When I am asked, I simply say that I don’t feel the need to identify with one.
Girls are “beautiful” and boys are “handsome.” It was a simple enough rule to most, but to my 7-year-old logic, it seemed a rather silly convention. My failure to understand such distinctions was largely because I couldn’t distinguish what was so different about the attractiveness of my male and female friends.
Perhaps it was because at that age, both sexes are rather androgynous, and even today, I tend to go for the tomboy types. It might also be because at this age, we have yet to become fully indoctrinated by the complexities of gender roles and male and female behavior.
During the turbulent stage of adolescence, more complicated emotions, coupled by the physiological responses of puberty, began to stir in me. Not only did my thoughts make little distinction between the genders, my hormones didn’t either. I developed crushes on, and felt age-appropriate forms of romantic love for both my female and male friends. The sensations in both cases were exactly identical. There were romantic mental ruminations of that person, the longing to tell them how I felt, and of course, the “butterflies.”
But I was naïve. I was completely “out of the loop.” That is to say, I assumed that everyone was attracted to both sexes in very much the same way. It was as if I had been learning the rules to a game that I had never played, completely oblivious to the fact that everyone else was learning a different set of rules.
The first time I recognized that most people were almost exclusively attracted to one gender was in my early teenage years when I first heard the term “fag.” I didn’t know the meaning of the word, but I had to learn quickly since it was a nickname that had been assigned to me by most of my junior high school. Perhaps it was because I didn’t fit the normal boy caricature that was apparently supposed to come naturally by birth right. I didn’t like sports. I didn’t participate in fights.
But perhaps my greatest sin was that I was completely unconscious of any romantic advances made on me by the girls in the school. In hindsight, there were quite a few. Ironically, it was a girl who had been hurt by my misconstrued “rejection” that first assigned me my new derogatory title. She took my lack of response as a rejection, and endearing me with the label of “fag” seemed preferable to publicly accepting the implications of what a rejection might mean. Although I was oblivious to her attempts at flirting, she was oblivious to the fact that I was actually hopelessly attracted to her; but also too shy to do much about it. A boy, it seems, who doesn’t have the courage to look a girl in the eye when she smiles at him, does not deserve the badge of camaraderie among his male peers.
But I was a quick learner. As I grew, I picked up tricks along the way about how to play the game, how I was supposed to act around boys, and how I was supposed to act around girls. I never bothered dating in high school. Instead, I did things that I could understand. I played in a band, hung out with the guys, and got into trouble. By this point, I realized that there was something different between my attraction for males and my attraction for females. With males, it seemed almost purely physical coupled with an excitement that came with knowing it was taboo. But as far as a relationships went, girls were my thing.
As I became an adult, I lost almost all attraction to those of the same sex. A point must be made that it was never a conscious decision. This point must be emphasized utmost because there are certainly those of the religious fundamentalist mindset who would use my story as an example of success, and proof that our sexual preference may be changed at will. (Frankly, if I had a choice I might have preferred things to have gone the other way.) I never had any social or moral reason to choose to be exclusively interested in women. The biological deck of cards simply fell in that direction.
Once I became interested in serious dating, I struggled with how to label my sexual orientation. At first, I chose “bisexual.” However, I quickly found that this label brought with it a set of baggage that I didn’t feel described me. I had even been accused by some guys of leading them on by using the term if I had no interest in pursuing a relationship with someone of the same sex. But calling myself completely straight also seemed somewhat disingenuous.
Eventually, I decided to rid myself of any gender preference label and just say “I live a straight lifestyle.” Yet, that only seemed to conjure images of a repressed homosexual who is forcing himself to be straight. Nothing could be further from the truth since I was far from repressed and certainly didn’t choose to be straight. Since nothing seemed to really fit me, I decided to ultimately do away with any label of sexual orientation. When I am asked, I simply say that I don’t feel the need to identify with one.
Several years later, this has never brought the slightest bit of inconvenience. I much prefer clubs that are typically thought of as “gay clubs” over any others. I like the music better and find the people to be overall more cordial. Although, I am very often hit on by guys at these clubs, I have never needed to pull out the “straight ID” as justification for my lack of mutual interest. It turns out, most people, gay or straight, same sex or opposite sex, are pretty good at getting the hint when you aren’t interested.
It seems that, when considering the many preferences and flat out deal breakers that each of us has in our romantic pursuits, sexual preference is the only one that we seem to feel the need to carry as a label. After all, I certainly am not interested in dating any woman. In fact, when it comes to “my type,” I’d say I’m actually quite picky. I think it would be safe to say that for most individuals, the percentage of people they would consider as potential dating partners is fairly small. There might be a certain body type or build, a certain hair color, weight, age, or lifestyle to which we are exclusively attracted. Yet we don’t label ourselves with those preferences. Many women are exclusively attracted to taller men. Nonetheless, I am sure these women never felt the need to label themselves as “tallguysexual” in order to ward off those of shorter stature. They don’t need a social “name badge” to justify their attraction.
In our era, while fighting to establish equal rights for those in same-sex relationships, there are certainly some very real advantages to identifying as “gay” and “bisexual.” These terms remind us that these are very real aspects of who someone is and not merely a lifestyle choice. They establish a sense of unity and pride among those who are all too often singled out and prosecuted. Perhaps we are not quite ready to let these terms go.
But it is my hope that eventually, the person (or people) you like will be as much of a non-issue as whether you only like tall people or short people, book worms or social extroverts, or any of the other qualities that determine with whom we will find happiness.
John Buchwald is currently an instructor of Anatomy and Physiology at a community college in Richmond, Virginia, as well as a massage therapist. He enjoys spending his free time reading and writing on issues of health, society, and the human experience.