Q: How do I know if I’m straight, bisexual or gay?
For most of my life, I assumed I was straight. Then I started to realize the way I looked at other girls wasn’t the same way that my other female friends did and realized I might be bi. I started hooking up with and dating women, soon met my girlfriend and pretty quickly found myself in the best relationship of my life. So, I figured I must actually be a lesbian.
I came out to my family and they were supportive, which was nice. Years later, I’m not so sure anymore. I still find myself attracted to men and occasionally think I might miss sex with them. Is there a way to measure yourself on the Kinsey scale and determine the right label?
A: What a whirlwind. Frankly, it sounds like you’re killing it, so kudos to you, your girlfriend and your supportive family.
Perhaps the most important question is what the purpose of the label is to you. What do you want it to do? Is it important that it be a settled issue or are you OK with periodic updates?
A label is shorthand that helps you find your people and conveniently convey facets of your identity. Shared language makes it easier to locate each other and when it comes to LGBTQ identities, sometimes makes it clear who is and is not safe.
The downside of labels is that they strip away nuance and can make us feel limited by the expectations and stereotypes associated with the words. When it comes to sexuality – which very often changes over a lifetime – a label can even be a hindrance to growth.
“We are (hopefully) always growing and changing as people, and as we get the opportunity to do more data collection (*insert squeaking bed noises*), we find out what we like and don’t.”
I asked a few people how they came to their current labels and heard some interesting stories. Here is a sampling:
“I like queer as an umbrella. It sounds cool and for me it creates solidarity amongst me, my fellow b’s and the l’s the g’s and the t’s. I also use bisexual because it is its own sexuality. I’m not gay. I’m not straight.” – Jessica
“When I first came out, I decided it was safer to say I was a lesbian than to be honest about being bisexual. It was 1998 and the biphobia was deep at the time! After far too many really sad years of that not really working out, I finally stopped caring what other people thought and proudly came out again as pansexual.“ – Feenyx
“I still don’t fucking know. But now I don’t feel like I have to. I use gay and queer because they’re umbrella enough to cover, well, anything I’d count myself as.” – Faust
“Through middle school and high school [I] had moments where I was unsure of where I might fall on the spectrum…But after having conversations with close friends and even experimenting, (I hate the word experimenting but my brain cannot currently give me a better word) realized that I rest more on the side of being a heterosexual.” – Jeff
“I didn’t realize I was bi until I figured out I was also asexual. And that one didn’t click for me until I immersed myself in sex-positive narratives and really understood the meaning of pleasure and ENTHUSIASTIC consent. I fluctuate a lot under the umbrellas of these identities (sometimes on a daily basis) and carry around plenty of imposter syndrome about both, so I would often just use queer as a label in spaces where I don’t feel safe or able to express nuances. I also like using queer to remind myself that sexuality is fluid and I don’t have to have all the answers all the time.” – Jenny
Clearly, you’re far from alone in having a fun time navigating which team’s flag to fly, and not the only person who shifts over time.
“Our behaviors are dramatically impacted by our circumstances: Whether you live in a place that is accepting of sexual diversity and expression, if you are socially free to date whomever you please, and even if you have the free time to get in all the fucking that you want.”
Our orientations are a mix of genetic predisposition and life experience. We are (hopefully) always growing and changing as people, and as we get the opportunity to do more data collection (*insert squeaking bed noises*), we find out what we like and don’t.
On top of that, our behaviors are dramatically impacted by our circumstances: Whether you live in a place that is accepting of sexual diversity and expression, if you are socially free to date whomever you please, and even if you have the free time to get in all the fucking that you want.
You mention the Kinsey scale, which was how biologist Alfred Kinsey charted survey data about people’s sexual behavior – or at least the gender of their partners. But looking over one’s past loves and hookups is a limited lens. There are very few people who have had sex with every single person they ever found attractive, and plenty of people who have had sex with partners that they were only – meh – about. Hardly anyone would contend that you can’t call yourself heterosexual unless you’re currently sexually active with a person of a different gender, but sometimes people think lesbian, gay and bisexual people have to pass some kind of threshold to get to self-identify.
Behavior is only one facet of how you can choose to identify yourself, sexually. You can pick a label that captures the maximum scope of your interests or decide on one that operates as a sorting device to keep away the people you’re definitely not interested in. I suggest you go with literally whatever feels right and good to you.
Have a question for Timaree? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.