Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is a bop — it topped charts in 25 countries and became one of the best-selling singles of all time. It’s also a monumental LGBTQ anthem in which Gaga embraces her bisexuality and affirms other LGBTQ identities, singing “I’m beautiful in my way / ‘Cause God makes no mistakes / I’m on the right track, baby I was born this way.”
“Born This Way” also came out around the same time I did, at least to myself. I had a crush on Christian, a charming boy in my grade with mischievous eyes and a perpetual smirk. Then it was Jackson, the nerd-jock crossover of my wildest dreams. Then it was Joseph, a boy in my choir class who kissed me a few weeks before eighth grade ended.
Those boys made me realize that I was queer. It was not something I thought much about before middle school. Bullies teased me for being gay when I was younger, but when a six-year-old boy calls another six-year-old boy gay, he means “weird” or “gross,” not “has sex with men.” Sure, it wasn’t a very nice thing for that boy to say, but it didn’t make me question my sexuality or think about my romantic and sexual attractions, because romantic and sexual attractions did not exist when I was six. They still had a good few years left to develop.
That’s because people are not born with a sexuality. Kids are not gay or straight, they’re just kids. Now, we often assign a sexuality to newborn children — straight until proven otherwise. The heteronormativity so deeply ingrained in our society raises its ugly head, and we assume that baby boys are lady killers and baby girls are saving themselves for their daddies to give to their husbands. With all of the journalistic sensitivity I can muster, I’d like to ask: what the fuck?
When I was six years old, I wasn’t a ladykiller. I wasn’t gay or straight. I was six.
Why, then, do adults who knew me as a child insist that I was gay all along? How could they have known, when I myself didn’t know it until sometime during 2011, a full 13 years after I was born? So you can see why I have a complicated relationship to “Born This Way.”
Obviously, Lady Gaga didn’t write “Born This Way” to advocate for the sexualization of children. She was responding to the still all-too-common rhetoric which characterizes sexuality as a choice. With “Born This Way,” she became the most high profile person in pop culture to say, “Don’t be ashamed of your sexuality because it’s a natural part of who you are.”
For me, the “Born This Way” narrative made it difficult for me to accept that my own sexuality could develop and change over time. I felt pressured to pick a label and stick with it, and for a long time “gay” worked because I didn’t think about it much. I liked men. I was bewildered and repulsed at the thought of female anatomy. I once argued that I wouldn’t touch a vagina for $1,000.
But in the last year or two, I’ve started to rethink my relationship to the label “gay.” I started to realize that anatomy and gender are not the same. I hooked up with trans and nonbinary people and stopped describing myself as gay, preferring to use the more inclusive catchall “queer.”
Even within the LGBTQ community there’s a pressure to pick your labels and stick with them. Often when I tell some people that I’m distancing myself from gay, they immediately suggest I identify as bisexual, or pansexual. But those labels don’t quite suit me either. I need something that means “mostly gay but not fully committed and open to other possibilities,” but, alas, such a niche label has yet to be imagined.
I know my sexuality will continue to change and develop, and for the first time in awhile I’m not that worried about what label to use. Some people can’t wrap their heads around it. Without knowing what established label I use, how will you know what type of people I’m attracted to, or what anatomy I prefer? Here’s a label: none of your business.
My sexuality should be private. The act of identifying my sexuality, still unfortunately known as “coming out,” means revealing intimate details about myself and compromising a privacy that straight people take for granted just so that old people will stop asking me if I have a girlfriend.
More importantly, at this time in my life, I just plain don’t know. I don’t feel a strong attachment to any of the common identifiers, and I’m not too stressed because it honestly doesn’t affect my life. I’m attracted to who I’m attracted to, I have sex with who I have sex with, and that’s that on that. After years of worrying about my sexuality, I’ve learned that not worrying is actually easier than I thought it would be.
I’ve stepped away from labels altogether because other people had too often given me their own labels without my permission. When I was six, the boys who teased me labelled me as gay. The adults in my life labelled me as gay. And for a while after coming out, “gay” worked fine. But the label stymied my development and made it difficult for me to explore my queerness. It made me afraid of and disgusted by female anatomy. It stopped me from letting myself be who I am because I was worried who I was didn’t fit the label with which I identified.
Now, “Born This Way” empowers me in a different way. From the moment I was born, I have been constantly changing, developing and growing, and it has never slowed down. My body has grown and will continue to change, and so will my sexuality. That’s a normal part of life. That’s not a choice — it’s natural. It’s how I was born. I was born this way.