Five little boy’s claimed to have crushes on me, “admired me”, or were my “pretend boyfriends” at some point during my childhood. Four of them are now openly gay or bisexual. There may have been others who are now surely straight, but they will forever remain unknown to me.
What does this mean? Probably nothing, but I still consider it from time to time. Who wouldn’t? It is an intriguing phenomenon, and I’m wondering how many people out there have had similar experiences. (Have you had a similar experience? I’d be interested in hearing about it.)
Now, some may assume that as a girl, I was some crazy, imasculating, Rasputia Latimore type who scared these poor young souls away from girls forever. Hardly. I had a few shining moments of childish stupidity and defensive aggression (one biting incident, one scratching assault, one dare-inspired frontal flashing, and the stuffing of a friend’s mailbox with grass after we had a fight).
But for the most part I was a typical good little girl. Good grades, eager in class, never got into trouble, voted “Most Lady Like” in the third grade, wasn’t that into boys since too much fraternization wasn’t allowed by my parents, etc. I was one of those girls everybody described as “nice”—“oh, Joy’s always so nice.” So as I got older, I came to the conclusion that maybe those boys didn’t “like” me so much as they admired qualities in me that were a reflection of some supposedly feminine aspect that they felt connected to.
I’m assuming that, like so many gay and bisexual men, these guys would unequivocally say that they felt attracted to members of the same gender from a very early age, pretty much since birth. If that’s true, then one logical conclusion is that they were simply confusing their attraction to me.
There were times when a couple of them came off as pretty animated in their attempts to get my attention—bumping into me in the halls, stealing food off my plate during lunch in order to force me to look at them, singing to me while stretched across my desk—all while consistently exhibiting characteristics that many would label feminine.
It could probably all make for a pretty entertaining sitcom segment.
Other girls who became the objects of their attention sometimes reported the same boisterous antics. What was up with that?! Overcompensation, perhaps? I mean, absorption of societal expectations around gender and sexuality begins much earlier than many people care to realize. So, I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that—having already gotten plenty of funny looks, downright teasing, and offhand comments from family members and others—they may have been trying very hard to appear “boyish” in every way.
Recently these intriguing, and downright hilarious, memories got me to reading and thinking more deeply about gender and sexual attraction. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
I don’t think anyone can, through sheer will power, turn gay or straight. One can change their behavior (i.e. in the case of the gay man who settles into traditional marriage and family life, refusing to date men, due to societal pressure). However, their underlying attraction remains the same.
But then, where does that leave this idea of sexual fluidity, the notion that a person’s fundamental sexual attraction can change over a significant period of time?
Now, I know that acknowledging sexual fluidity seems to undermine the validity of the claim that a person cannot stop “being” LGBTQ. However, if we are essentially considering the notion of choice here, then one claim does not affect the other.
Those who have experienced sexual fluidity describe it as something completely out of their control, something like a changing season, the involuntary onset of a natural phenomenon. So, yes, according to the science, some people’s sexual attraction is a constant over which they have no control AND there are others for whom sexual attraction is a fluid thing—the changeability itself being something over which they have no control. (See how easy it is to break out of our little binary thinking boxes and consider other possibilities! Tunnel vision be gone!)
Now, as I understand it, sexual fluidity is not to be confused with bisexuality. A person with a fixed sexual attraction to both men and women is not the same as someone who only likes men and then experiences a shift in attraction over time.
For the bisexual person, the pursuit of a relationship with a person of either gender is always a possibility. For example, even if currently dating a man, a bisexual woman could later date a woman while maintaining attraction to men, because the underlying attraction to both is still there.
But a person who is sexually fluid may be attracted to one gender his/her entire life and then later on experience a complete, involuntary shift in attraction and not have any further desire to date the gender to which they were originally attracted.
Sexual fluidity, apparently, is a phenomenon reported more often by women. (Makes sense. Women are considered by a select contingent of astute scientists and students of the sexual arts to have a much higher capacity for sexuality then men. Hence, the boredom with sex that many erroneously label as “frigidity” or sexual disinterest. I’d be bored in kindergarten too if my mental capacity revealed a college level intellect…Digression.)
But do men experience sexual fluidity too? The few people who have studied sexual fluidity haven’t tipped the iceberg in answering that question. Sure men don’t typically report this experience, but could that be just because men feel more pressure to live up to a particular societal expectation? I mean this: female bisexual behavior (with or without actual attraction) and fluidity are often celebrated or at least seen as a benign curiosity in our culture while that same behavior by men is frowned upon.
Men are expected to choose a side, period. So maybe there are just as many sexually fluid men out there, but our tunnel vision simply won’t allow us to see them.
(Long sigh…) Delving into this topic in order to understand the experiences of others has taught me one thing: while all our labels and expectations and holy books and traditions and definitions give us a sense of security in the assumption that we have this shit figured out, the truth is that there is just way too much that we do not know or understand about gender and sexuality. Why not just stop pretending we have the answers and actually start listenng and learning.