Update: three years after I wrote this article, I changed my mind.
For the first one and a half years of gender transition, transitioning was all I could think about. It totally dominated my mental processing capacity.
Now, my mind has started to cool off on that topic, and I’ve started having the space to think about other identity-related issues.
In the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about my sexual orientation, e.g. about whether I’m lesbian or bisexual or some other label entirely. (For those who just don’t get it, no, being transgender is not like being “really gay” – gender identity and sexual orientation are separate, if interrelated in some ways).
What is clear is that I like women. That bit has never been up for debate. What I have been trying to work out is whether and how much I’m attracted to men.
Statistics are in favour of me being bisexual: according to the very detailed report Injustice At Every Turn, about 50% of trans people are somewhere on the bisexual spectrum (I include those who identify as “queer”), and about 25% each are homosexual and heterosexual.
I am clearly bisexual in some way. I do feel attracted to men sometimes. I have even been in love with men. However, the first three times I was with men intimately it always felt a little “weird” somehow. I recently wondered if that discomfort was actually what being lesbian was. After all, I didn’t have to have an absolute revulsion towards men to be lesbian, right?
I talked to my girlfriend about this a lot. She (who says she is “lesbian until proven bisexual”) didn’t seem to understand why it was so important to me. Couldn’t I just forget about labels, and be attracted to whoever I was attracted to? It seemed like a good idea, and I envy her ability to be so relaxed about it, but somehow for me it didn’t work that way. I really wanted to know what I was, and ignoring the issue didn’t seem to be an option.
I experimented for a little while with calling myself “lesbian”. I changed my profile on OKCupid, just to see the word “gay”* up there and see how it felt.
*OKC uses “gay” in the modern gender-neutral meaning, in case this confuses you.
In a discussion with Facebook friends about this time, someone said that despite never having been with a man, they felt bisexual, and that was enough for them. Well, as I saw the word “gay” above my profile, somehow that idea seemed to make sense. Despite not having absolute proof of not being gay, I could quite clearly feel that I just didn’t feel connected to that word somehow.
Despite this, I kept my profile as “gay” for some time after. Yes, somehow trying the word out had more or less instantly proven to me that I wasn’t gay. Or didn’t feel gay, anyway. But I liked playing with the word. It helped me see things from another perspective.
I think previously, when I identified as bisexual, I felt some kind of pressure to be equally attracted to both binary genders. I often tried to explain why I wasn’t attracted to both equally in ways other than “I am just not”: for instance, I’d point out how I find the negative aspects of male social conditioning so very unappealing.
I think also being trans made me want to identify as 50/50 bisexual. As trans, my womanhood gets questioned a lot, and I guess I might have felt more secure in my female identity if I liked men at least as much as women. This was the case especially in the beginning of my transition when I was really insecure.
But more than this, I think I had a problem identifying as something other than 50/50 bisexual because I didn’t really know of anything else. There are very few depictions of bisexuality in the media, and what we do hear about doesn’t include any sort of detail. Something like “I only like men for one night stands, and then only feminine men, but I fall in love with and have relationships with women” (for example, not my case) is just way too complex for the LGBT-ignorant public to waste their time with… apparently.
What’s more, I think the very fact that there isn’t really an image of bisexuality in popular culture helped me feel more comfortable about identifying that way. In high school, you don’t get kids squealing, “that’s so bisexual!” – of course. You get them saying that things they disapprove of are gay. So perhaps using the term “bisexual” let me avoid coming to terms with some of the discrimination I was to experience, for a while.
So, calling myself “lesbian” somehow helped me to see things differently. It let me think more about how I was now the target of discrimination as an LGB person. It stopped me brushing that away by focusing on the fact that I did like some men. It also helped me start to form an identity around my LGB status, which I had previously mostly not done.
Calling myself “lesbian” helped me recognise, and integrate into my identity, how important my attraction for women was. Sure, I wasn’t lesbian, but I was mostly attracted to women, and I expected my attraction to women would play a dominant role in my sexual and romantic life, throughout my whole life. I didn’t expect there to be ever a moment where I could forget that my attraction is primarily directed towards women. No matter how much I might like a particular man, I don’t think he could do that for me.
At about this time I started identifying more seriously as “mostly lesbian”, a pretty accurate description of my sexuality. And I think since taking on that word, my need for self-understanding has mainly been satisfied.
And I think that was a genuinely worthwhile thing. Among other things, I think I needed to discover this so I’d stop trying to force myself into the mould of a 50/50 bisexual. I think there are other reasons it was good for me too, but that was a big one.
Incidentally, being “mostly lesbian” doesn’t mean I’m not also bisexual. I feel much more identified with the term “bisexual” than with the term “lesbian” without modifiers. Because, despite the assumptions people make when you say you are bisexual, it still seems more accommodating to my particular form of orientation-bending than lesbianism. I also feel much more comfortable and identified with the bisexual community than the lesbian one. The lesbian community very much feels like it’s not my place.
But what about the weirdness I felt while being with those three men? Well, I recently kissed another man, and this time, it didn’t feel weird. It felt totally natural and good.
What I’ve been thinking is that the difference here was that this kiss happened spontaneously, as a result of clear attraction on my part. In all three of the other cases, I was basically forcing things a little or going with the flow of the guys’ desires because I was eager to discover whether I was really bisexual, and hadn’t been quite attracted or quite comfortable. The result, of course, was it not feeling right, and that backfired regarding my purpose because I then had some rather distorted evidence on which to draw conclusions.
I mentioned this to another bi-questioning friend and it seems like she had done something similar. Eager to discover whether she was really bi, she got into a relationship with a woman she wasn’t attracted to, and of course that didn’t work. It later served as evidence to her that she might not be really bi, but of course it wasn’t really reliable as such.
Before, I didn’t really have the mental capacity to deal with thinking about my sexual orientation, because I was so fixated on trans stuff. Now, I’m starting to form an identity, a sense of self around my orientation. I think that’s a good thing; it helps clarify where I stand in relation to the world, and who I stand with. It helps me understand myself a bit better. It makes me a bit more grounded.
I found out recently that a singer I like is lesbian. I really liked hearing that. Though it doesn’t change her music (apart, perhaps, from my appreciation of some of her lyrics), it makes me feel like there are others out there like me doing cool stuff. I felt identified with her more, like she was “one of my people”, and felt emotionally closer to her.
LGB people are generally erased in the media, so there is kind of a sense of loneliness or invisibility where we look around and don’t see anyone like us to be inspired by. So it’s nice for me to be able to see people like me out there. There is that quote, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and though I don’t believe that literally, I think there is some truth in it. We need models.
It’s interesting to have a sexual orientation which is rather unknown and rarely talked about. It means that in some way, I’m on the forefront of a little area of activism. By being visible and making my orientation clear to people, I can hopefully encourage a more nuanced understanding of sexual orientation in general. I can help show others that other options are possible. Hopefully, because of me, someone else won’t have such a long struggle to come to terms with their own orientation, because they will have a model showing that it exists and is valid.
Recently, while exploring my feelings in a conversation with a friend, I found that some part of me craved being with a man. Not strongly, and surely, if I didn’t have any women to be with I’d crave them much faster, but still, the need was there.
It’s annoying, because I find I can’t really get close to many men, due to a mixture of phobia and dislike and just not understanding each other. That’s not a rule, but it’s a clear tendency. After all, I think I can’t have a deep relationship with someone who isn’t feminist, and I’ve met relatively rather few men who really “get” these issues.
And besides that, I’m just not attracted to many men. I find it hard to find patterns in the men I do like. I’m attracted to masculinity in general and like masculine men if they are able to combine that with a non-macho, feminist attitude. But I like feminine men too sometimes. I annoy myself sometimes by being attracted to men who are difficult, anti-social and who I sometimes outright dislike. Interestingly, on the other hand, I think I’ve never been attracted to a woman I dislike. I don’t know why my attraction works in this way.
Despite all these challenges, I guess I’ll end up in a relationship with a guy at some point. I’m very curious to experience this side of myself, but I know now it’s best not to force it.
I’ve also come to the conclusion that since I like so much fewer men than women, I should really focus on women in my attempts to find a partner. I’ve dated a lot of men from OKCupid, and despite me liking a few of them as people, there really wasn’t much chemistry. They weren’t bad experiences, but as far as romance is concerned, they were a waste of time. I kinda feel a bit sorry for them, too, because it was misleading to suggest I might be near to 50/50 bisexual.
So, for now, I’m going with my lesbian side in a more active way, and will simply let my heterosexual side manifest itself in its own time if it happens to want to. And I’ll be happy with my “mostly lesbian” label, and hopefully provide a good example of sexual diversity in a society which so very much wants to squash everything into a false, censored simplicity.