Slide (un)confined
story by JESS BRANDT illustrations by CARLIE JEFFERIES

Blu Starmer came to WKU as a freshman in 2017 under the impression that they were straight and cisgender, someone whose gender identity corresponds to their birth sex. That fall, while attending a pride event for a class assignment, seeds were planted in Starmer’s head that led them to think they might not be straight after all.

As time went on, those seeds blossomed into several realizations for Starmer about their gender and sexual identities. 

In fall 2017, they began identifying as bisexual. Spring and summer of 2019 brought Starmer a myriad of revelations about their gender, eventually leading them to identify as agender, which they define as the lack of a gender identity. Only recently, in 2020, Starmer realized they were also demisexual, meaning they need to feel emotionally connected to someone in order to have sexual feelings toward them, they said. 

While they struggled to come to terms with their identity throughout each step, Starmer said they particularly struggled with adding demisexual to their identities out of fear that it may cause judgment or confusion for others. 

“Because I had already found that I identify as bisexual, I felt like society expected me to be confident in that as the only label I could use,” Starmer said. “It’s like you’re either this or that.” 

Starmer said that while labels have helped them feel more confident in themself, they can also be constricting. 

“Sometimes there isn’t a label that fits,” they said. “A lot of people feel obligated to use a label that they feel closest to, even if they don’t fully relate to that label.”

Wren Parson, a senior English creative writing major from Louisville, agreed with Starmer about the constrictions that labels in the LGBTQ community can have on individuals.

While Parson knew they weren’t straight for most of their life, their identity has evolved over time. 

In high school, they identified as bisexual. After a transformative year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parson said they realized their gender and sexuality had changed.

“I think the very dire and life or death situation in the past year has forced many people to think about themselves and the world around us,” they said. “Being home means people don’t have to go anywhere to impress people and fit other people’s standards in the way we used to.” 

They now identify as a genderfluid lesbian. For Parson, genderfluid means that they view their sexuality on a fluid spectrum that fluctuates, as opposed to fitting into one specific role. 

“I feel like there is an element of guilt and imposter syndrome involved in some parts for me to be able to call myself a lesbian,” they said. “Because I do still feel physically attracted to men and I don’t identify as a woman, it makes me wonder if lesbian is a term I’m allowed to use.” 

Parson also said labels have become frustrating for them. They believe that sexuality and gender are on a spectrum and that nobody is 100% straight or gay; however, they said they understand that is not how many cisgender and heterosexual, or cishet, people view it. 

“Nine times out of 10, if I am trying to put myself in a box for somebody to understand, I’m putting myself in a box for a cishet person to understand,” they said. “It’s exhausting because they don’t need to understand, but I definitely feel a societal pressure to make them understand.”

Parson said one way to get a step closer to their perfect world would be to dismantle the heteronormativity that is ingrained in society. 

Heteronormativy is the attitude that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural form of sexuality, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

“I think we need to stop training ourselves that being cishet is the norm,” Parson said. “Whether or not it is the majority or the advertised majority, we have been around since the beginning of time.”

Starmer said they think labels are so entrenched in societal norms that they’re hard to escape. 

“For the cishet community, I feel like they look at the labels so they can make sense of what they don’t understand,” Starmer said. “The LGBT community uses labels so they can find a community with people who are similar to them or to find peace with who they are.” 

Alayna Milby identifies as bisexual and nonbinary. For Milby, these labels are important to her as they help define her identity.

Alayna Milby, director of community engagement at Hope Harbor in Bowling Green, said she views labels in a different light. 

Milby, who has been comfortable in her bisexual identity for years, has recently realized that she is also nonbinary. 

For her, labels are necessary. 

“I do think labels are important to people,” she said. “I think it is a part of validation, you know? Putting a name to the way you feel and knowing that others feel the same way so that you know you’re not crazy.”

Milby said she can understand why others may feel constricted by labels.

“I see the argument of someone saying, ‘Oh no, these words don’t describe me,’ but there may be a word out there for you if you really want one,” she said. 

While Milby finds comfort in labels, she said there is still work to be done inside and outside of the LGBTQ community to provide acceptance to different identities.

Milby said that some of the most hurtful things she has heard about bisexual people have come from gay men. 

“Some of the most hurtful things that were so disappointing to hear was this idea that bi people can’t make up their minds, and they’re selfish,” Milby said.

She said she thinks this mainly comes from the binary that our society is built around and how some LGBTQ identities, like bisexual, pansexual, nonbinary and transgender, challenge that binary. 

“I think nonbinary people are kind of the bi people of gender identity,” she said laughing. “Here we are existing in this nonbinary fluid space, and everybody else is living in this binary mindset. So I’m like the queer outcast of gender identity and sexual identity.”

“I think it is a part of validation, you know? Putting a name to the way you feel and knowing that others feel the same way so that you know you’re not crazy.”

- Alayna Milby

Alayna Milby has worked at Hope Harbor, a sexual trauma recovery center, for about six years. “I love my work. The garden is definitely my favorite space,” Milby said, “It’s an amazing place for our patients that come here.”

Aside from correcting cishet norms, Parson said there is also work to be done to diminish toxic words that promote gatekeeping, the act of limiting access to something, within the LGBTQ community. One example is a gold star lesbian, or a lesbian who has never slept with a man, according to Cassie Sheets from pride.com.

“If I hear the term ‘gold star lesbian’ one more time I am going to lose it,” Parson said. 

Parson said they have heard many people use this term, and it is a part of the problem of labels within the LGBTQ community

 because, while it may have been created as a term of camaraderie, it is highly exclusionary. 

Even terms like “butch” and “femme” can be harmful to people struggling to find their identity, they said. 

“I think a lot of those terms started with good intentions to give people a box to fit into, but what about people who don’t fit into that box or who fit into multiple boxes” they said. “It’s very exclusive.”

Starmer echoed this notion and said they think terms like “butch” and “femme” only serve as more boxes for people to check off. 

“It creates this expectation and people shouldn’t have to feel the need to fulfill that expectation,” they said. 

No matter what label one chooses to align with, Milby said that every identity should be respected. 

“There are people who identify as fairies, as nymphs, as all sorts of things,” she said. “I think it can be freeing because it’s so validating.”

While Starmer and Parson may wish for a world in which labels aren’t necessary, they can agree with Milby in how labels can provide comfort to individuals struggling to find their place in the world. 

“I’m the type of person who likes finding answers,” Starmer said, reflecting on how they felt when they realized they were bisexual. “Finding that label gave me a lot of peace. As soon as I came out to myself, I grew more confident, I chopped my hair off, I just felt more at home with myself. I felt like me.” 

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