‘I let go of my shame and the whole world opened up for me.’: Pansexual, gender-fluid individual shares self-acceptance journey

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Sexual Identity

“What happens when you are born a certain way but only discover the truth of this identity in your adulthood?

You feel like an imposter.

This was my experience coming out as pansexual at the age of 24, then genderfluid at age 26.

I felt late to the game. I felt like since I did not have the same queer experiences growing up that so many of the queer community bonds over, I would be ostracized.

woman taking a picture with flowers around her face
Courtesy of Andrew Branford

But the education my queer friendships provided helped me become a more open, flexible, and genuine person. Queerness is about so much more than which gender you have sex with. It’s about community. It’s about friendship and joy and acceptance and love. It’s about embracing who you are without apologies.

This insight was not an easy road to come to.

Growing Up

Growing up, I was abused as a child for years by a woman who was supposed to be taking care of me. This experience confused my little heart and led to severe C-PTSD later in life. I had trouble remembering my childhood and felt this freezing sensation whenever I was touched by a woman. I hated hugging even women in my family. I share this not to further the false homophobic stereotype of sexual abuse ‘turning you gay.’ I simply want to be transparent about the ways in which this impeded my journey to embracing my true feelings and desires.

little girl sitting in front of flowers
Courtesy of Talia Clementine

I have an accepting family I knew would embrace me coming out of the closet. My mother worked at a nonprofit that hosted an LGBTQ+ youth support group. We went as ‘straight allies’ to the Queer Prom they organized. My mother’s response to my sibling’s coming out talk was, ‘I didn’t pressure you into feeling like you had to be queer, right?’ Then volunteered to take her to the Pride parade, rainbows flying proudly.

This is, unfortunately, not the most common story with queer people and their families. Often it is fear of family backlash that keeps many in the closet. For me, it was a fear of exploring experiences with non-men and having flashbacks to my childhood abuse.

Something you could catch me saying to my lesbian best friend would be, ‘I would totally date you if you were a man.’ I cringe looking back on the ways I was ignorant and lying to myself and everyone I knew.

teen girl with her dog
Courtesy of Talia Clementine

Quietly, I would beam like a small sun when I got hit on by a non-man. I secretly fell in love with my women friends and got upset when they’d eventually start dating a man. I buried these feelings so deep inside that 21-year-old me would’ve sworn under oath I was not gay. Denial is a powerful thing. I would often get drunk at parties and make out with women, yet still did not make the internal connection.

It wasn’t until I, unfortunately, faced sexual violence from a few men that I realized I could not let my PTSD make decisions about my sexuality. By facing my sexual trauma and getting several therapists’ help, I was able to face my flashbacks. I was able to confront any embarrassment or fear I had about being triggered in intimate moments. I let go of my shame and it felt like the whole world opened up for me.

Self-Acceptance

When I finally had sex with a woman, I felt so free. I felt like I could finally be my full self.

woman in the ocean
Courtesy of Rachael Wolfe

I was still attracted to men, which is unfortunately often viewed as ‘not gay enough.’ Or I’d get responses like my pansexuality was just a ‘stop on the way to full gay.’ It was incredibly frustrating and invalidating to hear this. These experiences made me feel even more like an imposter. I didn’t want to be forced into choosing only one option. It felt like a constriction in a community that is supposed to accept you as you truly are. That box is not who I was born as.

My whole life, I have found a reason to fall a little in love with every stranger I meet. At age 24, I was finally being open about who I was but often lacked the language to express it.

It wasn’t until I was exposed to the full spectrum of gender that I really became free. Education is essential, and it is a shame our society chooses to suppress LGBTQ+ education. When trying to choose a name for my sexuality, I had to do extensive online research into the many terms used. I was still uneducated about the lingo and jargon. Gender was a topic I didn’t have much exposure to and sexuality seemed to have a whole dictionary worth of vocabulary to learn. The list was intimidating and overwhelming at first.

woman letting the wind take her hair
Courtesy of Rachael Wolfe

I thought I may be bisexual because that was the term I was most familiar with. Bisexual can be synonymous with pansexual, but the ‘bi’ prefix can often mean ‘two.’ That felt like I’d be ignoring the many beautiful people outside the gender binary. For me, it didn’t express the ways in which gender was not a factor in my choices of who to love. So I felt Pansexual was the better fit. This does not discount those who do choose Bisexual as their sexuality title, it simply did not fit my own.

Pansexual

Being pansexual, for me, means I am attracted to people’s souls first and foremost. I respect and acknowledge others’ gender expressions, but it does not impact the levels of respect, care, or compassion I give to them. I never want gender to be a reason I miss out on love.

My love is not a cage. My love is about freedom. My love does not obligate you to anything, and that has been one of the biggest blessings I have received in the queer community.

woman staring at the sunset
Courtesy of Rachael Wolfe

That, and the ability to remain fluid in my identity. Once I found my people, it was the first place that didn’t make me choose one title and stick with it. The LGBTQ+ community encourages exploration. Exploration of sexuality, gender, relationships, identity, and more. I love that a title you can identify as is ‘questioning.’ Questions are powerful, and answers are a journey. My queer friends helped me every step of that journey. They encouraged me to play with and invent my outward identity until it matched the one inside. They told me to ‘try out’ different pronouns with those closest to me until I found ones that felt right. My pronouns are currently she/they, with an emphasis on the pronoun ‘they.’ Gender Fluidity is another way I can express my relationship with myself. My gender often shifts. It ebbs and flows, sometimes outside the binary of ‘man or woman.’

When I came to these realizations, I decided to change my last name to Clementine. My old name felt like a too-tight snake’s skin I needed to shed. Naming myself was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. It felt like I had finally become who I was meant to be and could freely declare this discovery to the world. I chose Clementine for two reasons. One was the song ‘Clementine’ by Sarah Jaffe. The chorus repeats the line: ‘I wish my name was Clementine.’ I remember hearing it and thinking, why can’t it be? Why can’t we name ourselves?

The second reason is a bit more complex. In my life, I have experienced homelessness a few times. It has made me unable to pass by someone living on the street without giving them some kind of food, water, gift, or kind words. During my more financially challenging times, I couldn’t even afford food for myself. So I would buy an affordable bag of clementines and pass those out to my neighbors living without houses. I wanted to permanently remind myself of where I come from, no matter where life takes me, hence ‘Talia Clementine.’

person sitting on the grass, looking up through a picture frame
Courtesy of Alicia Miller

Advice

If there is anyone out there who can relate to my experiences, or maybe longs to make similar changes in their lives, I have a few offerings of advice.

Fear is not your foe if you can make friends with it. Fear is just the signal light saying, ‘Pay attention, this matters.’ You may face backlash, maybe even from yourself, but this is only one stepping stone on the way to true freedom.

Your freedom gets to look like whatever you want it to. You get to be whoever you want to be. Being queer is a blessing, and it’s only up to you whether you want to accept it. Don’t get so caught up in the ‘right’ words, that you forget to express your truth.

When you are ready, seek community. Find your people and love as loudly, as gently, as big as you want. You already have many people rooting for you, including me. When you feel alone on this journey, remember you have not met all the people who will love you in your lifetime. Strangers are just friends you haven’t made yet. Do not be so afraid of ‘strangeness’ that you miss out on a potential home.

I hope we will be friends one day as well. I hope you hope with your whole heart. I hope you listen when your heart speaks.

And most of all, I hope you find love, even if it’s simply, beautifully your own.”

woman taking a picture in purple light
Courtesy of Andrew Branford

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Talia Clementine from Philadelphia, PA. You can follow their journey on Instagram here and here and on TikTok. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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