The LGBTQA community is full of labels. Some of them are not so good; others have been adopted and reiterated in order to become an empowering symbol. One in particular that caught my ears lately is that of the “Gold Star Gay (or Lesbian).” Upon hearing it, I was curious what it meant. Put simply: a gay individual that has never slept with a member of the opposite sex. In many ways, this term could easily be passed off as vanilla, just another harmless term that serves its definitive function. Then again, the connotation of the term troubles me.
In many ways, this term functions as a way with which an individual can display their “purity,” an affirmation to their sexuality that exists in a manner that is inaccessible to many. It is also a moniker that tracks the history of those that may claim it, a way in which to say, “I’ve been gay since birth and have never betrayed my sexuality.” Like many terms, this can have an empowering effect. For many, it is worn as a badge of honor. Equally, it’s exclusionary nature can force others to question their own comparable “purity.”
The case of a “Gold Star” ranking for one’s sexual history is not a certainty and is often rare. For many individuals, their sexual journey was not as simply as “always knowing.” Many circumstances (including religion, community, familial expectations, ect.) contribute to a person’s sexual choices. The actual attribute of sexuality does not always factor in as heavily as one thinks. If one is raised in a religious household, there are certain expectations that might make those conflicting feelings seem damning. If a parent regularly uses degrading words like “faggot” and “dyke,” well, one might think carefully about whether or not sleeping with the opposite sex might seem like a safer option.
There is also the implication that having never slept with a member of the opposite sex is something to be revered. Like a virgin, their purity is somehow preserved. By extension, those who do not have a gold star are sullied. Again, like the virgin marker, gold star is exclusionary based on as little as one experience. Where many labels are ascribed or adopted, this particular one cannot be earned once relinquished, and for many, this relinquishment was not given willingly or knowingly.
To further expand the debate, this label has a problem as it invokes heteronormative, cisgendered, and biphobic ideas. What if the individual one sleeps with is trans? What if they are genderqueer? Non-cisgendered? Does anatomy come into play? Are bisexuals excluded? In almost any incarnation, the navigation of the term is tricky. It involves attributing “traditional” and “accepted” terms and usages to all parties involved. Those who do not identify as male or female and do not have the corresponding equipment are left outcast. No matter how carefully one monitors their own activities, if you’re not part of the norm, no matter which side of the sexual scale, “Gold Star” is simply too exclusive a term for most to achieve.
This term is not wholly without its use or its benefit. For some, it can be a powerful affirmation of their sexuality. However, it does come with its consequences, consequences for those outside of the club. The debate is far-reaching, and many voices have sounded to apply their input. In my opinion, I think this term is elitist, putting the individual on a pedestal for the surrounding community to marvel at their purity. Its subtle use of ideas about sex, gender, and sexuality that do not allow for the inclusion of alternative forms of expression make it a problematic term, especially for those who cannot take on its branding. In short, if you choose to identify as a Gold Star anyone, please be conscious of just what you are doing by putting your sexual history on display and in contrast to others who may not have had such an affirming upbringing.