"If you are not getting the hint after the lingering hug with back rub, no amount of 100 Hour Board answers are going to help you." - Rating Pending
Question #89597 posted on 05/08/2017 10:44 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board, particularly LGBTQ folks,

Is there any way, outside of actual experimentation, that I can figure out if I'm bisexual or not?

I'm active in the Church, and I'm a woman who is happily married to a man. I am exceedingly attracted to him, as I have been attracted to the men I've dated before him. I am not in any doubt about my attraction to males, but sometimes I think I'm into ladies as well. But I've never so much as held hands with a woman in a romantic way, and I don't want to (because of the LDS Church + my commitment to my husband). So how do I figure it out?

I guess in some ways, it doesn't really matter -- even if I woke up tomorrow fully convinced of my bisexuality, nothing would really change. I wouldn't feel different or bad. I've discussed these feelings, or potential feelings, with my husband as well, and he is very loving and supportive. I doubt it would substantially change our relationship at all. All the same, it's something I'm interested in knowing about myself. So is there anything I can do?

Of course, I am especially interested in the perspectives of LGBTQ writers. Sorry for asking so late in Alumni Week!

-B? Q?

A:

Dear B? Q?,

If you are having these questions, that puts you firmly in the Questioning category, as I imagine you have worked out, per your nym. As such, welcome to the community.

In the LGBTQ community, identity is a sacred value. One is treated as what they say they are. Nobody can tell you that you are or aren't bisexual, once things have settled. As I said above, you are already on the LGBTQ spectrum, and sometimes it just takes time to think and feel your way through things. Just like most people can know they are straight without having to have sex with someone of the opposite sex, most queer people know they are queer without having to have sex with someone of the same sex. There are some questions you can ask yourself to begin to parse things out: Are you attracted to women, or can you merely tell when women are attractive? If you were to imagine having a romantic relationship with a woman, what does that feel like? If you were to imagine kissing a woman, what does that feel like? As a younger teenager, did you ever have thoughts about your female friends that now, in retrospect, might have some additional meaning? (Example: I can remember wanting to kiss a good friend of mine when I was 12 and completely missing the fact that I wanted to kiss girls. Sometimes our brains are just that way.)

The most important way that you can parse out whether you are bisexual or not is to make gay and bisexual friends and compare notes on your thoughts and experiences. That should really help. And that, my friend, leads me to this answer's main event: a discussion about privilege and the HUGE amounts of it you have.

Having privilege doesn't make you a bad person, and it doesn't mean that this exercise is invalid or not valuable. It doesn't mean you don't have struggles. It just means that you perhaps don't see all the ways you have been blessed, so allow me to illuminate some for you, as gently as possible.

You want help determining whether you are bisexual for your own information, saying that "in some ways, it doesn't really matter." Again, we should all know ourselves as well as we can, and sexual preference is an important component of who we are. There isn't anything wrong with wanting to know yourself. Just because this journey does not have implications for your real-world life, however, does not mean that this doesn't matter. In the words of my girl Taystee, "Don't you triviatize, this [stuff] is serious." While I'm glad that this journey has not caused you to feel ashamed, that reality for you came at real cost to many, many people who sacrificed their relationships, dignity, and physical safety to bring compassion to discussions surrounding LGBTQ people. The fact is that you don't feel ashamed because LGBTQ people and activists have normalized your experience. You are in their debt. Don't blow this off.

Additionally, the fact that you are married to a man means that you have tons of straight privilege. The world treats you differently if it perceives you to be straight, even if you aren't. This can be a difficult thing for bisexual people in opposite-sex relationships to grapple with, but privilege isn't about facts all the time. Sometimes it is about perceptions. If you are perceived to be straight, you get a lot of passes that someone who is perceived to be queer doesn't get. Also, queer people in opposite-sex relationships also have the luxury of an escape from LGBTQ issues if they don't want to deal all the time. They can slip into and out of that world. People in same-sex relationships can't, because LGBTQ issues are everywhere in their everyday lives.

I identified as queer/bisexual for some years before coming out as gay last year. I dated women all through that time. I feel very qualified to tell you, then, that dating as a bisexual woman is hard. Men sexualize the fact that you are attracted to women to an uncomfortable extent. People assume that "bisexual" is equivalent to "nymphomaniac," "necessarily nonmonogamous," or "has group sex." People feel entitled to your sexual history. There are bait and switches to contend with. Straight and gay people both say you are confused or believe that there is only one legitimate way to be in relationships as a bisexual person. Most to the point, among lesbians, bisexual women have a reputation of being flaky opportunists who want to "experiment" without fully considering the consequences of their actions. Every lesbian in the world who has done any dating has been abruptly left for a man, has been told that their bisexual female partner misses "real" sex. There are a lot of lesbians who will straight up refuse to date bi women. When my girlfriend (a lesbian) told her friends about me and said I was bi, they groaned. It can be really hard for bisexual women who are primarily into women to get dates with most suitable women because of this. A lot of bisexual women in opposite-sex relationships unknowingly contribute to these stereotypes when they tell people they are bisexual and then minimize the struggles of women who date women. Do not be this bisexual woman.

You don't have to experience any of this to be bisexual. However, since you will likely never experience any of it, you need to take extra care to respect it. The fact that this is a casual thing for you means that you are standing on the backs of people who sacrificed for you. You coming to me for advice means that I have been through enough stuff to be able to give that advice. I have been through the early dates with chaste kisses where the girls cried afterward in shame. I have been through not being allowed to bring my partner to family member's homes. I have had so many calls from LGBTQ friends where I had to put them on hold to get the police on the phone because my friends were ready to kill themselves. I have been through having to call my girlfriend my "friend" to nieces and nephews. I have been through being called gay slurs and my girlfriend refusing to hold my hand because the situation didn't feel safe. I have been through partners keeping their relationship with me secret from their family. I have been through a lot. Respect that. Honor it. Own your privilege. Keep it in mind when you interact with others from the community.

Because you should interact with others from the community. That is where you are going to figure this out. It's also where you are going to learn more about what the struggles actually are, and hopefully be motivated to try and lessen them, using your position of privilege. Listen to other people. Let them talk. Volunteer for an LGBTQ organization. Learn all the historical contexts of what this means. Appreciate what it means. Watch your words and your attitudes.

And, for the love of Tegan and Sara, should your situation change, do NOT go out to "experiment" with women who know they are gay or bisexual if you are still trying to figure yourself out. Not cool. They are a whole person, not an opportunity for self-discovery.

- The Black Sheep

A:

Dear,

I think you already answered your own question; "I guess in some ways, it doesn't really matter ... nothing would really change." Why do you need to know if it doesn't matter? Is it going to be some notch on your belt of social justice credentials, or something to bring up at parties? If not, you shouldn't worry about it. If so, you probably have other things to work out. I've addressed this before and I'm not going to change my answer or advice: ask yourself "what do I want most in life?" It sounds like you have it figured out, and your life won't be any worse if you never find out whether or not you are actually bisexual and no better if you do.

Dr. Smeed

A:

Dear friend,

I'm a married male writer. I don't believe that it is necessarily accurate according to the most up-to-date research on sexuality, but the Kinsey scale of heterosexuality/homosexuality was one of the first things I saw that made me realize that it's a spectrum. I'm not sure I'm what popular culture's version of bisexual is, but I'm sure I'm not 100% straight. The idea of being in a relationship with a man doesn't gross me out. Holding hands, kissing - I'm not going to go do those things, I don't feel like my life is worse because I'm not doing those things, but they don't sound hard or unimaginable either. I think the same way a lot of kids realize they like people of their same gender way before they start to behave romantically (let alone sexually), you can realize something about yourself without you needing to do anything about it. 

- a writer

A:

Dear Dr. Smeed,

I'd like to disagree with your statement in the strongest possible terms. There's no such thing as putting a "notch on your belt of social justice credentials." That's insulting and condescending.

It's a sash, and we sew badges on it. 

Jerk.

-Cognoscente

A:

Dear friend,

What the anonymous writer who talked about the Kinsey scale said is something I agree with. Sexuality is often a little more complicated than just being gay or straight, and it's possible that you fall somewhere on the queer spectrum. My mom told me recently that she didn't understand sexual orientation because she was straight but could see herself falling in love with a woman or holding hands with one, just having that connection, if she hadn't met and married my dad. Her train of logic was that gay women must be confused. But the more we talked, the more she considered that she might not be a binary heterosexual like she thought and she could also be somewhere in between.

But it's also not something she necessarily wants to explore. She loves my dad. She's happy with him. She's content and fulfilled being with him. Her sexual orientation doesn't really pertain to her life right now. Maybe exploring your sexuality could help you understand more about yourself, but you might not want to stress about it if you're married and happy with your partner.

Queer is a very inclusive label because it is an umbrella term. It means different things to different people, and it's good for those who are not quite able to define their sexual orientation or gender identity as one thing. Maybe for the time being, it might be good to just accept yourself as queer and have that as an aspect of yourself without needing to define it fully. There can be some freedom in understanding your sexual orientation. But it also doesn't have to define you, especially if you're at a point in your life where you have a partner and you're happy. Those are just thoughts, though.

-Van Goff

A:

Dear wading into a firestorm:

The previous answers have addressed various social aspects of your question. I thought I'd add some of the results from scientific inquiry (source) into the matter (emphasis mine):

Though men and women both experience sexual arousal when viewing erotic images, men are more specific than women in what arouses them. Heterosexual men become aroused mostly by women’s bodies, and homosexual men are aroused mostly by men’s bodies. Heterosexual women, however, are likely to be aroused by visual depictions of either sex, especially if sexual activity is taking place, though lesbians tend to be aroused mostly by erotic images of women (Chivers, Seto, & Blanchard, 2007).

Women tend to be more flexible throughout their lifetime in their sexual orientation and preferences for certain sexual activities compared to men, who tend to hold relatively fixed approaches to sexuality. Many more men than women develop paraphilias (sexual arousal in response to atypical situations, partners, or objects, such as a fetish for women’s feet or women’s shoes). Women with high sex drives are more likely to be attracted to both sexes, but that is not true for men with high sex drives (Lippa, 2006).

The experience of sexual desire may be somewhat different for men than for women. Although sexual scientists have long believed that male and female bodies follow the same sexual response pattern, it has been suggested (Basson, 2000) that at times, a woman’s sexual desire may be more directly linked to erotic physical stimulation or situational factors such as feelings of closeness to her partner rather than occurring spontaneously in the form of sexual thoughts or fantasies as it does in most men.

It's my opinion that sexuality was framed so long almost exclusively by men, for men, that the scientific reality of women's sexual response was almost entirely ignored. (Even the happily married to a man types.)

Yes, even the language we use around orientation seems to have a patriarchal bent. A lot more women find women and men hot than the reverse.

---Portia

A:

Dear you,

I'm a married, bisexual, active Mormon woman. I talk about my experience figuring out I was bisexual, coming out, and my reasons for coming out in Board Question #89024, Board Question #84617, and Board Question #88393.

I wanted to address Dr. Smeed's point really quick, because it's something I've heard a lot and I'm getting pretty tired of it, to be honest. He says:

I think you already answered your own question; "I guess in some ways, it doesn't really matter ... nothing would really change." Why do you need to know if it doesn't matter? Is it going to be some notch on your belt of social justice credentials, or something to bring up at parties? If not, you shouldn't worry about it. If so, you probably have other things to work out. I've addressed this before and I'm not going to change my answer or advice: ask yourself "what do I want most in life?" It sounds like you have it figured out, and your life won't be any worse if you never find out whether or not you are actually bisexual and no better if you do.

When I was in the closet, sharing my opinion about LGBT issues usually resulted in a response like "You're overly concerned with being politically correct" or "that's what The World wants you to think." After I came out, which I partially did because I wanted to make it clear that my opinion was based on my personal experience and people needed to quit dismissing my comments as just "political correctness," I frequently got responses like "you're just calling yourself bisexual because it's trendy these days," "...some notch on your belt of social justice credentials...," "you're just doing it to feel unique," etc. It seems to me like some people just don't want me to talk about LGBT issues at all.

I frequently hear the idea that my sexuality doesn't really matter, so why did I need to come out? Laying aside the actual answers to that question (the psychological burden of having a secret, the fact that people were seemingly unwilling to stop saying homophobic/biphobic things until they knew I was personally bisexual, etc.), that reasoning rings false to me.  It seemed like a double standard that this argument seemingly only worked one way: the idea that, "if my sexuality doesn't matter, why couldn't I just let people keep thinking I was straight?" If my sexuality really didn't matter, why did other people care that I came out? So, this response serves to reinforce the idea that my sexuality was something to be ashamed of ("I don't think you should be ashamed, I just don't see why you have to tell people" is some serious cognitive dissonance) and that, apparently, it does matter, because it changed people's perceptions of me and/or made them feel the need to lecture me on why I didn't need to come out.

Don't get me wrong, if you eventually decide that it personally doesn't matter to you to have a label on your sexuality or to come out of the closet, that's a perfectly valid choice. But it's valid because "your sexuality doesn't matter" should work both ways: in or out of the closet, it shouldn't matter. If the only reason I came out of the closet is because I wanted to make lame puns based on the word "bi," if my sexuality really doesn't matter, then that should be a good enough reason.

And, for the record, I don't think that bringing up LGBT rights (aka "social justice," which is somehow used as a pejorative term these days) or allowing other people in my life to know something about me (even if it comes up at parties (*cough cough* Frère Rubik)) is an issue to "work out." I don't think there's anything wrong with me for recognizing that society has a long way to go in treating LGBT people fairly, and in doing my part to try to make a better world. I don't think there's anything wrong with me for not wanting to have to keep quiet about fairly innocuous things relating to my sexuality. And I think that it really shouldn't matter, and if people truly believed that, we wouldn't be having this discussion in the first place, because not only would everyone be totally cool with me being out, but there wouldn't even be a closet to be out of.

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(source)

-Zedability