When she came out as gay, everyone was happy to stick her in a box as that identity. Since she has been considering identifying as a bi girl, she has noticed a larger stigma around bi girls than gay girls coming from younger generations.

The last person I spoke to identifies as a bisexual female. When asked if her identity was seen as controversial, she said that even some millennials say bisexual females are just “seeking attention,” and that older generations often say that “homosexuality is unnatural.” She told me that these types of comments don’t just show up online; she’s been told them to her face.

Needless to say, even if others say our identities are “controversial,” that isn’t going to change our identities. My friends feel empowered and validated by how they identify. Language is forever developing to fit how people identify within the queer community and we should make room for the changes. For me? I am a gay, sapphic, loving, compassionate femme. Those are my identities, end of story.

Sayer Kirk is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council. For more about discussing labels and identities in class or GSA, check out this lesson for GLSEN’s No Name-Calling Week.