It’s a monthly occurrence. I’m filling out a form, or I’m speaking to someone new, or I’m scrolling through Twitter, and some person or thing asks me what best describes my sexuality.

I say ‘gay’ and move on, but that’s not strictly true.

When I was twelve, I watched one of Miranda Hart’s specials from a rip on YouTube. In this live performance, she pranced around the stage as she normally did, then announced to an adoring crowd that she was a ‘gay man trapped in a woman’s body’. The audience laughed. I didn’t. Something about that turn of phrase had seen me for what I was, this complicated, pre-teen mess, and explained it in words that I suddenly understood. This joke was a freight train on an otherwise abandoned track.

There were many parts of myself that I couldn’t get my head around. How could I understand it if I couldn’t think it? How could I solve the mystery of who I was without categorising it first? Was I alone in the world?

A couple of months later I discovered what the word ‘transgender’ meant, and I was thirteen when I was finally brave enough to accept that I was trans. The mere acceptance of this label opened doors for me not only outside of myself, but inside, where parts of my life were finally beginning to make some sense.

The internet phenomenon of trans people was varied and rich but niche; and the further I dug, the more words I found to describe my experience of life, gender, and romantic preference. It was addictive in its own way; for thirteen years, a part of my soul had existed only in shadows, shrouded by my own youthful ignorance, and all of a sudden I was being thrust into the light and truly seen. Complex ideas were whittled down into tags and flags, and I indulged in the gluttony of visibility.

Words like ‘demisexual’ and ‘homoflexible’ made me feel as though I wasn’t alone in my experience of life, and these words set me on a path of self-acceptance that I ultimately must thank them for. 

I challenged my sexuality a lot through my teen years. Searching for evidence, I suppose, that I swung one way or another. I had dalliances with women and relationships with men. I tested the waters and found murkiness there.

By the time I went to college I was eight months on testosterone, and deep in the throes of exploration. I would only be in this place for a year, so I thought it was a good spot to test the waters of my identity.

I didn’t tell people I was trans. I existed as a man without prior adjective. As far as other people were concerned, I was just some guy. Eventually, I found that in not sharing this particular word, I was erasing parts of myself that made me likeable. Thousands of jokes and anecdotes and reflections went untold in the interest of remaining stealth. I became paranoid about my personality; the way I talked and the way I dressed. I felt as though I was lying, eventually, and thus concluded my internal canvassing.

The human condition is complicated. Love is complicated. Gender and all of its expressions are complicated. There are a thousand ways for me to define myself. There are hundreds of labels and millions of combinations that I could use to pinpoint my exact experience of life, love, and the things in between, but the eventual decision I made was this:

I would rather spend the rest of my life living my truth than trying to pin a word to it.

So I say I’m gay on forms, because I’m in a gay relationship and most of the time, I like men. I’m camp and connected to my femininity in a way I never would have expected as a pink-hating seven-year-old, but ‘trans man’ is a fine way to describe myself. The world is challenging enough for people like me as it is; I no longer wish to scrutinise every one of my experiences for the purpose of a revelation that will likely never come.

When I came out, I hoarded these micro-labels as explanations, like I was guilty for the crime of existing in the first place. “Look!” I would think. “There are other people like me. I’m not alone.”

This wasn’t the path I stayed on to complete my journey, but I have the utmost respect for the people who defined themselves wholly. Beyond that: I revere the first person to label themselves a certain way; the person who built the door for people like them to walk through.

Sometimes, it can be hard to know ourselves, to understand our experiences without the words to describe them. Language is a mode of thought, a system that takes us from one place to the other. If people can’t think it, they can’t explain it; and this is why the visibility of a community is integral to its survival. Change your language and you’ll change your thoughts. Change your thoughts and eventually, through trial and error, you’ll change yourself.

A child is running through a field. The field has a river around it. Behind the child is a monster that’s chasing them down. The child reaches the running water at the end of the field. They could escape – they could live a life that is wonderful, joyous and free without a creature on their tail, but do they know the word for ‘swim’? Do they even know that such a thing is possible?