Katie Watson (she/her)
Whether it’s for laughs, for support, for labels, or for pure curiosity, many a queer has taken one of the various “Am I [insert identity here]” quizzes. There’s hundreds of versions offering answers to questions many queer people face throughout their lives, whether it be gender, sexual, and romantic identity, or any other question. They can be silly Buzzfeed quizzes judging your sexuality based on a Starbucks order or an algorithmic quiz that tallies up your answers to questions to give you a percentage point of gayness. In my own experience, taking this kind of quiz started out as a joke but eventually became a way to test out various labels and identities, to explore questions about my identity and satisfy my need to put a label on what I was feeling. After reflecting on these memories and hearing so many similar stories from queer friends, I became curious. This month, I set out to discover why gay quizzes have become such a universal experience for queer youth, and what alternatives we can find to quizzes in support of those who are questioning.
After asking a range of people about their own experiences, it seems like the desire for a label is a predominant factor in taking these kinds of quizzes, but experiences and opinions also vary a lot. There’s a common joke I hear when gay quizzes are brought up: if you’re taking the quiz, then it probably means the answer to your question “Am I __” is yes. For me, taking the quiz was like trying on a label. In answering the questions, I learned more about what a certain identity meant beyond surface definitions offered by the internet. The obvious flaw in this logic is that a quiz can’t tell you who you are, and in many cases they also offer only surface level questions such as “Are you sexually attracted to [insert gender]” or “Are you experiencing gender dysphoria?”. I found it hard to respond when questions like these were the very ones I wanted answered. In the years during which I have searched for fitting labels and words for my experience, I have found that videos and articles from queer voices have been infinitely more helpful than quizzes, not to mention the many people and friends I’ve met since coming to UM.
To that point, gay quizzes are often used as a substitute for queer community and connections with people who can help us understand our identities better. Using gay quizzes to identify what you’re feeling and to try to understand queer identities better can be frustrating, though. It can be hard to put a name to who you are, and Grey Weinstein, editor in chief of “The Michigan Gayly,” had thoughts on this: “The alternative to these quizzes has always existed, and it is queer community and talking to other queer and trans people.” Turning to the queer community when someone is questioning is absolutely a great way to find yourself and your people. In my own experience, finding friends and peers in the queer community at college has been incredibly transformative in my own journey, and has helped me learn how to be myself without always needing a perfect label because I know I will be understood and accepted regardless. However, this kind of support isn’t available to everyone. For one thing, many people don’t have queer mentors or peers available to them, especially during high school. Some people may not be in a safe or welcoming space that allows them to reach out, while others like me may simply not have other queer people around at all in high school. Moreover, division and discrimination within the queer community is a very real thing. Especially for marginalized people like people of color, trans and nonbinary people, or aromantic or asexual people, majority-white or cis queer communities may not be welcoming enough to offer the support that questioning people need or want. In the absence of these resources, the internet is an easy place to turn to, and taking quizzes is a noncommittal way to confront the scary or confusing feelings one may face.
Moreover, “Am I Gay?” quizzes can be hard to reconcile with intersecting, fluctuating identities. Someone on the ace spectrum questioning who they want to date may find it hard to answer questions about sexual attraction or experiences, for example. Many of these quizzes only consider how sexuality is experienced by those who are cisgender, white, able-bodied, allosexual, or who live in the West, and lead to narrow questions and definitions of sexuality (or gender) which exclude quiz-takers who exist at the intersection of various marginalized identities. Additionally, since quizzes are geared towards a younger audience, answering questions about sexual attraction can be difficult when you’re still learning who you are and what that feels like. As our features editor Padma Daturty put it, “Having more experiences helps in discovering those [feelings] as well, but that’s not to say you need those experiences to consider yourself queer or straight.” Sexuality is fluid and labels may change over time. More importantly, labels aren’t necessary to be who you are. While I’m someone who likes to put my feelings into labels and boxes, sometimes it’s just not possible, and I’m learning to be okay with that uncertainty. Sometimes it’s best to live as you feel comfortable and let the rest fall into place. Quizzes perpetuate the idea that labels are a requirement, or even the idea that you have to pass the quiz and have a specific experience - for example, needing to kiss a girl to be a real lesbian - in order to really be part of the LGTBQ+ community. For some people, personal experiences in exploring connections and identities is the key to unlocking their identities and figuring out labels; for others, those chances to explore don’t come easily, and personal exploration does come from introspection that can be sparked by the questions quizzes ask you. In either case, having a clear definition of who you are shouldn’t necessarily be the answer. Instead, these questions and experiences should lead you to live more comfortably and happily.
In my own experience, gay quizzes have both opened me up to realizations about my sexuality and also echoed my own questions back at me. Until some of my friends started coming out in high school, I never really considered the idea that I could be not straight. Taking a quiz as a joke with my friends - one that suggested I was bisexual - was what made me think to myself, “I don’t have to be straight. Maybe the fact that I want to date girls means I actually am attracted to them.” Clearly, there was a lot that I was suppressing and misunderstanding about myself. Because I pretty much started my sexuality crisis during the pandemic, I ended up questioning myself a lot on my own, and only when I was most desperate did I try turning to the internet again and taking another quiz (which was largely unhelpful). I later found out that several of my friends had similar experiences in questioning during the pandemic with no one to talk about it with. Going on my third year of still not really knowing who I am, I’ve found that I tend to use quizzes sparingly as a way to find out more about an identity outside of the sometimes confusing personal accounts written online. They have also been helpful in helping me consider new labels, regardless of my quiz result. In the end, I’ve become more comfortable with my uncertainty and suspicions of my identity almost completely through the people and resources I’ve found in college. Going to queer events and clubs, discussing my experiences with others who understand them, and even just having someone to listen when I admit my fears and feelings have all been invaluable in helping me on my sexuality journey. Quizzes have helped me consider certain identities but never provided me the answer. Who I am will always be up to me to grow into and explore.
In the end, quizzes are what we make of them. Gay quizzes are a product of the Information Age, where a rapidly growing online world leads people down rabbit holes and makes it hard to find what we’re looking for among multitudes of available information. As such, while helpful in suggesting possibilities and guiding considerations, quizzes can overwhelm us with ideas and suggestions we are already struggling to answer as we figure out our identities. They can make a confusing and stressful period of our lives more frustrating, and lead us away from helpful resources like conversations with LGBTQ mentors and acting on our feelings in real life. In the end, quizzes can’t answer the questions we ask ourselves. Only time, exploration, and support will lead us to understanding and being comfortable with who we are, whether or not that means we have the right words to describe it.