Claiming My Labels

By Elizabeth M. Mechem

When dealing with my ADHD, I find myself encountering many of the same issues I do when dealing with my sexuality. I have experienced outright dismissal and ridicule when opening up about being bisexual. In the same manner, I have experienced dismissal and ridicule when talking about having ADHD. This has led to much self-doubt and a feeling of loneliness over the years.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I even heard the term “ADHD.” As I looked more into ADHD, I realized that I may have been struggling needlessly for a very long time. Even though it would be years later until I gained a proper diagnosis, at least I had a sense of what was going on in my head. There was a reason I struggled in school. I wasn’t just lazy or stupid after all!

Just as with “ADHD,” I didn’t hear the term “bisexual” for the first time until I was an adult. As with my ADHD, though, a door opened for me that allowed me to understand all these feelings I had been experiencing most of my life. I didn’t walk through that door all at once, but I did start to gain a sense of understanding and ownership of my own sexuality for the first time. I began to feel a great sense of relief that I wasn’t a freak of nature that needed a ton of therapy. My sexuality existed and I was not alone.

Strangely, there are many who refuse to acknowledge the term ADHD or believe that it exists. It is the same way with “bisexual.” Many times the same people who “don’t believe in labels” are the same people who deny the existence of bisexuality altogether. When these things are said to me, I question who is saying them. Are they just ignorant about these things, or are they purposefully trying to deny me access to sorely needed resources and a community? I try not to always go the conspiracy route, assuming genuine ignorance instead. So I often find myself educating people.

Sometimes, though, people simply fear being boxed in by a label. Or maybe they don’t realize that there is an upside. Like “ADHD,” “bisexual” is a word that is recognized and has resources and community behind it. People who hear these words know what it means. When I use it, I let others know that being bisexual or having ADHD is not abnormal and that yes, these things do exist. I let others know that communities exist for them and they do not have to be alone.

Admittedly, sometimes it may be dangerous to use any label. Whatever the label is, it is up to the individual when and how to come out and wear it publicly. I don’t always immediately tell my employers about my disability or my sexuality, even if the government has laws in place to protect me. It can be extremely hard to prove discrimination. Then there are times when it has been physically dangerous to tell people I am bisexual.

However, we don’t have to publicly wear a label to use it. Even completely owning a particular label isn’t necessary. Sometimes, even just hearing a term that fits is enough, if it leads to knowing who we are and that we are not alone.

In my case, by owning the terms “bisexual” and “ADHD” I have found resources, and among the many resources, two wonderful communities. A supportive community of people who know what we are experiencing is extremely empowering. Even the existence of a community, no matter how engaged we become with it, helps us to realize that our experiences are not just in our heads.

Elizabeth lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with her family. She spends her time volunteering within the bi community and is a co-host and assistant producer of The Bicast.

This post originally appeared in Bi Women Quarterly in Winter 2019 and is reprinted with permission. Read current and back issues and sign up for a free electronic subscriptions to Bi Women Quarterly at