(that heterosexuals might never think about)
There are two fundamental things that are so different about queer people that heterosexuals take for granted and might never consider in their lives—unless they want to, or are forced to by their own sexual unhappiness. I’m getting so many questions this week about queer identities, about how to be bisexual and married and how to negotiate roles, identities and relationships when you are attracted to women. So I want to share these two gems of the queer experience.
1. LGBTQ people get carte blanche on sex roles.
We have a wide range of roles we get to play in our relationships and we can create all sorts of relationship dynamics and sex role expression because we fortunately do not have to abide by heteronormative roles that put men and women in boxes and tell them how to behave. This is a boon!
So who’s gonna take out the trash? Who’s gonna do the cooking? Who is going to pay? Who is going to initiate sex? Who is going to lead emotionally? We have so much more freedom in how we do our roles and it is one of the things I love most about my queer relationships with other queer people.
The mainstream culture offers a very limited view of how to be male or female, and acts like those are the only options. For example: men are expected to be sexual aggressors and women are usually taught to be the gatekeepers of sexuality–they’re taught to “save themselves” for Mr. Right and to be the one who holds sexual boundaries. These roles seem “natural” and ingrained but there’s often MUCH to question and deconstruct.
In queer relationships, there are few expectations about who will do what role. Sometimes people can fall into playing more traditional roles, but generally, that’s because they want to and it’s a choice–not because of some compulsory role set we have drilled into our heads from the time we are little about what is okay/not okay for us as boys or girls assumed to be heterosexual. This freedom allows people in LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and questioning—and there are more and more acronyms all the time) relationships to create all sorts of arrangements that really work for them.
2. Deep sexual examination and exploration early in life.
We have to face and deal with our sexuality in a way that heterosexuals do not because we are different—we are not the “dominant culture.” As such, we have to examine our sexuality. So we tend to examine it more deeply or earlier in life. We go through the same identity processes heterosexuals go through in puberty changes, trying to figure out who we are, what we like, what groups we want to associate with, how we want to dress and express ourselves, career choice and all of that. But we also have an added piece that is big: Who am I sexually? How do I identify? Where am I on the gender spectrum? What genders am I attracted to? What kind of women? What kind of sex can I have, and do I want to have with these people?
Most of those questions are not addressed by heterosexuals, generally speaking, because they don’t have to address them. A heterosexual person who has not done much self-inquiry and reflection on these topics would think they were bizarre questions. “What do you mean what kind of sex do I want to have? What do you mean what genders (plural) am I attracted to? There are options?”
In the mainstream culture that most of us grow up in, we take in many messages about gender and sexuality — and a lot of the time we don’t even realize it because these messages can be so subliminal, and because they’re reinforced by the relationships we see around us and the experiences we have. Of course, one of the biggest messages is that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexual desire is “normal”, and same-sex desire is dirty, wrong or unnatural. Even if you grew up in a family and community that accepted a variety of sexual identities, you still took in the messages from a culture that shows straight couples on TV, in magazines, in books, most of them playing certain roles that followed the gender lines.
And that is, in fact, what we learn as young queer people: we don’t really have options, there is one option. Then we realize that is a lie and the work begins to figure out what we really want and who we are as sexual people. It’s a bit different today because there are resources, but when I was growing up there were no gay characters on TV and few in movies and when they were there, they were being made fun of. “Queer” wasn’t anything but a derogatory term. The reclamation hadn’t happened yet. But every LGBTQ person will question these things and examine themselves sexually. And that is really good work to be doing. We all need to do that, no matter who we are—even heterosexuals.
Queer culture has a vast language for sexual identities, behaviors and orientations, and these terms can be VERY helpful in naming and communicating what you want sexually. This is by no means a definitive list, but my friend Sam Kellerman has a good beginner’s guide to address a range of queer identities. The proliferation of identities really shows the diversity of sexual preferences and expression–and I find that so inspiring!
Exploring your sexual identity is a life-long process–identity is dynamic and ever-changing, never fixed. I’ve heard from some women who have partnered with men their whole lives and who are now opening up to being with women for the first time. Others are young and just coming out and starting to explore the new territory of the queer community. Still others are queer-identified but find that their preferences have changed vastly in the last few years, and wonder how to navigate relationships in a new way. However you come to it, sexual self-inquiry is enriching, fun and hopefully, will open up your world in terms of sexual self-expression and experience.