I'm feeling confused about my gender identity and/ or sexuality. What can I do to get some clarity?


This is perhaps the most nagging question one encounters with coming of age, or even before that: the ‘confusion’ may arise out of a very unsettling sense of not being able to align one’s desire with the expected norm – that is, (compulsory) heterosexuality, which one sees all around them every day. Even if one makes peace with this initial confusion, that is, if one learns to accept their ‘difference’ with time, the ‘confusion’ may deepen with knowledge. Now, that may sound paradoxical. Knowledge of one’s sexuality, the idea that sexualities are multiple, should ideally aid in dispelling the ‘confusion’. But, that is not always the case. In fact, excess of knowledge may cause more confusion. How? One, who is struggling with their sexuality, may find the huge number of terms that are in circulation mind-boggling. The question ‘Which of these am I?’ may occupy an individual’s mind, if (and this happens very frequently) they find existing sexuality identity categories restrictive, or not very satisfactorily defining how they feel or what they desire. In other words, one may find textbook definitions of terms such as ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bisexual’, ‘trans’, ‘non-binary’, ‘intersex’, etc. inadequate in explaining what they feel or desire. It is absolutely fine to feel alienated by these definitions and labels. But, then what?

First and foremost, at this moment in history, we are obsessed with identities. In case of sexual identities – particularly, ‘Which sexuality type am I?’ – is a question which troubles more than anything else. Unlike other identity categories, such as class, caste, religion, ethnicity, ability, etc., sexual identity is not concrete, sometimes indecipherable, in most cases, indeterminable. To dispel this confusion, one may understand that for the longest time, we are living in a fictional world of gender identities, and, it has been so long that we have forgotten that it is a fiction. The confusion begins with a strong, indispensable belief in the binary system of ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and, sometimes, of a ‘third gender’ category which is somewhere between the idea of being a man and a woman. The first step to disperse the confusion is to reject all three categories. It is undeniable that it is an enormously taxing job to imagine gender without pinning it on to anatomy. But, the only possible way to do away with this confusion is to first accept that gender and sexuality need not be defined by a certain kind of biological body, certain kind of anatomy. Once accepted, sexuality could be envisioned as a continuum, as a spectrum, just like the rainbow flag, only far more infinite and indefinite. It may not be possible for anyone to be absolutely sure at which point in that unending spectrum could one locate oneself. There is no single placeholder. Most importantly, an identity with which one is born, or comes to realise what one is at a certain point in time, may not remain the same all through one’s life. To cite a simple example, a person who has always been heterosexual, may one fine day, at an advanced age, begin to feel sexually attracted towards the same-sex. One may recall, Thomas Mann’s renowned novella, Death in Venice/Der Tod in Venedig (1912), where, a 50-something Gustav von Aschenbach falls in love with the adolescent Tadzio, having led the life of a married heterosexual man till that point of meeting the latter.

Identity is not fixed; it is fluid. Similarly, desire is also not fixed; it changes with time. Therefore, if one is feeling confused about one’s identity, it is totally alright: it is confusing, only when one is assuming identity to be a  fixed category, as something rigid and determinable. The moment one learns to accept identity as unfixed, in a perpetual state of transition in relation to one’s social, political, economic and cultural surrounding, one will be fine. Basically, therefore, the way to emerge more confident of one’s sexuality is to accept it as fluid, as changeable, as malleable. It takes a lot of energy to worry over the possibility of fitting oneself into one particular category. The fruitful way to be is to imagine oneself as always in a state of becoming, the end of which may never be reached even in death.

Even then, if one is looking for a label to ‘identify’ with, what should they do? Well, ‘queer’ is a useful term, though, ironically, it does not describe one particular identity (even though it is very often mistaken as an identity label). Why is the term ‘queer’ useful? ‘Queer’ encapsulates an oppositional stance to everything that is normative. Locating one’s self using different identities and terminologies, one may need an anchor in the shape of a word, a term: ‘queer’ may satisfactorily epitomise that way of being which is always in state of becoming, not constricted by identity labels or binaries such as man and woman or heterosexual and homosexual. The best case scenario would be not to try and identify with a pre-existing label at all. That is what one should ideally do for clarity, when afflicted by the niggling question: I’m feeling confused about my gender identity and/or sexuality. What can I do to get some clarity?


Author: Dr. Kaustav Bakshi, Associate Professor, Department of English, Jadavpur University

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