In my 20s and 30s, I wanted everyone to know. In my 40s, I wanted no one to know. In my 50s, I don’t know what I know.

Sexual identity is a duplicitous thing. Or is my attachment to outdated principles making it feel that way?

My recent bout of hair loss (see previous post The Power of Permission) has brought up several negative core beliefs I thought I had “laid to rest” amid all my excavation in self-help, 12-step recovery, and therapy over the years. But here I am again, revising my sense of self in a way I hadn’t expected. It’s like what I heard on an outreach call several months ago: “God uses the weak spots to get in.”

In other words, all those underground caverns of self-doubt and criticism? Surprise! Still here.

The first awareness I had was noticing how my physical appearance still affected my thoughts about my worth, value, and definition of being a woman. This led to the realization how even something as innocuous as hair can, for me and sometimes whole cultures, determine if a woman is viable—even so far as to say if she is feminine or not. Then I saw how there was still a delineation between the grace I gave to others (loving them exactly how they are) and the conditions I still placed on loving myself.

But what I didn’t see was how all this pierced right into the heart of my sexuality. This archeological dig was bigger than projected; there was another row of long-lost (read: presumed resolved) assumptions underneath.

Enter words like gay and lesbian, and, going another level deeper, butch and femme.

“I don’t know who I am anymore!” I said to a close friend, my body shaking with short heaves of grief. “My whole life I’ve allowed myself to be a lesbian because I’ve been the ‘no way you’re gay’ one, the ‘you’re too girly’ one, the ‘I’d never guess you were’ one, and that’s been my safety net.”

My emotions were tumbling out in the same way (unbridled bursts of tears) they do since the brain injury when I am moving through overwhelm and fear.

“This makes sense,” she replied, “based on the other element you told me. The other day, you said the message you internalized was, ‘You can be gay, as long as you don’t look it.’”

It was then that those prehistoric pieces of thought I had been dusting off started to fit together.

All of my life, I have carried the belief that I would only be accepted if I could hide it (being gay/lesbian/different than heterosexual) by passing off being straight. My long hair, as part of my physical appearance, was how I kept that escape hatch open—this was how my brain told me that I could secure appearing “normal,” thus feeling loved and therefore safe.

Was I ready to shelve these ancient relics and seal off the tomb?

Six years ago I wrote a post (The Liberty in Labels) about the freedom I found in labels. How they helped me place all these thoughts, feelings, and emotions I had been feeling about my sexuality (especially the isolation I felt growing up) in protective care with a group of people who identified as the same. I reflected on how labels enabled me to feel comforted by finding like-minded people and a community where I belonged.

So much of that still rings true, especially as I rediscover parts of myself that I had formerly cast off because of societal pressures I couldn’t stand up to. But as time has passed, I am also recognizing there is a more expansive approach to letting these labels go and just living as I am: a spiritual being, a source of Divinity, or simply put, part of the whole.

Of course there is a balance between living on a broad spectrum, as an individual, and between others. And I’m sure I’ll find myself cornered in one or the other at various times to come. But perhaps the key is not to mark each personal unearthing as having the most meaning. It’s to embrace all facets as a collection of my human expression—especially the ones of love.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”