Where's my parade?
April 12, 2007 9:31 AM   Subscribe

Help me, if you will, loosen the ferociously tangled knot of my sexual orientation.

I know, of course, that none of you are omniscient or psychic, and I'm not looking for an arbitrary assignment or diagnosis. I suppose I'm looking for general advice and feedback, personal anecdotes, and assurance that I'm not entirely abnormal - maybe a sort of sexuality compass.

I've assumed I was bisexual, or something like it, ever since I was a young teenager and fell in love - genuinely in love - with a girl (but never acted on it). Now I'm in my mid-20's and sadly, rather than clearing up like they said it would, my sexuality is even more nebulous to me than it was when I was fourteen.

Points in the GAY column:
  • I generally only masturbate to fantasies of women. Fantasies of guys are eh.
  • I really like lesbian porn (even that marketed to straight men). When I was younger, I could get off watching lesbian porn without even touching myself. Seriously! Straight porn, or any porn involving a man (although gay porn is slightly better), is really unappealing to me, even gross.
  • As mentioned above, I've been in love with, or had intense crushes on, several women. Big fluttering stomach butterflies, makeout/marriage fantasies, secret stratagems, the whole bit. Nothing has ever come of them, due to me being young or shy, or them being straight (although some were gay, and all were at least somewhat stereotypically "gay-acting").
  • I have a saucer-eyed fascination with lesbian culture. I love lesbian storylines in movies and books - they hit me deep. Reading The Color Purple and Annie on My Mind in high school - after I'd come out as bisexual to myself and a few friends - were very piercing and very lovely experiences for me.
  • I have, at times, even assumed I was a lesbian. I have a diary entry from when I was sixteen saying that I'd be willing to sleep with a guy I sort of liked, just to get it over with, but that was only because (I wrote) "I think it'll be only girls for me from now on."
So, if that was all you knew, you'd think I was a big old dyke, right? Well, let me tell you a few somethings:
  • I have been in love with, or had intense crushes on, more guys than girls. Starting from when I was about seven - big fluttering butterflies, makeout/marriage fantasies, secret stratagems...and so forth. When I was in high school, I almost solely liked girls, but otherwise, I've mostly preferred, and mostly fallen for, men.
  • I have slept with a girl. It was eh. It was such a non-event to me that I hardly even remember it. Kissing her was like kissing my own arm. The way I thought of it afterward was that it was how I imagine a very straight girl would feel about sleeping with another girl. I wasn't in love with her or anything prior - it was an experimentation thing for both of us - but I wasn't not attracted to her or anything beforehand.
  • I've unequivocally enjoyed being with the handful of guys I've slept with or hooked up with much more than sleeping with the girl - even guys that I wasn't totally wild about beforehand. It just felt right, at a very fundamental level, while being with the girl felt weird and kind of wrong.
  • Likewise, the idea of meeting and dating girls also seems weird and kind of wrong. Meeting and dating guys isn't actually that appealing either, but for a different reason - not because it feels wrong, but because I hate dating. Dating a girl seems weird because I think of girls, in general, as friends. I'd feel like I was participating in a weird charade if I tried to date one (other than the girls I've had crushes on).
  • I see myself marrying or settling down with a guy much more easily than with a girl.
  • I've been to lesbian clubs and went to a few meetings of my college's GLBT association. I have rarely felt like such an imposter. I felt like a straight girl crashing the party.
  • My good friends, who know most or all of the above, think I'm pretty straight. It's not wishful thinking - they'd be fine with me being gay. Whether or not it matters, I'm incredibly feminine and stereotypically straight-acting.
I am overthinking this, you say. Well, yeah, maybe, but it's been an unsettled part of myself for about ten years now, and any guidance would be nice since I feel like I'm sort of flailing with my own self-assessment. My easiest answer is that old overchewed gumwad "I fall for the person," but that doesn't really help with regards to finding a partner because I don't take much of an active role in it - it's always just happened (although less so lately, I like to think because my heart has turned cold and hard in post-adolescence.). It would also be nice to feel like I'm not totally alone here, since I clearly don't have an obvious subculture waiting with open arms.

I sort of feel like Margaret Cho - am I gay? Am I straight? Except I'm just not particularly slutty.

Advice appreciated! Land ho!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (51 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Personally I think you're way to tied up in labeling yourself and in what a "lesbian" or "straight" person is. What does "stereotypically straight-acting" mean?

Get off to what gets you off, with whomever it is that you enjoy getting off with. Constructs of sexual identity are just that, constructs. We try and make sweeping generalizations about defining sexuality, but its really just made up.

Do what you want with who you want. "What you are" is you, thats all there is to it.
posted by teishu at 9:43 AM on April 12, 2007 [5 favorites]

Personally I would just call myself bisexual and forget about it. But the real reason I stopped by was this: I clearly don't have an obvious subculture waiting with open arms.

The LGBT community covers a lot of ground. I'm sure they'd accept you even if you don't choose a letter.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on April 12, 2007

You sound sweet, and you don't sound as if you need a category for yourself. Will having a category to put yourself in make you feel better about yourself?

On the plus side, here in AskMe you'll get a spectrum of answers probably further from conventions than elsewhere, so good luck!
posted by cgc373 at 9:46 AM on April 12, 2007

This is a stumper for which I imagine others will give you far more sage advice, but the most telling item to me was that sleeping with men, to you, "felt right, at a very fundamental level, while being with the girl felt weird and kind of wrong," while sleeping with a girl was "kissing [your] own arm." I think you are, perhaps, straight with an open enough mind to be able to be turned on by images of sexuality that you'd not want to physically engage in yourself.
posted by WCityMike at 9:47 AM on April 12, 2007

Bi people do not spend their lives ensuring they end up with fifty percent women and fifty percent men. I would venture a guess that you are "queer", as I personally identify. I worked for a GLBT youth group as a teen and was convinced I was "bi" but found myself dating men. I came out as "straight" to my friends, but it never really felt right. I'm not big into girls, but I'm absolutely bonkers for tranny boys. There is no real "definition" for what I am, except that I am myself.
You don't need a box to put yourself in. That's why I like the term "queer". I have different-from-"normal" sexual proclivities. I also dated a girl once, and it felt much the same as you described. If it matters, I'm in a LTR with a man. I like the term he told me about, "pansexual". You like people and it's not dependant on what is between their legs. Enjoy your sexuality in whatever form it manifests, and know you are normal.

On preview: I've been with guys where sexual contact felt like "kissing my own arm". It's all a question of attraction and chemistry.
posted by nursegracer at 9:50 AM on April 12, 2007 [3 favorites]

I agree with Teishu....

what's so important about the label???

Be bi, be gay, be straight.... why do you have to etch in stone what you "are"?

Perhaps you weren't with the "right" women previously?

I wouldn't overthink the whole thing... always look in front of you... the more you look down or to the sides, the less forward momentum you have (sorry, that was my philosophical self coming out)... bottom line is...as Teishu stated, get off on whatever does it for you....
posted by foodybat at 9:51 AM on April 12, 2007

I think you sound like quite a package for any lucky guy that snags you.

I say guy because you seem quite a bit more in the straight category for the major points - actually having sex and being comfortable. Social pressure and upbringing can be big explainers for that if you come to a different conclusion later.

But, seriously - you sound like someone who's open minded and would make some guy ridiculously happy if you decide to ever get married.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a straight male.
posted by plaidrabbit at 9:52 AM on April 12, 2007

I've known straight girls who said they'd drop everything if the "right girl" came along, and I've know hardcore lesbians who said the same thing about the "right guy". But for the most part, neither of them has had that "right person" come along. So they just keep acting as they identify themselves.

I think sexuality is a spectrum. There is much effort to compartmentalize, but then, that is human nature. What do you consider a transsexual MTF who's dating a man? Who's dating a woman? Who's dating another transsexual? What do you consider someone with XY chromosomes who externally is completely female (yes, that was on House) who dates girls? Who dates boys? What about hermaphrodites? So with all that confusion, why should you have to label yourself?

I think the GayLesbian/Straight/Bisexual stuff is convenient for the people who want to argue about it, on either side of the spectrum. But for the people who are just living it ... go with what feels right. Enjoy your porn and date guys. Date a girl if she comes along. Marry either one if it seems like the right thing to do. Declaring one way or the other will just make you feel like you're making a "wrong" decision later if you chose to swing the other way, and I don't think there are any wrong decisions to make.
posted by olinerd at 9:54 AM on April 12, 2007

This is about where I was at in my mid-20s. I'm 32, in a LTR with a guy. I could have ended up with a female partner, but he just happened to wander into my life and I fell in love.

Anyway, I'd spend a lot more energy wondering why you're trying to figure this out in the first place. If you're really in search of an identity, how about being an avid cyclist, or a photographer, or a classical guitarist? People will be a lot more interested in those things than the gender of those you date. Whether sexual orientation is a choice or biologically determined, it doesn't add anything to who you are. Learning a skill, or having a hobby, or being an interesting person - that's what draws people to you.

This is absolutely the key line: It would also be nice to feel like I'm not totally alone here You want to be accepted, and to do that you feel you need to define your sexual identity... which is the part that (sane) people care the least about.

Cyclists, photographers, and guitarists have subcultures just waiting for you. Gay subculture gets incredibly boring once you realize that no one gives a rat's ass who you sleep with, which is why there are niches like motorcycling clubs, volleyball leagues, etc.
posted by desjardins at 9:55 AM on April 12, 2007 [5 favorites]

I'm exactly like you, if that makes you feel any better. But I've never really struggled with it like you seem to be doing because I don't really care about whatever labels are assigned to me. I think that old 'i fall for the person' schtick is all you can go for without driving yourself insane. I'm now in a 2+ year relationship with a man... it's better than any relationship i've ever had with a woman, but it's also better than any other relationship I've had with a man, so I'm pretty sure it's just him, not the fact that he's a guy. If we ever break up and I find myself looking for someone new, well, it doesn't really matter if it's a guy or a girl--it just matters we connect.

When I was in high school, I read some magazine interview interview with Angelina Jolie (of course), and she said something to the effect that it was just as crazy to say 'i'll only fall in love with men' as it was to say 'i'll only fall in love with redheads' or 'i'll only fall in love with someone really tall'... I guess that's how I've always felt about it, and that's enough for me.

(Also, try some hot girl-on-girl sex again--it shouldn't be so meh!)
posted by rndm at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2007

I identify as Bi, however all my friends call me lesbian..... to me the whole identity is a little more than what you physically do. I am sure a lot of people will tell you "what does it matter how you define?", but it really does…… to me it is what I am.

To be honest it sounds like you are not exactly comfortable with who you are. The fact that you are asking yourself these questions in such a am I or aren’t I kind of way. You will probably never get an answer.

On the whole feeling like a gatecrasher thing …… I get told I am Femme, I do not like that very much, but I suppose that is how everyone describes me. I always have to clarify who I am when going into a gay environment. To be honest I am pretty comfortable with who I am, it’s other people who are not. I have thought about getting a T-shirt with “I’m not a Fag Hag” written on the front, and then all the phone numbers of people who can vouch for me on the back. Maybe taking it to extremes though.

On girlie sex..... I was really non plussed about the whole sex with women thing until I met one lovely lady who absolutely rocked my world. That was very recently – and I have been out for over 10 years.
posted by informity at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2007

but I wasn't not attracted to her or anything beforehand

Wasn't not isn't the same as was. I say try again!
posted by changeling at 9:59 AM on April 12, 2007

Funny. This could have been about me if you reversed the genders and fudged some details. Here's my take:

When someone asks my sexual orientation, there's usually another implied question. What they really want to know is, would I date them? Or would I sleep with them? How about their one cute friend — should they set us up? Or do I have experience with $SEX_ACT? Or where do I stand culturally or politically?

I've given up on finding a standard label for my orientation, because my orientation as it stands is an awful confusing mess. Instead, I answer the underlying question. I've told nice boys who wanted a relationship but didn't float my boat that I was probably too straight for them. I've informed friends who wondered why I had strong opinions on lube that yeah, I'm pretty gay.

I've found that the only people who keep pushing for a single label are doing it for political reasons. For them, "queer" is usually good enough. It's honest, too — as far as I can tell I'm outside the usual binary or ternary categories, if only because my attraction and identy drift around so much, and that sort of fluidity is plenty queer.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:00 AM on April 12, 2007

Wow. I just had to double-check and make sure it wasn't me posting this question in my sleep. Except that'd be a me from a couple of years ago. I don't remember building a time machine a few years ago...

I present straight - only have ever dated men, most of my sexual expierence has been with guys, and yet, I dig looking at naked women - or any women. Women are pretty and nice to look at and touch in a way most guys aren't.

It might be how you were raised, it might be how you're oriented, but it sounds like you're more inclined to date men, and to seek them out for long-term relationships. Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people do it. Even people who really REALLY like lesbian porn.

Maybe you'll find the right ladyfriend someday. Maybe you'll find some guy who thinks it's faboo that you like the naked lady porn. (I suspect your odds are pretty good on that one, but that may be observational bias on my part.)

Anyway. You're bi, if you must have a label. You obviously like naked women, you obviously dig the heterosexual intercourse. Bi doesn't mean 'equally attracted to men and women'. It means 'can be attracted to both.'
posted by FritoKAL at 10:10 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Labels and belonging to a particular sub-community won't matter so long as you are happy with you as you. Some people need to feel like they belong; others are happy to always be on the outside.

I think you should just take it one relationship at a time, and be less concerned as to how that relationship defines your sexuality and more concerned with "am I happy spending my time with this person?"

Best of luck!
posted by modernnomad at 10:13 AM on April 12, 2007

Sounds like you are (mostly) gay. The telling aspect here is that you say you get off sexually to women. The confusion for you is that you've never had sex with a female that you're in love (or lust) with. I've had plenty of sex with women that I liked, but I was not sexually attracted to. Eh... not so fulfilling.

Emotionally it seems you have feelings for men and women. That's fine, but I think you need a combination of sexual attraction and emotional attachment to be happy.
posted by jeblis at 10:15 AM on April 12, 2007

I'm about like you are, "liked" both, fantasize about women a lot, but never figured out how to be in a relationship with one as successfully as a man.

The Kinsey scale, if you haven't considered it already, it a useful framework to consider. You're somewhere in the middle, and so roughly speaking, you're bisexual, though as your question asserts, sexuality is more multidimensional than that. You can be very straight in one way and very gay in another, very kinky in one way and very vanilla in another. Part of the joy of sex is exploring those nooks and crannies of your psyche. Naturally the uncertainty grows over time: wisdom is knowing how much you don't know!

You haven't asked how to straighten (har har) this out for the benefit of your relationships, which leads me to hope that they are healthy. Be open about your sexual explorations with the one you love, whoever they may be!
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:20 AM on April 12, 2007

for me, it was about emotional connection. I like guys, I dated a few guys, I still get crushes on guys. but it the end? It was the girls who destroyed me, brought me straight to my knees, ripped out my heart and forever changed me.

Strangely enough, I could never get off to lesbian fantasies before my first relationship with a girl. This was probably due to denial, but I can tend in that direction even now.

Nthing the "try it with someone you're into" (because oh.my.god) and the lack of labels. But who's broken your heart the hardest? Who do you miss the most--the relationship, or the chance you never had?
posted by atayah at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You need to stop worrying about labels.

I have been attracted to girls my whole life. I've fallen (hard!) for a few. Yet I'm in an excellent relationship with a guy that started about year ago, mostly out of curiosity--and this is the first serious relationship I've been in. I'm not attracted to other men, and if our relationship ended I would return to women in a minute. What does this make me? Most of my friends hate it when I call myself lesbian, they call me bisexual, but that doesn't feel comfortable since, as I said, I don't have interest in any other man. But I'm clearly not 100% gay. So whaddya do?

Nothing. I'm attracted to whom I'm attracted to, and when I break up with him I'll call myself a lesbian to deter any would-be male suitors, but until then there isn't really an appropriate name to call me.

I suggest you do the same. Hit on people you like. Be respectful, don't use people for experimentation (unless they know what you're doing and are OK with it), just do your thing and you'll be fine. I know, even gays can be black-and-white about the sexuality thing, but there's a good portion of the LGBT population that doesn't really worry about it. It's OK if you don't have a subculture. Really.
posted by Anonymous at 10:30 AM on April 12, 2007

The NYTimes on sexuality

Note the paragraphs talking about men and women watching porn. Men get aroused only by their preferred sex, while women get aroused pretty indiscriminately. Most of the women I know aren't as aroused by the images they see as much as the situations being played out, which I think is also why women tend to gravitate more towards written erotica, rather than pictures.

The one thing in all this that makes me think (mostly) straight is when you say kissing another girl was like kissing your own arm.

An interesting article on the vomeronasal organ

The VNO responds to pheromones in some tetrapods, and there's some evidence that it does the same thing in people. Speaking purely personally, I've found that women just smell better to me, and there's this indefinable rightness to cuddling with a woman that cuddling up to a guy just doesn't have.
posted by fnerg at 10:34 AM on April 12, 2007

People like to say that they're x percent gay and y percent straight, but keep in mind that x and y don't have to add to 100, in other words it's "x attracted to females and 100-x NOT attracted to females" rather then "x attracted to females and y attracted to males". You can be five percent gay and six point three percent straight, and spend a whole lot of time not interested in anyone. You can be a hundred percent gay AND a hundred percent straight and have to have a special large bed in your house. You can have a high sex drive and still not be interested in certain acts, or only interested in certain acts. You can only like red heads, or muscular types, or whatever.

And I think your real question, help you find The One Person, can be answered with all of the other dating and relationship threads which (sorry) point out how difficult it is to force lust, and that you just have to keep looking patiently.
posted by anaelith at 10:37 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to add another voice to the 'you're not alone' chorus. I'm a man, am attracted to both men and women, have smooched both, and have found the most fulfilling sex and relationships happened when I focused on the person and stopped worrying about what's in their jeans.

That said, I know that it feels important, especially when single, to want to self-identify and know whom to pursue. And to that I'd again say, don't sweat it -- consider yourself fortunate, you have a very wide range of eligibles; flirt with anyone you're attracted to!
posted by verysleeping at 10:38 AM on April 12, 2007

I think you'll find that lots of women who only date men enjoy lesbian porn. There are lots of reasons why (guys in porn are not always the most attractive men, it's "taboo", lesbian porn has better plots than straight porn, etc) and I've known a few happily married women who get off to lesbian porn. You honestly sound a lot like me. I thought I was gay for a while, but the sex I had with girls never blew me away. I'm in an LTR with a man, and I'm quite happy, but I still identify as bisexual because I find both women and men attractive.
I agree with everyone above who says that your local LGBT community will welcome you no matter how you choose to (or not to) identify. You might even want to join a Bisexuals only community, just so that you don't feel judged by those who are "more queer" than you. Given the response you've gotten so far, I'm sure you'll meet people who can help you feel more comfortable in your skin.
In closing, be yourself, don't feel like you have to pick a label to fit into LGBT culture.
posted by blueskiesinside at 10:41 AM on April 12, 2007

FWIW I think the majority of straight women get turned on by naked women much more so than men, and I seem to recall a study stating the same.
posted by konolia at 10:48 AM on April 12, 2007

I don't think you need to slap a label on yourself. There is no reason you have to fit in a nice little pigeonhole just because some people prefer things that way. If you do want a label, what's wrong with bisexual? It seems that you used to identify as bisexual, but feel like this should go away as you get older, and now want to put yourself firmly in the straight or gay camp. You don't need to pick just one, any more than you need to decide if you prefer knitting or riding harleys.

If someone else feels uncomfortable that you don't fit their labels, that's their problem, not yours.
posted by yohko at 10:50 AM on April 12, 2007

As for the fantasies, you're definitely not alone:
straight women who fantasize about women
more of them here
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 AM on April 12, 2007

Another "you're not alone" here. I started preferring the phrase "not entirely straight" when I realized I was very likely going to settle down with a man and live a heterosexual-looking life, but that was towards the end of my single life. Bi was a more expedient label when I was dating, even with guys, because it allowed me to filter out the "can I watch?" ones up front.

It mattered a lot more to me socially in my 20s, but I don't remember why.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:53 AM on April 12, 2007

I think you've gotten great answers so far and wanted to add to the chorus -- you don't need a label. I think maybe you've realized that the minute you label yourself, things change. And if you must, "queer" is a good all-encompassing term.

You may want to check out Adrienne Rich's essays on this topic.

And to change up what plaidrabbit said:
I think you sound like quite a package for any lucky person that snags you.
posted by jdl at 10:56 AM on April 12, 2007

I'll add my voice to the chorus of people saying not to worry about labels. I know women who identify themselves as lesbian, but have sex with men. I know women who identify themselves as straight, but openly check out other women. Or women who identify themselves as bi, but have only ever been in relationships with guys (AFAIK). So clearly, these labels don't say much.

If you meet a chick named Alice or a guy named Bob that you're really into, and they try to pin you down, just tell them your a [Alice|Bob]-osexual.

I'm a straight guy, for whatever that's worth (which, in the context of this discussion, isn't much).
posted by adamrice at 11:00 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've nothing to add here besides "me too". Maybe we should start a group :)
posted by aeighty at 11:06 AM on April 12, 2007

Do you want a label so you can better understand yourself, or because you want to know how to describe yourself to other people? If the latter, I don't see why "bi" wouldn't work. A lot, if not most, bi people have a preference for one gender over the other. Or, as another poster suggested, "queer" might work too.

As for how you label yourself to yourself, could you accept the possibility there might not exist an appropriate label? I suspect that, deep down, nearly everyone has sexual quirks that don't neatly fit the labels 100% of the time. Perhaps you're just more aware of or open to yours (which, IMO, is a beautiful thing). Also, I wouldn't use your one experience with a woman as a litmus test of whether or not you enjoy (or could enjoy) sex with women. My first experience with a guy (shortly after I came out as a gay man [FWIW, I now tell people that I'm "bi but mostly gay"]) was as lackluster as you describe your experience with a woman. It took awhile for me to learn that the types I fantasize about aren't always the ones that actually turn me on in bed.

As for feeling like an outsider in LGBT groups, please know that you're not alone. In my experience, these groups are notoriously narrow in their social scope and tend toward a cliquishness that would put junior high kids to shame. There are oodles and oodles of gay/bi/lesbian/trans/queer people who visit these groups once or twice and never come back.

One thing that took me awhile to digest is the notion that there is really no such thing as a coherent, cohesive LGBT community. It's just an umbrella term for a group of individuals who happen to share certain traits in common. There are small communities here and there, usually revolving around common interests (political or activity-oriented, for instance). There are LGBT movie clubs, book clubs, writers groups, knitting circles, hiking groups, camping groups, sports groups, etc. But there's really no such thing, IMO, as the LGBT community in general.

I would image that if you spend more time around people who identify as LGBT or queer, you'll eventually discover other individuals with similarly complex sexualities. As you meet more people with whom you click in this regard, it may even start to feel like community.
posted by treepour at 11:07 AM on April 12, 2007

I'm like you, sort of, but from another spot on the gender wheel (bio male).

1. "Queer" is your friend.

2. A lot of your insecurity about labels may be helped by having a few friends who really get you on this topic. Friends who don't care what side of the fence you're on, who don't actually believe in the fence at all. If your friends "think you're pretty straight" that can be a problem if you don't feel "pretty straight" even if you fuck "pretty straight."

3. Your sense of feeling like an impostor in explicitly queer spaces is totally natural. My fear was always that I'd be called to account for my presence, present my credentials (And then: "Wait, you've never dated a guy? Get 'im, boys!").

4. I've found it helpful to think about sexuality in terms of desires and not what you stick where. This generally allows me to embrace the fluidity of it all and go with what feels right.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:22 AM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm in the "I think you'll find that lots of women who only date men enjoy lesbian porn" camp. I consider myself straight and am a woman but do quite enjoy the thought and image of hot girl-on-girl action. I think in many cases lesbain porn is better because the majority of "straight" porn focuses on things that appeal to men - they are about getting the men off much more so than getting the women off. All those money shots aren't for us girls, for example. It's just easier to put yourself in the place of the woman in the lesbian porn because it's clearly about women's sexual responses. You sound straight to me and also, I think it's perfectly fine to want a label for yourself. It's fine if you don't, too. But if you want to define yourself as straight or lesbian, that's okay.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 12:33 PM on April 12, 2007

I'll sing along: don't worry about the label too much. Or, try one on for a while, see how it fits, and if it starts to itch, change it, or throw it away.

I know a whole lot of people of both all genders who have at one time or another identified as straight/gay/bi/queer, and a lot of them change those labels like you change your socks, depending on their flexing politics, their partner(s) at the time, their peer group, and so on.

You might be a lesbian emotionally, but not so much physically. I've known plenty of "straight" women who have passionate non-physical affairs with other women, but they sleep with guys. This used to be a not-very-unusual way to live (see Boston marriage, etc.); in some circles, it was downright socially acceptable. These days, in this culture, we tend to conflate the emotional and the physical - if you feel emotionally passionate about someone, there's some sort of social requirement that you're supposed to want to sleep with them, too, and if you don't, then there's something "wrong" with you. That's just dumb.

For what it's worth, I think you should try sleeping with a girl again - and it should be a girl you're seriously hot for, not one you're "not unattracted" (paraphrasing) to.

Oh, and one more thing: I totally felt like an imposter in dyke spaces for a time after I came out, even though I've known since I was a little tyke (ha!) that I only like girls. I put that down to a feeling that I wasn't "cool" enough, not that I wasn't dyke enough.
posted by rtha at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

First of all, women have more indefinite sexual orientation than do men. However, most of the discussion about sexuality assumes the relatively stable and definite manifestation of sexual orientation in men. So you're trying to fit yourself into a box that is male-discourse dominated and not representative of the totality of human experience, namely the female sexual experience. There's that.

Second of all, as others have said, having some degree of openness to sexual and/or romantic attraction to both sexes does not necessarily resolve to equal attraction, nor—and this is an important part that you won't hear from many other people—does it necessarily mean that your sexual and romantic inclinations agree.

Thirdly, your inclinations and experiences are distinct, as well. Your inclinations can be thought as applying to an ideal lover. Your actual experiences, sadly, are with real people in the real world. This distinction can put the two at odds. For example, while your ideal man might interest you sexually and/or romantically far more than your ideal woman, you may find the actual men and women available to you makes your experience with women more satisfying. Or vice-versa.

Fourthly, as others have pointed out, entirely heterosexual woman are receptive to being turned on by lesbian porn and the idea of lesbian sex in a way that heterosexual men generally are not with regard to gay male sex. You can't really come to any conclusions about your orientation on that basis.

Instead of me trying to evaluate the information you've provided on these various dimensions, I suggest that you do so.

You might also consider how your intellectual views on these things may be influencing you. For example, when I came of age I was very intellectually inclined toward bisexuality. That's what seemed most reasonable to me, most ideal, and that's what I wanted in the intellectual sense. Also, with women, I feel somewhat restrained from a very selfish carnality with regard to sexual activity, and that's a selfish carnality that is very attractive to me. Gay male sex has it in spades. So that is attractive to me. But my experience trying sex with other men was, like yours with another woman, completely "meh", my desire for unfettered carnal sex notwithstanding (in fact, I ended up feeling just as restrained). Also, I want to want to be romantically interested in another man, particularly in the cases of one or two close friends that I really, really like. But, as it happens, I find that I can't really quite imagine being in love with another man. Only one time have I ever had anything like a crush on another man. And I'm turned on by woman and sex with woman. I develop crushes on woman all the time. I've been in love with a number of women. I enjoy sex with women. Ergo, all things considered, I think I'm quite straight. I don't want to be straight. And there's the occasional thing about homosexuality that I find tempting. It's also worth pointing out that in our culture merely the fact that I've had sex with more than one man and that I am not repulsed by it somehow means that I'm "bi". Which is silly.

You're the one person best positioned to decide these things. It may only become clear to you over time, like it did for me. In retrospect it seems like my orientation should have been obvious. But, really, I needed some more time and experience to really know myself and what I want and how I tick. This may be the case for you.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since you seem to be looking for a label, I'll vote for "bisexual" if you need to pick one. But just because you define yourself in your own head as bi, doesn't mean you must go out and date/have-sex-with equal numbers of men and women.

It might turn out that you are mentally attracted to both men and women, but men, for whatever reason, just do it for you more, and that's where your future physical relationships will be. That doesn't preclude you from being bisexual if in your mind you're still attracted to and fantasize about women. The self-identification is totally up to you, and to be honest it's mostly academic.

I think many/most people who are in a situation like you, tend to self-identify as "heterosexual" and then rationalize their same-sex fantasies or interest, because they want to be heterosexual. But you could just as easily pick the label that you want.

You sound like you've very open-minded, so I don't really understand why the label is such a concern. If people ask, you can just tell them you're bi, or queer, or whatever you think pigeonholes you least. If you enjoy and are feeling fulfilled, emotionally and physically, dating men, date men. If a girl comes along that you're just head-over-heels about, you can give it another try -- maybe you just didn't find the right person before. Doesn't seem like it's really productive to try and pin yourself down as one or the other.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:37 PM on April 12, 2007

nthing the abandonment of LGBT labels in favour of the catch-all Queer (meaning not-straight, more or less). If you can get over the labels and just live, you'll be much happier.

It would also be nice to feel like I'm not totally alone here, since I clearly don't have an obvious subculture waiting with open arms.

I think that ten years ago your place in the LGBT community would have been hard. I remember that the L&G parts were pretty exclusive about "membership". I came out as "gay" because that was the best label for me at the time, but it didn't describe my actual identity.

Lately I've been finding that the younger people coming up in the Queer community are shaping up a lot like you. Which is to say honest about what their sexuality actually is, rather than subscribing to the dominant identities. Maybe I've been meeting cool people, but gay men who sometimes sleep with women, straight/bi/gay ftm and mtf transfolk, straight women ending up in LTR with other women, gay men in LTR with women (me), and every other combo you could think of are okay. All of these people don't consider themselves different, just queer, and members of one community.

I'm not saying that old-school identity politics are gone, that type of thinking is still the mainstream. But there is a decent section of newer people (18-35?) who are leaving the grief of squeezing into an ill-fitting identity behind, and focusing on having a lived sexuality. Your not alone, find a group like that and you'll have your subculture. (progressives, lefties, anti-oppression type people might be a good place to start.)
posted by dr. moot at 12:42 PM on April 12, 2007

My opinion, take it or leave it, is that it doesn't matter what your sexual orientation is. That's just a label. Love who you love and be attracted to whomever you are attracted to. Man or woman. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with who you're with and fantasize about.

As for your fluctuations between being more attracted to one gender vs. the other, that's pretty typical among people who label themselves as "bisexual." Most self-identified bisexuals have a tendency to be more attracted to one gender than the other, but still find themselves attracted to both.

Also, regarding your one experience with a woman... that may have had more to do with who you slept with and less to do with her gender.

All said, follow your heart and fall for whomever feels right. Life is too short to get stuck on labels and/or notions of gender.
posted by tundro at 12:47 PM on April 12, 2007

hmm. I find that as much as labels are unnecessary, sexualilty is fluid, and all that, I was really hung up on what to label myself until I figured out my sexuality. I was really confused. Thinking-about-it-constantly confused. I had crushes on men, sometimes dated them, had sex with one of them. I was attracted to girls, gazed at them, but was too inhibited to realize the extent of my feelings. I kind of fell into a relationship with a girl and realized after only a couple of weeks that it fit. Being with a guy had felt fine, nice, etc., but this - this was something else. I am definitely a dyke. I'm now in my second ltr with a girl, and this is it.
I don't think you can judge the extent of your feelings toward women in general when you've only been with one woman. If you've fallen for women, you like them. You've also fallen for men, so you like them too. I used to feel really awkward in gay spaces, and even after coming totally out I'd feel worried that I wasn't dykey enough or something. But don't let one person or even a few distinct groups of people speak for all of gaydom, or all of straightness. It might be helpful to try to sort out which of your feelings seem instinctive, and which may be influenced by culture/family/upbringing/friends/etc. Otherwise, I'd say to keep meeting people, stay aware of your feelings, and enjoy all the deliciousness that the continuum of sex and relationships has to offer.
posted by bassjump at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2007

To be totally blunt, you may find yourself turned on by forms of masculinity rather than strictly bio-bodied males. If that's the case, you may find making out with a dykier woman (fill in proper descriptors here, depending on desires) or a transguy (or FTM) fits the niche in your life rather nicely. If you feel like you act "straight" and/or "feminine" (sometimes the two are really rather conflated in popular media conventions), diversifying the type of woman or type of masculinity you fall for might help to lead you down the path. And, yes, I know that dykes and FTM are not the same thing or produce the same gendered desires, people, just that the original poster might have walked down the line of what "woman" or lesbian sex entails and not thought outside this false dichotomy.

I date mostly women, and identify as queer, but fall hard and fast for transguys that look my way. Just because you had one lame makeout session with a woman doesn't mean you need to assume that whole side of the body spectrum isn't going to work. Honestly, I'd suggest going to a few drag king shows (or queer dance parties) a few times and see what shakes out. Where are you? Email me and we can chat more. I went through this not so long ago and wouldn't mind talking more.
posted by barometer at 1:23 PM on April 12, 2007

Straight with exceptions. Personally, I am very sexually attracted to women, but its more of a "She is so sexy, I want to be just like her" thing.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 1:26 PM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

That sounds a lot like me, except with the gender pronouns reversed and with a less sexy arm. You're you, you're not a label. It's not as satisfying as having a ready-made culture of weddings & prams or parades & protests, but it is what it is.

Now if only I can follow my own advice.
posted by chairface at 2:30 PM on April 12, 2007

Oh - I just remembered a term I've heard somewhere (but where? no idea): heteroflexible!
posted by rtha at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're bi or queer or (heh) "heteroflexible." And you're not alone— nearly everyone is; it's just a matter of degrees.
Luckily, the ideological generation you're likely a part of is the most accepting in hundreds of years of that flexibility. Cheers and enjoy yourself.
posted by klangklangston at 3:55 PM on April 12, 2007

All the descriptions of your sexuality that you gave apply to me. Every. single. one.

All I can tell you is that I identify myself as bisexual hetero-tendancies.

I struggled with that throughout my childhood- not wanting to be one of those girls who just said they were bi for the male-attention.

Letting go of the label preoccupation can really help you. When I stopped thinking about whether I was gay or not, I realised that a part of me is, and that's all there is to it. You can't deny your attraction to women any more than you can men.
posted by sunshinesky at 5:21 PM on April 12, 2007

We sound pretty similar. I'm a girl, I love and like my boyfriend, and enjoy the sexual stuff we get up to together - but I've fallen HARD for girls (not just sexually!!) and would really like to try gettin' it on with a girl sometime. I also prefer girl-on-girl action, mainly because it's less cheesy.

I'm not "gay" enough for the GLBT communities around here (a lot of them are social-based and my boyfriend may not be made welcome) but I'm not totally "straight" either. On my last birthday, my friends took me out to a gay bar, and one girl came up to us and asked who was the gay one. I said I was bi, but had a boyfriend - that made things a little awkward.

I personally identify as pansexual, which generally means "I like people regardless of gender". I don't even think about gender when it comes to attractiveness - it's as much a non-issue as the colour of their hair or the length of their chin.
posted by divabat at 6:05 PM on April 12, 2007

I can't answer your question but can give you another datapoint. I have a staunch history of heterosexuality - I am married, I have only ever dated men, I kissed a girl once and it was really meh, etc. However, for visual porn, it has to be girls - guys, or guys with girls, doesn't do anything for me. I understand that to be very normal for straight girls. It probably has something to do with how the vast majority of visual straight porn is aimed at men - chicken and egg kind of thing.

I think most people have some attraction for members of their own sex, but it's so much harder to deal with (societally I mean) that it has to be a stronger attraction to merit the effort.
posted by joannemerriam at 6:18 PM on April 12, 2007

Screw the identity. Have a good time and go with the flow.

When I was in my teens, it was very bad for a supposed gay boy to claim to be bisexual. I claimed it, since I had nothing against females, just had always pursued males. In my 20's, I decided it no longer mattered, since guys were what stoked my flames.

Now I'm 50. I know I am not totally without interest in females. Yea, like I'm going to DO something about that? LOL! It's just something within me that doesn't really matter at this point. (Except I sometimes can embarass myself when I catch myself staring at the boobs of one of my partner's collegues. LOL!)
posted by Goofyy at 5:41 AM on April 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Anon, I could have written your question myself a few years ago.

In college, I discovered that some of my friends were lesbian and was intrigued. I had only been with men, but found myself very attracted to the idea of lesbianism - but never quite found a woman I wanted to try anything with. My first experience with a woman was just like yours - I could have been kissing my arm, just like you said. The problem was that I was doing it because the opportunity presented itself and I was curious - not because I was overwhelmingly attracted to the woman.

After that I had a couple more experiences with women and while I enjoyed them, I didn't take them very seriously. I was content to call myself bisexual and kept being mainly attracted to men. Then I just completely fell in love with a woman - and now we've been together for 4 years and are married with kids. I never thought I'd end up with a woman, especially because I always wanted kids.

At this point, people assume I'm gay because I'm married to a woman. But I know I'm bi - and, frankly, generally more attracted to men than women. Ultimately, to me, the cliche is true - it's not about the gender, but the person.

Happy to chat about this if you'd like - my email is in my profile.
posted by widdershins at 12:08 PM on April 13, 2007

Nthing just being yourself and getting off on what gets you off. If you'd like, check out the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid. It might validate some of the fluidity you feel in your sexual and affectional orientation.

FWIW, I am an even 50/50 split and call myself queer, if I'm asked. My email's in my profile if you want to chat. Best wishes on your journey of self discovery.
posted by luminous phenomena at 10:56 PM on April 13, 2007

Clarification: My 50/50 includes transfolk, too. I tend to think of my former lovers/partners as the gender they *are* not the gender they were necessarily born with.
posted by luminous phenomena at 11:05 PM on April 13, 2007

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