my sexuality, your label

Boys who like girls who like girls who like boys who like… Dorothy Black thinks it’s time we dropped some labels

I remember once, someone saying to me: ‘Your boyfriend sounds gay.’  And my response was, ‘Well, yes. Yes I think he might be a little bit.’

But then, I think when it comes to sexuality, ‘straights’ are all a little bit ‘gay’ and ‘gays’ all a little bit ‘straight’.

We’re just on one big sliding scale of ‘bi’.

So a gay man might find himself attracted to breasts; a straight woman may fantasise about other women; a straight man might enjoy watching penises and cum shots in porn; and a gay woman might enjoy kissing a man for the tactile pleasure of it.

Let me clarify before I continue.

I’m talking about sex here. Not meeting the partner that’s going to want to make you plan a honeymoon in Mauritius. What shapes and informs the sexual hotspots of our animal brains is often very different to what we perceive as partner/house/child/settle-down material — gay, straight, transgender, bi… whatever your label is.

The trick is to keep the two as aligned as possible.

For myself, my first experiments with sexuality were with Monique. We were both nine or ten at the time and were fast friends, intrepid explorers of the houses that were popping up in the new neighbourhood – and intrepid explorers of our own and each other’s bodies.

I learnt a lot, not least of which was the defining of my sexual label: straight.

You see, my dad walked in on a play fight Monique and I were having. He deemed the touching inappropriate but threatened a beating not because I was toying with sex, but because I was toying with it with a girl.

In the space of a few minutes, it became very clear that — what with me being a girl myself — girls were verboten and, frankly, a disgraceful and shameful choice for ‘that sort of thing’.

It was only as an adult that I was only able to form my own opinion about my attraction to women and men. Fortunately for me, it never presented itself as an inner conflict. I find women sexually attractive, but I find men more so and, on the whole, prefer the penis/hairy chest thing.

The two concepts are not mutually exclusive for me.

But, the fact is, a lot of people are deeply conflicted by what their sexuality ‘is’. Generally those who believe that there is nothing between the narrow labels of ‘straight’ and ‘gay’. That it is an either/or thing. And that to be ‘normal’ they should pick a side.

Worse, they choose the label ‘straight’ because it is the closest they can come to their inherited conscience of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’. And then they struggle with a lifetime of guilt and secrecy – either for their fantasies or ‘actual’ homosexuality (and by that I mean moving beyond sexual gratification to embracing a same-sex relationship) – for fear that their partners, God, the tooth fairy or greater society will shun them.

Oddly, straight men in particular have a problem with the matter of judgement.

A simple test. Ask your straight girl friends if they’ve kissed or slept with another girl. Many will probably say yes, and think it’s a hoot. Now ask them if they would think it half as liberated and clever if their straight boyfriends had kissed or slept with another man. Now swop the sexes and ask straight men the same question.

Double standards in this patriarchal, label-based world neh?

Not that many straight men would admit to being attracted to other men. That, after all, would be ‘gay’ and would mean they must wear pink feather boas and listen to Streisand. Right?

Labelling has done its business in helping us define and understand ourselves. It plays a vital role in helping young children come to terms with and understand their ‘otherness’ and gives people a collective to turn to when the majority of straight society scorns or hurts them.

Ironically, it’s those labels creating the otherness.

So maybe a solution to that would be to start deleting society’s labels in our heads about what our sexuality is and what it should be. That way we all get to be happier, less conflicted, sexier people. At least in our own bedrooms. And that can’t be a bad thing ever.

Do you think sexuality is black and white or do you agree with Dorothy that we’re all a little in-between?

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