Commenter Jess left an intriguing question on the comment thread of my sexual fluidity post last week. Since the thread is several weeks old by now — and the question itself opens up a whole new line of discussion — with her permission I am re-posting the comment as an entirely new thread.
I have a question for the group. My experience lines up with annajcook’s (and the many in comments who’ve agreed) pretty well in terms of discovering a sexuality that’s person-centered and seems independent of gender. For me, it’s difficult to imagine being any other way, and I’m curious what it’s like to be straight or gay. Anyone out there willing to share their experiences? For instance, it’s hard for me to imagine knowing solely on the basis of someone’s gender before I even meet the person that I definitely would never be attracted to them or want a relationship with them. I’m not making the argument “everyone’s a little bit bisexual”- I believe people when they identify themselves as straight or gay, I’m just curious to understand what it’s like.
In an email exchange with me Jess elaborated:
I wrote “I’m curious what it’s like to be straight or gay” and I guess I would add that there are two questions- the first is about the discovery process and the second is about just the day-to-day experience of who one is attracted to & whether one acts differently around people of different genders because of the presence/absence of some sort of sexual tension. I would also add that the first question also applies to bisexual people who had some sort of clear discovery process (in contrast to a lot of the “fluid” identified people who eventually came to a conclusion like you described in your initial post).
A couple of brief observations and then I’ll open the floor for thoughts from the peanut gallery.
Speaking as someone else who is very person-centered and context-specific in their sexual attractions, I second that exclusivity is a confusing concept to wrap your head around if your sexual orientation is not sex- or gender exclusive. I used to be so frustrated when I was a teenager and trying to understand sexual vs. nonsexual attraction: none of the straight folks I spoke with seemed to be able to articulate how it worked. They just knew that’s how their sexuality functioned. So perhaps it is something that can’t really be explained? Yet queer folks are prompted, by their non-normative attractions, to think and talk a lot about the nature of their attractions. We’re asked to explain ourselves. And I actually think we learn a lot about our sexuality in the process. I hope that, as a culture, we’ll increasingly include straight folks in that conversation. Their sexuality isn’t any more “common sense” or self-evident than ours is, and we shouldn’t treat it as such!
My other question concerning sex- and gender-exclusive orientations is where trans* and sex- and gender-nonconforming folks fit into this picture. I’ve noticed some conversations on tumblr recently revolving around the question of whether not being sexually attracted to trans* individuals is transphobic. The question is posed something like this: if a straight woman identifies as someone attracted to men, but does not experience attraction towards a man with a trans history, with a non-gender-conforming or sex-atypical body, etc., is that a manifestation of transphobic feelings?
This obviously raises a huge tangle of questions involving the body and how important the physical organization of one’s body is (or is not) in the alchemy of sexual attraction. My point here is that when we talk about people whose self-identified orientation is exclusive to “men” or “women,” we need to unpack those categories a little and think about what we’re actually talking about. We can’t assume that every person who identifies as a straight male human being is going to have the body that in our minds automatically lines up with that identity.
Without further ado, I open the floor and encourage you to engage with Jess’s questions. Enjoy the conversation!