I can distinctly recall the moment when I found myself attracted to other women. I didn’t feel sexually compelled, but I was drawn to them in a way I couldn’t explain. What was this feeling? And how could it be labeled? I didn’t have an answer and didn’t have any experiences that could provide any clear-cut revelations. But I did know that I was queer curious. It became evident that there is no simple answer to the exploration of identity and sexuality.
The Sexual Identity Journey
Living in a world that is at once accepting and unyielding of the LGBTQIA+ community, exploring your sexuality has never been more important. Luckily, today we have a wealth of resources and tools at our disposal. The journey is one of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and ultimately self-love. For Black women and women of color, the path can be even more complex — balancing race, gender, sexuality and more.
Exploring your sexuality can be embarked upon at any stage in life, and is hardly ever a one-time experience with permanent results.
“Whether straight or gay — is often something that kids or teens recognize with little doubt from a very young age. Some gay teens say they had same-sex crushes in childhood, just as their heterosexual peers had opposite-sex crushes,” states Kids Health.
Our sexual identities are fluid, whether we realize it or not. For some, sexual orientation is not definite or continuous throughout their lives; rather, it can be fluid and change over time.
Confidence in Sexual Identity
It’s perfectly okay if you haven’t sorted out every aspect of your sexual identity — in reality, most people haven’t. And that is where sexual exploration comes in. To empower those who are queer curious, 21Ninety spoke with Mia Cooley. Cooley is the founder of xHood, a sanctuary exclusively for Black LGBTQIA+ parents and those aspiring to become parents. The organization’s mission is to facilitate profound connections essential to nurturing happy and healthy children, from conception to child-rearing.
“I felt like my understanding of my sexuality blossomed suddenly, and all at once. There wasn’t a specific moment when I questioned my attraction to different genders; it was always there,” Cooley begins. Her journey, like many others, was a gradual process. It’s a reminder that sexuality is a deeply personal experience, and there’s no need to rush.
“Looking back, I realize that my early romantic experiences were heavily influenced by accessibility. Unlike today’s LGBTQ+ youth, not everyone around me was openly queer or in same-gender relationships, making it challenging to explore my identity. As a result, I ended up in a long-term relationship throughout high school without questioning whether I wanted to focus on just one gender for the long term.” Representation is a huge factor to understanding one’s own sexuality. When there are limited role models and openly queer individuals in one’s environment, it can be challenging to explore one’s identity fully.
Cooley’s initial self-identification was as bisexual. “My initial self-identification was as bisexual,” she explains. “However, I soon realized that there was so much more to explore and understand about gender identity, as well as the intricacies of sexual and romantic attractions and commitments.” This fluidity led her to proudly identify as a pansexual woman — a reminder that those who are queer curious can start with a label that feels comfortable and change it as they gain a deeper understanding of themselves.
Power in Authenticity
What sets Cooley’s journey apart is her approach to her identity. She didn’t go through a formal “coming out” process. She simply existed as her authentic self. “ … I genuinely believed no one around me needed to seek approval or validation for their romantic and sexual preferences. They didn’t have to subject their personal choices to scrutiny, so I chose not to either,” she said.
Her approach of living authentically without the need for validation is a lesson in itself. A reminder that one doesn’t need to conform to societal expectations. For Black women and women of color who are queer-curious, this is doubly true. Our sexual journeys are personal, unique, and can be a source of power. Exploring one’s sexuality allows them to learn about their desires, connect with like-minded people, and experience the joys of self-discovery. Even though it can seem scary, the journey can lead to a richer, more fulfilling life.
For Black women and women of color, it’s also an opportunity to challenge stereotypes and assumptions, breaking free from the constraints of society’s approach to sexuality.
“Being more than just queer, more than just a woman, but a Black Queer woman, is an experience of profound depth and significance,” said Cooley. “I draw strength from the tireless efforts and victories of my ancestors, which resonate in every facet of my life. It’s my belief that as both Black and Queer individuals, we have a rich history of building chosen families that provide the support necessary for our success. This unique superpower persists even when we confront the enduring impacts of systemic racism and misogynoir.”
In Cooley’s case, her journey led her to create xHood. Her personal experiences served as a foundation for the platform. xHood offers guidance, resources, and a sense of belonging for others on a similar journey.
“To my fellow queer and questioning siblings, I want to emphasize that there’s immense power, joy, and liberation in the journey of self-discovery. Think of yourself as water, constantly changing and flowing, and don’t fixate on reaching a final destination.”