Why am I so hung up on this?!
December 22, 2012 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I am heterosexual. During a party, I was asked by a roommate if I was gay. This is not the first time - I need help navigating my insecurity regarding my sexuality. Details inside.

A bit of backstory before I get to the question - sorry in advance for the length!

I am in my mid-20's, and am a guy. I had a sheltered upbringing, and as such I have always been a bit socially awkward.

I have never been attracted to men. I have never had even the slightest bit of interest in the same sex. All of of the porn I view is cleanly on the heterosexual side of things as well, so I know that I am not repressing myself sexually in any way shape or form.

When I was in middle and high school I had nowhere near the level of emotional maturity necessary to have a relationship, and also never went on dates - it was a lot of reading and playing video games with friends for me. I was also taking Zoloft since middle school, which is known to cause sexual side effects - this may have played a part in my disinterest in dating (although masturbation was frequent, so maybe not)

Some of my "friends", who I do not consider to be friends looking back, would often insinuate that I was into guys since I never talked about girls - I honestly just thought I didn't have a chance with the ladies, so I didn't really bother. This led to even lower self-confidence, which helped ensure my lack of a dating life.

I would like to believe that I have progressed significantly in terms of emotional and social development in the last five or so years. I got LASIK, lost the acne and upgraded my wardrobe, all of which really helped out my confidence. I went on dates (mostly arranged through the internet) and had a lot of success. I've had a few LTR's. Recently I've been pretty secure about myself.

At the party yesterday, though, a drunk female roommate asked if I was gay and said she had always thought so. Her reasoning was that I tend to use hand gestures that seem feminine/flamboyant. Also, I never bring girls back like the other guys do (I tend to be a bit secretive in terms of my personal life. Maybe this is a bad idea, I don't know).

I replied that I was not gay, and I think she could tell from my reaction that I was a bit shocked and hurt. I excused myself to go to bed, it was quite late so it didn't seem too out of the ordinary (around 1 AM). I honestly think she might not even remember this conversation, as she was quite drunk.

I spent the next hour or so before sleeping brooding, googling random phrases like "was asked by friend if gay". I honestly could not believe that had been so affected by her words, and was more upset at my sensitivity than her question. I feel like my masculinity was being called out, and every time I try to be "me" my sexuality is brought up. This also brought back a lot of bad memories of being teased in high school as well.

A lot of the forums I found through google gave nuggets of wisdom such as "yah, if he acted defensive or hurt he probly is gay u should ask again" and whatnot. Not too many that seemed to fit my situation or even sounded like good advice to begin with, so I decided to ask here.

It seems like every time I feel like I am becoming more confident in terms of my sexuality or in general, something like this happens. I truly resent that my self-esteem regarding my sexuality is like a tower of playing cards: With one careless remark, it can all come tumbling down so easily.

The ideal me, the me I want to become, is able to shrug or laugh off these comments. I am going on dates, I have a decent sex life, and I have no confusion regarding which gender I am inclined to pursue. Maybe if this had been the first time I was asked, I would be able to brush it off - but it is bringing back memories of the sexual frustration I experienced when I was a teen, and I hate that I am still so affected by those thoughts.

SO: If anyone has any words of wisdom on how to become more confident in my manhood, I would love to hear them. Also, I would like to know how to react better the next time something like this happens. I am thinking about what to do about the hand gestures as well, but I really don't want to change myself too much because of one drunk comment.

PS: I know that it is perfectly okay to be gay. I have gay friends/family and love them to death. So please don't think I am gay bashing in any way shape or form! I would just like to know how to be more comfortable in my own skin and not have a reaction like the one I had last night.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (52 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Being feminine or flamboyant does not determine who you sleep with or want to sleep with because gender identity/expression is different from sexual orientation. There are lots of very feminine women who sleep with women. There are very masculine men who sleep with men. There are masculine women who sleep with men. There are feminine men who sleep with women. And of course there are lots of people who mix and match these things, expressing a variety of genders and/or being attracted to a variety of people.

If your goal is solely to feel more comfortable in your skin rather than change other people's perception of you--perhaps find more people who are fluent in and comfortable with gender ("gender noncomforming?") stuff and hang out with them.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:41 AM on December 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm 52, and I still get this sometimes, especially from people that I have just met.

I usually just laugh it off and consider the source: they don't know me.
They're making a ill-informed judgement based on their own prejudices.
It will get easier.
A good sense of humor and a short memory about it will go a long way.

YOU know who you are.
That inner strength from that knowledge will grow over time.

I don't have any real solid, take home advice, but to just take a deep breath, shrug, remember who you are, and move forward.
posted by THAT William Mize at 9:41 AM on December 22, 2012 [20 favorites]

I think the best way to look at this is that it isn't a hit on your self-esteem or masculinity. It is just an indication that people don't know you as well as they thought they did AND they don't have a very good verbal filter. Simply put, lots of people are stupid and/or thoughtless, even when they don't mean to be. That's really all there is to it.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:42 AM on December 22, 2012

Most of the times I've been asked it was specifically intended to hurt rather than in genuine belief that I was. Often it was due to my interest in pursuits that don't suit the mainstream definition of masculinity, like playing the piano, reading philosophy and literary classics etc. Part of what helped me was the recognition that one's enjoyment of a given pursuit is never defined by sexuality - or gender identity for that matter.

Unfortunately the view that any activity besides actively engaging in intimate pursuits with other men might be enough to identify you as gay is a product of current Western society which seems to love the idea that people are cast in moulds. That people are asking you this question is an indication that they are drawing from the trend of lazy stereotyping, and therefore comes from their own prejudices - it says nothing about you.
posted by fearnothing at 9:43 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you already realise that these situations say a lot more about the drunkards asking the question than your sexuality, right?

I've been mistaken for gay, and it tends to come from people who hold deeply-entrenched notions about how gay people act. (I've been guilty of it in the past, more recently then I care to admit.) I think it's an extention of the 'gay best friend' stereotype, whereby you can supposedly use your 'gaydar' to suss out if a man is boyfriend-material or gay-best-friend-material.

In reality, there are no clear indicators of sexual preference - physical or otherwise - other than the preferred gender you want to have sex with.

I am thinking about what to do about the hand gestures as well, but I really don't want to change myself too much because of one drunk comment.

Please don't change your hand gestures. Even if they were an issue (they're not), it's really difficult to train yourself to change your physicality. I've been on a year-long mission to stop walking around hunched over with my hands bent like Mr Burns. It's a lot easier to train yourself to say 'fuck it, I'm just fine.'
posted by dumdidumdum at 9:43 AM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

"Oh, we're discussing our sex lives? Please, tell me in great detail about the sort of genitalia you find most compelling and the things you like to do to and/or with it. No, do go on. I insist."

Or, you just stare. Just look at the person like they are a curious bug that is slowly crawling along the outside of a window. Don't react to anything else they say. Just stare, until they change the subject (they change it, not you; make them own their bullshit) or walk away.

Last option: laugh. Hysterically. Like Seth Rogen is juggling Alan Cummings right there in front of you. Slap your knee, hold your sides, wipe tears from your eyes, go absolutely to town on how hilarious that question/comment was. Then just trail off with a giggle and say, "Woo... Sorry, what were we talking about?"

Because fuck them and their binary bullshit. They're wrong, not you. You are you, and their ideas of what you should be is their problem, not yours.
posted by Etrigan at 9:43 AM on December 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Sort of an aside from your actual question, but is it possible that drunk female roommate has been hitting on you in the past and you haven't noticed, and this is her petty retaliation? Unfortunately, people of all genders can sometimes be bratty and cruel when they think their advances have been rejected.
posted by elizardbits at 9:46 AM on December 22, 2012 [28 favorites]

I'm a guy who got called gay a certain amount in high school because of an insufficient interest in "manly" things (football, what is now NASCAR, etc.) and an excessive (in the minds of my critics) interest in things that sometimes incidentally line up with gay culture, but are really just artistic or different. Playing in band (on clarinet!!!) being exhibit A, but just, you know, being willing to read things. Preferring to go see "Chariots of Fire" over "Porky's."

As you may guess from the dated '80s references, that was 30 years ago. I've been married over 20 years (to a woman). Now there are differences in my personality and outlook from the Standard American Male, obviously, and I sometimes joke with Mrs. RKS that sometimes our gender roles seem to be reversed because I'm the one who often wants to talk about stuff that she'd rather suffer in silence about. But that's simple introversion v. extroversion, in my book.

I know a lot of gay men and a few lesbians, and consider some of them my friends, so I don't think I'm unaware of common signposts, culture, interests, however you want to say it. We share some of those interests, but one of the interests I don't happen to share is having sex with a man. Therefore, I don't think I'm gay. I really think it's just that simple.

I don't think respecting the civil rights issues means you have to worry about what every armchair psychologist comes along and tells you. You know better than anyone what you're into.

From some of the history you describe, you may be asexual, or simply have a low sex drive. And there's nothing wrong with that. That may be something you want to google around or otherwise look into.
posted by randomkeystrike at 9:46 AM on December 22, 2012

I feel like my masculinity was being called out, and every time I try to be "me" my sexuality is brought up.

Gay men are men. When someone asks if you are gay, they are questioning you about who you are interested in sexually; they are not questioning your manhood. It's pretty common in our society to conflate certain social behaviors with sexual preference, but you need to not make the same mistake. You say you think it's ok to be gay .... but your reaction shows that you equate it with being less than masculine/less than hetero.

If you had a neutral point of view you'd be able to see that people are all the time guessing wrong, complaining that their "gaydar" isn't working, speculating about other people's sexual preferences ... it's in some ways a good thing: this kind of thing used to be shrouded in shame so it's great that it's discussed rather casually. Don't take it as an insult, just take it as an observation they got wrong, and set them straight.
posted by headnsouth at 9:46 AM on December 22, 2012 [55 favorites]

This is probably a good subject for therapy - I mean the self-confidence thing. Most people need a reasonable amount of validation re: their behavior before accepting that they're doing OK, but you either haven't had that or (and I think this is more likely) the validation you have received doesn't change how you feel. You've been in long-term relationships, you've been on dates that I'm assuming went well, and you still aren't feeling like you're acceptable.

This is pretty common with late bloomers, from what I understand. And it's a great thing to explore with a therapist. I work a lot on self-esteem/self-acceptance/self-compassion in therapy. This is a long-term project for me; it may be that way for you since this is a very long-term experience for you, dating back to adolescence. If you want resources on that specific area of psychology, MeMail me.

I don't recommend you talk with your female roommate. She's probably going to tell you more about what you're doing "wrong" and I doubt that will help you.

(This could also be part of generalized anxiety, BTW - that is, irrationally worrying even though you know intellectually that you're probably fine. Hard to tell from your relatively brief explanation above, whether you worry about other stuff)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 9:47 AM on December 22, 2012

From phrases like "more confident in my manhood" and the fact that your friend referenced feminine or campy hand gestures, I'm seeing a tie between gender identity and sexual orientation that might be the root of some of your distress. Like by suggesting that you're gay, these people are implying that you are less of a man, and since you ARE a man, that's hurtful to you.

Obviously, gender identity and sexual orientation are orthogonal; there are plenty of gay men who conform strongly to masculine stereotypes, and plenty of slightly built, flamboyant het guys. It sounds like some of the people who have been questioning your sexuality are making this same error, whether out of ignorance or a desire to wound I don't know.

As for how to answer? I like the "laugh out loud" suggestion. My husband has had great success, when asked this question, with "Why, are you looking for a date?" (Works best if it's guys hassling you.) Or, if someone's referencing your purportedly feminine affect, you can stare at them and say "Um, you know that Prince is straight, right?" Ultimately, the answer is that these people land somewhere on the continuum between ignorant and small-minded, and they've just broadcast that fact loud and clear; it has nothing to do with you.
posted by KathrynT at 9:49 AM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

At the party yesterday, though, a drunk female roommate asked if I was gay and said she had always thought so. Her reasoning was that I tend to use hand gestures that seem feminine/flamboyant. Also, I never bring girls back like the other guys do...

Ignore people's bullshit, especially when they're drunk. I know this is hard if it's something you're at least slightly pondering anyway, but still.

How to become more confident in your manhood, you ask? Well, if someone assumes you're gay because you don't "bring girls back" then high five yourself. Congrats, you're not the type of dude that's slugging chicks through his bedroom left and right, which your drunken "friend" implied is one of those things that define manhood.

It sounds like all these people who've made comments have probably imparted on you some expected norm that they think ALL GUYS follow and as it turns out, you're not all guys. Some humans, in fact, quite a few of them, still attach certain things to being gay ("he's thoughtful or sensitive, MUST BE GAY!") and those humans are kind of shitty. "If he acted defensive or hurt" means he was a pussy and therefore isn't manly. Gah, how ridiculous. Maybe stop reading shit like that on the internet as a start for moving on from this?

I am going on dates, I have a decent sex life, and I have no confusion regarding which gender I am inclined to pursue.

Dude, your life, in this respect, sounds righteous. I'd punch a baby kitten for a decent sex life right about now. Maybe the next time you feel shitty because someone has foisted their ridiculous ideas about sexuality on you, remember what you just said about your life and be glad that you aren't a random internet commenter who'd potentially harm an adorable animal just to get what you've got :).
posted by youandiandaflame at 9:51 AM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Ok, so.

The first thing is that this is definitely not a problem unique to you. Men of every conceivable orientation have doubts about their masculinity. It's a never-ending well of insecurities. So basically you just have to realize that the list of societal requirements for "what makes a man" doesn't make any sense, doesn't have any consistency, and isn't actually possible to live up to. For anyone. This is why all the "man card" stuff is so shitty and awful and such effective advertising, because it's so easy to feel like your masculinity can be revoked by anyone for any reason.

You have to just reject the whole game.

Obviously this easier said than done! For sure I still have insecurities. But I try to just remind myself that it's all made-up posturing, move past it, and get on with the things that I enjoy in life.
posted by kavasa at 9:51 AM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wow! There were no posts yet when I started writing this!

I am also a heterosexual male who has been told on multiple occasions, from early high school until some time after college, that people assumed I was gay. From your post it seems we have very different personalities; I'm highly extroverted and even dated quite a bit, but have heard that folks have thought I was just trying to 'pass' as straight. Nor do I exhibit any of the stereotypical 'tells' (which in reality are not very good indicators at all). It wasn't until after I got married and had my first kid that it stopped. It's also worth mentioning that these friends were never hostile toward me about it, and it was never something that affected my relationships with them. 

In my case, I think it was due to my social group (mostly religious, socially and politically conservative). I was the only guy who didn't follow sports (although I played them) and didn't hunt or fish. These were defining characteristics of a male in my social group. I was more into school, music, and computers, though I felt most comfortable around the guys who weren't. I also balked at and expressed my dislike for jokes or banter about non-heteronormativity, which thankfully my friends learned to respect about me. At first I felt bad that I didn't have what I was 'supposed' to have in order to be masculine, but eventually I found that my gender and sexual identity wasn't tied up in what I liked to do. I'm a male attracted solely to women, and my identity is far more complex than what other people assume about me by my interests. 

This was all a while ago (married for 11 years with two awesome kids), but it's helped me become very aware of myself, which is awesome. As a heterosexual, cisgendered, Christian male it gave me a nudge toward learning about LGBTQ issues. Now I am "Safe Space" trained (I'm a university professor)  and consider myself an ally.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:54 AM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel like my masculinity was being called out

But it isn't. That's what you are bringing to that question. It's not an offensive question, and there's no reason for you to react to it, even internally, as if it is one. Just answer: "No, I'm not."
posted by DarlingBri at 9:57 AM on December 22, 2012 [24 favorites]

Like you, I tend to be rather secretive about my relationships. I didn't ever introduce a single date to my parents until I was 25 (and didn't tell them I was dating) so for the longest time, they thought I might be gay. I remember once planning a trip and my mom telling me "Have fun in Chicago! I hope you meet some cute girls! Or guys...?" and I just responded "Of course - there are LOTS of fun people in Chicago!" (It was fun to mess with my parents' heads.)

Occasionally, I still get asked if I am gay, usually by an attractive woman who is trying to figure out why I am not interested in her. This is because I value prospective dates based on much more than their looks, and if somebody has a narcissistic or entitled personality, it's way more fun to hurt their feelings than it is to try to seduce them. This gives me the appearance of being both catty and disinterested in sex, which isn't the case at all - I'm simply disinterested in having sex with them.

Personally, when somebody wonders if I am gay, I take it as a compliment. Think of all the stereotypes of gay men that exist. According to societal stereotypes, gay men are tidy, fashionable, sensitive, literate, and well-adjusted. In other words, apart from their sexuality, gay men are the perfect boyfriends. Meanwhile, straight men get all the negative stereotypes - that we're untidy immature slobs, obsessed with sports and beer. Which of those descriptors would you rather be associated with?

Next time a drunken lady asks you if you're gay, maybe you could try defusing the situation with humor. For example, if you like her, put an arm around her and say "Well, if you're that curious about my sexuality, I know one good way to find out." Or if you don't like her, just say "I'm only gay when you're within twenty feet of me. It's the strangest thing."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 9:58 AM on December 22, 2012 [13 favorites]

You mention that it brings back the teasing and sexual frustration you felt as a teen. Teasing and bullying can be really painful. It makes some sense that a similar comment could trigger distress. Maybe think of this as a reminder that you haven't yet healed entirely from those experiences?
posted by salvia at 10:08 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The first time someone asked if I was gay I was pretty horrified. I was like you, "some of my best friends are gay" But the truth is that my reaction was pretty much latent homophobia. They might be gay but I wasn't actually comfortable with gayness. So I did my best to reframe the whole thing. Here's how I now look at it:

If a woman asked you out, even if you didn't want to date her, how would you feel? It wouldn't "call out you masculinity". Hell, I'm flattered, though I'm sorry that I have to say no.

When someone asks if I'm gay it's exactly the same thing. I assume they're trying to hook up/hook me up. While I have zero interest, I'm flattered they think that I'm an attractive mate for someone. It makes me feel good, though again, I'm a bit sad I have to decline.

Sure there are times where people don't mean it as an approach, but those people are throwing it around as some kind of insult. (Seriously, if you're not trying to hook me up, why do you care?) And if you act cheerfully like it's a compliment ("No, but if I was you'd be at the top of my list.") it drives those guys crazy.

And for when women do it, either they're trying to set you up with someone or they're wondering why you haven't made a move on them. Use your discretion.
posted by Ookseer at 10:18 AM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Speculation about sexual orientation is one of many, many, many, many, many topics about which the people talking the most brazenly/openly/loudly are the most clueless. I can't picture anyone I know who has an awareness of LGBT issues approaching anyone the way your roommate approached you.

If it happened to me, I'd probably laugh it off. But if I felt the question was over the line (like if a coworker asked me), I'd probably "flip" the conversation and say something like, "Wow, I'm surprised you're this preoccupied with my sexuality since it doesn't have any bearing on our working together/being roommates/etc. It's a little creepy."

Also, as a data point, there are a ton of heterosexual women out there who are not at all into hypermasculine dudes.
posted by alphanerd at 10:23 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

In many cultures, certainly in the US, there's a lot of pressure for men to act in a certain macho way, and calling men gay is considered somewhat aggressive. I've met a lot of people, and some of the people who seemed gay aren't and some of the people who didn't seem gay are. I'd work on a reply along the lines of "I think you're confusing macho and straight. In any case, unless you're trying to flirt with me, it's none of your business. So, are you trying to flirt with me?" I would use that answer with men and women.
posted by theora55 at 10:24 AM on December 22, 2012

You'll save yourself a world of hurt if you remember to always consider the source. Split your roommate, and anyone else who says things that could wound you, from the mass of generalized bully you've internalized. Figure out their angle; usually there is one. (Review attribution theory.)

+1 this roommate has or had a little crush on you and felt spurned. It's a time-honoured jerk comeback to rejection. One I've experienced as well, but much less often as an adult, because my exposure to people to whom this would occur is minimal. I have heard it once in recent memory, though, and my gut response was to laugh, because it's just idiotic. (And probably, my clarity on this comes from having known lots of all kinds of people, and having read around gender a bit. As others have said, that will help you too.)

As for "yah, if he acted defensive or hurt he probly is gay u should ask again"

Maybe you do offer cues read by firmly heteronormative types as 'feminine'. All that means is that they've got a rigid and narrow repertoire of acceptable behaviour. Which is too bad for them.
posted by nelljie at 10:27 AM on December 22, 2012

The gays: “Are you gay?”

You: “No, sorry, I am not gay.”

Follow that script, and don’t worry about it.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:31 AM on December 22, 2012

If you weren't sure if you were gay, her comment that she suspected you were might be one to seriously think about. But since you are sure you're not gay, her comment doesn't say anything meaningful about you. It only says something about her: that she doesn't have as much insight as she thought she did into other people's sexual orientations. Most people probably don't.
posted by John Cohen at 10:33 AM on December 22, 2012

For example, if you like her, put an arm around her and say "Well, if you're that curious about my sexuality, I know one good way to find out."

No, please don't put a woman in an uncomfortable position like this, regardless of what she has said to you, regardless of (especially if, even) she has been drinking.

As to your original question: anyone who asks you about your sexual orientation like that is the one with a problem, not you--even if the problem is just that they're drunk and not in complete control of their faculties. Heck, she might be embarrassed that she said something like that in the first place. Others have suggested working on your own self-esteem and self-confidence issues, which I second, but for this particular question, my advice is simply to say "Nope," without any undertones of judgment, and move on.
posted by tzikeh at 10:39 AM on December 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am a queer woman who has been known to date men. The ones who were attractive to me were the ones who could be read as gay by some people - by which I mean, dudes who were not super-repressed or super macho, dudes who were able to gesture or get excited about something or show their feelings, sometimes dudes who dressed well, always guys who were not misogynist, disrespectful jackasses to women. Because I have high-quality gaydar rather than a fistful of stereotypes, I always knew those guys were straight (or in one instance bisexual) but sometimes people asked them if they were gay and sometimes guys hit on them. (But because these dudes were not all homophobic, they were like "hooray, someone thinks I'm attractive!" rather than "ZOMG a gay guy hit on me!")

My point is that in my personal experience, the highest-quality straight dudes are sometimes read as gay, and this has nothing to do with their orientation, and that for me it's a bit of a plus.

I think you need a better and more sophisticated grade of friend - if I were hanging out with a woman in her mid-twenties who asked people if they were gay as a kind of half-question half-insult (or at all, really - it's a pretty nosy, jerky question), I would think she was pathetic and socially inept. It sounds like your social circle has a number of these pathetic, socially inept people in it.

Also, you need - as you know you do - to be more assured about who you are and what you want. You can't go through life letting the pathetic and socially-inept knock you on your heels because you aren't some kind of knuckle-dragging stereotype. I'd suggest that if you can't get there by reminding yourself that you exist for yourself, not to put on a gaudy show of macho-ness for others, you consider a therapist. I am not normally a big proponent of CBT, but it sounds like it would help you.

(Also, maybe you should talk to more gay guys - it sounds like you find gayness kind of bad/other/threatening and (since you don't actually sound invested in homophobia) probably being around actual gay dudes would clear that right up.)
posted by Frowner at 10:47 AM on December 22, 2012 [9 favorites]

I see that your roommate asked you a personal question, but not that she meant to be insulting.

Maybe I am wrong, but you seem to be the one who put the pejoritive spin on all of this. You wrote that you experienced her question as a dig at your masculinity. I'm sorry, but YES, you do have a problem with your views towards homosexuals and homosexuality. Otherwise, you could never have been so seriously insulted and upset by a question like this.

(Granted the question is very personal. But offensive? Nope. Not even if the other person meant it to be offensive, because then the negative attitudes expressed about homosexuals would be on them. If you didn't think of being homosexual as a "bad thing," then being asked if you are homosexual wouldn't be a problem. It's that simple.)

Your reaction and the way you phrased this question betray deeply negative attitudes about homosexuals and homosexuality. I think on a subconscious level you are conflating bullying you might have been the victim of in your youth with differences in gender and sexual preference.

The first thing (bullying) is traumatic and sucks. The last two things (gender and sexuality) are simply two characteristics, among many, that can be used to define a person. There is no "good" or "bad" gender or sexuality to have - they just are whatever hormones and genes decide in each person. Intellectually I think you get this, but it seems you have not internalized it yet.

Go to therapy and work on any residual traumas from your childhood you might have carried into adulthood. I think the negative stuff about masculinty and sexuality will process into groovier and more mature points of view as the childhood traumas get worked out.
posted by jbenben at 10:49 AM on December 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

In any case, unless you're trying to flirt with me, it's none of your business. So, are you trying to flirt with me?"

Well, there are a few reasons a person might want to know. There are several incurable matchmakers in my circle, and whether you're gay or straight only matters to them insofar as they want to access the right "database" of potential partners for you.

You'd be able to tell if someone is saying that as an attempt to wound or just out of curiosity, I'm sure.

I think most people here are being too hard on the OP, mostly for using the word masculinity.

If a woman IS asking as a passive aggressive way to be mean, the OP would pick up on that, and yes, it would be nice to be able to brush off dickish comments, but that is easier said that done. If it's done out of the blue by someone you thought you were getting along with, it's especially jarring and it's easy to turn it into something to obsess over, especially if you're tired, drunk-websurfing-at-2-am-after-a-party, or lonely already. I don't know anyone who doesn't have periods of insecurity like this when their batteries are running low.

If you're a straight guy who is looking for a girlfriend and a girl announces that she thinks you're gay, you are going to be alarmed that you aren't attractive to the set you'd like to be. I think that's what the OP means by masculine, which I think he's using in the heteronormative way that it's used by a LOT of the world. Part of this use means "attractive to the opposite sex." That is not the same as actual masculine, but I don't know another word that people use to mean "traditionally "manly," attractive heterosexual adult male." People are tossing "macho" into the ring, but that is usually considered negative, so I don't think it works.

Therapy would be good for self-esteem, but it's not a sign of mental unbalance to get a complex when multiple people in your preferred dating pool are assuming that you are only romantically interested in a completely different pool, especially if you're young.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:57 AM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think there is sometimes a control issue as well. I think all people in some way like to think that we can 'know people' from a series of superficial behaviors or actions, of even trends. even when human nature tells us that in general all you can know about people over the long terms is that we - and our beliefs and preferences - are often complicated and fluid, and sometimes, situational.

But the need to identify, understand, classify and even judge is strong in some folks. Many folks. Possibly all folks. It gives a false sense of order, control and even safety. Her question says nothing about you. It says everything about her and her understanding of the world. For example, someone who might ask me if I'd ever been incarcerated. Say I said no, and asked why they assumed I was, and they said, "well, because you're Black". It's pretty clear to me that that whole line of conversation has everything to do with their worldview, and nothing about me. Because they aren't seeing me. They aren't seeing me at all. They are seeing a cluster of stereotypes and preconceptions and trying to lay them over me.

In the same way, I think your roommate's question says a lot about her. A broader, better question from her would have been: Who do you like? or Are you seeing someone? Rather than, Are you Gay? Those first two questions accepts that the reality that people are wonderfully complicated, and definitions or labels rarely ever do justice.

But if the question says everything about her, you reaction does say something about you. It's that you think others could know you better than yourself AND that they are free from biases and lenses shaped by their limitation of culture, upbringing, fears, and desires. I think both of those things are a lot of ask from a drunk person. She's not more accurate, she's just less guarded about showing her own limitations. 20 people - even close friends - telling you that they think you are into men, doesn't make you more into men. It doesn't make you less into men. It still makes you, you. A guy who would describe his preferences as being into ladies. The question is whether their biases or blind spots are limiting you from achieving your goals and living your life. Since you're a guy who likes to date women, and you're dating one, and it doesn't seem as if these individuals who think you are gay seem to think negatively of individuals who define themselves as gay, I'd say it's not.

Other that that, I know I do get frustrated when I try to present one way to the world, and it doesn't seem to be coming across. For example, when I take hours to prepare a presentation, and someone suggests that my recommendations are 'thoughtless'. Or when I try to spruce up nice, with the clothes and the makeup and the bling because I'm feeling fine, and I think I'm looking good, and then someone asks me, 'why I'm looking so tired'. That's just annoying. I'd like to present myself a certain way, and actually be that way, and for everyone to agree that I in fact am that way. But the world goes easier when I realize that those three things aren't always in alignment, and other people are sometimes mirrors where we can gain insight into ourselves, but sometimes they are distorted reflections. Which is why their opinions are datapoints, and not the whole truth. The world is weird that way.

But you asked how people might handle a situation like that. I say go for sincere, humorous authenticity, with a general them that is something short and sweet. Like "I like the ladies".

Hey Jack, I think Bob over there is checking you out.
-Well, Bob's going to be disappointed tonight, cause I like the ladies. Hope he finds what he's looking for.
What? But you're gay right?
-Nope. I like the ladies.
But Tim and Susan and I all think you're gay. And Rich.
-If by 'gay' you mean 'happy that I like the ladies, and they like me' then you're on point.
But the flamboyant hands! Your stylish clothes and well groomed face!
-.....means that I'm pretty good at attracting the ladies. You could step up your game a notch or two as well, now that we're talking about it.
But I've never seen you with a woman.
-Is this your way of asking to know more about my life? Because you know me - I'm a pretty private person.
Are you sure you're not gay and hiding it somehow? Because you don't have to with me. I'd accept you if you were gay.
-Thanks. That's good to know, and right back at you. Everyone needs friends like that. So how's it going with Tom, or Sally, or whomever you're with now?

.....and move right along. Every time someone mentions it, stop feeling that you are limited to a no-win question where they just asked you if you've stopped beating your wife yet. Side step it by answering the question with that's true for you.

Still in denial about your sexuality, Jack?
-Still liking the ladies, Janet. You still seeing Bill?

....and move right along.

The point isn't that you need to work harder to be 'more masculine' to change their definition. You be you. Let them do the work of appreciating that seeing you as a datapoint means broadening their understanding to include the fact that sexual preferences and robust hand gestures are not the same thing. And know that you aren't alone in having friends who are just a little bit blind. Just continue to be their friend while they figure it out and grow.
posted by anitanita at 10:59 AM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, I never bring girls back like the other guys do (I tend to be a bit secretive in terms of my personal life.

It could really just be this. I would almost guarantee that any unmarried guy between 20 and 60 who is decent-looking and has nothing glaringly wrong with him has not infrequently been the subject of a conversation between two women that goes something like this:

W1: Does he have a girlfriend?
W2: No, I don't think so.
W1: Why not, does he just sleep with random women all the time?
W2: I doubt it, he never brings girls home.
W1: Hmm, maybe he's gay?
W2: I don't know. He doesn't have a boyfriend.
W1: He could be closeted...come to think of it he does sort of have effeminate hand gestures.
W2: Hand gestures, seriously? Anyway, did you ever find a black cardigan?

I'm not saying you should go around bragging about your dates. Just be happy that, as you say, I am going on dates, I have a decent sex life, and I have no confusion regarding which gender I am inclined to pursue.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:00 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't really win with that type of person.

Just say,"Yes." and walk away. Don't get on the crazy train. Verbal judo.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 11:09 AM on December 22, 2012

You need to figure out why you think being gay is a bad thing. I say this because you feel like this woman insulted you, as if there's something wrong with being gay. I understand your sheltered upbringing, but you're an adult now.

I'm a guy. I've been asked if I'm gay before. I'm not. Come to think of it... I ended up dating the last woman who asked.

HER: "Are you gay?"
YOU: "No. Are you?"
HER: "No."
YOU: "Would you like to go out sometime?"

Really, it's that simple.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:10 AM on December 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

As a woman, in my youth, I once had an unfortunate thing for effeminate Brit-pop/Jarvis Cocker-type men who were gay or straight with a swarm of women around them and turned out to be a**holes. I would have been thrilled to meet one who was straight and nice, which I'm not saying doesn't exist, just that I never got to meet one.

So I say rock it.
posted by waterandrock at 11:15 AM on December 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Imagine that your drunk roommate had asked you whether you're of partly Asian descent, or whether you are nearsighted, or whether you played intramural college football, or whether you had a wheat allergy. Imagine that she had told you that something about your mannerisms or your look or your personality had always led her to suspect that such a thing was true of you, and that she had always wanted to ask you about it. Assume that you are not actually any of those things. Do any of those questions cause you to feel less confident in your manhood?

Being attracted to men has approximately as much to do with your masculinity as do your college hobbies or your ability to process gluten. That is to say, none. Unfortunately, our society has perpetuated the really gross bigotry that having sex with dudes makes you less of a man. And it's understandable that a lot of people have internalized that and now judge themselves and other people based on it. But now that we're all adults, I think we have both the ability and the responsibility to be more introspective about that kind of bigotry and to work hard to overturn those biases.

It's not enough for you to say "some of my best friends are gay," or "there's nothing wrong with being gay." You have to really, honestly, get to the point where you can say, "my sexuality is not what makes me a man, and while I might think it a little odd when someone tries to guess my sexuality based on my appearance, there is nothing offensive or hurtful or upsetting about them guessing wrong, because those guesses have nothing to do with who I am as a person or how worthy I am as a man." I understand that you've done a lot of hard work to deal with what sounds like some awful childhood bullying. But I think you need to do more, specifically to deal with the fact that you've internalized society's bias that gay men are not real men, and that that makes them somehow less-than.

(By the way, if your friends think that gay people are less masculine or less "real men" than straight men, I would submit that they are harboring some pretty gross bigotry themselves, and that if they refuse to work on changing their own ideas about those assumptions, you should not be friends with them anymore. Just because you're not gay, that doesn't mean that it's good to be friends with people who express homophobic ideas. And if your friends are expressing these homophobic ideas to you, that's going to make it that much harder for you to overcome your own biases and become really comfortable with your own sexuality and gender identity.)
posted by decathecting at 11:15 AM on December 22, 2012 [11 favorites]

I would submit that they are harboring some pretty gross bigotry themselves,

Or are completely ignorant and go by what they see on TV. I'm always surprised at the TV gay people, because by whatever luck most of the gay people I know IRL are at the opposite extreme stereotype, and spend many of their waking hours working out.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:28 AM on December 22, 2012

One more datapoint to consider: I've known many (very) straight men who read strongly as gay, and by the time they were in their early 30s, they had developed a confidence and sense of humor about it that was actually pretty disarming and attractive. In fact, men who read as gay can be absolute catnip to the ladies: one man I knew (and briefly dated myself) was far more popular on the dating scene than many of his more butch counterparts (not for shopping trips, for sex AND shopping trips), and to my great embarrassment (over my lack of gaydar), my two biggest professor-crushes freshman year were....yup....gay. Fairly flamboyantly gay. I had no idea.
posted by availablelight at 11:52 AM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

In fact, men who read as gay can be absolute catnip to the ladies:


If you can get over your irritation with yourself about this, you could harness this gift to your own benefit, without a doubt.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:10 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

You seem to have two questions: One, what to do about people who think you are gay? Well, there's really nothing you can or should do about that except set them right. I, personally, have known many people who don't fit the mold. Some of them I speculated (privately, in my head) were gay and I was wrong. Some of them I speculated were straight and I was wrong. Nobody has "gaydar." One guy spent his first 25 years assuring people who would ask that he was not gay. Even his sister, a lesbian, insisted he was straight. Well, he's just come out of the closet with his first boyfriend. So, you can inform these people that there is a spectrum of sexuality out there, not all things are black and white and if they must know, you are straight and you don't wish to discuss it further unless they happen to be interested in setting you up with one of their available single friends.

The second question you have seems to be: How do you get over yourself and start dating? There's many, many threads on Ask about this topic. You practice. You put yourself out there. You look in the mirror and tell yourself that you're a good person and you deserve love just as much as the next person. And you take risks and you say "yes" even when you are feeling shy. It takes time so start today. But, like I said, there's lots of stuff here to mine about starting dating and feeling insecure. Don't let this red herring about "do I seem gay" derail you. You can't do much about other people's opinions. Try to have a good sense of humor about it and brush it off. If people are rude to you about it, you have every right to be rude back and shut them down.

If someone is being an ass, it helps to flip the tables on them: "I feel like maybe you have a problem with gay people, do you?" When they start backpedaling you can wish them luck on their journal of personal discovery and then turn away. Anything else is a waste of your time.
posted by amanda at 12:16 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sorry, I read the first part where you talked about being kind of awkward as a kid and missed the "great sex life" paragraph. Heh. Carry on. Seriously. And, hey, have a bit of fun with these weirdos. They want to make wild assumptions while feeling sort of cosmopolitan about themselves? Those people are great to mess with.
posted by amanda at 12:20 PM on December 22, 2012

: "I feel like maybe you have a problem with gay people, do you?" When they start backpedaling you can wish them luck on their journal of personal discovery

This is truly excellent advice.
posted by Frowner at 12:20 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

If I were you, I'd try to figure out why this felt like an attack on your masculinity and why that matters so much to you. Why is being gay un-masculine? Why is being masculine good and un-masculine bad? Is it because it goes against how you see yourself or is it because you've been raised to think of femininity as undesirable, especially in men? Why?

If you can boil it down to the core issue then you can figure out what you need to tackle in order to feel more secure. I get the feeling you're dealing with shreds of internalized homophobia/misogyny (both strongly tied to masculinity) - this does not make you a bad person, and it's completely surmountable given some time.

The problem with "manhood" is that it's this nebulous concept that can never be proven positive. You can never prove that you are 100% a man from now until forever. However, you're always in danger of being disproven as a man, of being tossed out of this mythical category of "manhood" - especially since manhood is often described in contrast to those who do not qualify, like gay men, women, feminine men, etc. Trying to feel secure in such a category is extremely difficult and usually only achieved by having a lot of privilege and/or an extremely normative gender and expression. If you can achieve such a thing, awesome! Good for you! But not everyone can reach that point - and that's totally OK.

As for what to do when people ask you such things, realize it says nothing about you and everything about them. It says "I cannot cope with your deviation from the expected masculine norm and, therefore, I must label you as something other than a straight man because you don't fit that box so you can't possibly be one". I feel pretty bad for those people.
posted by buteo at 12:21 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

It makes total sense that this would have disturbed you. As a middle schooler, you had been isolated, felt socially awkward, weren't interested in dating, and maybe were having sexual side effects from Zoloft. And people made fun of you for that in a way that made you feel more insecure, for years after.

So, now as an adult, even though you've overcome the awkwardness, you're probably still carrying a lot of those fears. And this situation, her comment, was almost that exact dynamic all over again ("you don't bring home women; are you gay?").

That 14 year old self understandably had a really hard time. It was super frustrating to not be good at relating to girls. Worse than that, he didn't have that much life experience. He though maybe they were right, that there was something wrong with him. That's really scary. And it's true -- your life could have gone a totally different way. That kid had no guarantee that he'd figure it out and that things would turn out okay, and it sounds like he was not getting much reassurance. Poor kid.

And your current adult self grew from him. You've done a lot of work and built a good life for yourself. But even though you feel like you've largely become someone new, that kid is still with you, probably in ways you don't even realize. I don't know if you have old journals or have read much YA fiction, but kids learn fast and are pretty adult in some ways. So you probably still have many of the same beliefs as that kid did, on all kind of various topics. You probably have many similar habits. And -- even where you've tried to overcome them -- you probably still carry some of his worries, deep down, even if other parts of you don't share those worries.

Life's pretty good now. You're an adult. You know a lot about the world that you didn't know then. You know that being uninterested in dating or sex with females doesn't make someone gay. You know that many* gay men (* in similar proportion to straight men) are actually QUITE interested in dating or sex, only with males. You know that being flamboyant doesn't make someone gay. You know that even if you were gay, you wouldn't be an outcast and that you could have a great life with lots of friends and the sex you wanted.

Most of all, now that you're an adult, you know how things turned out -- that you've made friends, that you like who you are, that nothing's wrong with you or your sexuality, and that actually, you're going on dates and having a good sex life with women you like.

So, what I'm wondering is whether you can lend some of your current, adult confidence to the part of you that is still 14. Maybe give that part of yourself the reassurance that you wish someone had given him then, with the full confidence of your current adult self. Rather than squashing or ignoring the insecurities that are coming from that part of yourself, hang out with it, but also let it know that really and truly, everything is okay, everything was going to be okay, and you have figured out a way to be who you are and have the life you want.
posted by salvia at 12:36 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

And yeah, in case the other comments haven't convinced you, this is almost entirely about you and your relationship with yourself, and not about her and her comment.

To change the details slightly, suppose she'd ignorantly made a stupid joke like "you like opera, are you gay? lolol" and you'd felt "argh, that reminds me of how I couldn't maintain an erection back when I was on zoloft, have I not yet overcome that??" But as gay men can maintain erections just as much as straight men, you and she would've been having two completely different conversations, one about opera & gay stereotypes, the other about erectile dysfunction. Even though the details are different here, many of the comments are about convincing you of this.

So the real work is to unhook her use of "gay" from your own fears (so that stray comments don't evoke them as easily), then get comfortable with those fears (so that when they come up you aren't as distressed), and eventually let them go. But as I said in my comment above, I don't have much luck "getting rid of" fears by rejecting them and telling myself how stupid they are; I have better luck when I commiserate with the fearful part of myself while also letting it know that it doesn't actually have to be afraid.
posted by salvia at 12:55 PM on December 22, 2012

Echoing elizardbits upthread, I take any questioning of my sexuality as a come-on.

"Excuse me, are you gay?"

"How would you like to find out?"
posted by carsonb at 1:02 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

The incident was a moment of "flight or fight" for you - instead of going to sleep, you should have fought her to a decisive end.

You see, that was her test and she was going to take whatever answer you gave, back to her squad of similarly curious friends. There, it would spread like wildfire throughout the club. The fact she asked implies its been discussed amongst them when you are absent.

Your answer was weak. See if you can find her again and make the situation right.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:33 PM on December 22, 2012

I like this snippet from Frowner: "dudes who were able to gesture or get excited about something or show their feelings."

Those dudes are the dudes who are the most comfortable in their own skins, who aren't afraid to show emotion and be excited and share themselves with the world. That is really rare, brave and wonderful.* For most boys, at some point in their young lives, this instinct is systematically quashed by society. Boys who do those things are scolded. They are told in a million ways, little and big, that they must be stoic, never showing too much sadness, never showing too much joy, never gesturing with their hands when they talk, never allowing too much emotion to creep into their voices. Because those things are effeminate, and therefore weak. It's really sad, actually.

Whether or not your drunk friend meant what she said negatively, she was participating in the icky, weird gender essentialism that shames boys and hurts both men and women. To be fair, I don't think there's anything inherently homophobic about reading someone as a gay man because they use gestures while they talk. But that's a fine line, and how you express that reading and who is doing the reading make a big difference. She was being nosy and rude.

I guess I worry that you're going to let this interaction change the way you move through the world. That you'll stop using your hands when you talk, that you will modulate your voice to show less emotion, or that you'll start paying a lot of attention to the way you walk to make sure it's not too swishy. I think that would be a real shame. I urge you to move in the opposite direction and work on becoming 100% comfortable with the guy you are, not the guy your shitfaced friend—or the media, or the lad mags, or whatever—think you should be.

*And I have it on good authority that a lot of women find those guys very, very hot.
posted by Lieber Frau at 1:55 PM on December 22, 2012 [7 favorites]

Two things: a) your roommate is rude, and b) rational adults don't use "gay" as an insult, so people who ask if you're gay aren't insulting you, even if jerky children did that exact thing in your past. If anyone is asking if you're gay in order to be snide, that's an excellent douchefilter and you should probably avoid that person as much as possible.

It's like being asked if you're Serbian or a Unitarian or a member of the Green Party. Either the person is just asking idly (you remind them of a Serbian friend) or they're trying to work some plan (they've got a friend who's an organizer for the Green Party) or they've just got some weird bee in their bonnet.

Life is way too short to spend even a second on other people's bonnet bees.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:14 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

"You make funny hand gestures. Are you gay?"
"You're really good at math. Are you Asian?"
"You really like fried chicken. Are you black?"
"You have bad teeth. Are you British?"
"You wear glasses a lot. Are you a librarian?"

Get it? She is stupid.

It may also help you to rephrase her question as "Do you like to have sex with men?" It's as inoffensive (and strange/rude/invasive) a question as "Do you like the missionary position?" or "Do you prefer women to wax their entire genital areas?"

Relatedy, it sounds like you need to hide Yahoo Answers from your Google search results. Go to http://www.google.com/reviews/t and type "answers.yahoo.com" into the "Manually block a site" field at the bottom of the page.
posted by thebazilist at 2:50 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Kruger5's advice upthread is only workable if your intent is to gain the favor of people who subject you to tests and want you to fight with them. If you'd rather leave that whole scene behind, I'd strongly recommend responding as others have indicated above.
posted by KathrynT at 3:21 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're worrying too much. Lots of women thought I was gay when I was younger; if anything, it imroved my dating prospects because to some women I was considered either harmless and safe to confide in, or desirable in part because I wasn't attainable. Just be who you are, don't sweat it, and as for drunk girl, a quick "just because I haven't made a pass at you doesn't mean I'm gay" should suffice if it comes up again. "I am who I am" is also useful.

Having said that, if you're having successful relationships and yet your roommates still don't ealize you're straight, perhaps you've just not been forthcoming about your personal life, and some folks fill in such knowledge vacuums with the strangest stuff they can think of. It is up to you to decide if you want to open more of your external life to your roommates or not, really.
posted by davejay at 3:51 PM on December 22, 2012

I still get asked once in a while. I choose to be flattered by it.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:42 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Next time a drunken lady asks you if you're gay, maybe you could try defusing the situation with humor. For example, if you like her, put an arm around her and say "Well, if you're that curious about my sexuality, I know one good way to find out." Or if you don't like her, just say "I'm only gay when you're within twenty feet of me. It's the strangest thing."

This isn't humor. It's aggression. Don't do this.

Otherwise, just wanted to throw this out there: hypothetically, let's say you were gay. What kind of gay man would you be? A guy who's respectful to his partners, has had several LTRs, is well-groomed (and let's throw away some stereotypes here...I know some gay men who are absolute slobs), a pretty good roommate? So, either way, you'd be a good person, an attractive person, and someone worth caring about. The meat of you would still be fine stuff. Would still be the hallmark of a good man, right? Therefore, questions as to whether you're gay have no bearing on your worth as a man or your masculinity. Sheesh, just go to the free weight room at the YMCA (in most major cities). Manliest men ever. So many gays.

As for her question, she was drunk and acting like a dope. Sometimes it's nice to chuckle to yourself internally about these kinds of faux pas. But a standup guy -- a man -- would probably take the exchange for what it was and go on with his life. If she keeps chiding you about it, THEN you need to have a conversation with her.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:18 AM on December 23, 2012

Gay men are men. When someone asks if you are gay, they are questioning you about who you are interested in sexually; they are not questioning your manhood.


And yes, your roommate was being pretty lame. She was drunk, and yet.

My boyfriend has gotten the "omg are you gay!!" thing more than once. Here's the thing though: we met in college, and half my girl friends would say in the same breath "do you think he's gay??" and "god he's so hot I wish we would hook up."

If they are reading you as "gay," it sounds like you're just well-groomed, circumspect, and discrete (in the sense that they don't hear about your conquests). These are awesome characteristics.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:59 PM on December 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

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