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Am I Queer? Or a Fraud?

Hi Yana,

Over the past year, I’ve thought a lot about my sexuality. Recently, I came across the term “heteroflexible” and immediately, I felt like I identified with it more than any other sexual orientation I previously knew about.


However, I continue to feel invalidated by my lack of sexual experience with people who are the same gender. I know sexuality isn’t defined by our experiences but by what we think and how we feel. But I can’t help but continue to feel like a fraud (to myself) because I’ve only ever been with men. I also feel like because I’m in a serious, long-term heterosexual relationship, people just assume my sexuality and wouldn’t take me seriously going by any other label. In a way, I feel like I don’t belong. When I’m with my straight friends, I feel like the “most gay,” but when I’m with people who identify as gay/lesbian/queer, I feel like the “most straight” person in the room.


I pretty much let my friends believe that I identify as 100-percent straight to avoid confusion, judgment, and having to explain myself. I feel very happy in my monogamous heterosexual relationship. It’s not that something is “missing” regarding my relationship. I think this is more of an identity dilemma.


How do I become more comfortable and confident in my sexuality? How do I talk to my friends about being sure of my sexuality without the experience to back it up?


— Feeling Flexible

 

Dear Flexible, 


When I first learned the term “bisexual” in high school, bisexuality was trending in whatever way that was possible well before hashtags and tweeting. While the term made me think, “Yes! That’s it!” I saw other young women performing bisexuality — typically at parties for the enjoyment of high school boys — and it made me unsure that this label was for me, after all.


I continued dating boys until college when I finally had my first ever girlfriend and I too felt like a huge phony. In a ridiculous twist of living in the liberal valley, when I came out as publicly dating this woman and formally affixing the label “bisexual” to myself, men I had dated on campus spread the rumor that I was “actually NOT bisexual.” I questioned my already questioning self, felt ashamed at my lack of “real experience to back it up,” and ultimately ended up in relationships with women for the next decade (so joke’s on those dudes).


All of which is to say, Flexible, that there are two types of validation we receive: validation from others and validation from ourselves. Both are important in identifying who we are and how we feel supported in that process. Identity is an ever-evolving process and our labels can change as we do.


Find people who validate you. Public figures who are out as heteroflexible or bisexual, media that represents you, friends who understand the difference between the straight man you’re dating and your sexuality, and even new community spaces like queer events or organizations that are unlikely to make assumptions about you at all.


Most importantly, validate yourself. Sexuality is often developed within someone long before she is sexually active with anyone. It’s only once we become horribly category-obsessed adults that we start to fret about the proof and experience of who we are.


You say you’re heteroflexible, and so you are. There’s no application or passport stamps necessary to certify you.

 

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Intro to Vaginas: 9 lessons for bi-curious beginners

Art by Vicky Leta

Art by Vicky Leta

The first time I slept with another girl, it was awkward as hell.

Sure, I had dabbled in the giggling French kisses of curious high school sleepovers, but never did I go to a girl’s room with the intention of having Lesbian Sex Official with her. But this is what I did one tipsy night my first year in college (#classic). As a girl, making out with a girl is easy — their lips are softer, the absence of stubble is refreshing, and mixing lip glosses all over your face is a tasty mess. It’s the rest that stumped me.

The vagina, by sheer design, is just trickier than the penis. And the clitoris? It’s hidden in all these folds and it’s wearing a tiny hood? WTF?! Penises, on the other hand, are just…out there, seemingly more easy-to-please by design. So, mid-roll-around in this girl’s tiny college bed, it suddenly dawned on me: Though I had gotten the penis down, I had no idea what to do with this vagina-having human.

And how could I have? It’s no secret that it’s a penis-penetrates-vagina world out there when it comes to popular representations of “what sex looks like.” Even in regards to this “acceptable” version of heterosexual sex, government-funded sex education programs aren’t doing much for us, no matter how we identify. In fact, the Public Religion Research Institute found in a 2015 survey that four in 10 millennials reported that American high school sex ed classes weren’t helpful to them in making decisions about sex and relationships at all. In a sexist world of sexual shaming, the details of sexually pleasing vaginas are back-burnered in educational efforts, as they have little to do with reproduction and rarely result in anything but pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Because of this, heterosexual men and even women themselves struggle to learn about vaginal pleasure. Throw homophobia and stereotypes into the mix and us LGBTQ folks are screwed when it comes to learning how to screw.

While sex ed is a required part of the health curriculum in the public schools of 22 states and the District of Columbia, information specifically for LGBTQ youth is not mandated as part of the lesson plans. According to a statement from the HRC titled “A Call to Action: LGBTQ Youth Need Inclusive Sex Education“: “Fewer than 5 percent of LGBT students have health classes that included positive representations of LGBT-related topics.”

Though LGBTQ-inclusive sex education is absolutely needed in our high school sex education efforts, what of those of us exploring the spectrum of our sexualities later in life as adults, fumbling around in our dorm rooms, boardrooms and hot tubs, a la Gaby Hoffman’s vaginally curious character in Transparent? Where do we go to learn how to sexually pleasure another vagina?

If formalized sex education in schools is failing us, we’re left to media, porn, word-of-mouth and Google to educate us about how to have good, safe(r) sex. These self-education avenues rarely if ever teach us how to communicate with our partners about sexual pleasure, and they barely skim over consent, two key components of healthy and pleasurable sex. Mass media manages to offer us a limiting, predetermined course of action for penis-and-vagina sex: foreplay, intercourse, male ejaculation, fin. But there is no classical road map when it comes to vagina-on-vagina action (not even a half-baked one!), and the robotic, unrealistic girl-on-girl scenes in mainstream, male-gaze-satisfying porn certainly aren’t helping.

It should be no surprise that back in my college dorm room of yesteryear, things weren’t headed in any particular direction. It seemed to take hours before our shirts came off. Awkwardly stalling with my hands frozen unnaturally at my sides, my gracious hostess finally put me out of my bi-curious misery: “You know, we don’t have to do this at all,” she said. “We can just snuggle.” I wonder how audible my sigh of relief really was.

We were more successful the next time, and over the course of our year-long relationship, I really got the sex-with-a-girl-thing down. These days my lady-laden romance resume speaks for itself: I can do (and even teach workshops about) The Vagina² Sex. And all you straight, bi-curious, bisexual and/or newly queer women can, too….continue reading…

 

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Lost in Labialand

I recently started reading your sex column, and it’s really great! There are sooooo many questions I had floating around in my mind about sex, because they don’t really talk about lesbians that much (ahem, at all) in sex ed.

My problem is this: I recently started dating a girl who is sexually active and when the time comes to do The Do I have no idea how to make things enjoyable for her. I have my own vagina as a reference point, but everyone’s bodies are different so I don’t know if she’ll respond to similar things as I do.

I would just let her to take the lead, but I think she expects me to know what I’m doing because I tend to align more with the butch category. Do you have any tips on just getting it on with a girl in general? Like, what are some things partners in the past have responded well to? I dunno. Pretty much any advice on the subject would be appreciated.

Welcome to the fold(s)! Yep, traditional sex education does diddly squat in providing LGBTQ-inclusive information. But let’s be honest — most government-funded sex education programs aren’t doing a great job with the penis-in-vagina sex ed either. In fact, the Public Religion Research Institute found in a 2015 survey that four in 10 millennials reported that high school sex ed classes weren’t helpful to them in making decisions about sex and relationships at all. Throw in homophobia and limited views as to what kinds of sex “count,” and us LGBTQ folks are screwed when it comes to learning how to screw.

Luckily, you’ve got me, the Internet, and a thriving LGBTQ community to learn from. You’re right, while your own vagina is a great basic anatomical reference, all vaginas respond differently to stimulation; so you can’t make many assumptions. This is intimidating, but the good news is that this is true for everyone with all kinds of anatomy and sexual identities — everyone responds differently to sexual stimulation so in reality, nobody has any idea what they’re doing when they sleep with a new person…continue reading…

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Bi-curious at Bedtime

While I don’t think labeling one’s sexuality is always necessary, I’ve always considered myself a heterosexual woman. I’ve been attracted to members of the opposite sex for as long as I can remember. During puberty, I plastered my bedroom walls with magazine cutouts depicting boy band members and only developed crushes on my male classmates. However, nearly all of my recent erotic dreams are of me performing a variety of sexual acts on females. I always wake feeling aroused.

I’ve heard that dreams are manifestations of things we see throughout the day. Could this be a result of living in a society where the female body is hyper-sexualized? Is this bi-curiosity? I’ve considered the possibility of being bisexual with an open mind. However, I don’t feel capable of having feelings of romantic love for another woman.

I’m currently in a loving and committed relationship with a man and I don’t feel as though anything is missing, sexually or otherwise. Because of these dreams however, I sometimes can’t help but wonder: is there a part of my sexuality that I’m not exploring?

Traditional stage theories of identity development dictate a linear story of same-sex sexuality identity: girl meets boy and falls in love; girl goes to liberal arts college; girl starts watching the L-word; girl makes out with her “lesbian friend”; girl breaks up with her boyfriend; girl gets short haircut; girl is now a lesbian; the end. This implies that once someone achieves a full awareness of her sexual desire, stability occurs.

In convincing contrast to this, psychologist Lisa M. Diamond found in her 10-year study of female same-sex sexuality development that young women’s sexuality is particularly fluid. Specifically, her research revealed female same-sex desire to be more malleable than male same-sex desire, featuring drastic, often late-blooming, and seemingly abrupt changes in female sexual desire and attraction…continue reading…

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Related Reading: Don’t Wanna Be Straight Forever: My Bisexual Marriage Equality Freakout

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Don’t Wanna Be Straight Forever: My Bisexual Marriage Equality Freakout

The day national marriage equality passed I sobbed into my boyfriend’s shoulder in bed for half an hour. My shoulders heaved and my dog looked worried as he frantically tried to gain access to my tears so he could lick them away. When I managed to stifle my drooly crying hiccups for long enough, I lifted my head from his shoulder, a wobbly tightrope of snot connecting his clavicle to my septum ring. “I don’tttt — {drooly hiccup} — want to be straight — {drooly hiccup} — FOREVER!!”, I sobbed dramatically, before jamming my face back into my own snot-pool, now running down his arm.

Patrick and I had just gotten engaged — in fact, our engagement party was set to happen that very night. Though I had dated cismen up until I was 21, for the nine years prior to my meeting Patrick, I had primarily dated queer women — I even married one. Though I had found that one’s “bisexual” label magically turns into a “lesbian” label in the public eye once you have a “lesbian wedding”, this never bothered me much; I had always felt so special with my membership in this group of gender-fucking, pierced, half-shaved-headed hotties we call the LGBTQ community that I barely kissed the straight community goodbye when I left it in 2006. I more-so quietly stepped into my jeans and snuck out the next morning.

And then there was Patrick. He came out of left field to say the least (I mean, I met him when he was on a date with another woman) as did my borderline-insanity-inducing love for him. Four months later we were engaged and a month after that marriage equality was passed and I was smearing my boogers all over him, crying both from being overjoyed about marriage equality and from being overwhelmed about my forever-straight fate.

The Other Side of Bi

While I’ve always conceptualized the bisexual experience as a two-way swinging door, I’ve found that most people find it more enjoyable when you push that door towards women. The queer community is all “Cool! Welcome to the fold!” and the straight community is all “Ah, so French! So titilating!” as fantasies of bi-curious pillow fights abound.

When you decide to go back through the doorway however, back to cis-manlandia, people are more baffled than bisexually bewitched. The cis-dudes are all “WTF?! Since when do you date men? Why didn’t I get a shot?” and the queer women are all “Another one bites the dust” and the reception from the straight community is all *shrug*, without a welcome banner in sight.

The thing about bisexuality is that it’s often socially determined by the body parts and gender identity of your partner. No matter how many times you repeat “I’m queer. I’m queer. I’m queer.” to yourself in your head, when you walk through life holding your cis-male partner’s hand, your attempts at making meaningful eye contact with the only other queer couple at the party are failed, or your boyfriend’s friends are left scratching their heads all “I dunno man, I think Patrick’s girlfriend might be gay”. No matter who you date, half of your sexual identity, half of who you are, is invisible.

For many of my peers, coming out was a long, painful process, starting with the realization of same-sex attraction at an early age, followed by a well-planned-out coming out process. Many’s coming out histories involve violence and abuse both physical and psychological. In my experience, my same-sex desire developed within a larger culture of understanding and acceptance. I grew up in notoriously lesbian-friendly Northampton, Ma with liberal parents who already had many LGBTQ friends and by the time I started dating women, I was attending Hampshire College, also notoriously liberal with a thriving queer community already established.

In fact, “coming out” was never a process I really had to do — I simply brought my first girlfriend to a family party and introduced her as such, simply started holding her hand on campus without fanfare. I never felt that I had unspoken same-sex desires as a younger teen and if I did, I certainly never felt guilty or afraid of those feelings.

Living in these communities is a privilege. Passing as a dominant identity (whether it’s as male, as straight, as white, as wealthy) is a privilege stacked with socially constructed perks. My personal experience of coming out as queer without the pain and loss associated with so many LGBTQ people’s traditional coming out stories is a privilege. But the pain of watching nine years of my meaningful queer sexual and romantic history being erased and the loss of my social membership in the queer community when I started dating my now-fiancee was and is very real. Re-coming out as bisexual by starting once again to date cis-men is confusing.

Loving On & Bumming About Boys

Traditional stage theories of identity development dictate a linear story of one’s sexual identity: girl meets boy and falls in love; girl goes to liberal arts college; girl starts watching the L-word; girl makes out with her “lesbian friend”; girl breaks up with her boyfriend; girl gets a new short haircut; girl dates her first girlfriend; girl is now a lesbian; fin. Linear stage theories imply that once an individual achieves a full awareness and expression of her sexual desire, stability occurs and no more change happens. This is what the traditional coming-out model is based on. You realize you’re gay, you come out, and then you’re gay forever.

In convincing contrast to this, Lisa M. Diamond, in her 2007 study of the development and expression of female same-sex sexuality, argues that multidimensional development theories such as Dynamical Systems Models more accurately represent the seemingly random spectrum of female same-sex sexuality development. Dynamical Systems Models were originally designed by mathematicians and physicists to model complex physical phenomenon in the natural world. These models are used to explain how complex patterns emerge, stabilize, change, and then restabilize over time. Diamond (2007) shows in her 10-year study of young, non-heterosexual women, that this is precisely what female same-sex sexuality development is likely to do.

In her study of 89 non-heterosexual-identifying women, Diamond found female same-sex sexuality to be particularly fluid. Specifically, her research revealed female same-sex desire to be more fluid than male same-sex desire, featuring drastic, often late-blooming, and seemingly abrupt changes in female sexual desire both in strength-of-desire (how attracted they felt to men or women) and object-of-desire (such as women moving from opposite-sex attraction, to same-sex attraction, and then back again).

Much research has shown that the male model of sexual orientation — which often features linear shifts in identity — cannot be simply overlayed onto the female sexual experience. However, our patriarchal, heteronormative concept of sex and sexuality continues to imagine female and male sexuality as two sides of the same coin. Studies of both adults and adolescents have shown that women are more likely to report bisexual attractions than to report exclusive same-sex attractions, whereas the opposite pattern is found in men. While many gay- or bisexual-identified men recall experiencing their first same-sex attractions a few years prior to puberty (similar to the age at which most heterosexual children recall their first other-sex desires), many women report that they didn’t experience same-sex attractions until adulthood, instances which are described by women as situational, interpersonal, and contextual rather than pre-determined or gradually developing as with men. Though many women’s same-sex attractions were described as emerging “suddenly” and “by accident”, two thirds believed they were born with their particular sexual orientation (only 18% believed their same-sex attraction to be a choice).

Even more interestingly, Diamond’s study found female sexuality to be defined by continuous change. By the end of her 10-year study, 10% of participants who had identified as lesbian had settled into long-term relationships with cis-men while 60% had experienced sexual contact with a cis-man and 36% reported romantic relationships with cis-men.

Women’s descriptions of their unexpected shifts back to straightsville were often illustrated as being similarly abrupt and as changes they had no control over. As one participant elaborated, going back to the cis-boys was a bit of a bummer: “I’ve kind of straightened out! I still call myself bisexual but I’m on the edge of heterosexual, which I’m not pleased about. I never really wanted to be heterosexual but I don’t have much choice in the matter…I think sexuality changes, but I don’t have any idea what causes those changes” (Diamond, 2007, p. 148).

Diamond herself reports that “women who reinitiated other-sex behavior typically described these experiences as feeling fundamentally different from the forms of heterosexuality they had pursued prior to ever questioning their sexuality. Hence, they did not perceive themselves as going back to men but, rather as moving forward toward new forms of sexual and erotic experiences” (Diamond, 2007, p. 148). Diamond’s study has shown me that I’ve been doing it all wrong. Bisexuality — and indeed, sexuality — is not a swinging door which transports us from one side or the other. In fact, female sexuality itself is more of a hallway, full of trap doors, entrances, exits, stairwells and maybe even the fire escape or two. There is no going back to old forms of sexuality and sexual identity, there’s only the new and exciting road ahead to traverse.

Bye Bi Binary

In the near-decade since Diamond’s study was conducted, the binary system of identity has been slowly dying. Binaries do nothing but attempt to stuff our multi-layered human experiences and identities into two rigid categories (gay or straight? male or female? kinky or vanilla?), leaving no room for variation when the human sexual experience is nothing but variant. The image of sexuality as a swinging door, with one side or the other, is broken and does nothing for our modern queer (or straight!) communities but make us feel like we don’t fit in. In its place thrives the spectrum of sexuality, sexual experience, gender identity, sexuality identity and even the meaning of bisexuality itself. Legal marriage, once defined by the binary of “one man and one woman”, is now celebrated by the entire spectrum of what makes up love and commitment.

My fiancee Patrick is one of those cis-dudes who’s a feminist dude who doesn’t need to tell you “I’m a feminist dude”. Patrick cried on marriage equality day, too, (actually all day long on marriage equality day), simply because of his sheer, genuine love of love and equality. I’m the luckiest lady alive to be marrying him, no matter what he’s packing in his pants, or what his preferred pronouns are. Gently breaking my snot-trapeze from his body, he laughs as he tells me “Babe, you’re not straight. You’re queer”. “Yeah, I know,” I sniffle, finally finding my way to a Kleenex. “For now”.