I get nervous before any big trip I take. My stomach gets upset, my palms sweat. I feel a bit like I’m diving off the edge of a cliff, unsure if the parachute strapped to my back will be enough to help me float.
Traversing the frenetic landscape of my sexuality is as disorienting and rewarding as hitting the pavement of cities I don’t know yet.
When I first began seriously exploring my sexuality as a surprisingly repressed young adult—surprising because I was raised in a progressive home and I was attending one of the most LGBT-friendly colleges in the country—I felt similarly. The potential of dating women, of being something other than “straight,” would hit me in waves, a surge of adrenaline mixed up in the sheer terror of looking down and not being able to see the bottom. I always assumed that jumping from that cliff would lead to a crash landing—where, I didn’t know. Whether my breakable bones could withstand the impact of hitting the ground, I didn’t know either.
Now, a few years since the initial jump, I’m beginning to see that a landing of any sort was never an option.
My queerness has evolved from the paralyzing need as a confused 16-year-old to identify as either “gay” or “straight”; today, it’s more of an open-ended question, a continual investigation of self. It keeps me suspended in the stratosphere, periodically looking at the earth below and feeling flutters of anxiety in my belly. Ultimately, though, I remain in the air. Maybe this is some of what draws me to travel, to long hours spent in the sky; consciously or not, up there is where I feel most like myself.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay here? To swallow my feelings?
I can’t help but see parallels in my experiences as a bisexual woman and as a traveler. Traversing the frenetic landscape of my sexuality is as disorienting and rewarding as hitting the pavement of cities I don’t know yet. The panic I felt as I headed to the airport for three weeks studying in South Africa or flying alone to Buenos Aires (my first time in South America, where I would meet only strangers on the other side), left me breathless at first. Both times, I questioned up until the last second if I really wanted to go—wouldn’t it be easier to just stay here? Up there on that cliff, the wind whipped at my cheeks; the anticipation of the jump left me dizzy.
Both times, and many more times since, I jumped. As that breathless panic slowly diffuses, it transforms into exhilaration. I’m confronted with the truth about taking risks; which is, of course, that they move us forward. And forward is the only way to go.
When I decided to “come out” as bisexual, I was putting to bed years of giving into the instinct to not jump. Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay here? To swallow my feelings? To ignore what makes me different? I had conversations with myself as a teenager where I would say, very convincingly, that it would be easier for everyone if I just remained depressed for the rest of my life; that it would be less alienating than to bring the shadowy parts of myself into the light.
Basic queer theory requires us to take everything we know about ourselves and our world and turn it upside down, to look at it from a different perspective. To question it, throw it out a window, make origami out of it and then light that origami on fire and make sand art from the ashes.
For me, queerness is weightlessness.
Queerness is more than sexual preference; it represents a challenge to structures that have been deemed unnecessary, oftentimes oppressive. It looks different from region to region, from city to city, and from person to person. And while that’s a lot of what’s scary about it, it’s also what makes it exciting. It’s borderless. Queerness, like travel, reminds me of how there’s an infinite amount of expressions and an infinite amount of stories. It’s been a privilege and a delight, getting to explore even a tiny fraction of those that are out there.
Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I had let my fear win—if I never went to South Africa or Buenos Aires, or China or Uganda or Peru or anywhere else I’ve been over the last several years. I wouldn’t have fallen in love. I wouldn’t have climbed mountains or tasted new favorite foods. I wouldn’t have had the chance to see myself succeed, to float.
I wouldn’t believe in myself. That’s the real crash landing I’ve feared all my life.
For me, queerness is weightlessness. It is the same freedom that we, as travelers, are all chasing, in one form or another.