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What Physical Identifiers Exist to Signify Not-Quite-Straightness?
January 29, 2005 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Bisexualfilter: I am a bisexual, Asian girl who is not quite out of the closet yet. Having a boyfriend kind of pulls me off any possible gaydar at the moment. However, I would like to know what physical "identifiers" there are to know whether someone's not-quite-straight, or whether I can do anything to let people clue in a bit without being too obvious. (So rainbow anything isn't really what I'm looking for, nor those badges that say attempt to be clever but come out trashy.) Thank you very much!
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (38 answers total)
 
In my experience, there are no "identifiers." When expressing my sexual identity was really important to me, I just told people that I was bisexual, and that was that. I found that women who were interested in me, regardless of whether they knew my orientation up front or not, still hit on me (I suppose I should add that I'm a girl). When you find yourself trying to date women, the simple act of showing that you're interested should be enough to tip 'em off. I don't think there's a haircut or way of dressing that would let people know you're bi, unless I missed that memo.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 10:25 AM on January 29, 2005


Subtle physical identifiers?

There are none. Sorry. Unless you want to be a cliché, reading The Well Of Lonelines or Oranges Aren't The Only Fruit, listening to Melissa Etheridge, etc. etc. etc., there really isn't much you can do.

I've found that a I Like Girls t-shirt usually shuts everyone up. But that's because I'm a bit loud and easily irritable.
posted by Katemonkey at 10:28 AM on January 29, 2005


er... is it that you're bi and want to announce it, or that you want a polyamorous relationship?

'cause it doesn't seem to me that if you have a boyfriend, there's any need to announce any sort of sexual proclivities. While they're in a relationship, most people don't really advertise their sexual proclivities, unless they're actively seeking additional partners. In my experience, YMMV.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:29 AM on January 29, 2005


It's not anything you wear--it's in your eyes when you look at someone you like, or in their eyes the other way.
posted by amberglow at 10:38 AM on January 29, 2005


If you have are currently in a relationship, why are you so concerned about attracting 3rd parties at the moment? Are you also polyamorous?

Or is the question really if you are bisexual (truly attracted to people of both sexes) or "bisexual" (gay, but not yet come to terms with it, so you're equivacating at the moment)?

I've known several people who have come out as gay/lesbian, and for many of them the first part of the process was to say publicly that they were bisexual. I'm not trying to be an ass here or say that you can't truly be bisexual, but this is anonymous so I'm throwing some possibilities out there on the table.

In my (straight) opinion, I would agree with banjo, that when the time comes showing interest should be more than enough
posted by falconred at 10:41 AM on January 29, 2005


When Dan Savage came to speak a few years ago, he asked my friend if she was bisexual (she was), he said her fashionable glasses gave it away. YMMV
posted by drezdn at 11:06 AM on January 29, 2005


drezdn: sometimes that gaydar gets jammed. I've had gay men ask me out on dates, unsolicited. So I don't really think there are any real blatant physical or behavioral markers and flying blind is probably a bad idea, in my (hopelessly heterosexual) opinion.

This is probably why God invented gay bars. Takes the guesswork out of things.
posted by jonmc at 11:23 AM on January 29, 2005


Actually, you'll develop gaydar quite well as time goes on. I'm in the exact same situation. CHECK FINGERNAILS. Girls who have sex with girls never have long fingernails. Stereotypical but true.

Watch out for women's studies girls. Touching a women's studies course makes you gay.
posted by honeydew at 11:37 AM on January 29, 2005 [1 favorite]


Also, yeah, exact same situation. riverrunpast at yahoo dot com if you want to talk about it.
posted by honeydew at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2005


it doesn't seem to me that if you have a boyfriend, there's any need to announce any sort of sexual proclivities. While they're in a relationship, most people don't really advertise their sexual proclivities, unless they're actively seeking additional partners.

I disagree: for bisexuals, being in a relationship with someone of a particular gender usually results in everyone else "reading" them as attracted solely to that gender, and mis-ID'ing them as gay or straight.

Identity ties into sexual orientation in a lot of different ways beyond the aspect of "who you sleep with." For many people it's quite relevant to gender and to experience. For example, people who grew up glbtq during the beginning of the AIDS crisis, or the McCarthy era (when more people were fired from government positions for "homosexual characteristics" than "Communist leanings") had a much different experience than people who grew up during the 1920s (when queerness was quite widely accepted), who in turn had a much different experience from people growing up now (where, as any timeperiod, it also widely depends on your context). For most bisexuals, being in a hetero relationship doesn't change their involvement &/or interest in bi/queer culture: queer issues, discrimination, gay marriage, etc, are still just as intellectually & emotionally relevant, even if they're not as personally relevant.

Of course there are plenty of ID'ers, but a lot of them are cultural cliches: I'm not interested in short, spiky hair or Ani DiFranco, and would probably be really hesitant in dating/liking someone who makes those things crucial to their identity. Yet, when I'm not in a queer context (which is most of the time), my gaydar is woefully inadequate at spotting non-Ani-loving queer women.
posted by soviet sleepover at 11:47 AM on January 29, 2005 [2 favorites]


people who grew up during the 1920s (when queerness was quite widely accepted)

Really? That sounds kind of interesting, where did you find out about that?
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:58 AM on January 29, 2005


Just don't assume that every girl with fashionable glasses, short nails, and some women's studies under her garter belt is interested in removing yours. While INAL, I qualify on all three (and would be flattered to be hit on by a girl, but still nothing doing). I'd say amberglow seems to put it best. And all the boys love him, so if I'd listen to anyone . . .
posted by dame at 12:02 PM on January 29, 2005


This is why they have fence-sitters balls. So you can show up and know where everyone is at.

Bisexual is, to me, more of a "both" straight and gay situation than a whole third thing. So basically you just have straight and gay behaviors and fashions to draw on. But really, most people don't mix them much. Folks are generally one or the other, so if you juxtapose, you ought to present the right "message." Unfortunately, people do tend to think in terms of one or the other and tend to interpret any measure of "gay" as "gay." I dunno. Maybe women get more latitude to mix and match without instantly being considered gay, but men sure don't.
posted by scarabic at 12:20 PM on January 29, 2005


honeydew nails it. Excuse the pun. Though I do know a few lesbians with long nails, however, they are complete pillow princesses and aren't actually having sex with girls, but being fucked by girls.

Beyond that, it really is just a vibe and you can help to create that in much the same way you'd create that vibe if you were hitting on a guy. Showing attention, a lingering touch or holding your gaze a little longer. Women are generally more intimate with one another.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:34 PM on January 29, 2005


I read Word's Out: Gay Men's English by William Leap for an undergrad class.

One of the thing Leap examines is how a gay man who does not present in the stereotypical "gay" fashion will signal to a man he thinks is gay that he is interested by selecting certain words, voice inflection, et cet.

See if you can find the equivalent for women - possible Library of Congress search terms: Lesbian - United States - Language or English Language - Social Aspects - United States.

Word's Out is also an interesting read if are interested in learning about bidy language and communication styles.
posted by mlis at 12:38 PM on January 29, 2005


people who grew up during the 1920s (when queerness was quite widely accepted)

Really? That sounds kind of interesting, where did you find out about that?


Pre-Freudian views of sexuality? Before everything had to be pigeonholed, labeled, and analyzed? If this were back in the 20s or prior, I truly believe anon. wouldn't have to worry about "advertising" it would just happen. But you wouldn't talk about it. Ever.
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:43 PM on January 29, 2005


I've had gay guys hit on me, despite being straight. My mom says it's because I'm really nice and stuff. Just be nice all the time, and everyone will hit on you.
posted by Kleptophoria! at 1:00 PM on January 29, 2005 [2 favorites]


Gay New York is a good read for gay urban culture in the 20s (and before). Part of its argument is that heterosexuality just wasn't as rigidly constructed or as important back then. You could get away with a lot more (including a good deal of gay sex, apparently) without being seen as abnormal.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:18 PM on January 29, 2005


Identifiers?M Seriously.

I'm gay. Actually, no, I'm GAY. I look "gay." I act "gay." I have a "gay" dog. I have a "gay" husband.

And people still ask me about my girlfriend.

Jonmc has been getting spanked around here for a while, so I'll take this chance to give him some props: gay bars were created for a reason.
posted by hummus at 1:19 PM on January 29, 2005


I'm gay. Actually, no, I'm GAY. I look "gay." I act "gay." I have a "gay" dog. I have a "gay" husband.

[tangent]

hummus, while I see what you are getting at (and forgive me for going off on a tangent here), is creating a seperate "gayworld," really good for society at large? I'm working from the assumption that gay and straight people are ultimately more alike than they are different which may be fundamentally incorrect assumption, but hey, what the hell.

To quote Ginsberg:

I walked into the cocktail party
room and found three or four queers
talking together in queertalk.
I tried to be friendly but heard
myself talking to one in hiptalk.


[/tangent]

The gay bar thing is exactly true, though. The gay guy dosen't have to do any guesswork (and ultimately the question posed in this thread is asking whether gay people have super-powers that allow them to discern gayness, which I really doubt is the case, it's similar to asking if black people naturally have rhythm, IMHO), and the straight guy dosen't have to worry about being put in an uncomfortable situation.

So if someone wants to explore the same-sex side of their sexuality, that'd probably be the place to go. It's the classic example of providing a safe space.
posted by jonmc at 1:31 PM on January 29, 2005


is creating a seperate "gayworld," really good for society at large?

Like aspects of black culture (e.g. blues, rap) being integrated-née-stolen into white culture (e.g. rock and roll, Beastie Boys), many cultural aspects of the "gayworld" slowly work their way into straight society (fashion, in particular, wrt gay male culture), and straight people don't complain.

Unique and forward-thinking cultures are scary to the mainstream; ghettoised cultures provide, for better or worse, a playground for aspects of culture to be incorporated and enrich the mainstream.
posted by AlexReynolds at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2005


Unique and forward-thinking cultures are scary to the mainstream; ghettoised cultures provide, for better or worse, a playground for aspects of culture to be incorporated and enrich the mainstream.

Scary to some, enticing to others, and not neccessarily in a bad way. Plenty of white people like Funkadelic, say, because of the quality of the music rather than any abstractions about tuning in on the "black experience," I imagine the same is true of a lot of "gay culture." Look at British glam-rock, for my money the best integration of the gay and straight sensibilities ever. (gay and straight being used advisedly here). Theatricality and arch humor from the gay side and thunderous rock power and punchy songwriting from the straight rock sensibility. How else could fey singers like Marc Bolan and yobbos like Slade gather under the same umbrella. This is important precisely because once all the people in that umbrella can identify with eachother beyond the border of sexuality, a line has been crossed. In a good way.

I recall a clerk at my local record store who was queer as a three-dollar bill, but when we got talking, I veiwed him as a member of the music-geek fraternity. His gayness was of marginal importance in that situation.
posted by jonmc at 2:31 PM on January 29, 2005


or in simpler terms, cultural miscegenation, whether across lines of race or sexuality, is where the best of American culture, and, I'd argue, is where the best of Americanness happens.
posted by jonmc at 2:44 PM on January 29, 2005


I guess my point is that gay people aren't "creating" a gayworld for the sake of being separated. It simply exists because mainstream culture, by and large, doesn't like to see two men kissing. (A bit simplistic, but on the whole how it is.) Those two men end up pooling themselves and friends into gayborhoods and the like.

Mainstream America does not listen to P. Funk. "Hipster" (for lack of a better word) culture does, across racial lines. But "hipster" culture is not mainstream (for that matter, it is only slightly less ghettoised as GLBT cultures).

I agree with your point that cultural miscegenation is good. But that is pretty much outside the norm as non-majority racial and sexual cultures.

I simply think that mainstream people fear variety, and variety is ghettoised for that reason, but mainstream culture takes those parts of ghettoised culture that it likes, repackages it into something safe and boring.
posted by AlexReynolds at 3:08 PM on January 29, 2005


Get a room, you two! (Said in an amused and nonconfrontational manner, just so there are no misunderstandings.)
posted by anapestic at 3:47 PM on January 29, 2005


Well, you could start by not being in the closet and anonymously posting to community Weblogs. People who are out don't have to advise and enable people who aren't.
posted by joeclark at 4:17 PM on January 29, 2005


I think joeclark makes a good point.

I also still don't understand the question. Unless this is a "how do I find polyamorous folk," I don't see how "advertising" one's sexuality really enters into day-to-day life.

By which I mean that I don't think I advertise my sexuality to others. I'm not looking to get laid by anyone but my partner, so I'm not flirting with others, not hitting on others, and I don't even much ogle (oogle?) others (certainly, I hope, not in any way they'd notice, at least!)
posted by five fresh fish at 5:08 PM on January 29, 2005


whether I can do anything to let people clue in a bit without being too obvious

How about joining in activities at your local gay/lesbian/bi/trans community center? Or joining the local Queer Students Alliance at your high school or college? Or going to gay bars and talking to people there? Or fighting for the pro-marriage movement?

Or is that being "too obvious"? (*sighs, retracts claws*)

Look, if you can't be honest and out, at the very least to your close friends, then how and why should they be honest with you? You and a friend could both be bi and never know it if you just dance arond the subject all the time and stay stuck in the closet. And frankly, as bi women, we don't tend to face quite the same prejudices the guys can be subject to, so there's really no point in not being open and honest with people. Besides, it can get you laid; women tend to have more fluid sexualities and self-identifiations than men do (IMHO), so you might end up surprised at just how many girls you know who have fooled around with other girls or "always wanted to try". But if you aren't honest yourself, you're not likely to find this information out.

(All that being said, however, it's true that sometimes you will "just know" whether someone is queer or not, just as easily as if you could tell they were tall or short. This is called "gaydar" and yes, bisexuals have it too.)

Also, do not assume that every guy (or girl) you date is going to be totally secure and cool about your bisexuality. Contrary to popular belief, not every guy is going to have his eyes light up and think "score!" when he hears you like chicks too; some will feel threatened or will be worried that you'll dump them for a woman or that you're using them as a beard. Be honest and straightforward (ha), and feel free to reassure them that this certainly doesn't mean you're going to cheat. Also, feel free to ruin their fantasy life and tell them this doesn't mean that you'll end up in bed together with a female friend. (Or not, your call.)

Finally, being a bi woman in an opposite-sex relationship can lead to lots of fun conversations. Real-life example from a few months ago:

[Scene: the den. Dramatis personae: Me, on the couch watching TiVo; Husband, sticking head in the room]
Him: What are you watching?
Me: Eh, "Bound" with Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon.
Him: You know, I have the longer, uncut version of the sex scene upstairs on my computer.
Me: Sweet!

Domestic bliss, indeed. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 7:17 PM on January 29, 2005


Mainstream America does not listen to P. Funk. "Hipster" (for lack of a better word) culture does, across racial lines. But "hipster" culture is not mainstream (for that matter, it is only slightly less ghettoised as GLBT cultures).

I'm of the oinion that our society has become so fragmented that there is no "mainstream" culture per se (meaning that just about everyone is a meber of some "special interest group" as the Republicans would say) and that marginalized groups such as the GLBT community should take advantage of that fact, culturally speaking. The line between acceptance/tolerance and embracing is often a matter of inches if you know what I'm saying. P. Funk didn't sell millions of records in the Black community alone, if you know what I mean.

I simply think that mainstream people fear variety, and variety is ghettoised for that reason, but mainstream culture takes those parts of ghettoised culture that it likes, repackages it into something safe and boring.

Maybe. But that tiny bit of an of an opening leaves a bit of a place where Ned The Square From Delaware and Gay Joe can not only accept, but embrace eachother. Like P. Funk themselves say "You and Your Folks, Me and My Folks..." or as Joey and the Ramones say "Everyones a secret nerd, everyone's a closet lame..." and as War say "Sometimes I don't speak right, but I know what I'm talking about..why can't we be freinds?"

OK, too many song lyrics and maybe I'm hopelessly naive, but you see what I'm aiming at, and the target's still worth hitting as far as I'm concerned.
posted by jonmc at 7:36 PM on January 29, 2005


This (admittedly rather trivial) story is an example of what I'm talking about.
posted by jonmc at 7:52 PM on January 29, 2005


Foucault called the separate space (rather ironically?) a heterotopia.
posted by gimonca at 8:49 PM on January 29, 2005


The line between acceptance/tolerance and embracing is often a matter of inches if you know what I'm saying.

I think what you're saying is that you're a size queen?

No, seriously. Stop me before I quip again. I appreciate what you're saying about the lack of a mainstream culture and the double-edged sword of a separate space, but I wish this discussion hadn't broken out in the silliest thread ever. I mean, really. If you want to score some other hot bi chicks, go to a bar or place a personal ad.
posted by anapestic at 9:03 PM on January 29, 2005


Gaydar does exist. But it's of varying effectiveness. When I was young and foolish, I was into this hipster kid who lived in the same house. He was slightly effeminate, dressed like Bowie, listened to Bowie constantly (also had a "we don't call the police" poster in his room, which kept anything from getting stolen; heh). I still had no idea he was bi until I broke down and asked him. Best to be direct; don't expect even other bi people to pick up on things.
posted by Tlogmer at 9:11 PM on January 29, 2005


I have nothing to contribute here, (heck, I'm a straight, nerdy-looking, out-of-shape, painfully white guy, and I was once asked out by another guy in the magazine section of Barnes & Noble, while I was reading a computer magazine) but I just wanted to say that this is a really interesting thread. Thanks.
posted by Vidiot at 9:17 PM on January 29, 2005


But that tiny bit of an of an opening leaves a bit of a place where Ned The Square From Delaware and Gay Joe can not only accept, but embrace eachother.

I'm not as optimistic. I think differences are only tolerated in America so far as they move product. Any other benefit is secondary and unintentional.
posted by AlexReynolds at 9:56 PM on January 29, 2005


Maybe, alex, but you know what alex, people who see the world that way, fuck 'em. Every moment that we can relate to eachother is a moment of hope, no matter who "we" might be.

To cling to difference rather than common humanity is to give up hope, as far as I'm concerned. And culture, especially music and humor, the reactions to which are mostly visceral rather than intellectual or political, is a great place for that to begin.

But I could be wrong, but I hope I'm not, and I'm gonna keep trying.
posted by jonmc at 10:03 PM on January 29, 2005


My ex always said that she preferred her hair be crewcut short so that "the girls will know why I'm smiling at them." But she was very, very not-in-the-closet, so...

But in all seriousness, depending on where you live and who you generally hang out with, length of hair might have some significance.
posted by Clay201 at 10:46 PM on January 29, 2005


I don't think any real "identifiers" exist. Everybody's at least a little bisexual, as cliche as it may sound; there have been societies where lesbianism or male homosexuality have been prominent, and societies where they haven't. It's just that we've been trying in the west to keep ourselves from discovering this for so long.

I'm a male, so I have no idea how it really is for females, but I think it's part of being human to learn to have (and to control) attraction to other people. There is so much to sex besides actually having it that this can be done within a monogamous context if one chooses. For me, it was as simple as learning to notice when I was attracted to other people-- attraction happens more frequently that people realize. Attraction isn't a blunt, obvious thing, though many people (mostly men) believe that it is; it's as simple as noticing it when you enjoy listening to someone else talk. Eros means delighting in the unity of material and spirit that is another person; that delight is a wonderful thing in itself, and requires real physical "consummation," even though such consummation is beautiful.

Take things slowly, know yourself. And remember that, in this day and age, a lot of people allow themselves to ruin good relationships in the name of "sexual discovery." You don't necessarily have to do that, if you don't want to.
posted by koeselitz at 8:54 AM on January 31, 2005 [2 favorites]


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