I’ve identified with the label bisexual for about six years with different levels of certainty. Sometimes I’ve been very unsure and have strongly entertained the idea that I might be lesbian instead. Sometimes I’ve been relatively comfortable in my identity. I’ve almost always been clear on the fact that I like women more then men, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean I’m not bisexual; bisexual people with preferences either way do exist.
Strangely, after my longest period of being basically secure in my identity, I’ve suddenly, unexpectedly swung the other way. Now I’m thinking seriously about using the word lesbian instead.
Why the sudden change? I think there were a few triggers for this coming from my ongoing personal development. For instance, I’ve recently discovered that I no longer feel interested in having sex with someone I don’t feel emotionally close to. (This might be some variation of “demisexual” but I don’t feel the need to label it). At the same time I have a much gentler sex drive than before; I feel that my sexuality is mostly sort of “reciprocal”, meaning I could probably have a lot of sex if my partner wanted it, and I’d enjoy it, but I don’t really miss it when it’s not around.
I don’t know what triggered this change. Maybe it’s a gradual progression of what my transgender hormone therapy has been doing to me. But perhaps it’s also a case of me releasing old mental patterns. As a trans woman, I used to experience life as male with all the sexual expectations that were put on me. I was supposed to want sex all the time. I’ve noticed that as I live as female, my male conditioning gradually fades of its own accord; maybe, then, the time simply came when I felt less internalised social pressure to want sex all the time, so I just didn’t. And maybe this meant that I could start discovering what sort of sex I wanted to have, rather than what I was “supposed” to want.
Another thing that I think triggered this was the recent realisation that I want to find another romantic partner. Me and my current partner are technically polyamorous, but for the last year or so I haven’t felt any interest in having more partners. I now feel more open to that, and maybe that realisation led the way for the next realisation: I am not looking for a male partner.
Right now, I simply don’t feel like having a new male partner. It just doesn’t fit. Right now I imagine my future starting new relationships with exclusively women and feminine non-binary people*, and perhaps that is enough to call myself lesbian. Well, I could choose not to date men for reasons other than my actual orientation, so it’s not always that simple, but I wonder if right now maybe it IS that simple.
*I will write more about this point a bit further down.
My track record with men includes two male romantic partners, a fling, and a few one night stands. With the exception of “K”, every single one of these have felt a bit weird and “not quite right”. K is different and I’ve never had a problem feeling in love with him. However, we started our relationship when he identified as genderqueer, and he hadn’t taken testosterone yet; his body was more female in appearance. Testosterone has changed his body gradually, and it’s taken time, but with the most recent gradual changes I have to admit I feel less attracted to him. I think that if we hadn’t dated and I met him for the first time now, I wouldn’t feel interested in him that way.
As well as trans men, I’ve dated quite a few trans women, and have encountered something reciprocal: one time when I was dating a trans woman who hadn’t taken hormones at all, I had to break it off quite suddenly because despite “thinking” I was into her, the chemistry wasn’t there. Another time I was dating a trans woman who had taken hormones for six months, but whose body had hardly changed at all and had strong male-type physical features. I loved her very much and was in love with her, but sex and even kissing was always a bit weird. On the other hand all the trans women I’ve been intimate with whose bodies had transformed on estrogen were just fine for me, including some who had quite a few male-type features in the mix.
As I was talking to a friend about this, she asked me how would I tell the difference between people saying they are not attracted to trans women out of discrimination, and those who simply find some cross-gender features unattractive. Well, I think it’s fair enough to say that you find different gendered features attractive or unnattractive. However, most transitioned trans women have more female features than male features. Also, to be blunt, a penis is only a small part of the collection of gendered features, and not the most important to me. So if you say you could never be with a trans woman then I suppose you have an image in your head where trans women are predominantly expressing male features and not female ones – and that is a prejudice, and not connected to reality. In fact, there are many trans women who are so fully female that you could never know they are trans, even when they were naked – and if that is so, how can you know not to be attracted? On the other end of the spectrum, you can have a trans woman who hasn’t transformed physically and still presents male. I think it’s fair enough to not be attracted to her in that state if you’re lesbian or a straight man — even though in such cases there CAN also be attraction to her based on her internal/psychological female features.
So, the evidence based on my past partners suggests I might be lesbian, with the exception of K, which I think I have an explanation for. Besides this, the thought “I don’t have to like men” feels oddly relieving, and that is telling as well. Even if I don’t choose to call myself lesbian, I feel that exploring this mental path is good for me.
I lived as male for most of my life and that means that I never really had the chance to deny that I liked women. Back then, of course, it was socially encouraged for me to like women, so I did, and after I started living as female, I didn’t really have the option of going back on that.
So supposing I wanted to torture myself with internalised homophobia after transitioning — just supposing I wanted to do that — my only option was to call myself bisexual. In that way, I could sort of make the excuse in my head, “Well, at least I like men too.” I am ashamed to admit it, but some irrational and unexpressed part of my mind felt that being a lesbian made my gender less valid, or that the statistically large number of trans women who are lesbian made our gender as a whole less valid. It’s a strange intersection of homophobia and transphobia – we could call it transhomophobia. I feel that only now, I’m starting to overcome this. Perhaps I needed to see myself as lesbian to overcome this, or perhaps on the other hand overcoming this allowed me to see myself as lesbian.
And while biphobia is a problem and there are very serious bisexual social issues that are still close to my heart, it may be that I see bisexuals as more “acceptable” than lesbians. Maybe I’ve allowed myself to be influenced by all the stereotypes there are about lesbians. Probably too, I’ve been scared away from the word because the lesbian community as a whole has been known to be sometimes horribly transphobic. What is for sure is that I find using the word for myself to be challenging, and that is probably a good thing to explore.
I can be attracted to male features. Fairly recently I remember in a series seeing a buff man with his top off and feeling a moment of sexual attraction. I’m also, I have to say, kinda into penises. Does this blow the top off my lesbian theory? Well, kind of maybe not. I think these moments of attraction were what made me think I was bisexual before, and yet almost all my sexual experiences with men felt weird. What I see is, I can be attracted to aspects of a man, and yet not want to be with the whole of a man.
Once, at the beginning of my gender transition, I hosted a lesbian couple in my house through Couchsurfing. They seemed excited to introduce me to lesbian culture and we talked quite a lot about these topics. One thing I found weird at the time was how often they both talked about attraction to men (specifically Justin Bieber). I was very skeptical about that then. How could they have been lesbians if they were attracted to a man? In fact, I would have been skeptical about that until very recently. I previously would have put it down to bisexual invisibility and/or biphobia in the lesbian scene; they felt pressure to call themselves lesbian even if they were into guys. Now, based on my own experience, I suddenly feel like I could understand. You can find certain things about a guy hot, but when it comes down to it, not feel excited about having sex or a relationship with him. You like parts, but not the whole.
Straight guys generally have it easy to define themselves because they have homophobia. Homophobia means that they would react violently to any man getting too close to them. Straight women are more likely to question themselves because in their case homophobia is not generally so strong. They might have a crush on a woman and wonder what that makes them. Guys just block it all out with violence and it’s all so wonderfully black and white. (I’m talking generalisations based on the social conditioning we recieve, please don’t get stuck on that and miss the message I’m trying to communicate).
Since I was socialised as male, things were once black and white. I later had to navigate the shades of grey that come with questioning your sexuality and being open to things. When you’ve gone down that rabbit hole, sexuality is never simple again. I might call myself lesbian now, but of course I will always be ready for a guy to surprise me. And even if that doesn’t happen, I can engage with the idea that even a monosexual sexual orientation (gay, lesbian, or straight) can involve all sorts of things that break from the general rule. I’m a lesbian who likes dicks – get over it.
As I’m secure in my sexuality and not trying to prove a point, I can be close to a man, cuddle, hold hands, even have a crush on him. I can love a man maybe more passionately than you’d expect from a platonic relationship. I might even be able to have sex with a man and enjoy it to some extent. But there are still some limits to how far I think I can go, or how far I want to go when it comes to choosing what to persue, so that’s why I think I might be lesbian.
I’ve gone this whole article without addressing some points which for transgender readers might be really glaring. Let me engage with them now.
Obviously, if I’m comfortably dating a trans guy or a non binary person, I’m not lesbian in the sense of “woman who is exclusively interested in dating women”. However, ALL lesbians can be attracted to a non-transitioned trans man or a more female-appearing non-binary person. This can be proved simply by imagining a trans man or non binary person who absolutely appears to be female for those who look upon them. How can a lesbian “know” not to be attracted? She can’t. Does she simply stop being attracted when she learns the gender identity of the person? Usually not. (Note: some non binary people are very feminine. You can’t usually tell someone is non binary by looking at them, not even after they’ve undergone any transition they might have felt necessary).
Perhaps obviously, but still worth mentioning, I’ve dated many straight women as a man. I’ve my suspicions about some of them, but I’m certain they are not ALL bisexual or lesbian now just because they’ve been blessed by my lady penis once upon a time. They obviously didn’t realise that deep inside I concealed a female psyche.
I have heard stories of lesbians falling in love with pre-transition trans women — who appear to them to be men — and being confused, thinking they must be bisexual now, only to find out AFTERWARDS that their loved one is a woman. This does happen. But it’s not the rule. I think in most cases physical, visible aspects are a factor.
So I think that if we are to include these cases, we either have to throw out the concept of sexual orientation entirely, or we have to redefine sexual orientation. I personally refuse to believe that I cannot be lesbian just because I’ve comfortably dated non binary people and a trans man. I hang out with transgender people, of course I’m going to date them. I do not believe a lesbian in my situation would somehow always avoid being attracted to anyone whose gender was not 100% pure female.
Sexual orientation is a natural phenomenon, not a social construct; it’s something we observe. So we need to find a definition which best describes the phenomenon, and we definitely can update that definition if things turn out to be more complicated than previously thought.
With this in mind, I would now understand sexual orientation in terms of genders that are “similar” and “different” to one’s own, as opposed to “same” and “opposite”. Lesbians are attracted to those who display genders which are similar to female.
Bisexual activists already use this definition for themselves. Some people – who almost always do not use the bisexual label themselves – insist that the definition of bisexual excludes non binary people, because the traditional definition refers to two genders. However, the traditional definition of gay, straight and lesbian all refer to single genders, despite people with such orientations all being capable of being attracted to non binary people. If we single out bisexual for this scrutiny but ignore gay, straight and lesbian, it is a double standard.
We are attempting to describe the natural phenomenon, so we need to update the definition. Phenomenon comes before definition, not the other way around. The alternative is to wait until someone dates a non binary person and tell them that they are now pansexual (if they were previously bi) or polysexual (if they were previously gay, straight or lesbian). This basically means that no one in the transgender scene can call themselves bisexual, gay, lesbian or straight, because they’re generally going to end up dating a non binary person. Anyone outside of the scene will most likely be able to keep calling themselves bisexual, gay, straight or lesbian just because of not having contact with a non binary person. This is absurd.
So I understand me being lesbian as meaning that I am attracted to genders that are similar to my own. I think the most decisive aspects for me are those influenced by hormones; body smell, and the subtle difference of contours, skin and flesh. I guess that this difference becomes decisive after about a year of hormone treatment in the case of transgender people. Some non binary people have aspects that are similar to my own gender, and I find them attractive; some non binary people have aspects that are different to my own gender which I find unattractive.
I do get that dating a trans man and calling yourself lesbian is problematic. It can be similarly problematic with non binary gendered partners, depending on the situation. If a trans male or non binary partner ever told me they were uncomfortable with me using the word, I would stop using it. (That said, I don’t think I would start a new relationship with someone who defined as trans male in that moment). “Mostly lesbian” is probably fine, and otherwise we have the beloved catch-all term “queer”.
I’m aware that with the label comes a community. If I call myself lesbian, I suddenly have something in common with a group of people. I used to be terrified of that community, fearing the rejection of those who would say that I’m not female enough to be an object of attraction. Yet, as I start to identify with the word, some of the fear falls away and I feel ready to maybe seek out the company of the many lesbians who don’t think I’m undateable just because of my medical history.
I’m wary of the word “lesbian” being a box I try to shove myself into rather than a description for something I observe. In retrospect I did that with the term “bisexual”; I really tried too hard to make myself fit that concept. Weirdly, I already start to feel the pressure to modify myself to fit the new label. I will fight that urge, and proudly declare myself to be a lesbian who likes penises.
Why label myself at all? I struggled with my label for years and my friends often asked me that question. Logically speaking, it seems like it should not matter. And yet, it felt like it did matter. Now, I think that maybe what was so important was that when I had the wrong label, I kept trying to force myself to fit it. Now that I hopefully have the right label, it can be a passive description and not an active mould. In any case I feel a bit more at peace right now, and that is good.
I’m already feeling a few interesting effects: I’m a bit less misandrist, I think because I previously felt violated by men for what was essentially me violating myself (forcing myself to be attracted to them). It might be easier to be friends with men now that I know where the boundaries of that relationship lie. I feel more motivation to work on those things about myself which will make me feel more attractive. And I’ve started really enjoying porn for the first time in ages, now that I’m embracing the idea of only wanting to fantasise about women and not having to watch men fuck.
Something tells me this process of questioning is not absolutely over, but I also have the strong feeling that I’ve made a step in the right direction.