You Need Help: Am I Bisexual If It Really Is Just This One Guy?

Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q:

I’ve identified as a lesbian for three years now, and this identity makes me happy. Centering my life and interest and energy and focus around women and some NB folks makes me happy. But… I made out with one of my closest male friends whilst drunk, and then again whilst sober, and we’ve talked about it and decided to pursue a friends with benefits situation. So now I feel guilty and like I am betraying lesbiankind by continuing to let people call me a lesbian… but I feel silly calling myself or thinking about “coming out again” as bi because it really is just this one guy; I’m not into “men,” I’m into women (and some NB people) and him, and that’s it. Am I betraying everyone? Am I being biphobic or lesbophobic or something else?

A:

Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether you’re being “biphobic or lesbophobic or something else” or whether you’re “betraying everyone” — I understand your concerns about being accountable and respectful in relation to the larger community, but also it can be very difficult to navigate the internal authentic experience of a situation while looking at it through the lens of what you imagine it will mean for other people. So we’ll return to that in a bit! But until then try to let go of wondering what you “owe” anyone and let’s look at the facts.

What I’m hearing you say is that you want to keep identifying as a lesbian despite hooking up with this dude, and you’re wondering whether that’s something you have permission to do. No one can really give or revoke permission to do that, although I will say (and you are aware of this, which is why you’re asking) that choosing not to sleep with men is generally understood as being pretty fundamental to being a lesbian. At the same time, certainly there are women who have gone on to have relationships with men, including extremely serious ones and/or marriages, and continued to identify as lesbians. EJ Levy wrote this about it in 2014; her central tenet sounds similar to yours:

I know plenty of people who identify as bisexual; I am not. The term simply doesn’t apply. I am not, as a rule, attracted to men. I simply fell in love with this person and didn’t hold his gender against him. That won’t change because of our vows, any more than my eye color will. My fundamental coordinates are unaltered.

Wear Your Voice also ran this piece from a previously-identified dyke who I think afterwards began identifying as queer. She writes:

“I’m still queer. Nothing about me has really changed. Most of my friends are queer, I still move in queer spaces and go to queer events. But the main reasons I frequented queer spaces in the past were to cruise for dates or to feel safe showing affection for my partner.”

I know women who have had relationships with people of varying genders including men and who feel strongly about identifying as bisexual regardless of their relationship status or gender of their current partner because their identity doesn’t change as a function of their relationships; I know women who have had serious relationships with men who are adamant about being lesbians, and for whom not being able to be out (to themselves or the world) previously of course doesn’t invalidate their identity. I know plenty of people in a position like Chirlane McCray, who previously identified as lesbians and are now in a more label-free space and in relationships with men. I know a bunch of women who are clear about the fact that they’re attracted to men in addition to women but have elected to only date women and identify as lesbians for this reason; I know women in a similar space who identify as bisexual even though they’ll never date another man. Personally, I identified as bisexual for a long time and briefly identified as a lesbian because I was convinced that the reason I couldn’t make a relationship work with a man was because I was gay and then later identified as bisexual again and accepted that I couldn’t make those particular relationships work because of men, both as a category and in specific, and because of life and stuff. I bring this range of experiences up to acknowledge the context that yes, definitely, as a community we have a diverse variety of relationships to men individually and as a class, and sometimes that matches up neatly with our identities and sometimes it doesn’t! And I would absolutely encourage you to read and ask around and discuss with other women who have and are navigating this and see if there’s any insight to be gained. However, at the same time, I honestly don’t think that’s where you’re going to find your answer to this question about “what” you “are.”

Speaking super bluntly, a general working definition of bisexual is that you’re attracted to more than one gender, usually understood as your own and other gender/s. Clearly you’re attracted to your own gender, and the fact that you want an ongoing sexual relationship with this guy would indicate that you have some level of attraction to his gender (I hear you that you aren’t attracted to “men” as a “group;” at the same time, this is a man and you are attracted to him! So there’s that. If you say you don’t like tiramisu but also order it every time you’re at this one restaurant, the evidence would suggest you may be someone who does like tiramisu and is picky about it.). If you don’t identify with the label of bisexual, despite the fact that that definition fits the facts of the situation, it suggests to me that it’s because you have a different definition of bisexual that you’re functioning with right now, one that you don’t recognize yourself in.

I want to look more closely at two things you say here — that in your life and identity as a lesbian you’ve been “centering my life and interest and energy and focus around women and some NB folks,” and also that it feels “silly” to call yourself bi because you’re “…not into “men,” I’m into women (and some NB people) and him, and that’s it.” Gently and genuinely without judgement, I’d love to ask you to consider whether you think you could still center your life around women and nonbinary people if you were bisexual, and if you think that’s something that bisexual women in general can do. Why or why not? Do you think it looks fundamentally different than when lesbians do so? How so? What do you think you’re drawing on or from when you form your conclusions about these ideas? In what ways do you imagine that bisexual women are generally attracted to men as a class? Probably you don’t think of them as being uniformly attracted to every man ever, equally, but it seems like you think a bisexual woman’s attraction to men would have to be broader than just one guy. How many men would a woman have to be attracted to, in addition to women and/or nonbinary people, before it would make sense for her to be bisexual? How do you imagine bisexual women’s attraction to men as compared to straight women’s attraction to men? Do you think of them as the same, or different, and if so how? How do you imagine bisexual women’s attraction to men being different from what you’re experiencing now?

There aren’t specific answers I think you’re supposed to arrive at here; I’ve been bisexual my whole life, give or take, and I’m not sure I have firm answers to these questions. I’ll be wrestling with my complicated relationship to men individually and as a group my whole life. The thing is, though, all women will! Regardless of sexual orientation. We all have fathers, brothers, bosses, abusers, landlords, you name it. We don’t have a choice about dealing with men; none of us are unique in taking part in that very broad experience because we all have to live under the heteropatriarchy. What is unique, I think, is that many people — both bisexual and not — believe that navigating a dynamic with men is defining and fundamental to the experience and identity of bisexual women when they do not believe this in the same way about other groups. This manifests in really just countless ways, more than I think is realistic to get into here, but I think it would be helpful to stop for a second and think through it for your sake. I don’t want to put words in your mouth! But the phrasing of where you’re coming from brings to mind a lot of this sort of tacit but fairly common idea that while being a lesbian is defined by your relationship to women and womanhood, bisexuality for women is inevitably defined by your relationship to men. And I very much hear you that you don’t want to intentionally opt into a relationship with Men as a group (me neither, friend!), and so I can see why bisexuality would feel outlandish as a possibility! I’m not gonna tell you my psychic reading of what I think your “true identity” is; that isn’t a real thing and no one can do that for you, and you may find that even for and by yourself it isn’t a productive exercise. What I am gonna invite you to do is to try to experiment with the thinking that you can center and prioritize women regardless of how you identify, and nudge you to start noticing the ways in which women in your life do so regardless of who they’re sleeping with — and also to think about what other touchpoints you have for female bisexuality as an identity and experience outside of Being Into Men.

Coming back, finally, to your questions about whether you’re “betraying” anyone — figuring out what’s going on with you and what you want is a personal process, not a burden on the group. Our community has been through so much for so long — your trying to process what’s happening with a fling isn’t going to be what brings us down, I promise. I would think about, maybe, if there’s anything else at the root of those questions and the guilt you say you feel — what are you afraid of losing? Do you feel like you would deserve to? Looking at the reality of your situation and what you know about your community, are those fears realistic? Are there any possibilities that you might also gain something or grow in some way by considering your identity intentionally right now, regardless of where you end up with it, rather than just risking or losing something?

Most of all, I’m so sad about how guilty you feel! It’s so difficult and maybe actually impossible to have an honest conversation with yourself about anything with the crushing pressure of guilt and shame drowning everything else out. You talk about your lesbian identity as something that makes you happy, and you deserve to be happy! Maybe the way forward is to focus first on that, on what will make you happy, and let the rest fall into place in its time. I wish you the best of luck!

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1096 articles for us.

73 Comments

  1. “I’d love to ask you to consider whether you think you could still center your life around women and nonbinary people if you were bisexual, and if you think that’s something that bisexual women in general can do. Why or why not?”

    !!!!!!!!

    I’d also encourage the question asker to read bi people’s writing on bisexuality and see how they feel. In particular, Greta Christina’s article “drawing the line” from a 1990s edition from on our backs helped me a lot in wrestiling with my identity (it’s a fairly harsh article but I think it kind of needs to be, particularly around why we find a change in identity so frightening). Also freeing yourself from having to agree with everything about someone else’s view of an identity you share in name is an amazing feeling (I don’t agree with everything in that article and that’s ok).
    This is also why I personally have adopted queer as the primary descriptor for my sexuality. Technically I am a a bisexual woman who dates exclusively women and non binary people, but that has been different in the past and could change in the future. Queer allows me to not worry about which descriptor fits me best bc it encompasses so many things. 🙂

  2. i feel this so much! making my identity confusion even more confusing, my ex is an amab gender questioning person leaning towards a nonbinary identity (he/him pronouns). what was more challenging for me, although we were not very public, was that we appeared to be a straight couple and would be treated like one. lots of queer nuance + also I personally don’t feel comfortable ID’ing as bisexual as i have never been attracted to a binary man. still not entirely sure how to identify but i’m going with queer or mostly gay right now

    • Queer and “mostly gay” lol!! Those are what I’ve used for years. Love it!
      Especially love queer because of situations like yours, ones that make us unsure of how to identify. I’m comfortable with queer in every situation, even in evolving sexual and romantic tastes because it’s a malleable word.

  3. I guess here’s obligatory comment from a lifelong self-identified bisexual about how difficult it can be to be taken seriously in wider queer circles,and I completely empathize with your reluctance to even entertain identifiying yourself this way.

    From my perspective, as someone who has always been bi and vocal about it (and I’m in my 30s now, so it’s been 16 years of being vocal), it can be lonely and isolating. I’ve hit the lesbian wall many times – with dates with whom I sense the possibility of something serious, with would-be flings who ran screaming from the word Bi, and from shitty comments and side-eye about not “really” being queer.

    For a long time, I just shut up and avoided queer gatherings because it ended up being lonely and awful and felt like middle school. I ended up getting a watercolor version of the bi pride flag tattooed on my forearm, so women know without having to talk to me, and to force myself into visibility and maybe eventually pride.

    I support you, I wish you luck and love and support and kindness- kindness especially you should pay to yourself.

  4. funnily enough this is reminding me of back when i genuinely thought of myself as a bisexual who wasn’t into men, just because of how uncomfortable it made me to connect the actual word ‘lesbian’ to “exclusively into women” – the definition of what i was. generally speaking, if you perfectly fit the definition of something, you are that thing. regardless of how you feel about it.

    also calling yourself a lesbian while still pursuing dudes reinforces the idea that gay women just haven’t met the right man yet. so like, please don’t.

    • Woah there, that’s a bit harsh. Firstly, she isn’t really pursuing men, she’s just fucking this one guy. Also the thing about reinforcing negative stereotypes, does that really apply to real life? Like, if I wrote a play with a lesbian who wears sensible shoes I’d be reinforcing a stereotype, but if I (a lesbian) wear sensible shoes in real life (I do) then I’m just wearing shoes. And following the same logic the letter writer isn’t fulfilling a stereotype, she’s just a lesbian who is fucking this one guy and that’s it.

      • if you’re fucking one guy and enjoying it, you’re not a lesbian. that’s really all there’s to it. kind of like how someone who “just” eats pork isn’t a vegetarian. plain meanings of words and stereotypes aren’t the same thing. the person who wrote the letter wasn’t asking if she’s still a lesbian even though she has long hair and wears high heels – that would have been a question about stereotypes. she was asking if she was a bisexual – a clearly defined thing. and the very simple answer is yes.

        it applies to life since a) literally every lesbian i know has been hit on by men even after telling them they’re lesbians, b) bi erasure is good for who exactly?

        • Here’s the thing about men behaving badly: that’s men’s fault.

          I don’t want to be harsh when I say this at all, because I know that we’re all coming from a place of, in many different ways, being on the wrong side of male gaze and heteronormativity and all of it. Which is painful.

          But time and time again, women are asked or demanded to modify our actions to ‘prevent’ men from behaving badly towards us.

          And here’s the thing about men hitting on women who don’t want to be hit on: it is an almost-universal experience of being a woman.

          If you’re gay and utterly uninterested in men? Some men will hit on you anyway, because they don’t respect women.

          If you’re bi and uninterested in dating men right now? Some men will hit on your anyway, because they don’t respect women.

          If you’re bi or straight and uninterested in that man for any reason other than being visibly ‘taken’ by another, present man? Some men will hit on you anyway, because they don’t respect women.

          The idea that women are to blame for the actions of men who don’t respect us is such a tempting one to believe. It leaves us feeling as if we have some modicum of control over the situation. If we just all behave in this particular way, then maybe those men will leave us the hell alone!

          But they won’t. Because their actions aren’t our fault. They do what they do, because they don’t respect women.

          The idea that gay women just haven’t met the right man yet? That’s not women’s fault. That is and always will be entirely the fault of men who don’t respect women.

          • DING DING DING

            Even if literally 100% of self-identified lesbians had never ever slept with a man, men would still try to hit on lesbians, because men are taught by the heteropatriarchy that they have the right to women’s bodies. Not because of the behaviour of women.

    • I’m totally with you! Labels can just be words that describe what you are, they don’t have to run your life. Also, like, bi girls are awesome and wonderful, people who call themselves lesbians while sleeping with men are the people I avoid.

        • I just don’t think that the letter writer needs to worry about other people’s definitions of labels if those labels are meaningful to her still. I think it’s fine to use a label that makes sense to you that doesn’t make sense to someone else and I get that not everyone agrees with me on this point, but we’ll just have to accept that we have different opinions.

  5. <3 <3 <3

    I remember a lesbian colleague of mine being shocked when I told her that at one point I thought I was a lesbian. Like I think she thought I was just straight straight straight a little bit bi now dating a man so back to straight. Women and trans and non binary people are everything! I hang out on this website all the time because I want to centre the experiences of, and read about and learn from, people who aren't cis men! I think it's a hard balance to strike but Autostraddle really is inclusive of bisexuals without giving any additional platforms to cis men cos they already have the rest of the world!

    Rachel this is wonderful, and question person I feel you, you can feel like you failed and that you're wrong and you're letting people down. But we're a community! We're here, and we're straddling these worlds (right?) and it's all gonna be OK.

  6. I can relate to this so much! From the age of 14 to about 25 I identified as a lesbian, could never imagine myself with a man. Then one day I fell for this really great guy, it wasn’t so much a physical attraction as it was an emotional attraction. I decided to follow my heart and now I’m engaged to that same guy. Though since then I have never had any interest in other men.

    I still do feel like I betrayed the lesbian community and I’m learning to cope with that. I also regret never being with a woman. I was deep in the closet as a teenager and never dated anyone.

    My fiancé is very supportive and has even been encouraging me to come out. He jokes that I talk about women more than him, which I totally do. And the amount of lesbian movies/tv shows I’ve made him watch…

  7. As always, I’d just like to acknowledge AS for doing a wonderful job allowing for and reflecting the complexity of the human experience, in a medium (the internet) that so often fails spectacularly at doing so.

  8. Rachel has done a masterful job here of gently questioning how to think about the definitions of the identity terms we use, without adding to the questioner’s guilt around her confusion, dictating what she should do, or invalidating her right to define her own identity.

    This kind of approach goes a whole lot further to helping this kind of conversation reach a productive conclusion than the kind of forceful gatekeeping we often see. Kudos to AS for creating a space where we can have these nuanced conversations, hopefully with continued mutual respect in the comments section.

  9. This is so sad. I really feel for this person. I also feel like this maybe got a little bit too political instead of starting from a place of empathy. I guess the empathy came in at the end, but still. I really don’t like the implication that if the question-asker is attracted to more than one gender she’s bi whether she likes it or not.

    Anon, if you’re reading this, you don’t have to identify any kind of way you don’t want to. And yeah, maybe it would be good to stop actively calling yourself a lesbian because that perpetuates harmful stereotypes, but you don’t have to jump straight to another label that you don’t feel like fits you. It is also okay to grieve the loss of that identity and not feel fully ready to let it go. I don’t think you have to come out again. If people ask, don’t lie about being attracted to this one guy, but if they ask if you’re bi now, you can say you don’t know. It’s okay not to know. I’m sorry that this situation is causing you so much turmoil, and I hope things improve for you soon.

  10. Rachel, this is so wonderful.

    I think something that is helpful, that you really get into in your response, but I just want to reiterate for the OP, is to know/hear/remember that *so many* other queer women, regardless of how they identify, don’t have it all figured out either. Plus, no identity is permanently binding — if the word stops feeling right, you can change it! One of the wisest things ever said about that choosing-a-label anxiety, imo, came from Pretty Little Liars, of all places. Remember when Hanna told Emily, “You were Emily dating Ben, and now you’re Emily dating Maya. You’re not signing a contract”? I think about that all the time. OP, you’re not signing a contract!

    Serious question for commenters though: for a while now I’ve been thinking of myself as bi (though I mostly say “queer”), because I’m attracted to women and non-binary people (and like 6 men, all of them fictional). Like, isn’t that “my gender” (women) and “other gender(s)” (nb people)? Am I doing this wrong? Is this a way that anyone else identifies?

  11. I really appreciated this. I’m on the other end, currently identifying as bisexual but really beginning to think I have no interest in men at all and that lesbian is a better fit. And I worry about this scenario, that what if the second I decide I’m a lesbian is the second I fall for a man. But this helped…lots of wlw change labels, it’s not the end of the world even if I get it wrong

  12. I’ve identified as a lesbian ever since I was 15 years old. Then almost 10 years later I had this huge crush on this guy. I ended up hooking up with him for a couple months. Now I’m in a committed relationship with a woman and I feel like I’m pansexual. I’m attracted to androgynous people tho and leaning a little bit more towards women. I still say I’m a lesbian because how I truly feel can evolve and change as I do with time. And I’m way too lazy to explain and do a coming out everytime I’m attracted to someone different lol That may change too… Anyways the point there is no rules to being a lesbian… If you identify as one, you are one. And if that changes along the way, who the fuck cares. You do you

  13. This comment is going to be a theoretical discussion of the meanings and limitations of language in describing sexual and romantic attraction with a focus on how I use words to work around not having accurate words to describe my sexuality.

    I sometimes think of my sexual attraction as a giant list of all the adult humans in the world ranked according to how attractive I find them with a big cut-off somewhere in the middle that divides “people who, if they asked me, I would go out on a date with” and “people who, if they asked me, I would not go on a date with.” This is totally reductive but it’s still a useful model. My problem is that neither of the two groups of people who fall above and below that cut-off consist of people of only one gender, or even one gender plus non-binary people, but they *almost* do. I am attracted to a lot of women, not all women, but probably a majority of the women in the world. I am attracted to very, very few men, probably less than 99.9% of the male population, yet, there are men I’ve known who if they’d asked me out, I would have said yes. (I don’t think there’s anyone currently in that category, but that could easily change tomorrow.) So, do I call myself a lesbian? For all practical purposes, I kind of am. If I ever have a long-term relationship someday (I would really like to!), the statistics say that it will probably be with a woman, because even though there are a lot more men attracted to women than women attracted to women, the tilt of my attractions to women is so many more orders of magnitude more than that to men that it overwhelms the population frequency differences. That said, those men and non-binary people do exist, and I wouldn’t refuse to date someone just to pass some arbitrary purity test for identifying as a lesbian.

    Describing myself as “bisexual” touches on another can of worms, which is that these words all have social purposes that extend beyond both identity and sexual attraction. The problem with “bisexual” for me is that the prototype of a bisexual woman is someone who’s attracted to a lot of men, like maybe fifty-fifty men-women, which is not remotely descriptive of me. What’s worse though is that a lot of het-cis guys interpret “bisexual” as “available,” when I am not in fact interested in them., and the kind of guy who’s most likely to interpret “bisexual” as “available” is the exact kind of guy who I would never want to date. While some het-cis guys will ignore it even if I describe myself as a lesbian, there are definitely some het-cis guys who are clueful enough to realize they would be barking up the wrong tree, sparing me a lot of awkward conversations wherein I have to get across extremely clearly that no, I am not interested. “Lesbian” is useful to me in ways that “bisexual” is not. Meanwhile, both “lesbian” and “bisexual” exclude the non-binary people I am also attracted to, and I would like to communicate to them that yes I might be interested. And I haven’t even touched on how being trans adds another layer of complication to all the signaling and identification woes I already have.

    What do I actually do? When dealing with het-cis people, I sometimes fall back onto “lesbian” because so far I’ve never had to deal with being attracted to a man in a non-theoretical sense and it gets my point across a lot more clearly than any other word. With non-het-cis people, I’m more liable to use “queer” because there’s no actual single word for describing that mess of attractions I went over in my first paragraph and queer is at least ambiguous enough so that no one will be shocked if I end up dating a nonbinary person or even a man, and it’s harder to accuse me of being a bad lesbian when I never claimed to be one in the first place. This makes me guilty of using language tactically, but I’m willing to live with that. “Pansexual” and “bisexual” I don’t really use because I think they express a lot more interest in men than I actually have to both het-cis and non-het-cis audiences. “Polysexual” at least captures that most of the people I’m attracted to are women or non-binary, but almost no one knows what it means. What am I “really?” That question doesn’t have an answer.

    I don’t know if you’re reading the comments, question-asker, but my only advice is that maybe there isn’t a word to describe you, and that you don’t have to pick one and only one. If someone asks what your sexual orientation is, maybe the only way you can do it is with an essay like the one I just wrote. Words are just words, tools for communication and understanding, they aren’t Truth.

    • Calling yourself “bisexual” doesn’t exclude non-binary people. Frankly neither does calling yourself a “lesbian.” People of all sexualities can be attracted to non-binary people. We’re not a strictly defined third gender category that only the ~wokest~ of labels can be attracted to. We’re outside of that system entirely.

      • I’ve spoken to nonbinary people who did feel excluded by “bisexual.” I don’t think anyone has specifically told me how they feel about “lesbian” outside you. I certainly don’t want to make nonbinary people feel excluded.

  14. What incredible advice, Rachel….and this part in particular:

    “What is unique, I think, is that many people — both bisexual and not — believe that navigating a dynamic with men is defining and fundamental to the experience and identity of bisexual women when they do not believe this in the same way about other groups.”

    Preach.

  15. I identify as lesbian. A couple of years ago, I hooked up and slept with a male friend that I’ve known since 10+ years. He lives far away, so we only see each other about once a year, but we’ve slept with each other a couple of times since then.

    I’m married to a woman (in an open marriage where we both maintain other relationships), I’m still attracted to women and not attracted to men as a rule and what I have with this guy is more of an exception than anything else. I haven’t felt the need to change my “label”.

    It has however been a great adventure in discovering the flows and fluidity of my sexuality. (And, you know, great sex.) And the journey continues, maybe someday I will start identifying as queer or bi, but it is not this day, and that’s ok.

    My advice to the person asking the question is to explore this thing with this guy in your own time. Sexuality is a glibbety-globbety fluid space-flower, and you do you! You don’t have to change how you identify right now, and you certainly don’t have to change what you call yourself to others before you’re ready. Have fun with your friend-with-benefits, keep an open mind and the rest will come to you!

    • Thank you.

      I’ve fucked guys on about a dozen occasions since I came out over 30 years ago. But I’ve had sex with women hundreds of times, and I’ve had multiple relationships, exclusively with women. Where this differs from “late bloomers” in terms of my sexuality is that I would not entirely rule out the possibility of shagging a guy in the future – it is really really really UNLIKELY, but if I was drunk, horny and lonely, it could happen.

      Most of my partners have been bi to varying degrees, but I don’t feel the label applies to myself. I’ve had sex with men because I was horny, but not so much because I was “attracted” to them. (I don’t think women are attracted to their sex toys, when they use them?) By calling myself bisexual, I feel I would be saying that I’d be open to relationships with men, and I’m really not.

      I do however mostly identify as queer, perhaps slightly because of that 1.5% straight streak, but mainly because I identify with much of what that label is about in the broader sense.

      So yeah, I didn’t much like the tone of this advice, particularly the part where it’s implied one fuck with a man is sufficient to undermine your entire identity.

      My own advice would be that if this “hook-up” turns out to be an ongoing thing and/or you develop romantic feelings for the dude, that’s the time to start questioning your labels.

  16. Thanks, Rachel.

    I’m a butch queer woman, happily long-term married to a man, and AS is the only place on the whole internet I feel okay about my identity/relationship. Being anywhere in the middle of the spectrum is HARD.

    • Hey wow, me too! When I am with my fella, we get read as straight (unless people think he is my uncle or dad, which…ugh). When I am not with him, I’m pretty sure I get read as gay. The deep voice, cargo shorts, and flannel probably don’t help this situation any. But happy murridges, yaaaaay!

  17. This is just lovely – Rachel’s answer and the discussion.

    I want to add in Robyn Och’s definition of bisexuality – which I like because it’s broad enough to allow for lots of lived experiences and specific enough to still mean something.

    I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.

    https://robynochs.com/quotes/

  18. Labels can be a great thing to fall back on when you feel like you’re falling.
    They can inspire a sense of identity, of community, of pride, even.
    However, as one grows, as life twists and turns and winds, one outgrows the borders of labels, the edges become frayed at first, and then disintegrate entirely.
    Love, life, desire and being, what grand concepts, what epic things, that are supposed to be harnessed by mere words?
    How many words would you like to stamp upon me, how many and which are supposed to encompass the entirety of myself?
    All of them? None? An everchanging plethora of color and things?
    I keep labels in a pocket.
    To give to other people to refer me by.
    Sometimes, I search for them in the dark, hands reaching and fingers brushing the edges, because I too, feel, that I’m falling and that I would like to fit somewhere like a tidy puzzle piece.
    But then, Life does not work that way.
    It’s just people, and aching loneliness, and surprising desire, and sudden love, a great river of winding affections, full of fairies and sprites, of warriors and lovers.
    We discuss labels sometimes with anger and with bruising bitterness, hurts we pass on down to other generations because we have been wronged by people wearing them for sport or show, but this, then is never about the emotion or name of the thing, but about the pain behind it.
    The attempt to draw lines amongst us, in thick ink, only separates us further in the end.
    And the world is too lonely a place for further separation.

  19. Misc other thoughts on this – coming out / being out is a very personal choice and it’s also a political act / civic duty (duty isn’t exactly the right word here but it’s the best I can come up with right now – I’m thinking of Harvey Milk, I’m thinking of all the organizers and advocates that came before us who used coming out to fight for our rights).

    So no wonder this is hard. No wonder the LW is worried about betraying everyone. It’s a lot.

  20. It seems like there are 2 problems here; 1) the issue of politicized sexual identity and people feeling guilty over legitimate personal desires that are no one else’s business to police and 2) confusion over popular understandings of these definitions. These Anne Heche situations do beg certain questions about whether you want to say you’re attracted to a gender as a whole when you only like one person of that gender.

    Bisexual may not be an identity that makes sense if you’re attracted to women in general and just Kyle, by himself. If you still don’t find yourself able to think about sexy men in the same way you think about women, maybe the label just won’t resonate.

    Maybe lesbian won’t make sense as a descriptor because lesbian is popularly understood to mean ‘only dates women’ and it will be confusing when you introduce a man to people as your partner.

    Why not use the term ‘queer’ to avoid making a loaded, sharp decision between two labels that may not fully fit? (Is this out of style now? How did I get so old?)

    We need to get over the idea that sexual attraction to men is incompatible with living a feminist/queer life. It’s such a ridiculous, unfair, and harmful assumption. Our attractions are not subject to community approval and our partners do not define our lives. For the love of kale, go enjoy yourself with this lovely man and make him listen to Tegan and Sara on a loop.

  21. I identify very strongly as someone who is not-straight, as my attractions to women and nonbinary people have been life-changing and -defining. I also identify very strongly as femme, specifically a butch-loving femme and know/understand myself as part of that particular queer history.

    My primary partners’ gender identities are often fluid (I primarily date people under the vast transmasculine umbrella) which is additionally difficult, because fem/me/feminine women are often only seen and believed to be queer based on who their partners are. My longest, deepest adult relationships have been with butch-aligned people that have variously used she, they, and he pronouns. Some have been visibly gender-nonconforming and some have ‘passed’ as men.

    I would never date or have sex with a man again. Even the people I’ve dated who pass as men do not identify as men, and I would not be interested in someone who does. Although this line probably seems ridiculous to a lot of people, it is a real one for me.

    According to Robyn Ochs’ definition I am bisexual. But her definition, although sort of being adopted generally, doesn’t reflect how most of the world, and especially men, view “bisexual.” My life and heart are so queer-aligned that “lesbian” or “gay” feels closer to true than bisexual.

    I have no right answer and probably never will, and I will always have to come out endlessly and fight to be taken seriously as “someone who is heavily not-straight and centers queer experiences, media, sex, and people.”

    Anyway, solidarity dear question-writer, and know that one of my exes identifies as a lesbian but still occasionally sleeps with men. And I think of her as a lesbian all the same.

  22. As a bixsexual nonbinary person, I would like to point out to the writer that, as they’ve already dated nonbinary people (who most likely do not identify as women but as, you know, nonbinary), they’re already identifying as a lesbian despite not exclusively dating/hooking up with women-identified people. The community didn’t come crashing down around you, dear writer, and won’t if you continue to identify as a lesbian despite being interested in this one man.

    Of course, there are going to be gatekeepers who want to impose their strict views of the “right” and “wrong” way to identify. Forget those people. I’ve always been on the mindset that your identity is what you identify as. If you identify as a lesbian, a lesbian with an exception, queer, bisexual, whatever–that’s up to you and what you’re comfortable with. Your identity is between you and maybe the people you romantically involve yourself in.

  23. Hi
    Sorry I couldn’t find the right place to ask my question directly. ?
    So that’s why Im commenting here. Could someone tell me where to ask my question to get answers like this?

  24. I have such a problem with myself even bigger.
    I am a woman and I am 30.
    I am leaving where u can not say u r lesbian or bio or anything else but straight. We grow up there like there is no such a thing that u can be attracted to same sex and it is known as a disease.
    My first crush was a girl when I was 14, but I didn’t know its a big deal and I can really feel that way. In my fantasy I always wanted to have a girl friend. I didn’t have any boyfriend till my 18th. I even didn’t have any crush. Suddenly I saw a very nice boy and we started our relationship then and its still on. We had some on and off time and every time it was kind of my fault. He is so sweet and we don’t have any serious problem.
    The thing is despit Im having good time with him, I still don’t feel right.
    I haven’t had any other crush on women since my first time. But I guess its because I am in a commitment relationship.
    Now day by day this feeling that I want to be with women. On the other hand I still love my boyfriend and more importantly I don’t wanna lose him since he really is my best friend.
    Its so confusing… I don’t know what to do…
    Am I a lesbian or biosexual?
    If so what should I do…

  25. I tell some people I am technically bisexual (Because I am capable of feeling attraction to men) but practically lesbian (because I choose to only consider women as potential sexual or dating partners). In front of men, I might say I am gay because I do not want them to think there is any chance I will go out with them. I also came out to my mom as gay because I did not want her to hold out any hope that I might ever marry a man. I guess if that ever changes, I’ll change how I identify. The way I see it, my choices define me more than my feelings.

  26. I wrestled deeply with this question for the last few years. I’m a trans woman who was married to a cis woman when I made transition happen (though she and I had not met when I took the first steps of transition.) I had a fear of men and for many years “lesbian” was important to me.

    In time things shifted for me. I came to be dyke (yes, on a bike) as I went through divorce (which was for reasons unrelated to transition) and realized my interest was more than just women. Eventually I found myself moving toward a triad with one of my best friends and her husband. I modified my identity to bi-dyke. For me this is even more important because I feel strongly that I don’t have a right to deny my boyfriend’s gender.

    I’m still on the bike, though. I ride a Ninja 1000 and don’t have a car.

  27. I think another aspect of this is that it can take a while for your brain to wrap it mind around changing how you identify. I considered myself a lesbian (though I described myself as queer) until I met my (male) partner and even though conceptually I knew I wasn’t a lesbian it took me a few years before I stopped strongly identifying with the word lesbian in a personal way (ie a “this word describes me” kind of way) rather than in the “those are my people” kind of way that I now identify with the word. So I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t be too hard on yourself – changing identities can be a big mental shift (although it isn’t always).

    • I get you. It’s been three years since I met my partner and I still feel internally like a lesbian. I know that’s wrong and I’d never label myself that way externally. I’m starting to understand that I don’t necessarily need to label myself. I’m extremely attracted to women and occasionally attracted to men. That’s enough for me.

  28. I’m extremely into how respectful and comfortable with nuance and uncertainty this comment thread is. I can’t give much advice about working out an identity because I’m one of those people who have been very set in their gay ways since the onset of puberty and sexual attraction.

    Something that has been a little frustrating for me has been the dilution of the word gay. It used to be my preferred word because the word “lesbian” felt sonically unpleasant (hello, internalized homophobia!). As “gay” has increasingly come to be synonymous with “LGB”, I’ve moved toward using the word lesbian more and more. I wasn’t terribly protective or precious over the word gay – after all, wasn’t it easier to say “gay pride parade” than spell out whatever acronym was currently en vogue? And hadn’t I hooked up with bi girls in institutions that we both called “gay bars”? (I do feel weird though when I scroll through someone’s insta and see a post captioned “I love my boyfriend so much” right next to another captioned “I’m so gay”, but it’s not like I see that everyday and it’s easy to just not follow someone on social media)

    But I can’t help but feel a little more protective of the word lesbian. If lesbian goes the way of gay, what word do I next transition to using to communicate my reality that has not changed? Homosexual? Exclusively same sex attracted? So much of fighting to get to be a lesbian in my life has hinged more on the “no men” half of the definition than the “yes women” half. When I told my homophobic family I was a lesbian, the first words out of my mother’s mouth were to ask hopefully if actually I was bisexual, even a little bit. No. No men. And damn it, I want a word for that.

  29. As someone who is queer, and that hasn’t always been about cis women but rarely about cis men, I love how thoughtful and rich and thought-provoking this was. When I was first coming out I came out as, “bisexual but I hate that word” and it just never felt right to me even after spending a lot of time fighting with myself about “but that’s what you are!” I think I’ve figured it out and queer is what I am and there are a lot of specific reasons why bisexual felt like the wrong word – it felt centered around the sexual, around the binary, people’s assumptions that you liked men and women equally…But I think that we have so much biphobia, sometimes among queers it’s like a different version of homophobia in reverse, of losing something that makes us us and that we fought for, and we tend to counter that biphobia so superficially. I so appreciate this naming and digging into the fears around that and the depth of what it means to be queer/not queer, lesbian/vs bi – so much bigger than who you’re attracted to or who you sleep with. And it’s so interesting because when we start out, that’s all we have to go by to define ourselves…and then as we go on we add layers.

  30. Hi I think I’m becoming a bisexual man. I feel like I’m attracted to men and women. Yes I have been with a few men before. I do find women attractive. But I never had me a woman before. If she asked about what I’m attracted to. I would feel she might reject me for telling her. Rejection hurts me if I tell a woman if I’m Bisexual man. I seem more into men rather than women but find women attractive. I guess I’m confused on what I like. You my reply if you would like.

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