“People are really, you know, brilliant and suffering and complicated and you know, nothing appears, you know, as exactly what it seems to be… People are complicated and it’s hard to have just one label.” –Amy Siegel
My friend’s Aunt Amy was so inspiring to me. She grew up in my hometown, Pleasanton, so her story really resonated with me. Amy is a Jewish woman in her 40s whose sexuality is unlabeled. My friend Myla told me that she had a gay aunt that I could interview for an Oral History. I found it interesting when I learned that Amy actually identifies as unlabeled. It showed me how others perceive people’s sexuality when they’re in relationships and how they assume people to be fully homosexual if they are in a relationship with someone of the same gender identity and how they assume people to be fully heterosexual when they are in a relationship with someone of a different gender identity.
“people label me though. Like, oh, she’s lesbian, she’s with a woman and blah, blah, blah”
Throughout the interview, she talked about how society loves to put people in boxes. Labels are important for many people, they can help validate people or place them in a wonderful community with people in the same box, but they should never be forced on someone. There are so many sexual, romantic, and gender identities out there and it can be hard to find just the right one that matches who you are. After all, humans are complex. Amy would definitely agree with Nick DiDomizio when they said “While the Purple-Red scale is helpful in classifying sexual attraction, some people might argue that we don’t need a cut-and-dry system for classifying our sexuality in the first place. If the burgeoning “label-free” movement of sexual fluidity is any indication, coming up with clinical labels like “E2” or “B0” might be purposeless or even counterproductive to achieving true sexual freedom.” Some people prefer to have an exact name or term for their exact preference, while others have a more “go with the flow” attitude.
“it’s just freed me not to have to say I’m one thing… I also understand the power in like, when you choose to label yourself a certain way there could be power in that too. But for myself, because I’m I have a hard time really defining it. I’m like, but um, so yes, I- I think I’m a little bit more label free than some… I always just tell people, I just love who I love.”
Currently, Amy loves her girlfriend, Bek. They live in Orinda, California with their baby, Margo and their dog Patmos, named after the island they met on. Amy didn’t see this family in her future growing up, not because she was scared she wouldn’t be accepted, but because she didn’t know she wasn’t straight. Because she knew she liked men, she never questioned her sexuality until she fell in love with a woman. This is something that is common with people who like more than one gender, especially with the older generations because liking more than one gender wasn’t talked about as much back when they were growing up as it is today.
“most of my life I identified as straight. Uh I dated men and was in love and had beautiful relationships and heartache and chaos and all the young love stuff. And I never felt any confusion about that…. I dated in men most of my life, was always happy and in it, and then in my early 30s, I fell in love with a woman. And I don’t think I actually even realized I was in love with her for like a year because it just didn’t connect because it, you know, it just wasn’t something that I was used to.”
When she realized she wasn’t straight, she decided to stop labeling her sexuality altogether. She continued to live her life like she would have lived it had she been straight; her newfound sexuality didn’t affect her dreams or plans. She worked as a nurse in San Fransico and traveled in her free time. On a trip to Greece, Amy met Bek and they’ve been together ever since.
After learning that Amy loved traveling, I wondered if her sexuality affected her trips at all, whether that was deciding not to go some places or having to hide who she was. She confirmed that although she would continue to travel to places that were homophobic, she would feel nervous. She compared an experience of traveling with one of her friends to traveling with her girlfriend and the differences in safety she felt.
“I traveled with one of my best friends to Africa twice, and I didn’t think twice, and it’s just like, my friend and I were traveling, it was an incredible experience. But if I went with Bek, I’m more nervous, you know, and we would go and like, as friends, but I’m, I’m just nervous I’m gonna say babe, or like, I know, we have a baby.”
Most homophobic places are homophobic because of religion. I knew that Amy was Jewish, so I asked her if her religion affected the way she thought of herself or how other Jewish people saw her. Luckily, she and her family practice reformed Judaism. She explained the differences to me.
“I think there’s a spectrum about everything but and even in religion, right? Like Orthodox Jews, like if, you you cannot be gay, lesbian, transgender, they are not accepting, but reformed Judaism for the most part is actually very, very liberal and very, very open”
I was happy that she wasn’t excluded in her religious community because so many people take comfort in their place of faith. I asked her what it was like coming out to her family. Coming out is one of the only LGBTQ+ storylines shown in the media and it is always made out to be this huge rite of passage that all members of the community go through. For Amy, it was a casual conversation about how she realized she liked women.
“I was 38 years old. And my family was amazing. And I knew they would be so I uh again, was really lucky”
Coming out to her family was much easier for her than it was for Alike from Pariah. It just shows how different experiences are in the LGBTQ+ community and how some people are much more fortunate than others. When Alike came out, her mom beat her, “*Audrey swings and hits Alike with a nasty hook to the jaw, Alike’s head snaps back and hits the floor*” (Pariah Script). So many LGBTQ+ youth relate to this coming out story. Amy explained that she knew how fortunate she was to grow up with a liberal family that accepted her. She explained that Bek wasn’t as lucky. Bek wasn’t beaten, but she was “kicked out of her family for basically 10 years, like a very different experience [from mine] and probably a more typical experience of someone her age from Oklahoma from a religious family.”
One of the things that bothers me in the media is how dramatized coming out is. Coming out is definitely not an easy thing to do and can be a traumatizing experience, but in Love, Simon, when Simon is closeted, he acts really toxic to his friends by lying constantly to them. The writers made it seem like Simon was a bad friend for keeping his identity a secret and that keeping that information from his friends was a gateway into lying to them all the time. This isn’t accurate at all. Even worse was the character Leah. She got mad at Simon for coming out as gay because she had feelings for him. None of it felt realistic. It is already harmful to have such little media representation, but more so when the amount we do get is inaccurate. When Amy came out to her friends, people were more surprised that she finally wanted to settle down than the fact that she wasn’t straight.
Amy never felt the need to rush into marriage or a committed relationship because it is a big step, and it is one that she felt should come naturally if it came at all. She likes feeling free. She doesn’t like labels because she feels like they would tie her down and she doesn’t like the idea of rushing into serious commitments because being single was freeing for her.
“I wasn’t ready to really be with anyone. I was having a really good time. I actually liked being single. I like the freedom of it. Um I probably also like some of the drama that comes along with like, dating and whatever. Uh I wasn’t ready. And so when I was ready, I and I, you know, it wasn’t till I was in my mid to late 30s.”
Amy didn’t feel the need to live life the way society has said is “correct.” While her friends got married when they were twenty and thirty, Amy continued to explore her options. She never wanted to rush into serious relationships or marriage. She let everything come naturally. Society has a box for how people should live their lives: go to college, get a job, get married as soon as possible, then have kids. This doesn’t work for everyone and people sometimes forget that there are other paths to success and happiness.
Amy went to college in Boulder, Colorado and became a nurse in San Francisco. She did not see a point in rushing into marriage, instead she found happiness in a variety of casual relationships before finding Bek. Today, she is a stay-at-home mom because babies require a lot of attention. Amy made her family and life the way she wanted to instead of following what everyone else was doing and found her happiness her way.
Of course, it wasn’t easy for Amy to get her family. She had to go through several hardships to get Margo. Amy and Bek both wanted a baby, but it is nearly impossible to adopt a baby from a foster home. They decided to get a sperm donor and have Bek carry the fetus. I didn’t know before, but the process is still a very flawed system. Amy explained that “even if we were married and had a child together, the other person who isn’t the biological parent or doesn’t birth the child has to adopt, so I adopted my daughter” One of the spouses in a homosexual marriage would still have to adopt their child if they didn’t carry it. This is wrong because that is the closest homosexual parents can get to having their own children. In heterosexual married relationships, the married spouses can put their name on the birth certificate.
Amy also said that even if Bek birthed her biological child, she would still have to adopt, “Um but at one point, she was pregnant with one of my embryos, and and we ended up, she ended up having a miscarriage, but, and then she ended up getting pregnant again with one of her embryos. But either way, I was going to have to adopt the baby, even though um it could have been my genetics, because they would have said it was like a surrogate.” If a man impregnates a woman even if it is a one night stand, his name gets to be on the birth certificate. There needs to be so many changes to the way this system works because it doesn’t work with our current world. I had no idea how flawed these systems were before Amy explained them.
I really liked hearing Amy’s story and opinions. I have only been around people that did the college, job, marriage, kids plan my whole life. Amy did things her way and landed in the same place as everyone else in the end. In the media, the only LGBTQ+ stories that are shown are the ones that contain the most drama. This is why we only see coming out stories. In the media’s eyes, that is the only thing that’s interesting about our community. This oral history proves the media wrong. It was nice to hear Amy talk about her positive experiences. I found the abstaining from marriage, travelling stories, and adoption experience to be the most intriguing part of our conversation.
DiDomizio, Nicolas. “What’s Your True Sexual Orientation? The Purple-Red Scale Is Here To Help You Find Out.” MIC, 6 Oct. 2015, www.mic.com/articles/126346/what-s-your-true-sexual-orientation-the-purple-red-scale-is-here-to-help-you-find-out.
Rees, Dee; Young, Bradford. Pariah. 2011
Albertalli, Becky; Berlanti, Greg; Aptaker, Isaac; Berger, Elizabeth. Love, Simon. Hulu, 2018.