Can I Consider Myself Queer If I Have Only Ever Been With Men?
When it comes to affairs of the heart, we are all beginners. Some of us, however, at least speak with authority. Introducing Shon Faye, author of The Transgender Issue (2021) and the forthcoming Love in Exile (2025), whose advice caught our eye. Contact her at [email protected] for your own chance at enlightenment.
I am a cis woman in my early 30s who identifies as bisexual and queer. I have only ever been in sexual relationships with cis men and it makes me feel insecure in my identity. I am currently in a relationship and don’t plan on splitting from this person. Can I ever truly consider myself queer if I have only ever been with men?
Who am I?
Dear Who Are You,
Your angst about the discrepancy between your identity and your experience is one I often hear in my own social circles these days. It’s hardly surprising, as ever larger numbers of young people identify themselves as LGBTQ+, which suggests we are indeed moving toward a queerer society. Like you, though, I am in my early 30s and, for this tired old millennial, the move to a more fluid, more open, and less rigidly categorized sexual era has given me whiplash. When I had the strength to confirm suspicions I liked boys as a teenager, in the late 2000s, I was unequivocally categorized as gay (until I transitioned), despite the fact I sometimes felt (and acted upon) attraction to girls—a spontaneity to my sexual behavior that slowly slipped away as I got into my 20s and there was social pressure to “pick a side.” Bi wasn’t an option people regarded seriously, queer was still a slur; I was 23 before I heard anyone assert that gender wasn’t binary. People our age didn’t arrive at adulthood with the conceptual tools for understanding complex sexual and gender identities that are now readily available to people 10 or 20 years younger than us. It’s only natural that some of us just still feel straitjacketed (or “straight-jacketed,” if you will) by the damaging caricatures of sexuality we grew up with: You’re either one or the other; bi men are “really” gay; bi women are straight attention seekers and always end up with men, etc. If these bygone ideas are troubling you, I get it.
You are queer. You wouldn’t be writing to me about it if you weren’t preoccupied with the sense that part of you is suppressed or hidden when people presume you’re straight because of your relationship. It sounds to me as though you may be lonely. Loneliness isn’t about the number of people around you, it’s about a feeling of alienation—being surrounded by people isn’t much good if none of those people see and understand you on a deeper level so you can feel a real communion with them. We need people to bear witness to our lives in their fullness. So the first thing I would suggest you do is to let in the light and start talking to people about it. Your partner is the obvious start: Does he know about your identity and how you feel? Perhaps you’re worried about discussing your sexuality with him because he may interpret it as a slight or criticism that he’s not enough for you. I think bringing it up in a relaxed way, when you’re both doing something nice and fun together as a couple, is wise so it doesn’t feel like a “sit down” talk. Say something like: “Because I’m so committed to our relationship, I’m also struggling a bit with how society assumes I’m straight, and I would like to create more space in my life where I can also talk about being bi without judgement.” A word of warning: If your partner shames you for being bi, denies you’re queer, or says you cannot discuss it in front of him, that’s a red flag for the relationship. You can’t share your life with someone—of any gender—who refuses to see you.
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