In the four years I was as editor of express (as well as many years prior and one year after), I exclusively dated men.
I wrote daily news about GLBTI issues, interviewed inspiring GLBTI people about their lives, and took photos of drag queens putting on layers of make up, and then took off my day-job hat and went home to a pretty comfortable and ostensibly straight life.
I never really identified as “straight” – despite the best efforts of the odd express reader seeking to define me. I also never identified as a “bisexual”, “pansexual”, “queer”, or (as one internet commenter famously penned) “straight, radical-acting feminist” either; nothing ever really sat right. In a community defined by its definitions (GLBTIQQFFAlphabet Soup anyone?) I never wanted a label, or felt that I needed one – it always seemed like the people who wanted me to explain my sexuality to them didn’t really have the right to ask me, let alone tell me which label they thought fit best.
On good days, I would tell people I dated men – I figured if they were going to spill the beans about growing up, coming out and living well, the least I could offer them was my truth. On average days, I would try and avoid any questions about who I was and change the subject. On the bad and very bad days, I would make clipped statements about “my partner” and wouldn’t correct anyone who assumed said partner was a woman. My friends would joke that I “had to ‘come out of the closet’ as straight” for my job, saying that it “must be good to know, on some level, what it feels like”.
Meanwhile, my family and straight friends never asked me to label myself. To them, my life was “interesting” at best and “a little confusing” at worst. To my nearest and dearest, I was simply doing a job that I loved and was passionate about, and was in a relationship with a man that I loved and was passionate about. The odd jibe about my sexuality would come up from time to time at family dinners, but no family member or close friend ever asked me to tell them if I was bisexual, or queer, or whatever.
Let’s fast forward to present day, when tables have been turned, scripts have been flipped, and more than a few eyebrows have been raised.
I met Jamie through the extremely small world of competitive roller derby. She’s a cute, smart and nerdy animal lover who speaks sign language, skates like she ran away with Starlight Express, and thinks Pineapple Lumps are disgusting. (Nobody’s perfect, right?) Being with her is extremely natural, and we have fallen into a very comfortable relationship with ease. When I told people I knew through express about my new relationship, reactions formed the same basic pattern – a quick question as to whether I am serious, followed by elation and exclamation, followed by a short analysis on their own reaction to the news; usually “I totally knew” or “I had no idea”.
As for some of my family and straight friends, telling them about Jamie was like welcoming the Spanish Inquisition to dinner. People who had previously no questions about how I identified were suddenly extremely interested in my sexual identity. “What does this mean for you?” they would say. “Are you a lesbian now?” they asked. Each time these questions come up, I get a little bit better at answering them, but just like the express days, my answer is pretty non-committal. I could go into the reasons behind why any number of labels thrown my way don’t fit, but my feelings on the matter haven’t changed. I never wanted a label, I’ve never needed one and I don’t have much interest in affixing one to myself any time soon.
My ambivalence towards labels does, and always has, made some people uncomfortable. Humans have a need to neatly categorise themselves and each other to make better sense of the world, and I understand that. Over the last few months, people have called me lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, pansexual, and “a raging homo, or something”, and each time, my response is generally “sure, okay”. I don’t hold onto these labels and I don’t use them to describe myself, but I understand the desire for people to put a word on me. The label I give myself is pretty simple – I am a woman who lives and loves openly. Okay, perhaps I’m still a radical-acting feminist too. Just hold the “straight”, please.
Photo | Jamie and Hannah by Georgette Eck
| Hannah JV
Hannah Jennings-Voykovich was the editor of express from 2008-2012. She currently lives in Vancouver, Canada where she works in social media management, eats a lot of kale and is slowly catching up on The Real L Word.