You Need Help: What If I’m Lying to Myself About Being Queer?

Q:

Hi there. I’m sure you’ve received questions like this before, and you probably get a ton of asks, but I’d appreciate advice as I’m really struggling. For the past six years, I’ve been questioning my sexuality (I’m in my late 20s now). I grew up in a very conservative, sheltered environment, and I never knew I could even have a female partner; I only saw hetero couples, and assumed that to not be lonely I needed a male partner. But I was never much into dating or sex. Then, when I was 21, a therapist asked if I was gay, and I knew I wasn’t (sexually), but it made me research, and research, and wonder and wonder and wonder. I do believe I’m asexual, or at least don’t care to have sex, but it’s the attraction to women (romantic/sensual) that I’m concerned with.

I may have had strong feelings for two women before I realized I could be not-straight (it’s hard to tell if they were strong platonic feelings or romantic, but there was always an element of wanting to be somewhat exclusive) — possibly other nebulous feelings too, like staring at a girl I thought was really, really pretty and wanting to be near her — but it’s only after my therapist asked if I was gay that I started imagining being in a relationship with a woman. And I don’t know why, but I so, so want that. I have rarely imagined being with a man, certainly not touching a man except hugging/feeling protected, although I like men. But imagining being with a woman, touching a woman, is so wonderful. I’ve become obsessed with historical female pairs, Boston marriages, etc. I also developed a major crush on a woman I met about a year after realizing I could spend my life with a woman, and the desire to touch her is so strong. I’ve never felt anything like that with anyone before. (But she initiated the hug, and I am also touch starved, so maybe this just has to do with that?)

However, aesthetically/physically, I find higher numbers of men attractive than women, which complicates this. Like, on TV, I’ll find many more men cute than women. But I desire to have a relationship with a woman much more, at least right now. I wouldn’t mind being with a man, I don’t think; I’ve certainly had crushes on certain men, mostly intellectually, and I don’t hate the idea of being in a relationship with a man. But it pales in comparison to being with a woman. The main difference I’ve found is that I feel much more sensual with a woman I’m drawn to. With a man, I typically just want to look at him and have him touch me/protect me; with a woman, I want to touch her as well as have her touch me. I feel much more active and willing to take the initiative with a woman.

My question is, how do I know that I’m not just trying to convince myself I’m not-straight to be rebellious, or cool, or something? I’ve always had a tiny rebellious streak when it comes to societal norms, and I’m afraid I’m just trying to convince myself I’m something “different” because I’m sick of heterosexual romance everywhere I look. Not that I hate it all the time, but there’s something about same-sex relationships that excites me. Also, so many of my feelings for women have been in my head; what if this is just fantasy, and in the real world it’s not real? (Except it has been real, a few times. Just a few.)

How do I know I haven’t brainwashed myself into being bi, gay, or otherwise not-straight? Like I said, I do like men; I appreciate them intellectually and personally, and I like how male bodies look. But I don’t necessarily want to touch them. I could see myself with a man… but if I hadn’t tried with a woman first, I would definitely feel like I was missing something. And honestly, the idea of living with a woman forever, sharing a home, a bed, cuddling… is dreamy. A part of me thinks I might miss that, permanently, if I married a man.

Thoughts? Thanks so much!

Follow Up Message 1:

Hi there, I just wanted to clarify my question I submitted a few days ago about whether I’m gay/bi or not. My main concern is, if I never thought about being in a relationship with a woman until my therapist mentioned it, is it possible that she just “planted” the idea in my head (so to speak), and I became obsessed with it, but I’m really actually straight? If I am biromantic (or-sexual, or lesbian), wouldn’t I have figured it out myself without having someone give me the idea?

Also, the friend I have a crush on is married, so she’s unavailable.

Thank you!

Follow Up Message 2:

Hi — I want to clarify my post again, sorry. My therapist asked me if I was gay because of the way I was talking about an old friend I had been hanging out with, saying how cool she was, when I was hesitant to pursue a boy I had a crush on because I didn’t want to spend every weekend with him/didn’t want to lose my personal time (and I thought he didn’t like me romantically — looking back, he might have). When she asked if I would consider living with said friend, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. (We’ve grown apart now.) There were other things after that that made me wonder, too — seeing a former classmate and her girlfriend’s pictures, and without explanation just wanting that so badly for myself — to hold someone (a woman), to look at someone, to live with someone, like they were.

Follow Up Message 3:

I’m so sorry, I just wanted to clarify a few more things: When I realized I could have a relationship with a woman and didn’t have to date men, I felt relief. Maybe it’s because I’m more comfortable with women and with having them as friends. Maybe I just want a best friend? I know dating a woman is no easier than dating a man, but the idea of dating a woman just sounds more enjoyable for some reason. I don’t feel bad at the thought of never being in a relationship with a man. I really just want a companion, and have always thought I didn’t care about sex or gender — but for some reason a woman sounds more appealing now. These past few years I’ve gotten really into wlw fiction (especially Xena), some fanfiction, and (I’m a novelist and short story writer) I can’t seem to stop writing stories about wlw relationships. It’s all I’m interested in writing now. But maybe I’m just a bicurious straight girl? The last thing I want to do is hurt someone by misleading them. Am I crazy?

A:

Hello dear friend! Let me just say this first: you are not alone.

I think it bears repeating: you are not alone.

You are not alone in having these kinds of conflicting and complicated feelings about queer desire and identity; you are not alone in wondering where your queerness comes from; you are not alone in asking if your queerness is “real,” or to put it another way, if you are queer enough. These feelings, I think, are actually quite common. Darcy wrote in a recent advice column about how the idea of not feeling queer enough is incredibly universal. So many of us have been where you are and so many of us still are!

I want to focus on your main question first: “How do I know I haven’t brainwashed myself into being bi, gay, or otherwise not-straight?” and as you clarified in your second letter “is it possible that [the therapist] just ‘planted’ the idea in my head (so to speak), and I became obsessed with it, but I’m really actually straight?”

If you’ve just spent a lot of time browsing Autostraddle, it can be easy to forget: we live, even in the 21st century, even in progressive cities, in a society deeply entrenched in heteronormativity and homophobia. It is impossible to avoid swimming in this disgusting soup. In the US right now we are seeing a huge backlash to the rights gained and cultural shifts for LGBTQ people (particularly trans folks). The idea that people are “brainwashed” into queer identities or that someone with authority “plants” the idea of being queer in people who would otherwise be straight, is right out of this backlash discourse. It is absolutely NOT your fault for thinking like this about queerness, but I wanted to point out that this way of thinking about queer identity is rooted in homophobia and heteronormativity, because I am suggesting we look at it from a queer perspective instead.

A few of us were discussing your question in the Autostraddle slack, and Nico pointed out that “often we need to encounter the idea that we could be gay in order to begin to accept that we are.” I couldn’t put it better myself so I wanted to quote them! (Allocis)heterosexuality is engrained in us from literally before we are born (fucking gender reveal parties!). It is VERY understandable that we need to be shown or told about options other than the dominant norms of sexuality in order to recognize that we ourselves are queer. How else are we to imagine otherwise when we’ve been told over and over heterosexuality is the only way?

When you really think about it, it’s astounding that despite the enormous pressure to conform to allocisheterosexuality, queer people continue to live their queer lives and flourish. (We rule, obviously). The idea that anyone who identifies as queer is “really straight” in the context of a heteronormative society is statistically nil. Logically, this is where the “born this way” rhetoric makes sense: why would anyone choose to be gay in a world that insists being gay is shameful and that heterosexuality is infinitely superior?

I want to push back on that logic a bit though, even if it is helpful to you. So what if you experience your queer identity and/or queer desire as a choice? Being queer is awesome, so great choice. And what does it mean to “be really actually straight”? Is there some essential being inside you that is eternally queer or straight? Some people experience their sexuality that way; others don’t. Neither way is better, despite the ubiquity of the “born this way” concept. Plenty of people truly know for long periods of their life that they’re straight, only to embrace queer identities in their later years. Some people question their sexuality, try out a queer identity or relationship, and end up identifying as heterosexual. The truth is that for some people sexual orientation remains static throughout their lives and for others it doesn’t.

If you don’t believe me, listen to queer lit icon Carmen Maria Machado, who wrote in her recent essay on Autostraddle:

“How little we know of ourselves at any moment; how distinctly human that is. There is such little grace given to the perfect messiness of desire. Even queers feel pressure to homogenize the experience into catchy slogans. The ‘born this way’ narrative, while politically expedient, has done untold damage to narratives of the queer experience, implying any number of horrible ideas: that you cannot move toward desire without some genetic component urging you to do so, that experimentation is inherently problematic, that you have to know your truest and deepest self to act on something. There were times in my adolescence where people asked me if I was gay and I said no, not out a sense of self-preservation but because I truly believed it to be so. You can be a stranger to yourself; you almost certainly will be, at some point or another. It is inevitable, as inevitable as the moment of rupture that sends you hurtling toward the self you were always going to be.”

Let those wise words wash over you for a minute. Letter writer, I hope you take comfort in Machado sharing with us that she too didn’t understand her own queerness at a certain time in her life! You wrote in your letter “I don’t know why, but I so, so want [a relationship with a woman].” Might I propose that the why is very simple: you are indeed queer! Whether or not you came to the realization all by yourself or by a fortunate suggestion by someone (or multiple someones!) in your life truly does not matter! Being queer is a wonderful gift you are lucky to have received. For what it’s worth, from a queer stranger on the internet: all of your descriptions of wanting to be with a woman, to touch her, to live together, and more — everything you wrote leaves me with zero doubts that you are “one of us” as the gals in A League of Their Own put it. Of course, only you can decide how you want to identify in the end.

To get into the specifics of your questions about desire for different genders: again, I repeat, you are not alone! It is quite common for bi+ people to have different experiences of desire when it comes to gender. Some bi+ people are equally romantically and sexually attracted to all genders. Some bi+ people are interested in sex with men, but relationships only with women and nonbinary people. Some bi+ people are aesthetically attracted to gender expressions they have no romantic or sexual interest in!

There are so many different types of attraction. You mention that “aesthetically/physically” you tend to find men more attractive than women. That’s cool! It doesn’t make you any less queer. Your descriptions of aching to be in a relationship with a woman sound very much like romantic attraction/desire to me. It might be that you’re aesthetically more into men and romantically more into women. This might shift over the course of your life, or it might not.

You mentioned that you think you’re probably ace. Ace communities have been pulling apart and naming different types of desire for decades. So often in allosexual contexts, different types of desire are conflated. Most allosexual people, even queers, assume that romantic and sexual attraction go hand in hand. But the lived experiences of aces shows that aesthetic, romantic, and sexual attraction do not have to align at all. These frameworks are really useful tools to understand own desire and identity for aces and non-aces alike!

If you haven’t already, I recommend doing some reading by and about ace identities and experiences. You can learn all about different types of attraction and how different aces experience their desire and identity. Ace by Angela Chen is an awesome place to start. Some other great book options:

How to Be Ace by Rebecca Burgess
Refusing Compulsory Sexuality by Sherronda J. Brown
A Quick and Easy Guide to Asexuality by Molly Muldoon and Will Hernandez
Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

Of course, don’t forget to check out Autostraddle’s asexuality content too!

Good luck friend and welcome to the queer community! We’re glad you’re here.


Editor’s Note:

As you know if you’re familiar with the You Need Help column, we typically run one (1) question every Tuesday with one (1) answer. However, sometimes a question appears in the Advice Box that causes the staff to discuss it emphatically for days and days, and in those cases we sometimes do something special, like our Valentine’s Day roundtable this year. Well, this LW wrote in the original question and then followed up with a total of five (5) clarifications, some of which we printed above, and we all felt so tender toward them that I decided I simply must publish a few more answers from our team. Casey did a fantastic job with her advice above, but sometimes more is more. I hope you’ll indulge me, as everyone really showed up exactly as themselves.

Christina: Oh babe this is actually so gay of you!

Yash: This precious bb. No straight girl needs four multiple-paragraph “clarifications,” pumpkin you’re GAY!

Nico: “I can’t seem to stop writing stories about wlw relationships.” is all I need to hear — it’s great to be gay, congratulations!!!

Dani: I’ve been out for almost 18 years and I still sometimes have the am I really gay?? thought. Then I see a woman and instantly become the Tex Avery wolf! All this to say welcome to the club!

Darcy: I absolutely remember this feeling. Am I crazy? Am I just making this up to complicate my life? The answer is, no, you’re not. You’re not making it up. It’s real, and it’s fine, and it’s gonna be amazing.

Himani: Oh dear friend, I really want you to know that I can relate so, so deeply to what you’re feeling. I am sometimes wary of overstating how strongly I empathize with some of the questions we get, but everything you’ve written has just really reminded me so, so strongly of my own long and on-going journey to come to terms with my queerness. But here I am, on this side of that journey. And maybe you’ll be on this side of it some day too, or maybe you won’t. Maybe, in fact truthfully, there aren’t separate sides here, but it’s just a winding path back and forth and back and forth as we uncover different parts of ourselves by living out different experiences. I, too, have been terrified of exploring possibilities with other women for fear of just being “curious” and hurting them. The irony of this harmful stereotype a lot of lesbians have about bisexual women is that it also hurts… a lot of lesbians, who don’t have a simple, straightforward, coming out story of always knowing they were gay but closeted. But sometimes, to repurpose an analogy I’ve used in my writing previously, we have deeply shut our hearts in a closet from ourselves, because that’s what we have been told to do or forced to do for one reason or another. Opening those doors can be very, very daunting, scary, and certainly confusing. The very first therapist I ever saw, in college, once observed that I never, ever talked about love unless I was talking about music. That was a door that was shut so, so tightly. The second therapist I saw, when I was shopping around for a therapist post-college, asked me if I was ever interested in women, and I never went back and, instead, went with the therapist who told me to just take risks and maybe try to pursue a guy I thought I was obsessed with. I, too, wondered if the idea of being queer had just been “planted” in my mind. Ultimately, you will make your own decisions and determinations. But as I always tell people, focus less on the labels and the “what will people say if I claim xyz” or “what will people think if I do xyz” and just follow wherever your heart, desires, and instincts lead you. Be honest with people along the way — your own confusion is no excuse for recklessly hurting others, either — but most of all, just be honest with yourself in whatever words feel good to you at any given moment in time. I’m sending you all my love and wishing you all the best.

Adrian: The incredible thing about being queer is that if you wanna be you just get to be! There is no governing body, no genetics scan, not even a social litmus test that can prove you are or aren’t. It’s just up to you! And while that can be totally intimidating, the good news is it is very evident from your words that you really really don’t want to be straight and so, congrats! You’re not! You’re one of us, and we already love you.

Laneia: Darling, sweet beautiful creature, please know that this entire situation — from the moment it first occurred to you that it could be a good idea to write into Autostraddle’s advice column, to this very morning when I read your fourth clarifying followup message — is gayer than anything that’s ever happened to me, including the time I sat crying in my best friend’s driveway because I couldn’t understand why I was so heartbroken over the fact that she’d been getting mani-pedis with her new coworkers, the time I told my then-husband that I was so jealous because he knew what it was like to go down on a woman and I never would, the time that same straight best friend told me a funny story about how she’d taught her college roommate how to masturbate for the first time and I downed my margarita slushie and immediately left her house so I could go home and masturbate, the time I left my husband and moved across the country to live with my girlfriend whom I met on the internet, the time I had a one-night stand with someone I met a Pride event and she made us vegan scrambled tofu for breakfast the next day, the time when Heather Hogan and I were still drinking whiskey at 2am and she called me a dyke and I cried and told her she was the only person who’d ever truly seen me for who I was, the time I got gay married and also gay divorced, the time my therapist wondered aloud if it might be possible that my girlfriend and I processed too much, and the entire 13 years I’ve spent working at this gay website. Bless you, I love you.


You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.


Before you go! It costs money to make indie queer media, and frankly, we need more members to survive 2023As thanks for LITERALLY keeping us alive, A+ members get access to bonus content, extra Saturday puzzles, and more! Will you join? Cancel anytime.

Join A+!

Casey

Known in some internet circles as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, Casey Stepaniuk is a writer, librarian, and new parent. She writes for Book Riot and Autostraddle about queer and/or bookish stuff. Ask her about cats, bisexuality, libraries, queer books, drinking tea, and her baby. Her website is Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. Find her on Twitter, Litsy, Storygraph Goodreads and Instagram.

Casey has written 101 articles for us.

30 Comments

  1. Bless you all for being so gentle and generous with this reader. OP, I hope you see this and know that we’ve all been there and that is the source of our tenderness for you. I don’t say that to imply that I am “further along” in my journey or anything, just to say that when I was figuring out my sexuality for the first time what I wrote sounded a lot like this. My journey was a little different because I always knew that I was sexually attracted to men; but apart from that, I relate to all of it. Also, in the words of wonderful gay YouTuber Alayna Joy – “you can be gay if you want to!”

    Please be kind to yourself. It’s not an easy place to be. I wonder if you have any queer friends that you could process these feelings with? If not, I highly suggest seeking out a support group if you can find one. And as someone who has worked as a counselor, I can assure you: your therapist did not plant the idea of you being into women in your head. They heard what you were saying and reflected it back to you.

    This really struck a chord with me so I also want to say please don’t feel like you have to rush anything. You are worthy and enough just as you are, and you sound like a kind, thoughtful person who has a lot to offer any potential partner or friend. Also know that like… sometimes people’s feelings get hurt and it’s not necessarily your fault. If you are honest about not really knowing what you want or what you’re into, and you respect other people’s boundaries, you have nothing to be afraid of.

    I wish you all the best in your journey. Know that this big messy bi already loves you, and there are so many people out there who will love you, too. Welcome.

  2. I’ve had a lot of similar thoughts and overthinking myself into knots and have come out 3+ different times over the last 12 years, and I found this video super validating: https://youtu.be/DmQGDoWn52k. It also might make things even MORE confusing. But I think the important point is that sexuality is confusing and if you’re anywhere in the giant grey area between or around straight and gay, maybe you’ll always be confused. I’m in my late 20s too and didn’t date until the last year. I’ve learned SO much about myself in the last year, but I don’t feel much closer to knowing wth my sexuality is. Fortunately, as an adult, once you win some battles with yourself about allowing yourself to be more open about dating people and trying things… you can. I’ve encountered so much less judgement and much more empathy from people about my lack of clarity while dating than I ever imagined. In fact I think I pretty quickly got to a point where I feel like I actually knew much better what I wanted than most people I was trying to date (gender is really the least important factor, you know) – I think spending your 20s chasing yourself around your own head can do that!

  3. This is perhaps the gayest letter ever to have graced the YNH advice space. And it’s pretty gay here! LW, babe, if I were a spider and could weave you a web it would read SOME QUEER cause wow are you! Welcome, we love you.

    I am touched by how relatable a lot of this questioning is, and also finding that beneath that I am deep sad and really -angry- that we live in a world where this kind of mental back-and-forth is so common and so persistent. It is absolute garbage and it is not just that any of us should have to waste any of our time with the questioning and the wondering and the justifying instead of just *living*. LW, among the many things I hope you take away from the thoughtful answer(s) here, I hope you find a way to give yourself permission to let it be nebulous, to not know everything beyond a shadow of a doubt, and to just live. The voice of your desire is crystal clear here. It’s such a vital voice. I hope you let yourself listen to it. You deserve that. All the best to you.

  4. This sounds a lot like me when I was in the process of coming out to myself circa 2003-2007; thanks, Autowin, for making this easier! I always knew that I didn’t like men, very secretly identified as asexual for a few years, but I think mostly due to the fact that the idea of women didn’t occur to me!

    I do fall more on the ‘reactive’ side of the sexuality spectrum, as well, which made me slower to realize how gay I am. That could be something else for the writer to consider. I say put yourself out there and see how you feel in the moment. Worst case you learn something about yourself, best case well…. :)

  5. Don’t worry! By the power bestowed on me by the universe, I hereby pronounce you definitely gay. Or lesbian,bi, pan, ace, gray ace, queer…
    But whatever label ends up feeling comfiest (or none) most of all you are ENOUGH and I wish you the best in pursuing the things and people that make you feel mushy and squirmy and dreamy inside!

  6. I relate to this letter in many ways, aside from certainty that I’m queer. I was always attracted to gals as well as guys, but feel I “came out to myself” at 28 when I decided to begin believing that I personally could be with a woman someday (though now, seven years later, I’ve still never been in a romantic or sexual relationship in anyone). Sometime in my early teens, I had the thought that “I’m sexually attracted to girls and romantically attracted to boys.” Now I consider myself biromantic, but still have differing feelings about men and women, much like the OP’s. (Admittedly, this might be *partly* because I think penetrative sex would be prohibitively painful and I’m told that not doing it would be a relationship dealbreaker most often for cis men.) I’m currently questioning whether I might be some type of gray-ace, because I feel deeply ambivalent about the idea of actual sex with non-imaginary people and haven’t been attracted to anyone in my immediate vicinity for many years. And I think that for me, sex with anyone of any gender would be an experiement to learn if there are any sex acts I could enjoy, and have to fight the feeling that I’d always be undesired because “nobody wants to be an experiment.” So I appreciate the responses to this letter.

  7. So much in this letter resonated…

    I wonder if it would be easier to think about this in terms of behaviors rather than labels? As in, I would like to *do* this, this, and this, instead of I *am* such-and-such? Then you can think in terms of discussing the things you want to do with someone and find out if they would like to do those things with you. There’s nothing misleading about that, and you can be upfront about not being ready to label yourself, even say, I haven’t ever done X, so not sure how it’ll work out in practice.

    As for the not wanting to hurt someone through experimenting: treat them like a person, not an experiment, and things will be good enough. We never know how things are going to end up; all we can do is decide that some gambles are worth taking.

  8. Oh this is so sweet! Great advice AS! And I love our collective response to take care of LW like a cute little duckling trying to find their way.

    Dear letter writer, whoever decided you need to pick is wrong. Go date whoever comes on your path. Or date no one, if that’s how you feel. But from all that you wrote, women do seem to hold your interest more at this moment. So why not give it a go and see what happens? (As said, as long as you’re open about this with the people you date, no one likes being an experiment without knowing about it.)

    As for your attractions to (fictional) men. I am personally out as a lesbian since forever, but I started having some doubts, since I enjoyed so much male characters on tv, and m/m fiction even, making me think I might be bi? After a lot of questioning I came to a few conclusions. Maybe some of them help you too.

    1: I like the queer narrative, and there’s a lot of similarities in m/m and f/f fiction.
    2: I like the idea of masculinity, some of the attributes that modern society has decided are masculine. The strength and the protectiveness. But I prefer them in a queer women.
    3: I like male characters on tv because in the kind of shows I like there’s just more male characters, and they are often given much more of a personality and allowed to be a little more gritty then female characters.
    4: I still can’t imagine ever falling in love with a man. But I’ve been intimate with some, and even if I’m not super into men, I still had fun. So I’m a little more bi on the physical spectrum than I am in the romantic spectrum. And I know plenty of people who have different orientation on each spectrum. (With physical I mean both sexual and non-sexual physical attraction.)

    So, you are not alone in questioning your orientation, and feeling unsure, and changing labels a bunch of times. Hope this all gives you some comfort. And you can just go for the label of “some sort of queer, probably” and figure things out as it happens. People who expect you to have made a choice are not worthy of your time.

  9. This is such a tender question and there are so many loving answers already, but I just wanted to address specifically the feeling of something being “planted” and that if you “really” were queer you would have known already. It’s really hard for people to know something’s possible without it being shown to them: that’s why things like kids books have so much discussion about representation! And compulsory heterosexuality is so powerful and an undercurrent of literally every interaction in our entire world. It makes sense you’d need someone else to pierce through that veil!

    My girlfriend realized she was bi when her therapist asked her if she was in love with her best friend. I went to school with a big queer community, almost all of my friends were queer, and STILL I didn’t realize the feelings I was having were real until the girl I liked said someone had asked her if we were girlfriends. Only when that label was applied was I able to realize that yes, being girlfriends was what I wanted, and I’d never felt like that before.

    So much love to you. I hope you find an abundance of love and care and joy that you couldn’t have imagined before

  10. i agree with basically everything written above, but i am kind of surprised no one has brought up the OCD vibes this letter writer is giving off as well. the level of preoccupation and compulsive second-guessing (and, it seems to me, distress) over the LW’s sexuality reads like a symptom of obsession, at least in my eyes. (not that everyone who second-guesses their sexuality has OCD, of course, just that the specific way this LW talks about it rings very familiar to me of that particular diagnosis – and sexuality-based OCD is not unheard of.)

    shoutout if anyone with OCD is reading this and thinks the same thing – if so, LW, it might be worth learning more about it in case you find the diagnosis fits. and of course best of luck either way!

    • I definitely got neurodivergent vibes from the person who asked the question too and specifically came to the comment section for that reason! I know (from firsthand experience) that figuring out your sexuality is a scary enough time, but I highly recommend the OP take some online ADHD, OCD, and autism quizzes or bring up neurodivergence with their therapist to see if that could also be something going on for them. Lots of neurodiverse folks or queer too (again, firsthand experience). Figuring out you are not neurotypical later in life can be just about as earth shattering as figuring out you are gay later in life (FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE! Everything suddenly makes sense! Additionally, nothing makes sense!), but also knowing who you are is better than not knowing. Best of luck to the OP!

      • Yep, I’m autistic and that could’ve been me – we so often have a strong need to explain ourselves in detail, in part because we’re used to being misunderstood. I also feel like we very often get bogged down in definitions because our whole existence already involves so much “but do I experience this concept in the way other people do?” that questions about gender identity and sexual orientation can be particularly fraught, especially if we made it into adult life without questioning whether we’re actually cis-het. I found myself relating to so much of what the letter writer said!

    • Yes, I have OCD and these thought patterns are EXTREMELY familiar. The incapacitating doubt, the obsessive need to know FOR SURE, the examining of evidence from every angle, the circling around and around to examine the question again and again to try to get some certainty that never comes – it’s me!!

      Obviously that doesn’t mean that the letter writer has OCD (clearly these thoughts are relatable to so many people!) but I will say that it took me a looooong time to put together that these kinds of thoughts are probably part of it for me, even after a decade or two of understanding other parts of OCD and how it shows up in my life. Again, that’s for me and not necessarily for the letter writer!

    • Hi there, this is the LW (for real). I don’t know if I’m supposed to comment on comments on my letter, but I thought I’d respond because I do have diagnosed OCD, which I’ve been working on with a therapist and have just started medication for. I’ve also wondered for years if I am autistic, but I haven’t pursued a diagnosis. I appreciate you all being so caring and bringing this stuff up.

      I do tend to obsess over things I enjoy as well as things I worry about–so, e.g., when I found an online list of lesbian/bisexual women in history, and biographical information, I couldn’t stop reading it, and I still can’t. I love it because I find it interesting, and there are so many different types of relationships between the women, and because I really hope for a relationship like theirs one day.

      So if my OCD does extend to sexuality, does that mean I’m not queer? Lol. Most people with HOCD seem to be those who are afraid of not being straight, but are straight. Having OCD makes me wonder (again!) if I’m not just making this all up. But I sure hope not–I so want a female partner…

      • Hi LW – I can’t answer your question (that sounds like something to work on with your therapist), but I will say that I am very familiar with feeling like I am making all of this (my feelings about relationships) up and not knowing how to parse out what I “really feel” from what OCD is making me ruminate on. It is not fun. And I think the goal is not to figure out the “answer” with certainty but to become able to tolerate uncertainty. Does having a firm answer one way or the other about whether you are queer really matter? Is it OK to not know for sure? Also, identities can shift over time, so can we ever have certainty anyway? Please don’t take my words as gospel as I am not a therapist or your therapist (oh, hello scrupulosity OCD), but food for thought. I hope you can work with your therapist to come to some peace around this.

        Also in my experience, wishing I were queer was because I am queer. So there’s that!

        • Thank you for the encouragement! I am definitely working on the OCD, although I’m not sure my therapist knows what to do with my endless ramblings about wanting to date a woman (“but what if it’s all fake?” Lol).

          I do hope wanting to be queer means I am–because, well, I want to be… thanks again!

        • Also, yes, I believe the goal is to tolerate uncertainty, too. Then there is the part of me that wants to understand myself–wants to be able to describe parts of myself (like sexuality). And frankly, I don’t like the idea that I could end up with a man, without having at least tried having relationships with women. Something about women is just more appealing.

  11. I absolutely could have written this myself five years ago <3 For years (YEARS) I truly was convinced that all the feelings I had about women came from just "wishing" I was gay. As I eventually realized: wishing you were gay is enough, in fact, to make you gay!

  12. My younger self can absolutely relate to the letter writer finding more (fictional) men cute than women. I didn’t understand it for a long time and it was a question mark for me “but how much of a lesbian am I really, if…” But I got it recently: I like masculinity. In my teenage years and most adult life, all girls and women (in movies and the ones I knew) were very feminine in their presentation, and I just didn’t find that very interesting (the clothes…). There were no younger butch lesbian/queer people on TV, nor in my classes, villages, towns etc. So the people who looked cool and interesting to me back then were (fictional) men. The fictional male people I liked in movies had a style that I see now in the people I might date/like and also somewhat in myself if I was more fashionable. I wonder how much earlier I would have realized that I am queer if there had cute been butch lesbians/masculine queers that were relatable (and not mean ones a generation older). Or at least representation.

    And a butch friend of mine pointed out when looking at photos of my old boyfriends that they looked like butches/non-binary/androgynous*. That clicked for me. Also, I sometimes identify more with male characters or think they look better because they wear hoodies and baggy or cargo pants and don’t like the skintight dress or girly style of the female character. Even today in most movies and TV series about lesbians, I don’t find characters interesting/cool/attractive because they conform so much to the normative beauty ideals in femininity.

    I don’t mean to project on the letter writer – everyone has their own truth and maybe yours is very far from mine. Just wanted to share something that I grappled with for a long time. Yasmin’s four points about fictional men on TV are also great.

    (* These categories can mean different things for different people… All these words fit for me in this particular regard, though.)

    • “I wonder how much earlier I would have realized that I am queer if there had cute been butch lesbians/masculine queers that were relatable (and not mean ones a generation older).”

      “Even today in most movies and TV series about lesbians, I don’t find characters interesting/cool/attractive because they conform so much to the normative beauty ideals in femininity.”

      YES!!! It took me so long (until my mid-30s) to really realize I am queer for real, and a huge part of that is that I’m (usually) not attracted to straight women who conform to heteronormative beauty ideals, and they were the women I saw on TV for most of my life. I couldn’t imagine being attracted to those particular straight women, so I must be straight. No – I’m just attracted to butches/masculinity in queer women, which I didn’t really see in media for the first 30 years of my life.

  13. Seven years ago, I read an article on how straight women can be better allies to queer women. One section was headed “Remember that we aren’t your experiements,” and it discouraged me long-term from believing I could ever be with anyone, especially a woman. I know I’m attracted to women (and men, and non-binary folks), but I don’t know if this mysterious thing called sex happens to be an activity I could enjoy in any fashion, or one that would turn out to repell me. So sex would inherently be an “experiement” for me, a learning-abput-myself experience, and thus a means to an end, not simply an expression of affection and certain desire. The article informed me that a lot of queer women don’t want to be part of this process — some are still “willing” to put up with it, but others want to “stay away.” So I got the impression that I would probably tend to be unwelcome in WLW communities. It said that if I truly want to explore my sexuality, I could seek to do so if I’m honest about my intentions — but I was left with, and continued to have, a sense that what I want is Wrong and I don’t know how to act The Right Way.

    • I hear you. The discourse around “I Kissed a Girl” when it came out told me that my desire to kiss girls was wrong and an experiment and not real. Obviously I didn’t want to be experimenting on people or exploiting them, so I should ignore that desire and stay “straight.”

  14. This person is so not alone, that with the minor exceptions of not being asexual and also the exact conversation with the therapist being different, I could have written this question, and all of the clarifications. Religious conservative upbringing with no conception that I could possibly be gay, best friend with whom I realized/was nudged by my therapist to realize I was becoming enmeshed (and who is now married), being attracted to men on screen but not in real life, not enjoying the idea of being in a relationship with a man but thinking that with a woman it sounds really cool, being hesitant to enter relationships with men for fear of losing freedom but then jumping headlong into things with female friends, seeing posts by past acquaintances now in wlw relationships and being kind of obsessed… it was uncanny!
    I have nothing particularly CONSTRUCTIVE to add per se, just a broader thing to say that you’re not alone :)

    • Just because people are adding things about the being attracted to fictional men thing- I’m still working through it, but here are a few things that make sense to me:

      1) They’re objectively good looking. That’s okay. I wouldn’t actually want to get close to them in any way, but they are aesthetically pleasing people and that’s not always going to be romantic/sexual. Maybe they also have a great smile, which I think is an automatic heartstopper coming from ANYONE. (Have you seen the Apple TV show Trying? Centered around a hetero couple who are both just beautiful people with smiles that will break your heart, no matter your sexuality.)

      1a) They’re good actors. In many kinds of roles, like romcoms or as the leads in TV shows or movies, they’re there to look good and make the audience fall in love with them. They have charisma. That’s something that really can transcend sexuality- and it’s a lot of what fandom of actors/characters ends up being about, something beyond basic romantic/sexual attraction.

      2) Comphet, or whatever you want to call it (I was exposed to the masterdoc at a formative time lol). Lots of men on screen who I found attractive because everyone else did, or because I knew I was supposed to. Lots of women whose attractiveness was always noted in relation to the men on screen in a male-gazey sort of way that I couldn’t relate to at all. And of course it’s EASY to decide to be into them because there are zero stakes!

      3) Someone once told me “rewatch a rom com and see which character you ACTUALLY want to kiss.” So I rewatched Roman Holiday because it was one where I knew I loved both characters (both Hepburn and Peck being, again, objectively beautiful people) and I realized that while I thought Gregory Peck was gorgeous in the big kiss scene, if I were sitting where Audrey Hepburn was and he’d leaned toward me I’d have jumped back in the river. While if it was the reverse and Audrey Hepburn had approached me… lol nope I’m staying put. So besides for comphet or whatever, what I liked about Gregory Peck was that he loved Audrey Hepburn so much! Which is a mix of the standard thing people tend like about rom coms (“I want someone who looks at me like that”) and the fact that I UNDERSTOOD why he looked at Audrey Hepburn like that, and if I were him I would too! Though I preferred her pre-haircut in that movie lol.

      Not exhaustive, and also frankly I don’t think everything needs a reason- I know that a) I am not remotely interested in anything romantic or sexual with men and b) I enjoy looking at David Tennant when he’s acting in things and I don’t think that that has to be incompatible.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!