Hey Aunt Jimothy,
I’m a 26-year-old man in California. I’ve identified as bisexual most of my teen and young-adult life. But I find it easier to get hard thinking about men than women. Does that make me gay?
Bemused in Burbank
What a great question! I haven’t done an Aunty Jimothy column in a long time, but this is so intriguing Imma don my faux fabulous boa and fling about some feathers of questionable wisdom. Ahem!
Know what this old gay aunty thinks about falling in love? It rocks! And who cares what that says about anybody’s label? Here’s one way to look at your question:
Falling in love is awesome
Loving another human being is fulfilling and important in countless ways. Data show people in loving long-term relationships report many physical and mental health benefits. I’m not saying single people can’t be happy. They often are! But for many humans, loving relationships (traditional pair bonding or otherwise) are critically important. We humans are social animals, wired to need and value intimate emotional, physical, and sexual bonds.
Sean makes the cautionary point that sexual-orientation labels can box us in if we’re not careful. He wonders what would happen if he missed an important relationship solely because of how he had constructed his identity. And this old gay aunty thinks he makes a great point!
We humans do not reduce to our labels
I’m a gay, white, single American man pushing 60. All of those data points say something about me, but none of them reduce to me. Just like you, I’m far more complex than any label could describe. None of them say anything about my love of cheesy French pop music, about how talking-animal humor sends me rolling on the floor, or about how I fall in love at the drop of a pin.
When I say I’m gay, I’m not saying it to reduce myself to sexual attraction. I choose to wear the label “gay.” Why? And what does that mean?
Gay is complex, and so is bisexual
You have chosen for years to identify to yourself and others as bisexual. You worry (I infer this from a chat that gave me more info than your initial question) that you are much more attracted to men than women. You’re afraid you’re using the “wrong” identity.
I get this kind of question a lot from young people, and my initial reaction is to twirl the ends of my boa and say something like, “You do you, child! Let your labels worry about themselves!”
Fall in love. Have flings, hookups, and romances with the people your heart desires. Be free!
But it’s not quite that easy, is it? Or you wouldn’t have asked the question. You’re not a callow 16-year-old fumbling to understand his body and emotions. You’re a mature young man with experience enough under your belt to know these questions can be tough.
Bisexual: What it is and what it isn’t
People who wear the label bisexual usually say they are attracted to “more than one gender.” Bisexuality, despite its semantic roots, does not depend on a gender binary. Many bisexual people reject the binary and even reject the label pansexual as unnecessary, though that’s a subject for a different column.
Likewise, bisexuality does not depend on an “equal attraction” binary. The idea that bisexual people are attracted equally to men and woman, for an equal amount of time, is a popular fallacy. Many people who choose to identify as bisexual report feeling stronger attraction to people of a particular gender at least some of the time.
Many bisexual people report that their attractions vary (tend to be fluid) over time. Others report that levels of attraction vary PERSON TO PERSON, i.e. the individual is more important to them than the gender. The one thing bisexual people have in common is that they report meaningful attraction to more than one gender at least sometimes.
Gay: What it is and what it isn’t
This old aunty is gay as! Let’s just start there. I’ve never experienced sexual attraction to a woman. To go by the kind-of-outdated Kinsey Scale, I’m a 6 on a spectrum of 0 to 6, where 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual. As a young man, I was already convinced I was gay. From the age of about 11, all my sexual fantasies were about men. Photos of or fantasies about women never sexually aroused me. Only men did. In my twenties, I tried sex with women friends. Did not like it, vowed never to do it again.
So, that’s easy, right?
Not so fast, nephew! Kinsey sixes like me, according to data, are rare. Far more self-identified gay men drift at least a little toward the middle of the spectrum.
Some gay men like Laurence Best, who has been writing his memoir about growing up thinking he was straight, experience just enough attraction toward women that they can attempt traditional marriage and family. But as with Larry, those kinds of relationships are often doomed.
How Could You Not Know You Were Gay?
One man’s memoir. Living out after decades of straight marriage.
Even though men like that can sometimes perform sexuality adequately and perform a sort of heteronormative life, they’re often left deeply emotionally wounded. They never stop yearning for an intimate relationship with a man.
So even though they’re not Kinsey sixes like me, they choose to identify as gay. Their sexual/emotional/intimacy attraction wiring is so strongly oriented to the masculine that relationships with women (even when physically possible) feel like “settling.”
Labels aren’t necessary, but self reflection is
Now we’re getting down to the nub, nephew. The queer world is in flux right now. More and more of us are free to explore who we are, how we tick, and what makes us happy and fulfilled. Tons of queer folks aren’t interested in sticking labels on ourselves. We want to be who we are in all our complexity. We want others to see us existing outside boxes — in all our infinite potential.
It’s quite possible that after another generation, self-identified queer or bisexual people will outnumber self-identified gay people. And how wonderful is that? It means more and more people will be freeing themselves of constructed identities that might restrict them!
But none of this really helps you, does it?
I haven’t answered your REAL question, which I sort of had to read between the lines. Here’s something else you told me:
I remember being a little kid and being fascinated with Batman and Robin’s butt shots … and Leo DiCaprio shirtless in Titanic. But I always had crushes on girls. Yet around 12, I would get off to guys more than women. To this day it’s pretty much guys, thinking I can get physical with a woman at another time .
Then you told me you can sometimes manage to become aroused by a woman and hope to build an emotional connection. Hmmmm … Danger Will Robinson!
You want it straight?
I can’t read your mind and heart, but if I had to guess, you’re working hard to build relationships with women when you really want to fall in love with men. You fantasize about men, but you keep your distance, hoping the right woman will make you forget those fantasies.
One of the reasons I suspect that is … well … you reached out to me. This is obviously troubling you, because tracking me down on Twitter and Insta was not a trivial matter. You put energy into it.
I can’t give you any solid answers, but I can urge you to look deep inside yourself and be as honest with yourself as you can.
- Are you trying to settle?
- Are you avoiding relationships with men even though you want them?
- Are you denying yourself fulfillment and happiness?
I think the answers to those questions are more important that WHATEVER label you choose to wear. This old aunty will be happy to call you gay or bisexual, just so long as you do you.
So please, take a long, hard look. (no pun intended!) Ask yourself what you want and be honest with yourself about the answers. The labels will sort themselves.
You got this, kid! Believe it!
That’s another Aunty Jimothy column on Medium, guys and girls. Got a question? Post it under this story or email email@example.com and she’ll do her best to crank out some pearlescent balls of wisdom.
By the way, I’ve got a whole bat cave full of lesbians, trans guys and girls, and kinky polyamorous bisexual chicks. So when you ask Aunty Jimothy, you’re tapping into a lot more than one cranky old kween.
Ask anything! This Old Aunty has the Answers. Somewhere. If I can just remember where I left my purse.
Want more Aunty Jimothy? Read all her columns!
James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.