Dear Dr Ren:
I’m a 26-year-old gay guy. I knew I was queer since high school and, although I dated some girls, I always preferred boys. I came out during university and thought the process was complete.
I recently met a woman at work that I find myself sexually attracted to. What’s with that? Does this mean I’m not gay? What do I do with this?
Thank you for your letter. Yours is an ideal question for the premiere of this new column about sexuality. Even while we promote acceptance of diversity, we still feel comfortable placing ourselves in categories that fit our particular behaviours, and not-so-comfortable when we stray from those definitions.
For most of us, gender is a defining element in what attracts us to others, but that is not true for everyone every time. People for whom gender is an unimportant or irrelevant characteristic are called “bisexual.” The “bi” in “bisexual” supposes that there are only two genders, but that’s a topic for another column.
Pioneering sex researcher Dr Alfred Kinsey devised a scale of orientation ranging from zero, totally heterosexual, to six, completely homosexual. On this continuum true bisexuals are threes and account for two to four percent of the male and four to 11 percent of the female populations. Sometimes however, people who happily and firmly define themselves as having a particular sexual orientation fall in love with or become sexually attracted to someone who doesn’t fit that definition.
An example of this rule-breaking behaviour is capital-L Lesbian JoAnn Loulan, author of Lesbian Passion, who fell in love with a man. It happens. JoAnn still defines herself as lesbian, she just happens to be loving a man at the moment.
And there was Kinsey, who-married for decades-engaged a number of male lovers. There was also Cole Porter, Tom Robinson and many more. We needn’t look far to find people who do not fit rigid sexual role definitions.
Because our society is so interested in who does what with whom, we feel we must choose a label. We often know from an early age the nature of our attractions, but human sexuality is complex and can draw us to personality features or physical attributes regardless of gender.
In the end, we cannot explain desire. Its spark arises from mysterious chemistry and we are fortunate when we feel it.
I cannot tell you why you are attracted to this woman. It doesn’t mean that you are now straight. What you do with your body is your own business. Many men have had plenty of homosexual experience and still define as straight.
If you and she mutually choose to explore your attraction, good on ya! See where it goes and don’t take it too seriously until you give your new relationship’s heat an opportunity to cool a little. Then re-evaluate. You will likely realize that the fit isn’t quite right, and you’ll return to your former custom, but maybe not. It seems to me that the loss would be in not exploring this new territory.
Of course, do consider some basic courtesies. First and foremost, practice safer sex to avoid unnecessary and possibly tragic complications. Beyond that, please be careful with her heart. You needn’t tell her every facet of your life, but don’t let her feel like a science experiment either. You could aim for a friends-with-benefits status. Pay close attention to how you both feel sexually, emotionally and socially. Note what fits for you and what doesn’t. Be aware, too, that your circles of friends may not support your relationship. The watchwords are tread lightly.
We frequently get into trouble when we try to squeeze sexuality into a small box. Sex is expansive, experimental, risky and new every time. Try not to be afraid of what you are feeling. Be ethically conscientious and all you risk is learning more about yourself. How can that lead anywhere but to growth and pleasure?