If you were gay / That'd be okay / I mean 'cause hey, / I'd like you anyway... but what if I'm not?
December 27, 2012 6:45 AM   Subscribe

So apparently my close friends and relatives have decided that I, an early-twenties female, am Really Damn Gay. I myself am not so sure, and seek your advice on dealing with their well-intentioned but perhaps slightly misplaced support.

I'm generally not a big fan of labels, but if pressed I would describe myself as genderqueer and asexual. I get addressed as "sir" and "miss" in about equal proportions and I don't care about "passing", I just tend to wear what I want, which happens to be a lot of unisex/men's clothing. Re: sexuality and attraction, I've been on lukewarm dates with both men and women but never really felt attracted to anyone. I'm open to the idea that one day I'll be in a sexual relationship with someone, it's generally not something I stress out about other than in a vague, abstract "oh god what if I die alone and unloved" way once in a while. (As you do.)

Apparently, all of what I described above adds up to "closeted homosexual", at least in my circle. My brother, having decided that my "gayness" is obviously out there already, has offered to set me up on dates (I politely declined). My parents, who I know love me very much but come from a staunchly conservative background about these sorts of things, have stopped bringing up my personal life entirely. I've had multiple people do the "...do you have anything you want to tell us?" and "you know, we love and support you no matter what!", which is sweet, and I really do appreciate it, but smiling and nodding along seems a bit dishonest, somehow.

I've tried deflecting/changing the subject, as well as haltingly trying to explain that the situation isn't quite what they think it is, but then they just turn sympathetic-slash-slightly-disappointed and it's clear that they just assume I'm not ready to come out yet. I'd like to be able to say that, honestly, no really, I'm fine the way I am right now, though I appreciate the sentiment.

Having talked with some of my queer friends about the stuff they went through during the coming-out process, I realize that having earnest, supportive friends and family is kind of an enviable problem. I'm OK with having strangers and acquaintances think whatever they like, but I'd just like to be able to be honest with the people I care about without making a big deal about it or being TMI/making people feel uncomfortable about it. Any advice on how to go about doing this? Thank you in advance (and, well, for letting me get this thing off my chest that's been bothering me for a while)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"Why is it so important that you know which sorts of genitalia I may prefer to play with?"
posted by Etrigan at 7:05 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd like to be able to say that, honestly, no really, I'm fine the way I am right now, though I appreciate the sentiment.

So say, "Honestly, no really, I'm fine the way I am right now, and I appreciate the sentiment."

I think that your family and friends are worried that you're worried that they'll reject you and are hiding things from them because of that. And in a way, you are, because you're letting them hover over you with assumptions, rather than just saying to them what you've said to us. "I haven't figured out quite who I want to be with, if anyone, but when I do, I'm very happy that you love and support me. Thank you."
posted by xingcat at 7:07 AM on December 27, 2012 [32 favorites]

It sounds like you're not comfortable discussing it. Not with your brother? Can't you tell him that you're still figuring things out and that you haven't felt a strong attraction either way? And why not let him set you up on some dates? Maybe that would help you clarify. I suspect he wants you to be happy and feels like dating or being partnered would make you happy. I know I feel that way about my brothers but I'm not too involved as we're not that close.

As for everyone else: you can come up with a line and then try first politely to shut them down and then firmly if they persist. It's not on you to make them comfortable with who you are and people who persist are being obtuse if not downright rude.

So what line? What about: "you know, I just haven't had the spark with anyone, male or female yet. When I find them, I'll be sure to let you know." Say that last part with a hint of sarcasm and a pointed look and you may shut them down.
posted by amanda at 7:11 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think amanda has it. I think being asexual, or at least not having a strong sexual identity, is as difficult for people to wrap their heads around (at least in the US) as is atheism. It's just not part of the cultural paradigm, and sexual identity is one of the biggest if not the biggest aspect of individual identity in this culture. Your friends and family are probably seeing your appearance, assuming that's code for gay, and then following the script with regards to being supportive of that. If you don't want the conversation to keep turning to that you'll need to communicate where you're at.
posted by MillMan at 7:21 AM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Isn't it amazing how other people think they can cram you into whatever box they think you should fit into?

Can you post a throw-away email address? I'd like to send a lot more info your way, but I don't want to clutter up AskMe. Or you can send something to my Memail, if you want to.

The short version?

For family and friends who honestly are concerned and care about me, my response was something like "it's wonderful that I have such a supportive [brother, mother, friend]. You don't need to worry about me, or be concerned about my relationships. I'll let you know if there is a status change!".
If they ever get pushy, I'm infamous for naming off family members and talking about their marital status "Mom, divorced. Dad, remarried. Aunt Sue, divorced. Aunt Jane, divorced. Uncle Bob, divorced and remarried 3 times. Cousin Jill, never married. Cousin Jack, never married. Do you guys see a pattern, here?" The subject gets changed very quickly.

For strangers or people you don't know well who are being nosy or you just don't feel like talking about your business, I tell them it's personal and I'm not going to talk about it. And then change the subject.

You don't have to talk about your sexual preferences, dating life or anything else you don't want to talk about. Really, you can just say, nope not talking about that. It's hard to do the first few times, but you don't have to make excuses or feel guilty about what other people think and say - that's on them.
posted by lootie777 at 7:21 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

AskMe is filled with questions about people agonizing over their sexuality and agonizing about finding a mate. If you were struggling with these questions instead of being able to calmly allow them to resolve themselves in due time, then you might see the concerned family members in a different light. Your attitude toward your sexuality is unusual. You are unsure about your sexuality and you are ok with that. You have not been and are not now involved with anyone and you are ok with that.

Your family probably assumes that, like many closeted and/or lonely people, you are carrying a heavy burden and they want to help you with it. And there are two issues at play here: your sexuality and your solitude. Your brother would likely be offering to set you up on dates regardless of who he thought you were attracted to. Your conservative parents would likely pretend to ignore a wild sex life as much as a potentially gay one.

Are you the youngest? Do your family/friends take advice from you as often as they give it, or are you usually the recipient? If your family dynamics are such that you are "young" or "still learning" in everyone's eyes then this has even less to do with sexuality, and good luck changing that. Other signs of growth/independence (school, professional life, living apart, travel...) will have more of an effect than conversations about your sexuality.
posted by headnsouth at 7:30 AM on December 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think society has put so much pressure on identifying people as gay or straight that any gray areas get overlooked. It sounds to me that your family doesn't quite realize a gray area is possible. It's okay if you're not comfortable discussing it with them (hey, I'm straight, and I don't talk about my love life with my parents unless I have a boyfriend). You just need to say something that gets them to back off -- either something along the lines of "I'm still figuring things out, and as much as I appreciate your desire to be supportive, I can't tell you anything until I figure it out for myself," or "I'm not really focusing on my love life right now, _____ is much more important to me." (The last is what I use, since I'm in a FWB and not dating due to the pressure of my academic load, but would rather not tell my family that first part. They understand.)
posted by DoubleLune at 7:30 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Totally agree with amanda and millman. I guess why is it your concern what they think? No one needs an answer except maybe your brother due to the date set-ups. For some reason people always need to place a label on stuff and you haven't given them a neat box to check off. If it were me I'd go with amanda wrote.
posted by lasamana at 7:32 AM on December 27, 2012

(And when I say "like many closeted or lonely people" I mean that your family may see you that way ... I've worded it as though I mean you're closeted or lonely and I didn't mean that at all.)
posted by headnsouth at 7:41 AM on December 27, 2012

It doesn't sound to me like you're "still trying to figure things out". Quite the contrary. It sounds like you're quite comfortable where you are, thank you, and that you're not particularly interested in the sexual/romantic relationship thing.

This may be hard for people to understand. It's not very common; less common than being gay, for example.

I suggest people straightforward with people: "Believe me, I'm not worried about being gay, and I'm not worried about how you'd react if I was gay. Right now I'm just not that interested in being in a relationship with anyone, male or female. I'm busy with other things. Maybe some day that will change and I'll be in a relationship with a man or a woman. In the meantime, I'm fine the way I am."
posted by alms at 7:50 AM on December 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most people have no frame of reference for asexuality, so it's not even occurring to them as an option. For most people, even if they hold homophobic views, they at least understand that some people are sexually attracted to people of the same gender. Many people cannot even comprehend that some folks just don't feel sexually attracted to anyone. I think that you should be up front with your family members who are trying to support you and tell them the truth, that you feel very loved by them and all their well intentioned support, but you aren't actually interested in anyone in that way and you're totally fine with it. As long as you keep modeling being totally fine with it, I think they'll fall in line.
posted by crankylex at 7:54 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is tricky, bridging the gap between your own experience and sense of yourself and the very tightly constrained and simplified categories that most people use to think about sexuality. What about using the term "queer" for yourself, explaining that it means "other than standard heterosexual orientation," and then depending on the context of the conversation going on to say more about what that means in your case? This might help people like your brother grasp that there's more than just hetero and homo.
posted by unreadyhero at 8:03 AM on December 27, 2012

I rather like the Troy McClure response.

"Gay? Oh, I wish. If I were gay there'd be no problem!"

You've got some good advice about what to tell people when they ask, and just know that whatever ends up happening with your love life and your sexuality that it's what makes you happy that matters.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:04 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's a good idea to find a label that you feel is fitting before you tackle talking to other people about it. You might do some reading about bisexuality, aromanticism, and asexuality first--sounds to me like you're a bisexual aromantic, but really, you're the one who will know best. Divorce the question from anything other people might tell you about who you should love or what you seem like or what asexuals seem like and just think about you, your attractions, and your self.

For me, embracing the term "bisexual" meant loving parts of myself that I'd previously been a little ashamed of--this, despite many queer friends and being quite liberal in my political leanings. I didn't want to be a stereotype of a bisexual, but then, I realized that my refusal to embrace that term only contributed to stereotypes. It's not easy to be anything in between in this world, but it's hardest of all when you dare not name yourself. Figuring out a label that you feel comfortable with is step one. And I know it's hard. It feels unnecessary, but . . . names give things clarity. They make them real. For me, avoiding labels was as much about avoiding identity as it was anything else.

Heck, you call yourself genderqueer and asexual in your question. When people ask, tell them that! It might necessitate a conversation about terminology, but you'll be educating people and helping to diversify images of asexuals and genderqueer people in their minds. That's really important, actually. It helps all of us who stand under the queer umbrella.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:19 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

How kind of you to take an interest.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:32 AM on December 27, 2012

There's a very strong default belief that anybody who is not partnered must be looking for (or at least want, even if they're not actively looking) a partner. It's not accurate, but it's there. As others have mentioned, the fact that you're not partnered and you're happy without a partner will seem unusual to some people.

If it were me and my family and friends seemed to be coming from a place of love and good wishes for my happiness, I'd go with something like the suggested "Honestly, no really, I'm fine the way I am right now, and I appreciate the sentiment."

I would only choose the frosty "How kind of you to take an interest" with somebody who seemed to be coming from a desire to control me or express their disapproval of my choices.
posted by Lexica at 9:23 AM on December 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

If, as you indicate at the end of your question, what you really want is to let people know that you appreciate your support and to be able to communicate honestly to them about what's going on, then I'd suggest something like this:

"Mom/Dad/Bro/Whomever, your support really means a lot to me -- a LOT. I know what you're hinting around; you think I'm gay. I don't know if 'gay' is the best word to describe me, though. What I really am is living proof that gender and sexuality don't really fit in neat little boxes with neat little labels; I'm not particularly attracted to men, but I'm not exceptionally attracted to women, either.

Here's what's important though: I am happy and comfortable. I am not miserable and lonely. I expect that someday I might pursue a romantic relationship with someone, but it's really not on my radar at the moment. I am not hiding anything from you or from myself, you see me as I am. And I am happy. Really, I promise. If I ever need help finding a date, I swear I will come to you. OK?" Then give them a big hug. If they want to learn more, you can set them up with links about being genderqueer and asexuality, but the most important part of this is that you are fine the way you are.
posted by KathrynT at 10:15 AM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Why is it so important that you know which sorts of genitalia I may prefer to play with?"

1. Sexual orientation isn't about genitals; it's about hearts.
2. This is an obnoxious thing to say to friends and family who are being loving and supporting.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:16 AM on December 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

> "Why is it so important that you know which sorts of genitalia I may prefer to play with?"

> Say that last part with a hint of sarcasm and a pointed look and you may shut them down.

Some respondents don't seem to have grasped that she's not dealing with unpleasantly prying strangers or coworkers but "earnest, supportive friends and family." These are people she likes and doesn't want to "shut down." I agree with the "Honestly, no really, I'm fine the way I am right now, and I appreciate the sentiment" approach.
posted by languagehat at 10:16 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is an obnoxious thing to say to friends and family who are being loving and supporting.

From the question: "I've tried deflecting/changing the subject, as well as haltingly trying to explain that the situation isn't quite what they think it is, but then they just turn sympathetic-slash-slightly-disappointed and it's clear that they just assume I'm not ready to come out yet."

I think after the first time someone refuses to take the hint that it's not a subject you care to discuss, you're entitled to be arch. YMMV.
posted by Etrigan at 10:29 AM on December 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

When people turn sympathetic-slash-slightly-disappointed and it's clear that they just assume I'm not ready to come out yet, does this happen after you've already told them that I've been on lukewarm dates with both men and women but never really felt attracted to anyone?

Because for me as a reader, that piece of information was key in convincing me that your current diagnosis of the situation is better than theirs. So if you're not sharing that piece of information, I'd suggest doing so, and sharing it as bluntly as you've stated it here.

I'm guessing that you don't sexually fantasize, at least not about something you can imagine yourself doing IRL. But fantasy probably clued in many of your interlocutors to their own sexual desires long before any dating, lukewarm or otherwise. So once you manage to drill it through their heads that you really don't know yet who you're attracted to, be prepared for possible questions along these lines -- and if the answers aren't something you feel like sharing, just use a non-response, e.g. "Yeah, that hasn't really told me anything", or "EWW! Bro, I can't believe you just asked me that!"
posted by feral_goldfish at 10:29 AM on December 27, 2012

You already have your labels, so make the most of them. To me (asexual aromantic) it sounds like you don't exclude the option to have a partner/relationship in the future, just not now and not forced into it by your well-meaning family. Maybe explain them the concept of demiromantic - it might be accurate (or not), but it is a polite way to tell them to back off a bit. Saying you need a reaaaaaaaaally long time to develop romantic or sexual interest is not as abstract and maybe even disturbing to people who care about you as "not interested, ever". It just tells them they can't force it and dating isn't a "numbers game" or really an option for you. It also exlains them why you are more interested in having platonic friendships and don't actively pursue "potential mates". Your family is already supportive of your non-hetero orientation - it's just the wrong one. So give them a new term they can support and respect. Since you mentioned genderqueer and not sure if you're actually gay - maybe panromantic/sexual is a better term: not caring about sex and gender of a partner at all.
posted by MinusCelsius at 7:19 PM on December 27, 2012

I'm not sure how badly this is troubling you, but, FWIW, while reading your question above, I got the distinct impression that you're a very level headed person who seems really well adjusted, is grateful for your caring family and friends, and is just doing her own thing.

So what if you're not interested in sex right now? Maybe that will change one of these days, or maybe it won't. Who cares? Despite what society and the people around you are saying, I can't see why you need to let this bother you. In fact, I give you more credit for not falling victim to the "pigeon hole" mentality that is blasting at you.

As far as the "dying alone" thing, that seems to haunt us all (or at least many of us) to some degree. You're clearly capable of establishing relationships with family and friends, so a long term relationship should be no problem (whenever you meet the right person and the time and circumstances are right).

It takes all types of people to make up this world of ours. I think you should just relax, keep doing your thing, and let whatever happens happen.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:55 PM on December 27, 2012

You know, there's also the simpler concept of the "late bloomer." Maybe some of your family would be comfortable with that. I was a "late bloomer" myself, not really interested in playing kiss-tag or flirting or dating until I was fairly well into my teens. And even then, I was sort of ambivalent. I had crushes and boyfriends but I was probably 17 or 18 before anything was remotely serious. And then I got married at 23 so... watch out! ;)

Best of luck, anon.
posted by amanda at 8:09 PM on December 27, 2012

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