As much as I abhor labels, a label is where I found my niche and discovered others were in the same “box” with me.
When I grew up in rural South Africa in the sixties and seventies, all people were “normal.” Yes, you had your labels of alcoholics, wife-beaters, thieves, etc., but as far as gender and sexuality were concerned, there were two categories, males and females. Girls were dressed in pink from birth and boys in blue. Girls played with dolls, boys brought home frogs and lizards.
It was only in my late teens that I discovered more labels, the ones related to sexuality and gender. There were the heteros and the homos, the straights and the queers – and never the twain shall meet.
Then, later, in my early twenties, I had access to a university library (the Internet was still being conceived, and we only got television in South Africa in 1975). Imagine my horror when I realized I would be placed into the box for homosexuals, when I was still anxiously seeking whom I really was, not comfortable in my own skin and body. A lesbian?! The word tasted vile, even though I could associate with my attraction to women and women only.
Then I discovered scales of sexuality like the Kinsey scale. Introducing the scale, Kinsey wrote:
Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories… The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects.
While emphasizing the continuity of the gradations between exclusively heterosexual and exclusively homosexual histories, it has seemed desirable to develop some sort of classification which could be based on the relative amounts of heterosexual and homosexual experience or response in each history […] An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life. […] A seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist.
—Kinsey, et al. (1948). pp. 639, 656)
This afforded no relief, as according to this scale, I was exclusively homosexual. I tried other scales like the Multidimensional Scale of Sexuality, devised by Larry Kurdek, B. Berkey and T. Perelman-Hall. More labels emerged: six proposed categories of bisexuality, as well as categories related to heterosexuality, homosexuality, and asexuality. No ways I was bisexual or asexual!
The Klein Sexual Orientation Grid was developed by Psychiatrist Fritz Klein, as he was concerned that there is far more to sexual identity than just with whom one has sex. This sounded promising, as he not only distinguished sexual attraction, behaviour and fantasies, but also emotional and social preference, a hetero/gay lifestyle and self-identification. This last category was a dim candle in the dark of my emotions.
Then I learnt a new alphabet: LGBTQIA – Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual.
The transgender illumination was the relief I sought – there were others like me! Labelled and in a box, yes, but at last I could fully identify. My journey to untangle from the web of deception and hurt, had begun. Now I do not suffer from Gender Dysphoria, I enjoy every minute of it. Well, most of the time…