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Bi, Gay, Queer, Non-Binary: It Can Take a Lifetime to Find What Fits

Michael Matson

It's been a journey, but Michael Matson now knows who he is.

I don't know much about Sam Smith, other than the openly gay singer/songwriter has an exquisite voice, hails from England, and accidentally flubbed an Oscar acceptance speech in front of a billion viewers. Oh, and on September 13, the 27-year-old changed pronouns.

"I've decided I'm changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM. After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out," Smith wrote in their Twitter feed.

That weekend, I read a criticism of Smith for choosing these pronouns, because they're "a gay man," which was seen by the commentator as disrespectful to trans people. At that moment, I realized many people, including members of the LGBTQ+ community, remain unaware gender identity and sexual orientation is not intertwined. Personally, I know just as many gay trans people as I do heterosexual trans people.

Because of this misunderstanding of the many shades that color the gender identity and sexual orientation rainbows, I've decided it is just as valuable to be an out and proud non-binary individual as it is to be an out and proud gay person. So...

Yep, I'm Gay and Non-Binary.

At the age of five, I told the mother of my best male friend that I was born a girl and a witch turned me into a boy. I'm unable to recall if I actually believed the tale (after all, I did believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny at the time), or if it was the best explanation my young mind could conjure up to express why I was different than the other boys.

As a pre-adolescent, I secretly crossed-dressed in my bedroom, wearing wigs and clothes purchased at neighborhood garage sales under the guise of needing them for costumes parties. During my teenage years, I had romantic and sexual relationships with boys and girls, and identified as bisexual. This was during the 1980s, when androgyny--especially in music (think Boy George and Annie Lennox), was the order of the day. It was fairly easy to embrace androgynous dressing and still be seen as "cool" by one's peers. So I did.

After high school, I realized that I only fell in love with men, and then identified as gay. But, I also began reading books found in my college library about sex reassignment surgery (as it was called back then) because I thought I could be transgender. The biggest deterrent for me to transition to female was the lack of guarantee that a vaginoplasty could maintain one's ability to orgasm.

In my early 20s, I contracted HIV when it was still a death sentence. After being told I had five years to live, I moved to Los Angeles and began doing genderfuck -- a style of peacocking that blends both gender styles beyond mere androgyny. I got a big thrill one New Year's Eve during that period: While touching up my makeup in a bathroom mirror during a go-go dancing gig in Hollywood, I overheard a group of bridge-and-tunnel kids debating which gender they believed I was. Having an indeterminable gender was the happiest moment of my life up to that point.

At the same time, I was working for an S&M mistress, playing a "skater boy" for a bisexual client who liked to be tied up, whipped gently, and called a slut. It really was more silly than kinky. The mistress later saw me dressed in gender-fuck at a party, and hired me to work in full female drag. While the work was intended to exclude direct sexual contact, it did cross the line on occasion. One client requested to perform oral sex on me while I was dressed as a woman. He did, but it messed with my head. Whomever it was he desired, I did not want to be that person. I told the mistress I'd still work with her, but not in drag. She never hired me again.

As I immersed myself deeper into the LGBTQ+ community, I encountered gay auto-repairmen and plumbers, and lesbian florists and hairdressers. One would never guess the sexual orientation of these individuals unless you saw them in the company of their romantic partners. I had long believed that my effeminate nature, love of playing with dolls, and hatred of contact sports were just part of growing up gay. But so many of the gay and lesbian people I now knew never "read" as anything but straight. I began to understand that gender identity and sexual orientation were not tied together.

Eventually, other gay men put me into a box; proclaiming me to be a "bottom" simply because of my effete ways. A lot of misogynistic behavior followed, because these gay men had determined me to be "the woman." Sure, I enjoyed anal sex, but I'd always enjoyed kissing and cuddling so much more than intercourse. To some men in my community, it seemed gender was determined simply by who was poked and who did the poking. I always loathed misogyny, long before I knew there was a term for it. Now I was being objectified in the same way I seen many straight men objectify women all of my life.

Protease inhibitors came along and saved my life and the lives of thousands of other HIV-positive individuals. Since there remained a risk of losing my health care due to pre-existing conditions, I chose to play life much safer and began peacocking as a male. Navigating romantic relationships at that point was not so simple.

I began working in LGBTQ+ media during my 30s, and discovered that some gay men's misogyny went beyond just their treatment of "bottom boys." It extended to their cisgender female (and trans female) community members. I grew to loathe every aspect of misogyny, and found many of the men attracted to me saw me in the role of a "lesser female." As much as I loved all things female, I didn't feel like any gender by this point. Celibacy seemed the only practical choice for me; it lasted for a decade.

Last Halloween, I met a bisexual, cisgender male at a club, and we ended up going back to his apartment. It was the best sexual experience I'd had in the 21st century. Not only did we seem to instinctively understand and enjoy each others desires, but their wasn't any of the gender baggage I had encountered in the past. It was just two beings together. Male and female stereotypes and roles were nowhere to be found.

I've recently been seeing another cisgender bisexual male and the experience has been quite similar; just two beings enjoying each other intimately. I don't know if their bisexuality is a factor, or just a coincidence. But, it does make sense that gender could be less important when it comes to intimacy for these men. Both long-term relationships I had during my 20s were with bisexual men.

Now, you may be wondering, what's your point? And what does this have to do with Sam Smith? I just asked myself the same thing. Ultimately, I think the point here is that, for some people, gender identity and/or sexual orientation are cut-and-dry. And that's great! For others, one or both could be made up by every shade of grey imaginable. And that's great, too! For Sam Smith, identifying as gay and non-binary makes the most sense to them at this moment in time. But, I don't believe Smith's identity has any negative impact on the trans community. Isn't there room for all of us in every variation? If I have a blind spot on this topic, I apologize.

For me, the main takeaway from Smith's announcement of their preferred pronouns is that "queer" is now a much more appropriate description of my sexual and romantic orientation than gay was, because queer is genderless. So...

Yep, I'm queer and non-binary!

Michael Matson is a writer, photographer, and the former Photography Director of The Advocate. Follow Michael on Instagram @matsyland.

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