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Spectrums and Attractiveness

1. I’m writing because, well, I’m not sure who I am anymore. I thought I had it figured out, going through college and a few years after as a straight dude, but more and more I find myself falling asleep hoping I wake up a straight chick.

Which is weird, because I’m not dissatisfied as a male. I like my body and feel comfortable with the fact that I possess a penis; often, I even enjoy this fact. I also have no interest in cross-dressing or reassignment surgery. When I hear trans people speak about their experience, it’s always a feeling of being trapped, or always having this gut feeling that they were just the wrong gender — I don’t have that, at all.

Which is also weird, because I think that, if I did wake up one morning with new netherbits, I’d want to have relationships with men. To be totally clear, I had many opportunities in college (as most people do) to get busy with dudes — I just have no interest in it in my current state.

I’m also somewhat skeptical of my feelings on this, I guess? Like what if I just really like women and this feeling of wanting to be one is so I’d have more ready access to the things that I like? And what if I’m using this fantasy as a way of letting myself express interest in dudes? Or what if I’m straight-up trans and just can’t admit it?

I’m not sure there’s a question for another person in all of this, but I think about it all the time, and I don’t want to anymore. If I had to narrow it down to one thing, I guess I’d say: is it possible to be bi-trans? I’ve always vaguely believed in gender fluidity and spectrums and whatnot, but, it seems to only be accepted only a gay/straight continuum. Like you can be 60% gay but not 40% a woman, y’know? Which, sure, whatever, I don’t really need other peoples’ acceptance of this, or some sanction by the queer community that This Is An Okay Thing To Be, but, I don’t know! I sort of do, I guess?

Are you familiar with the word “genderqueer”? I suspect that if you were, you would have mentioned it. If all you want is a word (or a couple of words — there’s also gender-fluid, gender-variant, non-binary, and that’s just off the top of my head) to describe your lovely sometimes-a-woman-sometimes-not self, look no further. You are not the only person to feel that there’s a spectrum between man and woman, cis and trans. You’re not the only person who wishes forms had a box under “M” and “F” that says “Yes! But also, sometimes not.” In fact, if you live in a large and queer-friendly city, there’s a good chance you can find a genderqueer support group nearby and meet other rad folks who have had similar experiences. (Trans support groups are often friendly to genderqueer people too, but it’s probably a good idea to call and check first.) 

So, yes: This Is An Okay Thing To Be. It’s fine to feel like a man sometimes and a woman sometimes. It’s fine to be attracted to men when you’re a woman and women when you’re a man (and vice versa). It’s fine to express your gender fluidity, or not, however you see fit. It’s fine if you eventually decide you’re a woman all the time. It’s fine if you eventually decide you’re not a woman at all.

A little bit of experimenting might help you find the line between “things I want to do in real life” and “things I only want to fantasize about.” You say you’re not interested in cross-dressing, or transitioning, or sleeping with guys while you still have a penis, and you certainly don’t have to do any of those things. Still, going out with lipstick on or getting a dude’s phone number, just to see what it feels like, might help you more clearly define exactly what it is that you want. Also, it couldn’t hurt to find a therapist who works with trans and genderqueer people to help you separate your real feelings and desires from all the confusion and uncertainty getting in your way.

It’s all possible. Just figure out what you want to do (ha, do you like how I said that like it’s the easy part?) and then go ahead and do it. We’ve got your back.

2. Here goes: I’m queer — grew up ricocheting from bi to lesbian to genderqueer, spent a few years in Identities-Are-Social-Constructs-And-Everyone-Should-Stop-Having-Them-Land, moved (physically), and now I dress femme-y, don’t talk about my past, and let everyone assume I’m straight and cisgendered.

Except this one guy, who I hooked up with during the overtly genderqueer phase, who I am now hooking up with again in the present.

I’ve spent my life assuming I’m as close as you can get to asexual without actually being asexual (kissing is fine, but can’t we just go roller skating?), and this guy has gotten me in bed (and enjoying it) multiple times. Now we’re playing with dominance and submission and it totally turns me on, and also makes me feel horrible. I know I’ve got some deep-seated sex-is-wrong issues. Consent is also sticky, especially since I’m sort of into non-consent. For example, he tried choking me one time. He asked if liked it. I said, not really, it scares me. He said, the way your breath changes makes it sound like you like it. Then he kept doing it. That part is a huge red flag — except, turns out, I kind of do like it.

I’m also having a crisis of identity — being queer felt right in the past, but it got scary and hard. Being a straight white girl is easy and usually doesn’t bother me much… But straight white girls don’t like bruises and rope burn! And on top of it all, identities are just social constructs that everyone should get rid of anyway!

So question: who I am and what does that person do?!

I think you’re approaching this in the wrong order. You don’t decide who you are and then figure out what you do; you decide what you want to do, and then if you feel like it, you can find a name that fits. Identities can be useful descriptions and sources of pride and community, but they shouldn’t be a straitjacket. If what you want to do doesn’t match what you call yourself, go ahead and do it anyway. You can call yourself something else later on, if you want.

There’s nothing wrong with living as a straight woman if that’s what makes you most comfortable, and there are plenty of straight women who do like bruises and rope burn (and frankly I’m not even sure what being white has to do with anything). But you also don’t have to declare yourself Officially 100% Straight just because you want to bang this guy. You can be queer and mostly-asexual and still bang dudes on occasion. If you want to go back to banging ladies, or banging no one, later in life, that’s fine, too.

But, um, are you sure you want to bang this guy? Because his behavior with regard to your boundaries sounds … worrying, to me. Whether and when it’s okay to ignore a “no” is something that needs to be explicitly negotiated with sex partners in advance, along with what you’ll do or say to mean “but seriously, no.” Doing something you’ve told him not to, in the absence of that negotiation, is bad news. That it turned you on is kind of beside the point. If he did it once, there’s a good chance he’ll do it again sometime when it doesn’t turn you on at all. There are a lot of kinky guys out there who can give you the hot sex without the giant flashing “I’M CREEPY AS HELL” neon sign.

It might be helpful to talk to some kind of mental health professional to try to untangle your feelings of guilt over sex, and whether they’re related to your less-than-savory choice of sex partner. But even if you don’t do that, please feel free — with my blessing — to call yourself whatever you want, and sleep with whomever you want. Except for the guy you’re currently sleeping with. He’s creepy. Dump him.

3. I am a 44-year-old Bisexual Chick who keeps hitting a roadblock when I date women. When the clothing comes off I involuntarily play “Compare and Contrast,” and inevitably feel I am way less attractive than my partner, and then it gets weird. Weird in that I then assign myself to the role of pleasure provider, worshiper of the other woman, and start covering myself up, recoiling from her reciprocation. Obviously, this never ends well.

I know already: classic self esteem issues, I’m insulting her taste in women, if she didn’t find me in some way attractive she wouldn’t be there, etc. Part of the problem is that I’m objectively not that attractive in general and have always ever managed to be involved based on my personality. This has been revealed to me over and over (“wow, I never thought I’d be dating someone like you, but you’re so great to talk to…”). I am the original “Pretty On The Inside,” and as time wields its magic, that has become even more the case. An unfeminine femme is hard to pull off, and I’m not butch at all.

Even long ago when I was a professional athlete & had a strong, less-lardy body, I had to face the reality of my luggage-shaped torso, flat ass, and face like a frying pan. But I was smart and funny, and back then at least had some self confidence due to my strength and accomplishments. Now it’s a waistless, potato-shaped torso, and the reality of my life post-athletics leaves little to provide pride and sass. On the rare occasions a Lady Date comes up, I just can’t seem to put my hangups aside long enough to allow myself to enjoy it.

Needless to say, the Man Dates all but stopped once I hit 38, so the thought of having a future of celibacy or self-loathing Lady Dates is bumming me out. Help!

Oh buttercup, reading your letter made me so amazingly sad. I know there’s very little I can say in the span of one letter to spackle the holes you (and maybe other people) have spent years clawing out of your own self-esteem, but if nothing else, I hope I can convince you of one imperative: You have got to start talking about yourself the way you would someone you like.

Seriously, let’s look at some of this vocabulary: “Objectively unattractive.” “Lardy.” “Face like a frying pan.” “Potato-shaped.” I mean, holy shit, if someone talked that way about me I would never speak to them again. I can’t even comprehend how miserable it has to be to cart that person around inside your own skull. And girl, I hear you that it’s hard to feel like a sexy rock star when you don’t look like what the hotness-industrial complex wants women to think they should look like. I myself happen to be a fat chick with no waist, a flat butt and hell of stretch marks, and yes, sometimes I walk down the street and it is hard to tell myself that I’m the business. But you know what you have to do? You have to tell yourself anyway. Even when you don’t believe it. Because the times you don’t believe it are the times you need to hear it the most.

Think about all your friends. Are they all bikini models? If yes, holy shit, get some new friends, I’m sure those bikini models are great people but you need more diversity in your social circle. If no, think about all the things you find charming and lovely about them despite the ways in which they fall short of magazine-cover flawlessness. Do they have amazing smiles? Great senses of humor? Delightful fashion sense? Killer dance moves? What about the women you’ve slept with? Chances are they all had plenty of figure flaws they consider hideous, but when you got their clothes off, did you think “Gee, I wish her knees weren’t so bony” or did you think “FUCK YEAH, SHE’S NAKED!”? Try to look at yourself the way you’d look at someone else — someone you like, someone you care about, someone you’re dying to get into bed.

And if you do talk and think about other people the way you talk and think about yourself: cut that shit out. Like yesterday. If the way you relate to the world is through brutal criticism and cataloguing failures, no wonder you relate to yourself the same way. You know how they say “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything”? Let’s amend that to: “if you can’t say something nice, you need to try harder.” There’s always something positive to notice. Find those features in other people, and it will be easier to find them in yourself.

No one is objectively unattractive. No one is objectively attractive, either, except Naya Rivera. Attraction is relative, and it depends on more than just the way your body is shaped. It has a lot to do with being smart and funny; it has a lot to do with simple, inexplicable chemistry. And, trust, some people like nothing better than a fat girl with a flat ass — I’ve certainly never gotten complaints.

Believe — or at least tell yourself repeatedly — that the women who end up in your bed are happy to be there; believe that the women you haven’t gotten with yet would be lucky if you did. Also, I don’t really understand why it’s “needless to say” that you aren’t dating men anymore. Did men over the age of 38 go extinct and nobody told me? Because I think dudes are just as likely to be won over by your wit and hotness as ladies, if you give them the chance.

Finally, to come back around to my first point: you obviously do have some serious shit going on in and around your brain, and while I hope my little pep talk was nice, I also hope you’ll consider talking to a queer-friendly therapist about all this. (It’s Everybody Should Get Therapy I Am Not A Qualified Professional Week at Ask A Queer Chick!) You really do deserve to see yourself as awesome, even if you need some help getting there.

4. “S.” has been my best friend since college. She had never hooked up with a girl. I was/am bisexual. In 2008, S. kissed me, and that eventually turned into a monogamous relationship that lasted — somewhat unexpectedly — for four years. We talked about marriage, but she lived in her mom’s apartment and was underemployed. I have a stressful, low-paying job. We broke up. She hooked up with a guy. After a few months, we started sleeping together again, with the expectation that we’d both be seeing other people. I went on uneventful dates. She had a one night stand with a male co-worker. I was upset, but got over it. We continued sleeping with each other, got closer, acted as if we were together. She had sex with another guy. Upset again, but then I got over it … mostly. We continued to sleep together and were even more girlfriend-like. I was falling in love with her again, although I knew she was still interested in sleeping with other people. And then she did (twice, with a different male co-worker), and kept it from me for over a week because she knew I’d want to break it off with her completely. Which I immediately decided to do when I finally asked her what was going on and she confessed.

She has told me that she only wants to be with me. And part of me hoped that we could get married one day. But. I’m also not a complete idiot. She’s never had a boyfriend. She’s never had a non-me girlfriend.

So, what to do? Do I need to cut off contact with her to keep my sanity and prevent us from sleeping together again? Is it at all worth it to try to get back together?

Um, wait, is what all worth it? Because I’ve read your letter several times now, and I can’t find anything to put in your relationship’s “pro” column. Unless you neglected to mention the part where you’ve been poisoned and the only antidote is in her vagina, no, it is not even slightly worth it to get back together.

Here is what I’ve learned about S. in the short time we’ve been on a first-initial basis: She really likes having sex with you. She also really likes having sex with people who are not you, and is willing to lie to you to make sure both of those things keep happening. Here is what I’ve learned about you: You really don’t like it when the girl you’re sleeping with sleeps with somebody else (even while you are dating other people). This makes the two of you fundamentally incompatible. I know it’s horrible to have to let go of someone who you thought you might spend your life with, but look back over your letter and realize that, if you stay with her, this is your future. She will sleep with men; you will hold grudges; you will break up and get back together on and on into eternity. I just, Jesus, doesn’t it sound exhausting?

I have a really strict break-up-with-people-who-make-you-miserable policy. I think it’s always better to be alone than to be part of an unhappy couple. (It’s also much better to be alone than to be in a car with an unhappy couple, which may help explain how I developed this policy in the first place.) Obviously all relationships take some work, but this is not “if at first you don’t succeed.” This is after you’ve tried and tried and it still isn’t what you want it to be. You two are not right for each other, and it’s time to move on.

Previously: Long Distances, “Terribleness,” and the Skin-Crawly Feeling

Lindsay Miller is also on Twitter. Do you have a question for her

Photo by Anna Sedneva, via Shutterstock

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