[Enter identity here]

Logan Crews, opinions editor

Ding. I rolled over to grab my phone that hadn’t stopped vibrating since the night before. Pressing the home button, I already knew what I would find. Another question dropped in my ASKfm inbox from a bewildered classmate. There were about five or six anonymous messages waiting for my reply already, half of which were way too personal or rude for me to consider, and the other half were statements saying how brave and inspiring I am. I turned my phone off and rolled back over. My brain was overloaded with the questions, mean comments and hypothetical situations I imagined happening when I returned to school. And it was only 12 hours after I came out as lesbian.

I’m a writer. I make art with words. Crafting them together to conjure images and emotions, my brain fills to the brim with dictionary pages and I shoot them from the tips of my fingers. I attach words to feelings, to foods I don’t like, to memories. However, I’ve never understood why we must attach them to people.

The term LGBT means lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. And there’s more. Pansexual. Aromantic. Demisexual. The list goes on as people find words to describe their unique feelings about their sexuality. Being under the huge umbrella of LGBT is comforting knowing that there’s already an established community of welcoming people willing to embrace their letter of the acronym. But at the same time, it’s dangerous.

I first came out as bisexual in middle school. I knew it wasn’t the most accurate word to describe how I felt, but living where I like to call Privilegeville, Missouri, there wasn’t much LGBT representation around for me to identify with. As soon as I broke free from the assumed straight identity, I didn’t feel like anyone treated me the same. All of a sudden I got weird questions like if I would have a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time and other complete invasions of my privacy on social media. I didn’t realize pinning down my sexuality with a seemingly harmless word would result in pinning the rest of me down in a wrestling match against stereotypes. And I was destined to lose.

About a year later, I came out as a lesbian. To this day, the L-word gives me the creepy crawlies because of how it separated me from the rest of my friends, making me the token gay kid that everyone wanted to ask their deepest and strangest questions to. Why I was seen as the voice for all lesbians everywhere, I will never know. And aside from those, I was also cyberbullied. The word I felt the most comfortable in standing behind was also the word that ended up haunting me with comments like, “You know, if you weren’t a lesbian, maybe people would like you.” Needless to say, that part of the LGBT umbrella did nothing to stop the downpour of assumptions, isolation and self-hatred that continued until I found a different label to shield myself with. I can’t say my falsely placed pride from living as a gay person ever completely dried off.

Going to high school helped me sort many of my feelings out. I had three years under my belt of being uncomfortable saying I was a girl who likes girls. Watching different LGBT Youtube channels and having a larger pool of real-life LGBT people to compare myself to, I finally felt OK saying I was transgender. This didn’t actually come out of my mouth, though, until a year after I wrote it down in my journal, at last feeling strength from a word that accurately described me. I get now why people find solace in placing themselves under a word. It’s easier to find a community of people who actually accept you and can relate to your struggles and accomplishments specific to your identity. But I also understand why if it’s the wrong label, it can seem to ruin your life until you sort yourself out. If it were up to me, humans wouldn’t need to be labeled. No one would care who the next person loved or what pronouns they wanted to use. Everyone would mind their own business and would call others by their name, not their identity. Unfortunately, that’s just not the world we live in.

My hope is that the LGBT community can let go of our individual barriers from time to time and be the umbrella it’s supposed to be. There is indeed strength in having specific labels. Sometimes, though, we need to let them go so anyone confused about who they are can at least have a resting point to figure it out before they’re funneled into the nearest letter in the acronym. Hopefully, eventually, we won’t need those letters at all. But while we have them, they should open up to the next generation of scared kids who feel their only hope comes from the few positive comments lighting up their phone screen, shining through the ones trying to tear them down.

*All embedded images are pulled from my middle school ASKfm account.