One of my favorite parts about being sober is that I’ve been able to truly find out who I am. Becoming completely aware of everything I’m feeling and experiencing has allowed me to learn new things about me and what I like. It can be exhilarating, albeit a little scary, to be discovering new pieces of my identity in my late 30s.

I began to fully accept that I am agender earlier this year. I struggled to fit within the label of being a woman for the vast majority of my life. I drank at it this discomfort, tried being more femme or more butch, and pushed and pulled and contorted myself to fit into a binary box. It wasn’t until I got sober, and felt free from other people’s expectations, that I truly began questioning gender and how it applied to me.

I was initially resistant to the idea that I could possibly be different than the identity that I had projected upon myself for 30 years. That identity made me, as a queer person, feel more “normal.”

But I learned more about myself over time in sobriety. Every time someone referred to me as a woman felt like a gut-punch. When I finally found language about gender that felt right to me, I shared it right away with someone I trust. In that moment, everything changed. There was a calm in me that I hadn’t felt in a long time, a weight lifted off of my chest, and a sense of relief washed over me.

At that point, it didn’t matter to me who accepted me or not: I accepted myself, and that felt like freedom.  

It’s common to use alcohol to mask who we are and what we’re feeling, especially with matters of sexuality and gender. If you only hook up with other women when you’re drunk, you can’t possibly be into girls, right?

It’s easy to blame the alcohol.

Or, if you’ve always dated cis men or women and need to drink through those relationships in order for things to feel good enough, you might think there’s something wrong with you. But there’s nothing wrong with you in either scenario.

At that point, it didn’t matter to me who accepted me or not: I accepted myself, and that felt like freedom.

Sobriety cracks you open. It forces you to confront those questions or worries that have been quietly (or very loudly) bouncing around in your brain for years—numbed or stamped down by drinking. And in this regard, eventual revelations about sexual or gender fluidity in sobriety are common.

People who are open about their sobriety often field questions from others about how they quit drinking and what suggestions they might have. Since I share a lot about the intersection of queerness and recovery, I get these questions often, along with additional questions about evolving sexuality in sobriety.

Dozens of these conversations have happened with people who are questioning or discovering that they are bisexual, pansexual, sexually fluid, or simply not straight. Every conversation is unique, of course, but there are a few themes that I see often. Here are a few of the more common questions I’ve come across, as well as advice from my experience.

“I’m inexperienced. Who will want me?”

Some people who are discovering their sexuality in sobriety have had a drunken hookup or two (or many) with people of the same gender as themselves, but not much experience sober—if any at all. Folks who are on the non-binary gender spectrum may feel completely inexperienced and terrified with the idea of actual intimacy.

Discovering in adulthood that you’re interested in a someone who has a gender that’s different than the gender(s) with which you’ve had previous romantic or sexual experience with can, understandably, feel daunting. That’s especially true because humans seem to expect that they should have reached a particular level of sexual expertise by a certain age.

This simply isn’t true.

Sexuality is just as much about connecting emotionally as it is about connecting physically.

Whether you’re 28, 38, 48 or older, there are people out there who will be interested and happy to be with you, regardless of your experience level. That’s because sexuality is more than just sex. Sure, sex plays a role for most people, but the best parts of being with someone often have nothing to do with sex itself. Sexuality is also about trust and communication—it’s about getting to know everything about someone. It’s wanting to wrap someone in your arms when they’re having a hard day. Sexuality is just as much about connecting emotionally as it is about connecting physically.

Every individual is different; we’re all inexperienced when we start something with a new person, regardless of their gender. Worry less about how much experience you’ve had, and more about chatting up that person who’s caught your eye.

“I know I’m not straight, but I’m not gay either”

Labels can be great—they can help folks communicate their identity in a way that other people will understand. They can help you feel like you belong in a community or organization. There are lots of areas that are helped by identifying with a label.

But labels aren’t necessary. Many people I’ve spoken to try to figure out what they are when they realize they may not be straight, be it through online quizzes, reading about different kinds of queer sexuality, or analyzing who they’re attracted to and why.

You don’t have to know what you are for you to begin to accept yourself for who you are. If all you know is that you’re not 100% straight, that’s enough. If you’re not ready to do anything else but accept that part of you, that’s also enough.

Quitting drinking is hard with a capital H, but it’s worth it. The same can be said for acknowledging, accepting, and acting on your queerness.

Our society has a tendency to get wrapped up in labels and knowing where on the map to place people. But the label itself doesn’t have to be important. The most important thing is being content with who you are. And if that means you’re not ready for a label, now or ever, that’s totally valid. Don’t let looking for one that fits be a roadblock to your happiness.

“I don’t want to be different” or “It’s easier to keep things the way they are”

Change is scary. If you’ve only been in heterosexual relationships your whole life, it may seem easier to continue on that course. Navigating an entire new subculture, vocabulary, and set of perceived rules can feel overwhelming. This can make the “good enough” relationships you’ve been in seem pretty appealing.

You can, of course, do the easy thing and stay the course. But challenges often yield the biggest rewards. Quitting drinking is hard with a capital H, but it’s worth it. The same can be said for acknowledging, accepting, and acting on your queerness.

“What if I’m wrong?”

No one wants to be wrong—especially about something as big as whom they’re attracted to. But on the other hand, it’s just as important to worry if you’re wrong by not exploring your feelings. What’s the worst that will happen? After all, the whole point of dating is to see who you’re compatible with.

Sexuality is fluid: As long as you’re not toying with someone’s emotions, it’s okay to explore to see what (and who) feels right to you. Being wrong is part of being right, and you can’t know what you like if you don’t know what you don’t like.

Sure, it’s not always safe for some people to fully embrace a newly-discovered sexuality or gender identity. If you’re one of those people, take the steps you need to ensure your physical and emotional safety. Talk to someone you trust, and remember there’s nothing wrong with you.

We’re all valid. All of us. Whether we’re queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, demisexual, or even straight, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we’re being honest and gentle with ourselves.

The rest will come, I promise.