Queering my mirror

So if you’ve read my profile, you know that I’m queer. I’m out and have been for, oh, over a decade now. When I first came out, I identified as bi, but now I embrace the word “queer” for a lot of reasons, most having to do with not wanting to identify with a binary system of sexuality. I jokingly call my partner “Mr Machine,” and he is male, but we’re not married, for a lot of reasons, most having to do with not wanting to participate in an institution that would discriminate against us if we were with other people.

All this preamble is to say that I haven’t written a lot about queerness here, which seems to lead some readers to think that we’re all straight as arrows. I came to FA after I had started dating Mr Machine, and in fact dealing with apparently-straight-privilege is part of what made my body anxieties grow and grow and grow a few years back, which led me to FA in the first place. I felt much more pressure to be thin dating a man than I had dating a woman—and none of that pressure came from the man in question AT ALL. I suddenly found myself wondering if people looked at us and saw an “imbalance” of attractiveness: What a hot guy with a plain girl. How can a skinny guy date someone fatter than him? He must just like her for her tits, because she’s not that pretty. I suddenly began seeing myself not through my own feminist, woman-loving eyes, but through the male gaze that became more explicit to me as my ability to set off someone’s gaydar became way more implicit.

So this post might make Mr Machine feel a little funny*, but I want to talk about how having sex with women is good for my self-esteem.

Seeing the world through a queer eye makes me look at other women without the pathological measuring up/judging/comparing that I have been trained to perform since girlhood. Especially when I am actively dating a woman, I look at women and don’t think about how they differ from me and whether that puts us higher or lower on the hierarchy of acceptability. I look at women and think, How lovely you are. And there is a point, for me, when that can become How lovely I am.

When I was in college, I had a serious (but fun!) relationship with a woman who was also white, tall, and brunette. Our friends joked that we had Identical Lesbian Syndrome because we were roughly the same height and weight and had dark curly hair. The truth is, we really didn’t look alike in either our figures or our faces, but hearing that other people thought we did astonished me, because she was the most adorable, desirable person I could imagine.  People told me all the time that I looked like her—even though, to myself, for years I had looked like a clearly undesireable person with a flabby body, bad skin, and way too much hair, who would never ever be pretty. When I was dating my non-identical-gf, we could trade clothes with each other… so that implied my body wasn’t as grotesque as I had imagined. Our bodies were differently proportioned… but when we were naked we looked more alike than different.

It would be difficult to overstate how simultaneously liberating and confusing this was for me. Here was someone whose body I adored for the same reasons I had always hated mine: its softness, its roundness, its abundance. Her body was dramatic and singular, yet every time I looked at her and praised her, there was some part of my mind thinking, “And that is also true of me.” Having a strong relationship and good sex was positive for me in the way it often is, but this particular relationship made me look at myself differently; it was like having a different mirror.

That’s a psychological and erotic aspect of my queerness and body acceptance. But there’s also a strong social component to being visibly queer: people treat you differently, and they make different assumptions about you. Obviously, some of those assumptions are very harmful and add to the pervasive homophobia of our cultures. But sometimes they can have a different effect, given the expectations of femininity that are placed on straight women in a patriarchal culture. A good friend of mine who is gay told me once that before she realized she was gay, she felt like a failed girl, like there was this whole elaborate set of rules that she didn’t understand—but once she was able to articulate to herself that she was gay, she realized that she wasn’t a failure at all. She had just been playing a different game all along. Identifying as queer has had a similar “opting out” effect for me, but it is distinctly stronger when I am with a woman than when I’m with a man, even a queer hardcore feminist man like Mr Machine. We both know that we’re opting out, but not everyone else does…and the pressures of those seemingly invisible gazes accrete surprisingly quickly. This, of course, is also a privilege: in a homophobic culture, we can pass as straight (or, perhaps, straight enough): we don’t fear violence or discrimination as much as we would in same-sex relationships; we could get married if we needed or wanted to; even unmarried, we’re unlikely to be turned away from a hospital room or not taken seriously by our families or employers. When I hold hands with Mr Machine, I am seen (and see myself) through the lens of both straight privilege and the male gaze: the two are intertwined, a two-way mirror that is a default state for apparently hetero women. My body may be wrong, but my “lifestyle” looks right.

The problem with this aspect of bi privilege/straight-passing privilege, of course, is that it does not reflect who I am. I’m not straight. My history is not the history of a straight woman. My desires are not the desires of a straight woman. Hell, I don’t think my current relationship is the relationship of a straight woman. I love my queerness, and my queerness helps me love and understand my body. It informs everything I do, not because all queers are as obsessed with sex as their wingnut persecutors seem to think, but because in my lifetime, despite great social advances, being queer has been a non-normative experience. It took a lot of unlearning to accept my body and deprogram myself from the intense misogyny of the beauty ideal—but I didn’t have to learn to love other women’s bodies. What I had to do—and what, I’d argue, we all have to do—is learn to look at our own bodies with the generosity and, yes, desire through which we view others’ bodies, female or male. We must allow our own bodies the pleasure and grace that we see, by default, in those we desire. We must allow ourselves to be the subjects and objects of a non-patriarchal gaze.

*in his pants

174 thoughts on “Queering my mirror

  1. That was wonderful. I’ve felt but never been able to express a lot of what you said here, and it’s *nice*.

    And then I got to the last line. LMAO

    Thank you!

  2. This is a wonderful post – as a queer woman in a relationship with a man it is wonderful to read from someone with a similar perspective.

  3. Yes yes yes, thank you for this, I can totally relate!

    This:
    “When I was dating my non-identical-gf, we could trade clothes with each other… so that implied my body wasn’t as grotesque as I had imagined. ”

    I actually first experienced dating a man. I was at my lightest-ever weight then, but still had this self-image of myself as terribly fat. He was skinny (former racehorse jockey and still trainer). But I could fit into his jeans! Something which just absolutely blew my mind, b/c in my mind I was so obviously hugely, monstrously fatter than him.

    And this:
    “Here was someone whose body I adored for the same reasons I had always hated mine: its softness, its roundness, its abundance. Her body was dramatic and singular, yet every time I looked at her and praised her, there was some part of my mind thinking, “And that is also true of me.” ”

    I also experienced when I dated women (I’m mostly straight but with occasional bi-leanings). I was most attracted to women of about my age or older that would be classified in the upper overweight/lower obese category per the (cough!) BMI – aka, about my same weight. So-called conventionally beautiful (aka, skinny) women really did not interest me at all. There was one woman in particular that stands out in my mind, and I loved her curves, her softness – those very things I disliked in myself.

    It was truly an amazing and liberating experience, and you know what? Looking back, that’s about the time period when I began to develop the first tinges of fat acceptance, and more specifically acceptance and love of my body as it was.

  4. SM, thank you so much for posting this. I’m another one of the many queer women in a relationship with a man, and it’s really important to me to have opportunities to think about the straight-passing privilege I have, and to go beyond it and remember to be who I am. It gives me a bit of a twinge to remember these same feelings that were involved with being with a woman, but it’s good to be able to appreciate those experiences all the more.

    The asterisk made me LOL, because I think I’d totally say the same thing about my partner :P

  5. wow.
    I can so relate to this (I’m another queer id’ed female in LTR with male person) and so it’s so much food for thought.

    “The problem with this aspect of bi privilege/straight-passing privilege, of course, is that it does not reflect who I am. I’m not straight. My history is not the history of a straight woman. My desires are not the desires of a straight woman. Hell, I don’t think my current relationship is the relationship of a straight woman.”

    This is a relating part. I was just talking about this with a friend, actually.

    “I love my queerness, and my queerness helps me love and understand my body.”
    This is a thinking part, because I have never thought about it this way.

    thank you.

  6. I look at women and don’t think about how they differ from me and whether that puts us higher or lower on the hierarchy of acceptability. I look at women and think, How lovely you are. And there is a point, for me, when that can become How lovely I am.

    I totally get this – it has been my experience as well. It was immensely liberating to realise my attraction to women, and to feel it soften my judgment of other women’s bodies and of my own.

    I also found it incredibly liberating to self-identify as “butch” as a way of being feminine, not a wish to be masculine.

  7. Thank you for writing this. I’m another queer woman happily in a relationship with a man and I identified with so much in this article and found it thought-provoking, too.

  8. I felt much more pressure to be thin dating a man than I had dating a woman.

    Gah…yes, so much YES!

  9. Thank you, SM, for writing about this.

    I’ve never been in a relationship with a woman, or even “played around” with a woman — I’m unhappily quite straight — but I absolutely related to this idea of looking at women and thinking “how lovely you are” and the point at which that becomes, how lovely I might be, as well. I’ve only once felt that mirror feeling with a man, who did mirror back to me (and actually played the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll be your mirror” to me on the guitar) how wonderful he thought my body was (even though he said my personality didn’t make him want to be with me in any long-term way — but he was a player, at any rate).
    I also related to the “what is a good-looking guy doing with her?” thoughts, which are so disrespectful of Mr. Rounded and his preferences and choices, but all of the time I would hear from other people how good looking he is. Which I have only recently replied with, “we are a handsome family, aren’t we?” (sounds smug to see it written like that, but including myself in that description is a radical departure for me).

    What is it about internalizing the harshest possible gaze that is so compelling? (Focault has something to say about this, I know.) I am having the hardest time escaping that internalized harsh gaze, about fatness and prettiness and accomplishment.

    I recently unearthed my college-era journals, which are now about 20 years old, and at the time, I was so torn between trying to make a commitment to losing weight, and trying to believe with all of my being that self-acceptance was a possible and viable path forward. I argued with myself through all of these journals about what my future might be like in either direction. I wasn’t sure I would live to be 40 if I didn’t lose weight (and so far, I’m rocking 40 pretty well). Even though one dire prediction came true (type 2 diabetes), I have fared okay on the more-or-less acceptance path, with a job in a field that people might assume is more fat phobic than many (public health), being married, having a child, having a better-than-expected relationship with my family, and solid friendships. What’s harder than I would have expected are the daily battles in my own head, trying to refute the harsh gaze that tells me that because I’m fat and not beautiful, none of the rest matters. ARgh! What has, and hasn’t, changed in that timeframe is exasperating.

  10. Interesting post, thank you.

    I’m also a queer/bi woman, and while I’m generally (and currently) single, but have dated both women and men over the past few years. I wish I could say that my experience of queerness was as body-positive as you’ve described, but I’ve found there to be just as much judgment and ranking in queer circles as in straight ones. Queer culture doesn’t exist outside of the dominant culture and unfortunately isn’t immune to the ideals and pressures that are part of the culture at large.

    I keep thinking about the last woman I dated, who was significantly thinner than me (in the conventionally beautiful range). It was quite a startling experience to be naked with her, to see and feel how different our bodies were. It has made me think a lot about the ways in which difference is constructed, the idea that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are the physical polar opposites, while for me the most ‘opposite’ body I’ve experience was a thin female body. Something about the materiality of that seems significant, but I can’t quite articulate it at the moment.

    *goes to think some more*

  11. Thank you. This is such a beautiful post, and it gives me a whole new perspective from which to approach accepting and loving my own body (something I’m still really struggling with) as a queer woman.

    It was also heartening to hear I’m not the only person who walks down the street with her boyfriend and imagines everyone thinking “what’s he doing with her??” It’s a ridiculously self-destructive thing to think, and I always thought it was just me.

  12. This is really interesting to me, because I’ve had an almost exactly opposite experience. I’m a queer woman currently in a LTR with a woman (5 years in July) who was married to a man for approximately the same amount of time, and while I was married I felt much more comfortable and body-accepting than I do now, despite the fact that at that time I had not yet discovered FA as a movement or read any of the science that told me that I was not about to OMG DIE FROM FATZ.

    The short-answer reason is that I’m somewhat smaller than my ex-husband, and he was always very appreciative of me as a fat woman, but I’m much, much larger than my girlfriend, and not nearly so conventionally attractive as she is, nor as visually identifiable as queer. I find myself thinking the same sort of crazy things you mentioned, wondering which people are thinking “oh, what is she doing with that fat girl?” (because I know someone must be) and wishing that I could be “the pretty one.” In some ways, loving a woman has made it harder, not easier, since before I didn’t have this other body to look at, one that fit all the beauty standards I’m supposed to meet.

  13. Lovely, SM, thanks for the perspective. I’ve been trying to see other women with empathy (since I don’t have that attraction you do) to fight the socially-programmed judgment, and it is also coming back to me as appreciation for my own body.

  14. I definitely recognize the issues around being a queer / bi woman in an opposite sex relationship. This was a really timely post for me!

    Regarding self-acceptance and FA, well. My most serious girlfriend in the past was someone who is absurdly beautiful by conventional or unconventional standards, and also someone who is both naturally thin and a compulsive dieter. So I had a lot of the anxiety around “surely this stunningly beautiful woman can’t possibly be attracted to me”, and at the same time her assurances that she loved my body felt a little hollow when she was complaining about how disgustingly fat and unhealthy she was and how desperately she wanted to lose weight, when at her fattest she was half my size.

    In spite of that, I think in general identifying as queer has helped me feel better about my body shape, because sure, I can see women with figures like mine and think they’re gorgeous. Also I’m that much more likely to see women as objects of desire rather than rivals, being “prettier than me” is a bonus!

  15. The bit in this post that made me say my agreement out loud – as opposed to just nodding (hard) – was the bit about feeling like there are all these girl rules you don’t get. I think that’s pretty universal to some extent, whatever your sexual orientation.

  16. How lovely! No really :). I am a mother of three married to a man for 10 years. But I am a partially in the closet queer.

    I love women’s bodies…all of them, and yet for much of the time hate my own and definitely looking at my own ‘through a male gaze’ wtf?. Yesterday I was looking through some pre children photos…times when I know I was feeling ugly and fat and thought, wow look how great I looked!

    It’s weird to think that as a gay woman I would definitely be attracted to me, but b/c I don’t think most MEN would be attracted to me, then my intrinsic attractiveness is somehow diminished.

    Anyway I hope I didn’t miss the meaning of your post but I really think I get it!

  17. Thank you so much for writing this. I am also queer, but in a longterm thingy with a man, and I have this sort of… guilt, about being able to pass as straight that… makes me less likely to come out to friends! It is good to read about life from the perspective from other queer women in the same situation; and I definitely get what you mean about being able to be more accepting of my body through appreciating other women.

    One of the first milestones for me in getting over severe issues with having body hair was realising that I found other women sexier when they were all natural, regardless of if that meant they were *OMG EVEN HAIRIER THAN ME!*.

  18. Yes, I’ve never understood it when women talk about how they compare other women’s bodies with their own, in a negative sense. I most certainly appreciate and lust after attractive women, and, like everyone else, have some issues about body acceptance at times, but it has never occurred to me to think, “wow, that woman is so attractive and I feel so threatened/jealous/inadequate because I’ll never be like her”.

    It’s interesting that you juxtapose that with a queer sensibility, because that seriously never occurred to me as a reason for that non-threatened perspective – but it certainly explains why lesbian/bi women often seem to be more accepting of body variation in a general sense (of course, there are notable exceptions).

    As to the other point about how bi women “passing” and getting privilege because of their invisibility when they’re in a het relationship, it is kind of difficult, isn’t it? Because even when bi women are in a het relationship, it often isn’t “straight” in some indefinable-to-me way (I’m not bi, although I have had many bi girlfriends, and I totally perceive the difference in their het relationships to the straight norm).

    While you shouldn’t have to run around announcing “I’m queer!” to everyone, it would be nice to not have your relationship history and actual desires made invisible to the casual onlooker. Because the more that people realise that that woman living next door with her hubby and her two kids might be just as queer as the two queens on the other side, the more they might realise that the world is a more diverse place than they imagine.

  19. This suddenly makes a lot of things make sense. I’ve spent so many years wondering why I found it so much easier to not hate myself and deal with everything the way I am than my peers. And I actually feel slightly guilty about berating some of them in college for their dieting and body hatred. I didn’t even think that being gay was part of it.

    I think being gay and on the thinner end of things helps though. My wife still has horrendous body image issues, even after nearly seven years of working on them. I’m now wondering if that’s partly a side effect of dating someone who is, by most standards, a lot more socially acceptable.

    Know exactly what you mean about Identical Lesbian syndrome too. For all we’re very different sizes, people comment all the time that we must be sisters. We do look a scary amount alike too.

  20. Wow. I can relate incredibly well to so many of the things you are saying.

    Being a bi/queer woman has taught me too to appreciate women in all sizes and shapes. I do not know whether the pressure to conform to a model is weaker in the queer community, or whether that is because to become part of the community you have to defy the heteronormative conventions, but still I have always seen queer women more ready to embrace diversity than many straight men or most straight women. (By the way: so much for the theory “if you’re gay you’re just looking for somebody that is like you”.)

    As for the “passing privilege”: I am married to a man. I try to be as out as I can (actually, I am more out now than when I was with a woman…) to compensate, but…

  21. While you shouldn’t have to run around announcing “I’m queer!” to everyone, it would be nice to not have your relationship history and actual desires made invisible to the casual onlooker. Because the more that people realise that that woman living next door with her hubby and her two kids might be just as queer as the two queens on the other side, the more they might realise that the world is a more diverse place than they imagine.

    Word. I’m bi and married to a man, and it bugs the hell out of me when people take my sexual orientation for granted. (I could also go on about some of the lesbians at the women’s center I volunteered at who told me I “had to choose” between men and women. Or about how people always assumed that just because none of the women I was interested in before I met my husband were ever interested in ME that I was only ‘bi-curious’ –oh, god, I hate hate HATE that term– but that would be even more off-topic.) But anyway, yeah, I agree, Trix.

  22. Thank you *so much* for this – it is always such a relief to find kindred spirits. I’m married and proudly call myself bi, because while I love my husband dearly I am far more likely to be attracted to (and attractive to) women. I also fell into the same trap, and have been struggling for many years with my body image. I am thankful that my many years in relationships with women gave me a solid base of self-worth, something I have only recently learned to accept all over again.

  23. I loved this post.

    One of the things I’ve learned about myself, since beginning this journey of FA, is that my own body hatred is not just about me hating my own body. It is also a reflection of how I feel about others. That is very hard for me to write, but the work of being more accepting – – not only of my OWN fat body, but the fat (and diverse) bodies of other people – – continues.

    Rock on, SM!

  24. Thanks so much for writing this. I don’t relate to this exactly but as another queer woman with a male partner I recognize some of this and it’s definitely food for thought.

    SM also I just want to say how much I absolutely love your writing. Always thought-provoking!

  25. @TBS – hah, I had a certain class of lesbian tell me I was “male-identified”, and a similar kind wanted to bar my (bi, skirt-wearing) partner from the “lesbian-only” dance (until I came out to escort her in). Thank god those more rigid times are over (this was the mid-80s). Also, I’d boycott those events now – at the time we felt like we were getting away with something.

    It’s a shame that “bi-curious” has become such a pervasive term – plenty of women who haven’t yet had the chance to do the same-sex lovin’ thing already know where their desires lie, thank you very much. And maybe women who fancy certain weaselly-faced Hollywood stars are just “Brad-curious”.

    While it’s entertaining for my bad butch self to go hang out with my married-with-kids exes and watch their neighbours’ and straight friends’ heads spin, it’s a shame that it’s often the first time that such friends actually believe my exes’ histories (you know, that they’re queer and they had real relationships with other queer women, not some GGW “experimentation” thing). Maybe I should hire myself out for de-unchosen-closeting purposes. :-)

  26. Or about how people always assumed that just because none of the women I was interested in before I met my husband were ever interested in ME that I was only ‘bi-curious’ –oh, god, I hate hate HATE that term– but that would be even more off-topic.

    Oh god, yes, this is me. I am clearly more straight-leaning, but I also have just never made a successful match with a woman — so, well, talk about passing. And apparently those insane crushes and all the women you made out with don’t count, because you have to prove queerness. (Of course, if I had never had a date with a man, no one would doubt I fell into the default category. You never have to prove that. Gah.)

    I’ve wondered what it would do for my image of myself if I were to find a mutually-interested woman and develop a relationship with her. Maybe it will happen sooner or later!

  27. One of the more interesting body acceptance experiences I’ve had is spending some times at an all-women, mostly-lesbian space, which was far more fat positive than the general populace, and where there were very few mirrors. I really started seeing through different eyes, simply because I thought the women around me were so awesome, and many of them were desirable, and just looked with less fat shame (I was not aware of FA at the time). Then, after several days, I happened to catch myself in a mirror, and I was shocked. I was one of those awesome, possibly desirable women I’d been seeing. I looked so radically different to myself, it was jarring. Like over the course of a few days, I’d learned to see with more kindness.

    I’m also really appreciative of what you wrote about being a queer woman in a relationship with a man. I’ve been trying to write about my thoughts on being a queer woman largely interested in men these days, and how deeply uncomfortable it makes me feel, and why, but it never comes out quite right, so I’ll just say that I understand where you’re coming from.

  28. SM, thanks for this. As a fellow queer, it’s great to have another lens through which to look at the body stuff, difficult though it can be.

  29. Queer culture doesn’t exist outside of the dominant culture and unfortunately isn’t immune to the ideals and pressures that are part of the culture at large.

    Oh, absolutely, and I want to make it clear that this post is solely about my queer experience, and not queer culture(s) at large. The college relationship that I discuss in this post was also no doubt affected by the fact that I went to a very queer-friendly women’s college.

  30. It has made me think a lot about the ways in which difference is constructed, the idea that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are the physical polar opposites, while for me the most ‘opposite’ body I’ve experience was a thin female body.

    This is a really important point, I think! Mr Machine and I actually look more alike facially than the “identical” ex and I did, but we get way fewer jokes about it (though we still get some! I don’t only like people who look like me, btw). Somehow 5’7″ brunette white women are automatically “identical,” while a man and a woman of almost exactly the same age who have similar facial proportions and coloring are not.

    Obviously, the same/different axis is used to structure a lot of our cultural assumptions about gender and sexuality, but as you point out, they are just that—assumptions. Sameness and difference is not just about whether you have a cock or not.

  31. Thank you thank you thank you. As a mostly straight but somewhat bi teen I too have noticed that what I tend to hate in myself (large booty, DD/DDD bra size, just being curvy) I tend to find most attractive in a woman. It really got me thinking what you said about seeing the beauty in your college gf helping you see the beauty in yourself. I’ve always been very critical of myself and of thinking ohmigosh im so fat (even though I would have to gain at least 15 lbs to be considered overweight) and yet women I find most attreactive tend to be (after Ive asked) a size 14/16. So I guess what I’m trying to say is maybe there is hope for me yet because the only person I ever critique is myself. And size hate for me well its always been sort of a way to find something else to hate about myself to distract me from what I was teased about in school giraffe(im 5’9), pimpleface, insults about my glasses etc. But this website and jsut the fatosphere in general are really helping me-it is honestly better than therapy, and though I am not in complete acceptance I think I’ve gone from a little over half to 98%. And the other 2% left?-my ever expanding chest (though my annoyance is more to do with the fact I keep having to go out and buy new bras and at my size they aren’t cheap to say the least- lol :)
    PS its nice to have someone representing queer/bi people so thanks Sweet Machine I really appreciate it.

  32. This is some kind of gorgeous, SM. It makes it especially clear to what extent (er, huge) “beauty” and aesthetics are imbricated in the politics of patriarchal dominance. On bad days I feel like there’s no point in even talking about it becuase it’s a rigged game–house wins every time. On better days, posts like yours give me hope: that even though I’m still, as wellroundedtype2 says above, “so torn between trying to make a commitment to losing weight, and trying to believe with all of my being that self-acceptance was a possible and viable path forward”, maybe there’s some way out of the look and the gaze. Maybe the world won’t be forever scarred by Cosmo and company. Maybe there’s some way to get freedom from them out there on more than an individual scale. Maybe the peace train is coming even now, for queer, gay, straight, bi, whatever. Thanks for reminding me of that hope.

  33. Oh, my goodness. As a queer woman (with past relationships of all kinds, but currently in a relationship with, in fact engaged to, a man), I’ve experienced this phenomenon, but never been able to articulate it. Thank you. It’s very true, but I don’t think I could have figured out what was going on with such clarity.

  34. There are so many reasons I love this post that I can’t even properly articulate them right now. I think I need to reread it again (probably more than once) and let it percolate, because you (and the lovely commenters) have made me feel less bizarre but also given me things to think about that hadn’t occurred to me. I’m another bi woman married to a man; we did not enter into marriage lightly or without thinking about the fact that if we were the same sex we wouldn’t even have the option in our state. I’m very much aware of my perceived-as-straight-and-heteronormative privilege. But you’ve given me more to think about by bringing up the male gaze and how being in an opposite-sex relationship brings that lens into focus. Thanks for your insight and perspective, SM.

  35. Thank you SM. I once asked about possibly queer-related advice in ning, and you gave me a wonderful response. This post elaborates everything for me even more.

    I honestly don’t know how to identify myself. I feel a pressure to do so, but I really don’t want to. Your post gave me an “a-ha!” moment — I began feeling, if it’s possible, a non-sexual attraction to other women at the height of my body love and acceptance. I in turn began feeling extreme anxiety, both sexual- and body-related, and started feeling awful about myself. I’m still really struggling with it, but I think parts of that thought pattern relate to finally seeing other women the way I was seeing myself, rather than zeroing in on their flaws. It could also mean a queerness, a bisexuality, or what have you. Regardless, I’m also in a LTR with a man and feel a deep compassion for your words. Thank you.

  36. I think that more people are at least somewhat bi than not, if they’d stop and think about it. People are attracted to other people. Same concept, but the other way, for me – it wasn’t until I had started to relax, not compare myself badly to other women, to think of myself as attractive, that I looked around and thought oh, other women are kind of hot, too. Removing the competition aspect from looking at other women (and always me losing, of course) made me able to appreciate them more as attractive entities in their own right, if that makes sense.

  37. It has made me think a lot about the ways in which difference is constructed, the idea that ‘male’ and ‘female’ are the physical polar opposites, while for me the most ‘opposite’ body I’ve experience was a thin female body.

    This is also something I’ve really struggled with, even though I’m very much straight. I consistently have trouble reconciling my own femininity with the idea that I very often weigh about the same as or more than the men I date.

  38. Car – I think you make a good point. Especially for women, I do think that sexuality can be somewhat fluid. Despite being far more sexually attracted to men, i often feel that women’s bodies are more pleasing to look at…

  39. Despite being far more sexually attracted to men, i often feel that women’s bodies are more pleasing to look at…

    You know, I hear people say this a lot, and one part of me wants to go “yay everyone’s queer,” but another part of me suspects that this is just part of the same patriarchal stew we live in. Because our cultural history has been such a sausagefest, we are trained from birth to believe that “women’s bodies are more pleasing to look at.” Women are decorative. They are only valuable when they’re attractive. Everyone wants to fuck a pretty woman, but no one wants to fuck a man. Etc. In other words, the meme “women are more visually beautiful/sexually attractive than men” seems deeply complicit with misogyny and homophobia.

    I want to be absolutely clear that I am not talking about any individual’s desires here, but at what kinds of statements about desire and beauty are acceptable to say or think in our culture.

  40. I’ve been with both, and my clearly quite patriarchally-identified brain feels better about my body when I’m with a man. I think it’s a sort of “of COURSE you can attract lesbians, they are tolerant, men are more judgmental so good on you” kind of thing.

    Although as someone above said, my most common and current state is single, and that’s its whole own country when it comes to one’s body. No one else’s body to intimately compare to, but no external validation either . . .

  41. Thank you so much for this. I’m trans and pansexual, and currently in a relationship with a man. He’s an incredibly good-looking guy… and he’s fat, and I’d never been with a partner who was fat like me before. Being with him has been incredibly good for my tranny self-image, for all the reasons you describe.

  42. Great post, SM! As I am straight as an arrow, much written from a queer perspective is new and fascinating to me. Thank you for sharing this!

  43. Gah, awesome post. Seconded that the part about feeling like a failure as a girl really hit home. Just a wee something in my eye… *sniff*

    I’m also a queer/bi girl whose divorce from a guy is finally final (wooo!), and thus am facing the prospect of dating again sometime in the future; I literally just realized why the guy-related portion of that bothers me so much. I do not trust men, not a single solitary one, not to judge me through the lens of patriarchal beauty standards. I do give women the benefit of the doubt, though, probably because I find such a wide range of women, and bodies in general, attractive. I realize that that is not entirely fair, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

  44. A decade ago, I was in a LTR with a man for whom I could not be thin enough. I was somewhere between a 6-8, but he was always harping about those last 10 pounds. Fast forward 6 months – we break up – I act on my attraction to a very beautiful, very out, woman. Whether or not she was beautiful to everyone, she was beautiful to me. Oh, the joys. Never in my life had I ever felt so lovely, so feminine, so desirable. And I was head over heals for this woman. I noticed that I found so many different women attractive – from very athletic to fat. It was the fact they were women (DUH!) that they were attractive to me. It was an eye opener, and I never felt more comfortable in my skin that I did then.

    I am now in an opposite marriage (I couldn’t resist the dig – lol) with a man who has had many past relationships with men. He is tall and thin and handsome and I am shortish and round and chubby. And while he loved me so, I just don’t feel as attractive as I did when I was with her. I just feel fat. It’s quite sad because my skin is as soft, my eyes are as blue, my body is still me. But the lens is still different despite the queerness of it.

    I suddenly feel blue.

  45. SM – I totally agree that the “women are more attractive thing” plays into that.

    But, I think that a lot of straight women would say they can identify in part with the post and learn from it because in learning to see beauty in others of all shapes and sizes can help them see it in themselves, whether or not that translates into sexual desire. So, in that case, it’s not “women are beautiful because they’re sex objects” but “I can see beauty in people even if I’m not thinking about fucking them.” That can be big, I think.

  46. Amazing post. I am straight and married and just a month into the FA world. One thing I have been noticing lately is that my lesbian friends don’t go on and on about losing weight while my hetero friends do. I was at dinner the other night with five hetero women and two of them had eating disorders and the two were obsessed with dieting. Only one seemed to have normal eating patterns. It was such a triggering experience for me.

    That said, my husband is amazingly accepting and loving and lusting of my fat body. He is very, very tall and athletic and at 5’7″ I weigh more than he
    does. Tough to accept. It is also tough to accept that I have gained 150 pounds since we have been married, so I think, would he have been attracted to me if I had looked like this initially? Agggggggghhhhhh. Begone, mom’s shaming, critical voice!!!!!!

  47. Other Kate: re “I think it’s a sort of “of COURSE you can attract lesbians, they are tolerant, men are more judgmental so good on you” kind of thing. ”

    I’ve always thought the opposite! I’ve always thought.. of COURSE you can attract men… because that attraction is testosterone-driven and somehow.. simple. A pair of boobs, the standard orifices.. what is there for men not to be attracted to? Ohh, only in writing this do I see how hostile it sounds. But that echoes my early experiences, I think. Maybe because men were attracted to me exactly at the lowest point of my own self-perception of attractiveness (which also, ironically enough, intersected with the time in my life when I was the most ‘socially’ attractive)?

    It was like… they could see it (‘they’ being men, ‘it’ being my attractiveness); I couldn’t, so I concluded that they must be a bit … simple minded.

    With women, I always feel like the attraction is more thoughtful, more individual, more person-focused. And something else, too. It’s like… women know women’s bodies and personas from the inside out.. there’s no flash allure of the unknown, no illusion… so, when a woman finds me attractive.. well, I have always been far more flattered by that than when a man does.

    Okay, but, that having been said, it’s also fascinating to me how ‘split’ everything is in my mind. My life is sort of in two pieces. I spent half of it as a thin person, thinking I was fat, and the other approximate half as a fat person, thinking I wasn’t. My current FA awareness is just starting to glue those halves together. In some ways I think that first half (thin but feeling fat, with social acceptance) still looms larger in my mind. The first time I was close to sleeping with a woman.. before it actually happened… I was SO NERVOUS. I thought… if this was a man, I would KNOW what to do. I would suck in my gut and stick out my boobs and make my eyes all big and make all the right noises, and, in terms of .. adequate acceptability… I knew I could turn those elements into something that was ‘enough’. I know that’s ‘priveleged’, and I know my value in the male gaze is not as high at almost 40 years old and 180 lbs as it was 20 years and 50 pounds ago, but I still know the elements of it.. how to do it… those elements still work, and I could still ‘pass’. Um, maybe.

    With a woman…oh, lordy, it was like, all of what I knew had been wiped clean. It was.. among many other things.. much more exposing. I knew those silly smoke and mirrors tricks wouldn’t work. Plus, it mattered more to me.

    About women’s ‘fluid’ sexuality… when I was 18, a guardian angel of knowledge was watching over me and led me to a copy of the Kinsey Report in an airport bookshop, and on a flight to … oh, I think it was London-Vienna .. I read about the famous, or infamous, Kinsey Scale. And it has always explained everything to me. I was never confused after that. But, what I am confused by is whether how I think about it and how I want to identify myself is a cop-out or not. It might be. I always, at any stage in my life, would have said that I was about a 2 or 2.5 on the Kinsey Scale (with 0 being totally straight, 6 being totally gay). Now, as I get older, I’m more of a 3 or maybe even veering toward 4, not a monumental or identity-shattering change at all, internally, but externally, I would seem to have switched or changed teams. Lol. But the potential cop-out part is this: I don’t like saying that I’m bisexual. It sounds so… scientific. It doesn’t sound like me. It doesn’t sound correct. I would much rather give a Kinsey number. Hell, I’d have it printed on my passport, if it would help. I have no problem saying I’m attracted to women, but I just don’t want to say I’m bi, and I always do wonder if that’s a cop-out… if it’s like, in Brokeback Mountain, when Ennis says to Jack You know I ain’t queer.

    hahahaha.

  48. That is an interesting question when it comes to women – are they attractive because a person finds them attractive, or because they’ve been trained to find women attractive? That could go for just about anything sexual, really. Is finding certain outfits sexy because you think they’re sexy, or because that’s what you’ve always been told is sexy? Do dom/sub fantasies turn people on because they like it, or because that’s what most of porn is about? It can get into an entire area of whether free will really exists and how malleable brains are, if you want to go there. And then you could go all ultimate cause and say ok, if it’s because of training fine, but then how did the cultural milieu cause that certain thing to be the “norm” for sexiness if not because people found it sexy? Oh, my brain huuuuurts.

    But as a biologist, I still harbor the suspicion that people in general can be attracted to just about anyone they get a chance to. I would bet we’re a lot like bonobos that way. Point being that whichever way it goes, the more you think of yourself as attractive, the more attractive you find other people, and the other way round as well.

  49. THANK YOU. To everyone, and especially to SM for starting it. As yet another queer woman in a LTR with a guy, it’s nice to hear the chorus of ‘me too!’s. (Particularly those who’ve also opted out of marriage for political reasons. 7 years in, we’re mostly past the confused ‘but why?’ questions from family, and I *definitely* understand that this choice isn’t for everyone, but it’s always nice to know that we’re not the only ones choosing this path.)

    I still remember the watershed moment when I was first attracted to a significantly heavier woman – I was SO fucking happy, because it had really bugged me that the women I’d dated were all smaller than me. There was a piece missing up until then, a ‘do I really understand how they find me attractive when I haven’t found anyone of my size cute?’ doubt that was finally laid to rest with that awesome woman who came into the store.

    That said, even dating thinner women and seeing how their body image issues could coexist with my deep love for them and their bodies was helpful in teasing apart ‘my body IS icky’ from ‘I FEEL my body is icky’ from ‘I keep HEARING that my body is icky’. Even just the act of accepting my orientation and coming out was helpful, since there was a lot of jettisoning societal expectations that went into that process. It’s a lot easier to keep asking ‘why should I feel ________’ once you’ve gotten into the habit of it.

  50. but we’re not married, for a lot of reasons, most having to do with not wanting to participate in an institution that would discriminate against us if we were with other people.

    This. I’m straight (I find boobs aesthetically fascinating, but they do not make me feel weird in my pants), but the fact that I do not have the right to marry a woman if I wanted to bothers me. It also bothers me that I could marry my SO if I wanted, but only because I have a vagina – if I had a penis, I’d be out of luck, nevermind that I could be every bit as giggly and schmoopy and dedicated to him as I am with a vagina. I have no interest in supporting that bullshit.

    Which, recently, I’ve realized means I’ll always be a wedding-shower attendee and never a wedding-shower recipient, which makes me a little sad. I certainly do not begrudge any of my friends or family their wedding showers (more excuses to go shopping and give presents, whee!), but I have had to accept that opting out of traditional rituals, no matter how compelling my reasons, is not seen as any kind of reason to throw a party.

    (On the other hand, I am blessed that my family only thinks that’s “a little weird” and has no trouble relating to me as a result of it. We’ve come so far, yet still so far to go….)

  51. SM,

    Thanks for this post. I absolutely agree that, regardless of your personal sexual desires, the ability to look at a person and find something lovely about them makes it so much easier to find lovely things about yourself. In fact, I frequently want to tell the people that I see how lovely they are- particularly if I feel that they may not hear it enough, because they don’t fit the standard of beauty in one way or another. I wish that I felt such comments would be taken the right way- I usually end up keeping them to myself.

    In my personal situation, I’m both bisexual and non-monogamous. I currently have relationships with both a man and a woman. Because of my relationship with the man, and because it isn’t clear to everyone that I have more than one relationship, I have the curious experience of ‘passing’, which I try to opt out from pretty frequently, but that’s my choice, and that’s a privilege. But I also find it supremely weird to have people make assumptions about my sexuality, or to have people make little comments about homosexuality or non-monogamy, not realizing their relevance to me.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that having a non-normative sexuality is a lot like accepting my fat body, or any other non-normative and non-obvious personal choice. Most will assume that I have made one set of choices, or have one set of feelings, and act on that assumption, perhaps not even knowing that it is an assumption. And unless I want to start a pretty long conversation, or come up with a clever way to derail them, I hide an important part of yourself, or have it hidden for me.

    Passing makes me feel like the most important parts of me are invisible, and no matter how much easier that may make my life, it makes all the interactions based on it mean less. My privilege takes meaning from my life, and while I allow that because, so far, it is easier for me than fighting the tide every day, I sincerely wish we lived in a world where I could comfortably choose not to be invisible.

    I’m sure those who don’t have the choice to pass would appreciate that, too.

  52. That said, even dating thinner women and seeing how their body image issues could coexist with my deep love for them and their bodies was helpful in teasing apart ‘my body IS icky’ from ‘I FEEL my body is icky’ from ‘I keep HEARING that my body is icky’.

    Oh yes! This is a perfect way of putting it.

    But, I think that a lot of straight women would say they can identify in part with the post and learn from it because in learning to see beauty in others of all shapes and sizes can help them see it in themselves, whether or not that translates into sexual desire. So, in that case, it’s not “women are beautiful because they’re sex objects” but “I can see beauty in people even if I’m not thinking about fucking them.” That can be big, I think.

    I totally agree, lt, and thank you for pointing out that potential subtext. I worry sometimes that statements about how women are just “naturally” more attractive to everybody erases forms of sexuality that aren’t 100% hetero or 100% homo. But I don’t think that means that individual people don’t own their own feelings and attractions and identifications.

  53. As another Queer-identified woman in a partnership with a Queer- identified man, thank you for writing this post!

  54. Seriously, I’m starting to think we should form a club!

    There do seem to be 6 or 7 million of you. I had no idea!

  55. Reading the comments from this post reminded me of something that has been bugging me recently; I think I dislike passing for a non-queer woman most because of the little assumptions people make; and because of the little things people say to me.

    An example; my queerness is unrelated to the frequency of my sexual appetite but, regardless, prior to my current OH (coming up for 7 years this year), my longest “relationship” was around 6 months. I was never interested in committing, or having anything serious. I have always been sexually open, and happy to have multiple friends-with-benefits over anything more serious or monogamous. Group sex was also okay. The only reason I have not continued to live that lifestyle is because of the one person I just happened to meet; if he hadn’t turned up, chances are I would still, happily, be living a mostly similar life to my previous one.

    Recently, some of my more conservative friends were trying to gossip with me about some of our more sexually casual friends, about how “bad” they must be in relationships etc; and when I make a point of reminding them that, before they met me, I was living a far more “casual” life myself, their response is “well yes, but you got over it”.

    I get similar assumptions and issues with passing for straight and being in a seemingly vanilla relationship; having to listen to people gossip about some of the more open kinky people at work, make nasty comments, talk about transgender issues and gay issues with such UTTER OBLIVIOUS STUPIDITY and finding myself torn between grinding my teeth down and screaming at them that I AM NOT LIKE YOU! I AM MORE LIKE THOSE PEOPLE THAN LIKE YOU! YOU JUST DON’T SEEM TO NOTICE IT!.

    Don’t even get me started on “sexuality is a choice. See; you were bi and you chose”.

    Ahem.

  56. And yeah, we should totally start a club. Seriously; I can’t believe how many of us there are all in the one place. It’s like being back home; my home area had a sprawling, vibrant queer community. Seems every damn person this side of London is straight.

  57. I also appreciate this post. I am a bi woman but I’ve never been in any relationship. And yet, like someone said earlier, you never have to “prove” straightness. I’ve had people say “But how do you know you’re bi if you’ve never been in a relationship with a woman?” whereas the man thing never comes up.

    I also detest “passing” but unfortunately people read other people as straight, especially if they have negative associations with gay people and I’m not in a relationship with a woman. In some ways I have to keep coming out over and over again and it would be easier if people could just look at me and tell, or if I had some sort of queer status symbol (i.e. a girlfriend). I try wearing rainbows and people go “I love your necklace!” without making the connection, lol.

    So I’m thankful for this post and also for the comments. There are a lot of bi women on the internet, but in the real world all we have is Tila Tequila and Katy Perry and it’s no wonder “bi” has such negative connotations.

  58. “I try wearing rainbows and people go “I love your necklace!” without making the connection, lol”

    This made me LOL. I’ve never tried wearing rainbows, but I’m sure if I did, the same thing would happen.

  59. For me it’s almost impossible to parse queer and FA. I grew up in a queer family, and learned all my fat self-hatred by modeling on my self-hating (“but YOU’RE beautiful!”) queer mentors. Anyway; I wonder if some of it is contextual. Patriarchy had its hot little mitts all over the various parts of my family, and so in some ways straight monogamy has been liberating for me because the way I knew patriarchy most intimately was via bi-poly structures and dieting lesbians who wanted to be more like their slenderer athletic group… I grew up with little TV and media access, and really my fear and hatred of my own body was about my parents and caregivers and their loved ones.

    But the first time I let myself become fully erotic, which was with a guy (and maybe that is merely accidental or maybe because I’m mainly hetero, but what’s true is that I’m monogamous, so I certainly hope I don’t get the chance to test my orientation again) my inner nattering critic shut the hell up, and my body became an amazing conduit for a sort of experience I hadn’t shared before.

    And that really was healing. It didn’t make me size accepting, but it did put me more INTO my body, which required that I start the dialogue that lead to looking for non-diet alternatives.

  60. This post really hit home for me. I came out as a lesbian when I was 23 years old. Prior to that I dated and had relationships with men, but they never felt “right” and I often assumed that it was because of my weight. I knew that it was possible for two people to meet, have chemistry and not be able to keep their hands off each other; I assumed this never happened to me because I was unattractive when really, I was UNATTRACTED. Therefore, I wasn’t sending the right signals. Chemistry works two ways.

    I do feel like my sexual orientation protects me from the male gaze to a degree. If some douchehound says, “I wouldn’t do you if you were the last woman on Earth,” I am quite confident in the knowledge that I wouldn’t do him either, so I am not inclined to care or be hurt by the comment. If I were looking for the approval of men (not necessarily all men, but even some men) I might be more inclined to internalize it.

    I don’t have a “type,” when it comes to size. I’ve been interested in women who were a whole lot bigger AND a whole lot smaller than me… but I’ve found that body image insecurities DO come into play sometimes when I am interested in a thin woman. It makes me feel large and awkward and unfeminine, even though it shouldn’t.

  61. Just wanted to say thanks for this post. As a queer female-bodied person in a hetero relationship, I can really relate. I dated women for a few years, and then found myself drawn back more to (some) men. I think that since I’ve been dating this man (who is queer and a feminist himself) I’ve been judging my own body more harshly simply because I started once again seeing myself through the hetero male gaze of our culture. But of course it doesn’t have to be that way. Thanks for reminding me of that.

  62. At least several percent of the population is bi, right? And some lean more gay and some lean more straight, but on average, they probably fall in the middle. And by most accounts, ~90-95% of the population identifies as straight, so that means that 90-95% of possible mutually-attracted matches available to bisexual people are going to be heterosexual matches. So bi people aren’t frequently in hetero relationships because they just choose to pass or don’t really mean it about that whole bisexuality thing. It’s just the statistics of who is available to match up with, and it annoys me when the less open-minded people out there respond to the visual effects of this really easy math (i.e. lots of bi-identified people in heterosexual relationships) by questioning the validity of bisexuality altogether, or by stereotyping what it means. gah.

    The other effect of that is that it’s a damn big club! :)

  63. Thank you. As yet one more in the list of queer women seriously attached to a man, this hits home. My partner is deliciously skinny — I love his skinniness, because it’s him — and I am not. And it is true that I have to work harder to feel attractive naked with him than I do when I’m with a woman.

    Oddly, perhaps, training to be a labor doula has helped me accept my body much, much better. Watching women give birth, working closely with women’s bodies, have all made me stop and think, “How awesome her body is! How powerful and how beautiful! But wait, I can do that, too, can’t I? Cool! How awesome *my* body is! How powerful and beautiful!”

  64. I could have written this.

    Part of the thing that helped me get past a lot of body hatred was having several very intense relationships with women, and for me, making love to them was in a way telling my body, with its curves and sags and rivers of stretch marks running down the hills and valleys of myself that yes, this too was beauty, loved, beloved, also right.

    But I’m also poly, and primary relationshipped with a male. I wonder sometimes if I should move to calling myself queer instead of bi. Things are too fluid for bi any more.

  65. Oh, I totally relate. As a bisexual feminist and new to fat acceptance, finding larger ladies attractive is a big self esteem boost for me as well. When I see a larger woman and I feel attracted to her, that sort of attraction normalizes my own body and makes me feel much more accepted. Part of being fat is secretly fearing that nobody finds you attractive, which is a hard feeling to beat off when you’re single and don’t have the validation that non-singles have. Finding a larger woman attractive is a validation that someone, even queer women like me, that find bodies outside of the thin ideal desirable. That someone, of course, being me.

    Then again, while my self-esteem is often immeasurably better in a lesbian relationship then in a “straight” relationship, navigating the homophobic world is fraught with anxiety and anger at the bigotry and intolerance of others.

    For women, it truly is a lose-lose situation: you either have relationships with men and have to stomach the thin-ideal implicit in the male gaze, you have relationships with men and have to closet your affection for each other in public, or you can be single and have to wonder if anyone finds you attractive or if you fail as a woman/human for being single and happy without sex and a significant other.

    As is said on other feminist blogs, I blame the patriarchy and heteronormativity.

  66. This piece is amazing, SM. Well written and thought provoking.

    I’m queer as well, and have had some similar experiences with appreciating the bodies of the women I have been attracted to / dated / had sex with. I’m currently in a relationship with a trans man. It’s the first time I’ve been in a relationship with a male, and I always appreciate reading about how other queer women feel when dating a man. (If anyone wants to point me towards any blogs addressing this, I would love that.)

    It seems that I am most attracted to women who are taller than I am (actually, there’s never been an exception to that one), and physically larger than I am (mostly a size or two bigger, though this varies and I have been attracted to women who are thinner, but taller, than I am). And I am very attracted to curves, and not particularly attracted to people I see as thin or small. Yet I still struggle with wanting to be smaller and thinner (along with an eating disorder that is responsible for my current size-2-ish body, which is not a healthy size for me). It’s really hard for me to reconcile not being attracted to women my size because they’re too thin for my tastes, yet wanting to be smaller, even though I’m already too thin for my body type. It makes me think that my desire to be smaller is entirely a product of the eating disorder and the culture I live in, which is, I suppose, a good thing to realize.

    and like I said,I’m dating a trans man, and it’s the first time I’ve been in a serious relationship with a male. I am fascinated by the dynamics that are emerging – my previous relationships with women have not had either of us in a traditionally masculine or feminine role, while this one clearly does, and I’m enjoying “playing” the girl – yet it still feels like I’m playing a part, in a way. I’m always happier with my body while I’m in a relationship (both because my partner likes my body and because sex makes me feel good about what my body can do and how it responds). In addition to that, though, it’s somehow easier for me to feel good about my body in this particular relationship, because I am not comparing my body to another female body. Although my boyfriend hasn’t medically transitioned yet (pre-op, pre-t), he’s a guy, so he has a male body, and thus I compare us less, though I still do somewhat.

    This comment is long and the more I edit it, the less sense it makes, so I’m just going to hit submit.

  67. Oh wow that’s waaaay longer than I realized. Like I said, this post was very thought-provoking for me :)

  68. Thank you, SM, for posting this, and thank you for the comment on whether finding women attractive is a socially conditioned response rather than just because women’s forms are generally more visually pleasing.

    I guess I am in the club of queer women in opposite relationships – most of my relationships have been opposite-sex, but at the same time that is very far from how I define my sexuality. It took awhile to figure out that I was attracted to women, but once I did, things made so much more sense. Not really my personality (though I am a good part tomboy), but the crushes I had on girls going back to elementary school, that tingle in my stomach every time I saw my acting teacher, and the fact that while my friends were crushing on the boys in elementary school, it wasn’t until seventh grade that I felt that way towards a guy.

    Sometimes I feel like I would be more comfortable in a same-sex relationship because it would allow me to be more open about who I am, and not to risk falling into that role of the titillating bisexual that only kisses girls to please other guys. But at the same time, this one particular guy is really about as good as it’s going to get for me and it would take a lot more than vague insecurities about sexuality to give him up. Even if I really do hate the idea of possibly coming off as a Katy Perry-type bi girl.

    Although I do feel this sort of weird guilt for passing because while I don’t closet myself, my sexuality doesn’t often come up. People just assume I’m straight and it’s one thing to put them right if I’m telling a story that contradicts that assumption or we’re talking about relationship history but it’s another if we’re not and they’ve never actually said anything about their assumption. There’s a lot of people in my life (my boss, my boyfriend’s family) who I know for a fact would be 100% accepting of my sexuality were they to know it, but with whom I don’t really want to discuss anything dealing with sex.

    As far as body image, my attraction to women definitely makes it easier to accept myself. I know firsthand that what *I* find attractive doesn’t always match the societal ideal, so clearly that is not the be all and end of all.

  69. “…you either have relationships with men and have to stomach the thin-ideal implicit in the male gaze…”

    I’d be very cautious of wholesale associating relationships with men with pressure to conform to social norms, as much as I’d be caustious of wholesale associating lesbian relationships with body acceptance.

    I think there’s can be an enormous difference between the ‘male gaze’ and what actually happens in relationships with actual men. I also think, as someone said above, that the ‘male gaze’ is also internalised by women, and is not absent in same sex relationships.

    Personally, I’ve had two relationships where I felt unquestionably desired and desirable, beautiful, wanted, validated, and sexy, and both of those were with men. It’s not something I’ve experienced in relationships with women. Which is not to invalidate other people’s experiences, but I do think it’s too easy a binary to fall into.

  70. Though I’ve never identified as anything but straight I agree too that this is a post many women can probably relate to. Though I’ve identified as straight I’ve always been one to look it seems at every other woman and see how beautiful she is. For a good long while (till quite recently really) I think it was mostly a jealousy, “how much higher socially is she because of her body?” type of thing, part of it was also probably a confidence issue (for so long, and sometimes still it seemed I could see beauty in everyone but ugly ugly me). Whatever it was/is, as I came to FA it was something I became grateful for. I was glad I already had a way of finding the beauty and appreciating the quirks of many different types of bodies. I felt like I already had a head start on finding ways to love the way my naked stomach sort of looks like a warped cello or how to love my muscular calves and long arms.

    It’s interesting how learning to become more (or just plain being more) accepting or loving of others’ qualities can sometimes lead to becoming more accepting and loving of your own qualities, whether they be a jiggly stomach or a heated temper.

  71. Fascinating discussion. I identify as straight … but I’ve always found women beautiful and attractive. Even sexually attractive. I never thought that meant I was queer …. I’ve never had a full-on “crush” on a woman or desired to have sex with one …

    Probably an object lesson about how easy it is to internalize the media imagery of what constitues sexual desirability, as above….

    Be that as it may, I’ve been realizing lately that my vision of female desireability is way too narrow, too pre-programmed. I’ve been doing a lot of Adipositivity gazing, with a view to broadening my parameters for what I consider gorgeous, even though I don’t seek women as sexual partners. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I just don’t LIKE having my strings yanked by the prevailing culture (the patriarchy, if you will, although I think it’s as much the corporatocracy at this point; regardless, I don’t like being played.) Maybe because having a positive response (asterisk) to women in a wider size/age range will make me more chuffed with my own body, which is a good thing.

    Maybe because Crystal Renn is made of hot and I just want an excuse to look at her in that Gaultier dress; grin.

    Speaking of that Gaultier dress, one more wrinkle on the “are women really more visually pleasing or have we just internalized the relentless imagery” question …. it seems like by and large, only women are presented decorated …. makeup, jewelry, flowers, sensual fabrics, all that gorgeousness. For those of us who find such personal decoration attractive, viewing it on women is pretty much our only option …..

  72. Thank you so much for this insight, I finally understand something I’ve never managed to wrap my head around (and none of my queer friends had quite managed to explain) before now. I’m so glad I got up early this morning; this was a great way to start the day.

  73. Another queer here, although I’ve chosen singleness. I’ve found that I like my body better when I compare it to the (many) hot women around that are similar to my size/shape. There’s still things I struggle with – queerness is not a get-out-of-self-hatred-free card by any means, but I find that it’s an easily switch to flip when I remember the wide range of shapes I love.

    I also find that true for being single, oddly enough. Not actively seeking a partner means that I’m not evaluating myself constantly to see if I might catch the gaze of a potential mate, or if I might be shaming my current one (by not “measuring up” or “proving my awesomeness”).* It’s not that the awareness of the male gaze is switched off, but it’s not quite as important. When I was single-but-looking, I found that I often adjusted my gaze to an “appropriate” partner, one that I thought matched my hotness level. This is patently silly, and I knew it, but I did it anyway. If someone was “too hot”, then I felt obligated to ignore them. This was a favor to them, because I didn’t wish to burden them with my unworthy admiration. (WTF, right?) But now, I get to admire anyone I please, conventionally hot or not.

    *It’s also great for intuitive eating – want a pizza? Want to skip dinner/eat late/snack a lot/get off the bus now and eat at that great noodle joint? You can!**

    ** You thought I was going to say “in zir pants”, didn’t you? HA!

  74. I am a queer woman married to a gay man for nine years (it even says so in my blog subheading). I have never dated men so I don’t have any perspective on how I come across to men in dating potential but I do know that I could go into a bar (almost wrote barn!) and in 5 minutes have a woman hit on me whether I was at my thinnest or fattest.

    As for passing – after 9 years of my very queer marriage, both my husband and I have learned that while having this straight privilege is very weird (and feels undeserving) it also allows us to challenge others where we can. It helps immensely that we both are very entrenched in the queer community and nearly all of our friends are queer, so no one really “forgets” our orientations.

  75. Awesome post, SM. It’s reassuring to see how many other queer-identified women there are in relationships with men, as someone who has been avoiding dealing with her attraction to women for, oh, 12-13 years now. (It was pretty funny when I found a journal from my freshman year of high school where I decided I was bi).

    But–and this is a GIANT GIANT sexism and misogyny flag that I am about to hoist–I’ve always struggled with crippling fear of acting on my desires because of my nagging sense that women will be more judgmental of my body. It’s like all the junior-high, locker room, porn-watching, lady-mag-reading anxiety wrapped up into a big ball of omg-she-is-so-hot-but-I-couldn’t-possible-let-her-see-me-naked.

    It’s sad, really. Especially since I’m almost certainly very, very wrong.

    Anyway, this post gives me a little hope.

  76. I want to point out that I don’t think SM is saying anywhere that the queer community or queerness in general is any more fat-positive than heterosexuality. I don’t think she’d ever disavow anyone’s positive heterosexual experiences. And certainly none of the bloggers here are naive enough to claim that any one marginalized community is more fat-positive than the dominant paradigm (for an example of that point, see Julia Starkey’s essay in Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere).

    I want to talk about how having sex with women is good for my self-esteem.
    See, this is key. The experience of having been with women – not being part of a queer community. It’s an internal process. I know when I was with a woman…she was any more vocally affirming of my beauty or positive towards my body than any male partner I’ve been with (less so than my current boyfriend, really). But I became more aware of the amazing variety that exists in the female form. I certainly was comparing my body to hers, and to other women’s – but not in a critical way; it was more out of wonder. I really don’t think it’s any coincidence that shortly after/towards the end of our relationship I really embraced FA.

  77. m.leblanc, mileage varies a lot, but I certainly hear way less from the queer community than the straight male population regarding the acceptability of my body. I also observe somewhat less of a hang-up about going for people that you find attractive, rather than people who you’re *supposed* to find attractive. (Maybe this is because once you’ve come out as queer, it’s easier to embrace other aspects of your sexuality as well – I’ve noticed the same thing with kink identification.)

    Of course, whenever generalizations are made about a big group, there’s exceptions – there’s plenty of queer folk that are not nonjudgmental paragons of feminism and fat acceptance.

  78. So bi people aren’t frequently in hetero relationships because they just choose to pass or don’t really mean it about that whole bisexuality thing. It’s just the statistics of who is available to match up with, and it annoys me when the less open-minded people out there respond to the visual effects of this really easy math (i.e. lots of bi-identified people in heterosexual relationships) by questioning the validity of bisexuality altogether, or by stereotyping what it means. gah.

    Dude, I have NEVER done that math before and now it seems so obvious. Thank you!

  79. @Anita, thank you for replying. I’m having one of those weekends where people are telling me I’m wrong for choosing the single life. Usually I’m the first one out the door for the “It’s Okay to Be Single” parade, but for fuck’s sake, when it’s your best friend doing the “I’m so happy now that I’m married, You Can Be Too!” tango, it gets a little rough.

  80. Resident scientist to the rescue! *

    * Of course, spending time at a women’s college really changes these statistics. The availability of potentially mutually interested partners is much more skewed to just women in that setting, as well as a bit more of the gay, which, if you’re a bi woman, means you have a higher chance of matching up with another woman.

  81. I’m late to this, but this is a really amazing post. I’m also learning a hell of a lot from the comments.

    It’s got me wondering if my always having a lot of close male friends — usually those who felt like “failed dudes” in the same way that, like your friend, I felt like I was a “failed girl” — was my faltering attempt to opt out of the same system. Even though I’m straight, growing up I always felt like I was just really, really terrible at the girl-competition thing… it was such effort to remember to care, and even when I did care I always messed it up, etc. And yet I was also aware that that script for competition among girls successfully defined most of the available possibilities for friendship with other girls and women. Whereas since there was almost *no* script for male-female friendships, I felt a lot more free to relax and just, you know, be a friend. Now that I’m married to a man and a mother and unhappily enmeshed in a fairly conservative local culture, I really really miss these friendships with men.

  82. I suppose I’ve always known that human sexuality presents itself along a very long and squiggly spectrum. As a lesbian, I’ve got plenty of lesbian friends who swing with boys at some time or another.

    But I’m gobsmacked — just gobsmacked — by the number of folks here who self-identify as queer and are in LTR with men. I thought this was a mostly-straight commenting choir here.

  83. this is a great post, thank you for writing it.
    it actually makes me wish i could be sexually attracted to women and take a vacation from the constant awareness of the male gaze (of which you speak so eloquently) but alas. alas.

    we don’t get to choose gayness. drat!

  84. I’m queer/bisexual as well, and have never dated a woman with a body similar to my own, so my experiences have been different. I found I viewed myself differently after my last serious girlfriend, but largely because she was so unreservedly struck by my beauty and that made me see it too. I’d had a male lover before her who was similar in that regard, but I think from her it felt even more “whole” because she could so easily see the things I worried about myself, since she too was under the male gaze, and then address them with her compliments and support.

    Thanks for writing this, very well said!

  85. I’ve had people say “But how do you know you’re bi if you’ve never been in a relationship with a woman?” whereas the man thing never comes up.

    Eh, it goes both ways. I’m bi and have been in one relationship in my life – with a girl – and I get a lot of “but how do you KNOW you’re bi”? from all kinds of people. The most extreme bi-phobia I’ve ever experienced was during a GLBTQ-straight alliance meeting, and in my intro to women’s studies class at my college.

    Believe me, it comes from both sides of the aisle. *facepalm*

    To bring it back to this post, though, I do agree. I think it can be a generalization to say that ALL men are more judgmental/make a woman feel more judged and ALL women are less judgmental/make a woman feel better about her own body, but I feel like my personal experience around groups of lads and ladies tends to line up similarly.

    Or rather…for a long time I compared myself negatively to other women, but having been in a relationship with a woman for a long time, and going to an all-women’s school, I’ve become more confident. When you see that the average woman really IS larger (because you’re surrounded by average …I mean, totally above average! :D …women every day) and you have a beautiful girlfriend that you adore that you can SEE is amazing despite being bigger than the societal norm, it makes you a little angry at the constant pressure to lose weight.

  86. I thought this was a mostly-straight commenting choir here.

    Yeah, I think that those of us who read pretty much every comment already knew the commentariat wasn’t anywhere near as overwhelmingly straight as it is, say, overwhelmingly white. But I am kind of surprised to see how many queer-identified women in LTRs with men there are, too! (Of course, as usual, Resident Scientist Volcanista explains it all.)

    Like everyone else has said, Sweet Machine, awesome post. And I’m loving the conversation in comments. I completely agree (in fact, there’s a chapter in the book about this) that looking for the beauty in other women — whether you’re attracted to them or not — can have a tremendously positive effect on your own body image. I was amazed by how much nicer I was to myself once I stopped looking for flaws in everyone else, too.

  87. To add to Volcanista’s point, I have experienced the same effect only even stronger, because I went to a tech school and have an easier time making friends with guys. Now, I’m pretty much a Kinsey 3, but 80% (yes, I counted) of my romantic relationships have been with guys. This is because my social circles are overwhelmingly male — probably close to the same ratio, come to think of it. The set of people to whom I’ve been seriously (long-term) attracted is probably a lot closer to 50-50, but the odds are just totally not in favour of that working out.

    So add me to the tally as another queer w…

    Ugh, I hate describing myself as a woman. It feels wrong, somehow. I wish we hadn’t lost the word “wyrman”, and then I could just take the middle way and call myself a man. Let me try this sentence I just typed again:

    So add me to the tally as a female-bodied androgyne with a queerish male partner. Mmm, smells like passing privilege!

  88. I guess I’m kind of an anomaly here, as a straight women married to a queer-identified man. My husband and I were really young when we started dating (19) and so neither one of us had loads of relationships beforehand, but his relationships before me were pretty evenly split between men and women. I have to admit that, despite all of my liberality, it did make me a little bit uncomfortable at first, only because I had that “Can a bisexual person really be satisfied in a monogamous relationship?” worry, until I realized how silly it was, given that being attracted to both men and women isn’t, in terms of a monogamous LTR, really any different from being attracted to one or the other. In both cases you are deciding that, regardless of how many other people you might find attractive, you are going to be faithful to one partner.

    Now my husband finds, after we’ve been together for 12 years, that he is mainly attracted to women. Sometimes that leaves him kind of stuck on how to identify or think about his relationships before me, and wonder if it was a “phase,” but I tend to think that there’s really no reason to have to label things. I realize that, for political reasons, there is good reason to talk about sexual identity as more genetic or fixed, and to some degree it is, but I also think it’s more fluid than most people grant. I would identify as a straight woman, but I don’t see any reason why, if the circumstances and person had been right, I might not have had a relationship with another woman. I also don’t see any reason why, given the right circumstances, I couldn’t have been perfectly content to remain single. I don’t know, I guess I think that so many things about us change throughout life that there’s no reason to think of sexual identity as being some sort of essential, unchangeable characteristic about us.

  89. but I think from her it felt even more “whole” because she could so easily see the things I worried about myself, since she too was under the male gaze, and then address them with her compliments and support.

    Yes, that’s an interesting aspect of it, too. I know that my ex and I both struggled with body image pressures before (and after) our relationship.

  90. I realize that, for political reasons, there is good reason to talk about sexual identity as more genetic or fixed, and to some degree it is, but I also think it’s more fluid than most people grant

    So agreed. Highly recommend (to really almost anyone, but especially my fellow queer women in “hetero” relationships, and *especially* those who might feel more strongly attracted to women) Sexual Fluidity by Lisa Diamond. So relieving, so affirming.

    I wholeheartedly support anyone’s believe that for hirself, personally, sexual orientation is genetic, wired from birth. It is not for me. I have evolved. I read my journals from adolescence, and I’d say I was 95% straight most of that time; I was open to the idea that I could become attracted to women, but I wasn’t. Really, they only started to be on my radar as my circle of queer friends expanded, I was exposed to the richness of variety in college, became more aware of different kinds of people in general.

    But yeah, I was so straight as a kid/younger teenager. So into boys, and even if it was on some level because I “ought” to be, it was still genuine (just as my attraction to men now, though rarer, is genuine) – and so much more substantial than my interest in men is now.

  91. Volcanista, thanks for putting into math terms. When I first came out as bi I was single, and I got use to explaining that “In practice, being bi means I’m not dating TWICE as many people as everyone else isn’t dating” ;)

    It made people laugh, but it also got them thinking!

  92. daphne, the late great Eve Sedgwick wrote something along the same lines in Epistemology of the Closet that really resonated with me: not all gay adults were gay children, and not all gay children grow up to be gay adults.

  93. I dunno. Being queer kinda brings up a lot of body anxiety for me, mostly of the kind I get when I think about being single. I get that “what if no woman finds me attractive” rant that starts with “I’m old and fat” and quickly becomes a run on sentence of all my physical faults and ends with me a gibbering heap hoping I never lose my husband because it’s just so much easier to be married! Straight privilege in action, kinda.

    I was fat in my 20’s too (though not superfat!), and now I see women who look like I did then (not necessarily that young), and think “damn!”. Then I feel skeevy for checking some random woman out when she’s out shopping or whatever, because she doesn’t exist for my viewing pleasure. I can kinda see why women hit on me back then.

    Now though, all the anxiety over the thought of ever having to date again makes me feel like I’m a troglodyte. Maybe I just never got the chance to enjoy a community with other queer women and feel ok with myself. I do kind of feel I met my husband before my looks left me, photographic evidence bears me out on that one. He’s been getting better looking every year, tho. I think he’s stealing my beauty while I sleep.

  94. living400lbs, ha. Though even that isn’t really true. My attraction is limited by other things, just not the gender binary. I mean, I almost exclusively am attracted to brilliant and relatively socially adept nerds, which is pretty restrictive! I’m not attracted to twice as many people (or rejecting twice as many) – just using different criteria.

  95. OMG, Volcanista, “relatively socially adept nerds” totally describes my type as well! No wonder I’ve had such a hard time!

  96. daphne, the late great Eve Sedgwick wrote something along the same lines in Epistemology of the Closet that really resonated with me: not all gay adults were gay children, and not all gay children grow up to be gay adults.

    I clearly need to brush up on my queer theory ;) (It’s only been 3?4? years since I read that but it feels like forever…) It was classes with my Foucault-loving advisor in my senior year of college that made me feel I was “allowed” to call myself queer.

  97. Unfortunately, gay men who identify the mainstream “Scene” -affilliated crowd [{cough}Dan Savage{cough}], are the exact opposite. Lack of physical attraction to another homosexual man is often viewed as grounds for holding an extremely bitter lifelong grudge. My acquaintance with the specific horrors of the Scene occured in Madison, Wisconsin during the 80’s and 90’s, and during this time, I eventually learned that even no scene is better that Scene. I have heard from other sources that this sort of thinking is very readily found in the gay bars and similar venues across the country.

    This is not to say that there are not a lot of homosexual men who strive to avoid being so vindictively shallow and ignorant. And the one thing, as diverse as these men are in all other respects, that they have in common is that they all despise and avoid the Scene.

  98. I think “relatively socially adept nerds” describes the entire Venn diagram of all of my platonic/romantic/other relationships, ever.

  99. car, probably me, too! my romantic attraction is actually mostly limited to the extremely brilliant ones who are cute, wear glasses, and smell right.

  100. car/volcanista/etc.: would this be similar to the realization I had (after getting involved with my husband) that every single relationship I’ve ever had has been with a(nother) computer geek?

  101. Please: When are you going to post about MeMe Roth’s interview comparing eating with rape, or about the Australian government plan to encourage bariatic surgery for all obese? PLEASE!

  102. would this be similar to the realization I had (after getting involved with my husband) that every single relationship I’ve ever had has been with a(nother) computer geek?

    This realization can also happen when you post something completely geeky on your facebook, and then a bunch of people think it’s interesting enough to comment on, and then you realize almost everyone who’s commented on it is someone you’ve dated.

    Not that I know anyone that’s happened to or anything.

  103. Thank you for this, it has really made me think. I feel more queer, although I am married to the loveliest man in the world. I have had relationships with girls and when I heard recently that my ex-girlf was getting married to a man, although I was married by then myself, I couldn’t help a pang of sadness. Being with her and around other gay women had made me feel very accepted as a person and not just identified as a dress size. My husband is so kind, but he is very tall and thin and I can’t help thinking that other people are making unkind jokes about Jack Spratt and his wife when we walk past; I never felt that size judgement in a homo relationship.

    *waddles off pondering*

  104. Cathy you said: “Passing makes me feel like the most important parts of me are invisible, and no matter how much easier that may make my life, it makes all the interactions based on it mean less. My privilege takes meaning from my life, and while I allow that because, so far, it is easier for me than fighting the tide every day, I sincerely wish we lived in a world where I could comfortably choose not to be invisible.”

    Wow. So precisely how I feel. In so many ways.

    Thank you – SM for the awesome, sensitive, insightful post, and everyone who opened up about themselves and made me feel like I can learn to do the same.

  105. Sweet Machine, thank you SO MUCH for this! I coincidentally ended up in a conversation last night with a friend who was saying that she didn’t think any of the guys she respected and admired could ever like her, because while she may have good qualities, there’ll always be another girl around with those same good qualities who is also prettier and thinner. I sent her to your post and to the one linked in it, the V-day repost, and she ended up saying that she thinks she has to read these posts over and over until they sink in and stay with her. I’m not sure it convinced her that she’s beautiful, but your post does do a fabulous job of showing that desirability can be distinct from what society tends to call beauty. As a straight woman who doesn’t naturally tend to look at women’s bodies as objects of desire, I really needed to hear that. I’d heard it before, but…somehow your post made it easier to believe. Thanks for helping me AND helping me help a friend.

  106. This is very similar to my experience. I identify as bi but am married to a man (the fact that some people assume that bi women who hook up permanently with men have somehow turned straight is a whole other can of worms). But my way of thinking still isn’t typical of a straight woman since, well, I’m not straight and my experiences have been different.

    As well as leading to a healthier way of looking at your own body, because you can see aspects of what you find desireable in other women in yourself, I think there’s another interesting side-effect of being queer as a woman. In my experience women who’re queer are less competative over looks in general. What I mean is, looking at women more beautiful than myself doesn’t make me jealous so much as horny/lustful/admiring. It’s almost impossible to look at other women soley in terms of competing to be the prettiest of them all when other women are potential lovers in your eyes. Basically it changes everything.

    Everyone saw that survey that found that women who’re queer have better body image than straight women, right? Didn’t surprise me at all. I don’t think it’s just that lesbian culture is less judgmental in its beauty standards, I think it’s the way all the different factors interact to lead to a totally different way of looking at other women, which in turn leads to a different way of looking at oneself.

  107. I’m gonna chime in to agree with everyone else who said this was an awesome post!

    I’m heteroflexible/mostly straight. I’ve never been in a relationship with a woman, mostly because the first woman I was attracted enough to actually try to start anything shot me down badly. I never really recovered from that, and while I am relatively at ease with even guys I find very attractive, I am skiddish as all hell with a woman I’m attracted to.

    For me, the trouble with women stems mostly from my own tastes – I like very athletic women, and tend to prefer slender-ish women. I think it’s mostly because I find such a capable body that much more fascinating – the 3 women I can remember being the most attracted to were a fellow swordfighter, a dancer who could dance circles around me, and a massage therapist. The rest of it is that I really do just prefer a body that is very different from mine. My body isn’t that kind of interesting to me, nor generally is my body-type.

    ~Kali

  108. What’s odd for me as a bi person is that the women I’m attracted to kind of look like idealised versions of myself (short, curvy), but the men I’m attracted to look nothing like me at all (tall, skinny). The only resemblance is that both men and women I’m attracted to tend to have dark hair and dark eyes (also like myself and most of my family, and most of my childhood family friends).

    Anyone else have similar experiences? It occurs to me that feelings about oneself and/or women who one loved growing up may well lead one to find similar-looking women more attractive, but I dunno, that could be reaching/confirmation bias.

  109. I am coming back to this for absolutely no good reason, except that I said I couldn’t parse queer and FA, and that sentence wasn’t finished, really and I realized later while doing dishes that it could be read differently than I meant. In a number of directions.
    What I meant is this: for me, fat and queer are bound up, but in fat I am educated by society, whereas for queer it was always straight society that didn’t make sense. *g*

    What I really meant was that erotic experiences, sort of like birth giving, can cause us to experience our bodies differently than externally.

    I have no idea if anyone was bothered *besides* me, but it’s been bugging me, so.

  110. Awesome post, SM.

    I am a bi women who’s never been in a relationship with a woman (I didn’t date until age 19, then met my current male partner and we are still together 5 years later). I don’t talk about it IRL because I’m inevitably scoffed at (there’s no such thing as bi; you can’t say you’re bi unless you’ve had sex with a woman) or fetishized.

    One thing I find odd about myself is how very very selective I am about men’s looks (I don’t like skinny or fat men, I’m not crazy about white men, no blonde or red hair or freckles, they have to have dark hair, darker skin preferred, they can’t be much taller than me, they have to be quiet and boyish), and how widely the women I have been attracted to vary. I very much have a ‘type’ of man but for women, not at all. A woman can be short, tall, skinny, fat, big boobs, no boobs, all races, any type of coloring, all flavors of personalities.. Maybe because I have always liked women as a group so much more.

    I do feel very much that my affection for women has spilled over into affection for myself and my body.

  111. Thank you for touching on the point that queerness isn’t completely about sex. I have been really thinking about this subject lately, and that’s been really bothering me. How can someone look at two men happy together and just assume that their relationship is a fetish?

    I’m always geeked to ‘meet’ another queer-identified woman in a relationship with another queer-identified man. People just don’t seem to get that our identities aren’t less valid because we’re together.

  112. This morning I was thinking about Volcanista’s comment about the statistics and why us bi/pan/omni-sexual women often end up with men, and it occurred to me that because women tend to live longer than men, once we get to old age and our male partners pass on, the situation will reverse itself and we will have much better luck at finding partners in senior living complexes! Wait, unless we’re surrounded by straight women. Nevermind.

    Anyway, add me to the club. Except that as I’ve only ever had one relationship, my husband, I’ve had a really difficult time figuring out appropriate ways to come out casually and appropriately in conversation. There’s no ex-gfs to mention and a ton of worry about people’s reactions vis-a-vis truth-telling, “see, you chose a man,” “kinky!”, “oh yes, we’ve all kissed girls experimentally” etc. And when I did join a local bi- group for a short while, it seemed like we were the only monogamous couple and got a lot of flak for that. Monogamy seems to be an even stronger orientation than whichever gender for me, so sometimes it seems like it’s so theoretical I wonder what the point is.

    We did choose legal marriage consciously. I think for me part of the calculation was that the number of extra hours we’d have to work to obtain health insurance and so forth are hours we wouldn’t have to advocate on behalf of anyone’s rights. So I’m trying to use the het privilege responsibly by using that extra time to learn about feminism, FA, and all kinds of equal rights and advocate for those. (Not saying all opposite-sex couples should get legally married, just attempting to explain how I made my choice.)

    Back to the point of the post: SM, excellent post, and it was also my experience that attraction to women enhanced my own body image.

    But to tell you the truth, I don’t think I fully* got to true body acceptance until I was caring for my grandmother. I often found myself thinking that it might be therapeutic for teen girls’ body image if they were able to help grandmothers or the like bathe. It’s like seeing and embracing the future, and recognizing the fleeting nature of the youth beauty ideal. And maybe for some people learning the relationship between health and size — if any at all, more often not — in your own genetic line.**

    *as close as I am, which is never perfect

    **which is also privileged to those who still have older living genetic relatives and excludes adoptees

  113. tg, ditto!

    I’ve only ever had the one relationship, and it’s with a man. I’ve never quite known how to describe or identify myself, though I’ll often use ‘monogamous’ when pressed (stolen, in full disclosure, from Cordelia Vorkosigan), since it’s also a much stronger orientation for me than any particular gender is.

  114. Confidential to “Melanie” whose comment will never see the light of day: this post is not about “cheating” on Mr Machine. This sex with women I’ve had? I don’t want to blow your mind, but it was in The Past. That’s why I used the past tense. It’s a little trick we writers like to call “grammar.”

  115. SM, there’s also this little trick some blog readers like to use called “common sense,” wherein one assumes that given (1) this is posted on the Internet for all to see and (2) the funny in his pants asterisk, even if the sex with women were ongoing it would not be cheating because it would be in full openness and honesty with Mr. Machine. And the post still would have been focused on women+women and body image, not a question of open vs. closed relationships.

    Melanie, good luck learning to logic and grammar!

  116. What an epically wonderful post! As a bi woman, I have experienced many of the things you describe — especially seeing your female partner as “a different mirror”, and the body-image impact of becoming aware of the male gaze as you date a man (even if none of that pressure comes from him).

    I’m always torn as to whether “bi invisibility” and “hetero privilege” are simply sides of the same coin. I mean, sure, some people who assume that I’m straight treat me better because of it, but if privilege is “the luxury of not having to think about it”, I sure don’t have it. Why should I have the duty to announce the details of my sex life so that people don’t treat me as though I’m straight, when they ought to be treating people with equal dignity and respect regardless of how they identify? Why not just let the ignorant wallow in their own ignorance, and just be who I am?

    Along that same line, the idea of “not announcing” versus “in the closet” is another one that I struggle with. Many of my casual acquaintances don’t know that I’m bisexual. What really happens is that they see my wedding ring and make assumptions, and I don’t really bother to correct these assumptions because my sex life is none of their business. I certainly don’t hide who I am — my family, friends and (long story here) close co-workers all know. If someone tried to “blackmail” me by threatening to tell others about my sexuality, I’d laugh in their face.

  117. This is definitely one of the most beautifully articulated posts I’ve read in ages. My experience is a faint echo – I am mostly straight, but had an intermittent queer relationship a few years ago which I rather miss. It had just this impact on me, despite the woman in question having a much more “classically beautiful” body than me.

    I don’t experience much anti-queer sentiment day to day – despite it absolutely existing in Sydney, it isn’t really socially acceptable to express it, at least not in the world I mostly inhabit. But when it hits me in the face, I have a desperate desire to ask “Would you have said that if you knew I’ve slept with women?” Instead I tend to make a snide remark, or pointedly walk away, which I suspect is a wimp out.

    Anyway thanks.

  118. Just wanted to come back to this post while I’m procrastinating from the dissertation proposal to say thanks for this. Your post and a post from an LJ friend of mine have really made me think about this queer-identifying-line I have been straddling as someone in a LTR with a man who is attracted to women (and individuals other than just bio men) but who has only been with men.

  119. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS. Seriously, a million times, thank you.

    I am married to a man now, but I consider myself bisexual. I am not bi because I like to kiss women (although kissing women is lovely), but because I could just as easily be in a relationship with a woman, if I weren’t married to a wonderful man.

    I had a relationship with a woman larger than myself (my size 14 to her size 24) and I was absolutely in love with her body. LOVED it. I still look at plus sized women and feel immediately drawn to them. Like I just want to walk up to them and tell them how sexy they are. But yet I judge myself harshly…

  120. Another queer woman in a relationship with a man who very much relates to this post…thank you so much for writing it! :-)

  121. That’s why I used the past tense. It’s a little trick we writers like to call “grammar.”

    You latte-slurping elitist, you!

  122. *in his pants

    As a man dating a bisexual woman, I get just as uneasy hearing about ex girlfriends as ex boyfriends. Actually, moreso, since it precludes me entirely, and she leans more towards women than men. It’s ruined the fantasy appeal of lesbian sex for me.

  123. Sweet Machine, this is a great post all around. But especially thanks for this:
    daphne, the late great Eve Sedgwick wrote something along the same lines in Epistemology of the Closet that really resonated with me: not all gay adults were gay children, and not all gay children grow up to be gay adults.

    I’m in my first serious relationship, with another woman. And the biggest barrier to considering myself queer is the lack of a “childhood story”. I didn’t always know I liked women. In fact, I remember ruling it out several times. It’s ridiculous how much of a fraud I feel because of this.

  124. <@Grimm Minshaw It’s ruined the fantasy appeal of lesbian sex for me.

    *waaaaaaaah* I’m so sad for you. Your lesbian fantasy is ruined because you realized that in reality lesbians aren’t putting on a show for you, but actually experiencing pleasure independent of men–and that’s what precludes “you.” How utterly devastating!

  125. A good friend of mine who is gay told me once that before she realized she was gay, she felt like a failed girl, like there was this whole elaborate set of rules that she didn’t understand—but once she was able to articulate to herself that she was gay, she realized that she wasn’t a failure at all. She had just been playing a different game all along.

    See, this is how I feel about FA (from my perspective as a short, fat, asexual/straight, white, cisgendered, depressive, late-30-mumble Australian woman). If I try to play along with the conventional beauty myth, I lose out in so many different ways it isn’t funny – I’m not tall enough, not thin enough, not blonde enough, not masculine enough, not feminine enough, not pretty enough, not sassy enough, not reserved enough, etcetera etcetera etcetera. But as soon as I stop trying to play the conventional game, and play instead by my own rules (which say I’m just fine as I am, and I don’t have to measure up to anything or anyone) I feel much more as though I’m a worthwhile person. I also find when I’m not feeling obliged to be competing with other women, I’m able to feel much more charitable toward them. I’m able to see more beauty in the other people around me through not defining beauty through a group of narrow definitions which do more to exclude people than include them.

    Oddly enough, the song which is running through my head at the moment is “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” by Joe Jackson – a lovely little ditty about the way other people’s romantic choices can seem completely incomprehensible to others outside their relationships.

    Somehow 5′7″ brunette white women are automatically “identical,” while a man and a woman of almost exactly the same age who have similar facial proportions and coloring are not.

    I call this the “interchangeable Emma” syndrome. I ran across this one when I was working in a helpdesk where there was another woman there called Melanie (Mel for short). I was regularly being called “Mel” by some of the guys there, even though I think the only real points of similarity between the two of us were our gender, our skin colour (both white), our height (both short) and the fact we both had long hair. Oh, and that one letter difference in our preferred names. Size wise, I could have made two of her, and personality-wise we were completely different, but because we were both female and we both had names which started with “Me”, we were apparently interchangeable in the minds of these guys. In a wider cultural context, what it tends to mean is that all female persons tend to be regarded as eminently interchangeable within certain roles – if more than one woman can do it, then any woman should be able to be picked up and slotted into those roles without regard to any other factors, such as training, inclination etc.

  126. I know this is a really late post, but I have to say something. I just scanned through the comments here and saw woman after woman identify herself as queer and in a LTR with a man and I am so upset.

    First, lets look at the word “Queer.” Queer means different. Since the majority of women having occasional-to-frequent feelings of attraction towards other women, this alone does not make you queer. It makes you normal. There are people on this earth who are in a significant and oppressed minority because they are actively in loving relationships with a person of the same gender. I’m one of them and let me tell you, its a hard road. Part of what makes being gay today difficult is that the general culture seems to have co-oped our sense of gay culture. So many of you woman have just identified as queer here in the last few days, but you don’t go through what I’ve gone through. You’re dating men. In general, you dating men doesn’t bother me. Love anyone you love! Please! But the problem here is that your desire to describe yourself as queer is creating a little less space for me to get the support and community that I need to survive in a world where I really am in a minority. When I go to gay pride, sometimes its hard to find other gay women to be with over the throngs of liberal straight couples carting their children through streets. When I go to women’s social groups, they are often full of women who are learning accept that they find other women attractive and I loose the opportunity to speak about my needs as a woman who is discriminated against because of who I’m in love with. Because of the blurring of the line between gay and straight, my own gay expression is less accepted in gay spaces. I get funny looks for having harry legs or speaking with pride about being butch. Its really hard, people!!!! And You’all who are comfortable in your straight relationships don’t have to deal with it!!!! So please don’t claim our spaces. Please don’t claim our identity as your own.

    Sweet Machiene, your original post didn’t bother me much. You were speaking to your own experience and I honor that. But you see the damage it can cause. After you spoke about your own definition in careful, long sentences, a dozen or so more women who are in LTR with men felt that they could short hand it. “Yup, I’m a queer woman in a relationship with a man!” They chorused. And those of us who are actively in homosexual relationships were not so vocal. You see, that often happens with minorities. When the majority speaks out, we often feel shamed and silenced. We often just hang our heads and say nothing. This is what we’ve been trained to do. I’m sorry, but this conversation looks to me more and more like another case of straight white people appropriating the culture of minorities. Its true, inside we are all queer, in the traditional sense of the word. We are all different than the dominate ideal. But the word Queer, with a capital “Q” has been used to identify people who love homosexually. Its a mark of our culture that is rapidly disappearing as people in het relationships claim it as their own. To say that your het relationship feels like a gay one is really harmful. Its not a gay relationship. Its a straight relationship. Therefor, what ever your relationship feels like is what a straight relationship feels like.

    For anyone still reading, thanks for listening.

    -Spiritseal.

  127. spiritseal, I respect where you’re coming from and I understand your concern with the coopting of minority spaces by non-minorities. But the way I am using “queer” here is in the sense that is actually pretty well described by the Wikipedia entry:

    Because of the context in which it was reclaimed, queer has sociopolitical connotations, and is often preferred by those who are activists, by those who strongly reject traditional gender identities, by those who reject distinct sexual identities such as gay, lesbian, bisexual and straight, and by those who see themselves as oppressed by the heteronormativity of the larger culture. In this usage it retains the historical connotation of “outside the bounds of normal society” and can be construed as “breaking the rules for sex and gender.” It can be preferred because of its ambiguity, which allows “queer” identifying people to avoid the sometimes strict boundaries that surround other labels.

    Your comment completely erases the existence of people who are bisexual or otherwise not represented by a homo/hetero binary—and frankly, that’s part of what this post is about. I’m a monogamous queer. I have relationships with men and women, but only one at a time. That doesn’t make me straight.

    In this post, I discuss the fact that my current relationship provides me with straight-appearing privilege—privilege that I never had before. I’ve been through the coming out process; I’ve lost friends and had rocks thrown at me; I’ve had family members assume that some of my relationships are “real” and others are “a phase.” So please don’t tell me what I can and can’t call myself. Not everyone is gay or straight.

  128. Wikipedia is written by the dominate culture. Since anyone can edit, the mojority always wins. Nuff said. I guess I know where you’re coming from now. So my needing to define myself and have a place for my culture gets in the way of your need to define yourself as different. And to be sure, you’ll win. Thats the way it works.

  129. spiritseal, how do you think people who are monogamous and bisexual should describe themselves? And, relatedly, who should get to decide how someone describes hirself?

  130. Spiritseal I want you to know how much I appreciated your post. You said many of the things I was thinking but wasn’t able to articulate as well as you did.

    I wince every time I hear the term Queer; where I come from that word is still meant to hurt to people. I think its important for people to realize that the use of the word Queer was a reclamation of an invective that was hurled at gay men, and to a lesser extent lesbians, for at least a century or more.

    I also had this nagging feeling that people were using Queer as a stand-in for bisexual. That’s really problematic because its essentially reproducing the negative image that bisexuals have to deal with in the straight and LGBT communities.

    But this was my favorite quote and made me laugh out loud
    “Since the majority of women having occasional-to-frequent feelings of attraction towards other women, this alone does not make you queer. It makes you normal.” Yeah…

  131. Okay, getting into an argument about the politics of “queer,” queer theory, and queer culture is beyond the scope of this thread. I didn’t make up queer theory out of whole cloth, and I think all readers should assume that those of us who do identify as queer have put thought into it and aren’t just doing it as a whim.

  132. But Sweet Machine, nobody’s arguing about queer theory. I’m was just saying not everybody is comfortable with the term Queer. Queer theory is apart of my research and I’m still not comfortable with the term.

    The only reason why I’m able to openly sleep with a woman after 15 years fooling around with guys is because butch lesbians were fighting long before I was. There’s nothing wrong in acknowledging there’s a debate on this issue. As a bisexual woman I’m glad that a butch lesbian spoke up. We can acknowledge our ability to pass but I don’t think that absolves us from hearing how that affects those around us.

    I also think its important to acknowledge that bisexuality/queerness IS normal. The party line is usually ‘well women’s sexuality is more fluid and that’s why they end up with men.’ or ‘Only men are really homosexual.’ Its total bullshit! Men fool around with men just as much as women with women they just LIE LIE LIE.

    I’m not question your sexuality. I’m not questioning your experience. I’m just not convinced that calling myself queer is helpful to LGBT issues.

  133. I didn’t make up queer theory out of whole cloth

    Exactly.

    I think a lot of spiritseal’s post is generally right on — the parts about dominant groups silencing marginalized ones, the parts about bi people in het relationships having a certain amount of straight privilege. But I also think a lot of it sounds flat out biphobic.

    As Sweet Machine said, this is not about her — or any other self-identified bi person here — asserting “difference,” but about them describing their own sexuality, which is neither gay nor straight. They are not claiming to be lesbians in LTRs with men, and they have not just now invented the concept of the word “queer” encompassing bisexuality. Meanwhile, you say, ” I’m sorry, but this conversation looks to me more and more like another case of straight white people appropriating the culture of minorities,” with regard to people who are not straight. And I don’t think you’re just too clueless to get why that’s offensive, so I’d highly recommend checking out this post.

  134. I’m not question your sexuality. I’m not questioning your experience. I’m just not convinced that calling myself queer is helpful to LGBT issues.

    Valerie, that’s fine and I get what you’re saying now. But your earlier comment implies that people who use the word “queer” don’t know that it’s reclaimed, don’t understand what it means, and just use it to sound cooler than regular old bi people. Can you see why that would raise my hackles, especially in a thread in which a lot of people have said “that word describes me, too”?

  135. Yeah I can see why you would think that. I have a problem with labeling sexual identities to begin with. I think people should be able to do whatever the fuck they want to and people need to keep their noses out of it. In that same vein, thanks to Foucault, I’m hyper-aware of the fact that labeling myself is also playing into the heteronormative culture that says ‘you’re either gay or straight and you’d better be straight’. So its not that I discount that someone is queer. I don’t understand why its necessary to label oneself as queer. Does that make sense?

    It was weird for me to even say ‘as a bisexual woman’. When people know I’ve been with men and women they invariably ask ‘well are you bisexual?’ I never have a good answer but in my head I’m thinking ‘I have sex. I don’t know why the rest of it matters to you.’

    I do know that I’m not so distanced from the male gaze that I like my body more. I still hate my body. That may be the rub for me in this whole discussion. I’m glad others have found healing in same sex love and that its widened their idea of beauty. But I’ve been rejected by as many women as I have men. I’ve also experienced having my partner hit on in front of me- in my home. I can’t fucking get away from it. The only thing that I can really say about my sexuality is that its given me more options for independence- I really don’t have to have a man. But it doesn’t make me feel any better about myself.

  136. Since the majority of women having occasional-to-frequent feelings of attraction towards other women, this alone does not make you queer. It makes you normal. There are people on this earth who are in a significant and oppressed minority because they are actively in loving relationships with a person of the same gender.

    Sweet Machine, I just thought you should know that in addition to cheating on your boyfriend because you have had girlfriends in the past, you also haven’t had girlfriends in the past because you now have a boyfriend. HTH.

  137. OK, if being attracted to and actually having sex with members of the same sex doesn’t make a woman queer, what does? And why should person A get to define that for person B?

    I get the idea of orientation as a political identity, and yes I’ve read Foucault too, but the thing is it’s also a sexual identity and deeply personal. It’s really not cool to demand that other women change their self-identification just because it makes you uncomfortable. And bi people tend to get this particular sort of pressure from both sides.

    Attitudes like the ones expressed by spiritseal and valerie are the reason I do stay away from queer spaces for the most part, though. I just got tired of being told that my identity isn’t real and that I was hurting other women by refusing to just label myself in the way they’d prefer even though it’s not actually accurate.

  138. Also? Shit like this is why I wasn’t able to admit that I was in love with my best friend in high school even though I was fine with admitting that I was attracted to women. I always felt like sex was all I could get because of the assumption that being a lesbian is an identity and if you’re not willing to fully commit to that then fuck off, we don’t want you.

    So really, I hope that lecturing women who identify as bi makes you feel better, but you might want to pause for just a second to wonder what that kind of rhetoric does to those women.

  139. “I have a problem with labeling sexual identities to begin with. I think people should be able to do whatever the fuck they want to and people need to keep their noses out of it. In that same vein, thanks to Foucault, I’m hyper-aware of the fact that labeling myself is also playing into the heteronormative culture that says ‘you’re either gay or straight and you’d better be straight’. So its not that I discount that someone is queer. I don’t understand why its necessary to label oneself as queer.”

    That’s one of (several) reasons why I identify as queer: it plays into heteronormativity less than specifying how I’m queer. I’m in sympathy with the “no labels” position, in that it’d be grand to live in a post-heteronormative, post-homophobic, post-transphobic world in which no one’s sexuality was queer (in the broader sense of “odd, non-normative”) – but I don’t.

    I’ve been reading SP for quite a while but haven’t commented before since I’m usually late to the party – I’m not surprised that this thread elicited my first comment (I’m yet another queer woman with a male partner), though the Queer Theory turn was unexpected. So, hi, Kate & Co.

    Sunflower

  140. I identify as queer for exactly the reasons that Sweet Machine states by quoting that Wikipedia entry. Queer is a word that’s supposed to bust labels and signify a rejection of gender and sexual hegemony. And I don’t generally TALK about it or claim it in public spaces because I envision this exact kind of invalidation.

    I suppose that’s WHY so many people responded to this post. I suspect it was not because people felt like “Oh, Sweet Machine identifies as queer, so I can too! I can be in the cool kids club! Wheeeeeeeeeee! I can play like a queer without ever having to think about what that means” but because they had already pondered their sexuality, their identification as queer (not just bisexual) and because when a woman in a LTR with a man says they are queer people want to police that. I was relieved when I didn’t see people policing other people’s sexuality. Who gets to determine someone’s sexuality? By what means or standards?

    Personally, this post made me contemplate and while it was validating, it (and a friend’s post) also prompted me to work through a lot of shit. Not having been able to really, confidently identify myself as a queer to queers/LGBTQ persons has also kept me from identifying as a queer to almost anyone, which means I sit stewing in my privilege even more and THAT doesn’t sit well with me.

    I get that you are weary that you have experienced a lack of space where you can connect with people who share your experiences. I sympathize with that wholeheartedly. Might you not sympathize with all the women who one day found a post where they did find someone they related to? Even if, yes, they also experience privilege?

  141. I am so angry I can barely write something coherent. I’ve done my best, bust it’s still quite long, anyway, apologies for that.
    I rarely, rarely get involved in commenting on anything at all fraught because I am so conflict-avoidant and nervous about being misconstrued, but this personal attack is more than I can stand.
    Let me make this very clear:
    You [anyone besides me] do. not. get to define my sexuality.

    I am not straight. I am not bi. I am queer.
    You do not get to tell me I am not just because I am in a het relationship currently. You do not get to tell me I must use a label (bisexual) that I do not feel describes me.
    (In case you’re curious, if I were not using “Queer” I’d describe myself as “mostly lesbian” before I’d describe myself as bi.)
    Queer is a word I have chosen to use for myself after a lot of thought and consideration and deciding that it most accurately describes me. That is my choice to use the label I feel is most appropriate. My “desire to describe [my]self as queer” is not because I want to be “different” or “cool” or to co-opt someone else’s culture but rather because it is true.
    I understand that there can be problems with whose voice gets heard. I understand some of what you mean about mainstream culture co-opting some of the “cool” bits of Queer culture and leaving actual Queer people out to dry, I really do. That’s just not what’s going on here.

    Queer, as used to self-describe sexual orientation or identity does not specifically mean “different”. (not in my world, anyway, we seem to be working from very different definitions.) It also does not mean the same thing as “gay” or “lesbian” or many other words a person might use. It means, at its most simple non-heterosexual (and at its more complex all of those things that, I agree, the wikipedia definition SM posted, not without thought, I might add, does a reasonably good job explaining).

    The reason there are many people in this thread mentioning that they are queer (or other term) women in LTRs with men is because that is part of what this post is about. Not because most of the women in the world who call themselves queer are “secretly” straight. or “normal”. whatever. (Personally, I happen to think all sexual orientations are “normal” but I guess YMMV.) This kind of thing happens all the time in comments here (see puberty/shortness thread, for another example of a bunch of “me too” comments.) People enjoy having the opportunity to discuss part of their experience with others who share that characteristic.

    ” . . .space for me to get the support and community that I need to survive in a world where I really am in a minority”
    We are not trying to take that away from you. really. part of what some of us are interested in talking about is precisely how to deal with straight privelege as a queer woman who happens to be with a man. But that is not done by denying us our Queerness. (I will also note that this blog is not an exclusively queer space. Queer-inclusive, yes. hence this post.)

    “But you see the damage it can cause. After you spoke about your own definition in careful, long sentences, a dozen or so more women who are in LTR with men felt that they could short hand it. “Yup, I’m a queer woman in a relationship with a man!” They chorused”
    It is extremely offensive to me that you are implying that my stating the reality of my experience is “damage”. (plus, condescending much?)
    Ya know something? Actually, I can say “I’m a queer woman in a LTR with a man” BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. It really is actually that simple. That is MY experience of my sexuality in my (fat, white, female, hairy-legged I might add) body and life and you do not get to take that away from me.

  142. Hey Kate- you know the old joke about what happens when you ass-ume? Well, I happen to be in the category of bi-sexual. Its because I really have spent 1/2 of my dating life with men and 1/2 of it with women that I happen to have such a lot to say about it. When I date men, I still have lesbian friends, but I’m not lesbian. It does change how I relate to the world. I’m open minded enough to listen to my lesbian friends tell me that there is a difference in how they relate to me, dependent on whom I’m dating. I’m very monogamous by nature, so it’s always one or the other, never both genders, which really challenges those who have bi prejudice, unlike myself. I happen to be comfortable enough with my self to not feel the need to hedge into other struggling groups. Even when I’m dating men, being a woman is still enough oppression for me! I can’t tell you how tired I am of seeing my White Women sisters express the need to be a part of a different group in order to express what being a woman feels like to them. To me, this is just an extension of white women wanting to worship as Native Americans and Christian-raised women wanting to define what it is to be Jewish. We women are in a very difficult place. We need to recognize both where we’ve been oppressed and where we are oppressing others! These two can co-exist. This isn’t a zero sum game of who is right and who is evil. But until white, Christian-raised, heterosexual women can recognize that they have been (and are being) oppressors, too, there will be no justice.

  143. Monkey – yes. It is hard to be told that our own self identifying hurts other people. I’m sorry for your pain, but I suggest you take a good hard look at the issues. No one is an island. Go ahead, call yourself what you like. You need to hear though, that your actions have meaning in the world. Other people are affected by them. Your actions are not meaningless. they are hurting some people and making other people feel good. They have a context.

  144. Well, I happen to be in the category of bi-sexual. Its because I really have spent 1/2 of my dating life with men and 1/2 of it with women that I happen to have such a lot to say about it. When I date men, I still have lesbian friends, but I’m not lesbian.

    You have got to be kidding me. Because this is what you said to stir shit in the first place:

    Because of the blurring of the line between gay and straight, my own gay expression is less accepted in gay spaces

    You get to be hurt because you’re bi and gay people don’t accept you, so you come here to tell other people that their identifying as queer hurts you and they should knock it off? I would say you’ve made your point and thus should probably disengage with this thread, but I honestly have even less of an idea what your point is now, so I’d be lying.

  145. Since the majority of women having occasional-to-frequent feelings of attraction towards other women, this alone does not make you queer. It makes you normal

    Being attracted to women if you’re a woman is normal, and doesn’t make you queer. Got it.

    Part of what makes being gay today difficult is that the general culture seems to have co-oped our sense of gay culture.

    Women being attracted to women is not normal, it’s special, so not-completely-gay people aren’t allowed to do anything that might normalize it including admitting if they are indeed attracted to other women. I’m… confused already.

    Because of the blurring of the line between gay and straight, my own gay expression is less accepted in gay spaces[…]So please don’t claim our spaces. Please don’t claim our identity as your own.

    I do get this. But then you go on to say

    But you see the damage it can cause.

    Why is it damage when other women say that they are also attracted to women? Does it somehow dilute the magical gayness if too many people participate? This isn’t the same as a WASP suddenly acting Rasta or something – it’s women who are saying that they have relationships with and are attracted to women as well as men, regardless of who they happen to be paired with right now. That pretty well fits in the definition of bisexual, and you’re saying that the word Queer is off-limits to them because they’re not totally gay.

    But then you say you’re bisexual, and monogamous, when you previously said that queer was a term that you owned but bisexual people dating men shouldn’t use. So what the hell do you call yourself when you’re dating a man? If it’s queer, then you’ve just lost any claim you have to any argument here, because that’s exactly what SM is doing, and exactly how she described herself, and exactly how many women on this thread described themselves. I honestly don’t understand.

  146. I like this assumption that all the women here who have identified as queer (or bisexual, or whatever their flavor of not-straight may be) but in LTRs with men could never possibly have loved or had relationships or been sexual with other women. Having attractions to women is normal? Maybe (though I have plenty of straight female friends to prove otherwise – friends who may be able to find women beautiful but have no interest in sex with them). Actually acting on – or just wanting to act on, depending on your circumstances – those attractions is what makes a woman something other than straight.

    I do get what spiritseal is saying – with respect to the fact that queer women in relationships with women didn’t really seem to find a place in this thread. Considering this blog doesn’t talk about queer issues and sexuality often, that is a shame. But you know, I think we (queer women involved with men) were drawn to this thread because here’s some community – something we don’t get as we feel misplaced in a straight world and not invited to the gay community (the latter of which I think is understandable, to an extent). I don’t know why the “chorus” is a bad thing. Hey, a space to be me! Yes! Because I’m not about to encroach upon explicitly gay spaces. I’m not gay (even when I was with a woman I wasn’t). But I’m put into a heterosexual box, and that’s not me either.

    This was not a “gay space,” spiritseal, and thus we spoke up. You’ll notice not one woman in a relationship with a man called herself “gay” or “lesbian” (though I know at least one or two lesbians who do occasionally sleep with men). Maybe you were invading a space by telling us what we can and can’t be.

  147. One more and you’re out, spiritseal. You’re clearly not engaging in rational argument, since nobody here can tell what the fuck you think your point is; I’ve seen no common thread between your comments except the desire to police other women’s identities.

  148. Wait wait, if you’re bi and in a relationship with a woman, then you can call yourself queer, but if you’re in a relationship with a man, calling yourself queer erases the experience of “real” queer people? So you’re only allowed to name your identity in the moments when you look the part?

    Valerie, some people find a lot of benefit in labeling themselves. Others do not like to do so. There’s room for both.

    “Queer” is not only a signifier of having experienced oppression. It’s also a label of self-identity, and that identity has components besides the experience of discrimination. Being lucky enough to escape the discrimination does not delete your identity, though it might change your experience of it.

  149. Being lucky enough to escape the discrimination does not delete your identity, though it might change your experience of it.

    True. Also, you have no fucking idea if the people speaking up in this thread have experienced oppression or not. You see me walking down the street with a dude, and that tells you exactly nothing about my history.

  150. Right! It’s nasty and presumptuous! And I haven’t experienced it personally, because… well, the women never liked me back, and I do lean a bit more straight, so I very much have that privilege. I like the word “bisexual” for myself, but I could also see myself deciding the word “queer” was a better fit, and I wouldn’t want someone to deny me that — even though I have NOT faced oppression. I mean, I’ve had people challenge me that I can’t really be bi if i haven’t dated a woman, and that has sucked. I can’t have those feelings if they haven’t brought me suffering?

  151. Anyone else see the parallels between this controversy and the inbetweenie debate?

    I think it just stings when you’re a clear member of a group that’s oppressed based on appearance (meaning big fatties or people dating others of the same sex) and someone who is able to ‘pass’ jumps in and claims to have the same experiences as you. It doesn’t make that person wrong and it doesn’t mean that you’re the only oppressed one, but boy does it sting.

  152. CarrieP, I guess I would understand your point a little more if I saw in this post and the comment thread(s) that followed discussion of oppression, or if folks were claiming to have the same experience as those who are gay (or not gay but in a same-sex relationship). I really didn’t see that here. I saw a lot of people talking about how different it was from being either straight OR gay.

    I really do hear you on saying that it stings. That’s why I try so fucking hard not to encroach upon queer spaces (because although I’ve had the experience of being correctly read as queer, I these days “pass” and don’t experience oppression at all for my sexuality), and why I mostly lurk in FA spaces because I’m a smaller fattie, and only just now (having gained a fair amount of weight due to chronic pain in the last few months). I really truly don’t know what it’s like to be a bigger fattie, and I only barely the experience of being gay (having only been in one relationship with a woman, and that in a *very* accepting environment). I don’t have the same experiences.

    But I have MY experiences, and sometimes I have them in common with other women. Other queer women.

  153. I really loved this article. I was just discussing the beauty game and how it relates to sexuality the other night, so this is especially relevant to me today.
    I personally, identify as a lesbian, but that doesn’t mean I expect everyone else or anyone else to choose any of the black and white options on the sexuality spectrum. I think our insistence on dividing people into the three categories of gay, bi, or straight just adds to the discrimination. I think queer is a good term, and it has never bothered me whatsoever that people use it, just like I don’t look down on people who identify as bi. I think it’s silly and sad that non-straight people have a tendency to perpetuate the same standards and prejudices that straight society forces us into.
    At any rate, all that aside, what I really came here to discuss was the idea of finding a mirror of yourself in someone else. Being a lesbian has made it easier, for me at least, to put some distance between myself and the heterosexual ideal of beauty. I see it in society and I see it in my straight friends, especially the women, and I find it frustrating.
    While my preference for women allows me to be largely detached from the standards straight men adhere to, I am not immune to it. Being young and thin makes me generically attractive to men, and I find myself often getting forced into the game. When I was in high school, I was taught to believe in the idea that I was naturally unattractive and imperfect, and that I should somehow strive to be an unattainable image of perfection. I learned to seek out the “flaws” in my body and to hate them passionately, to disregard myself as unattractive and even ugly.
    Being attracted to women makes it easier to see myself positively. If I can look at another woman’s body, see her for all that she is, and find her beautiful in spite of all her imperfections, then it becomes much easier to start seeing myself with the same eyes. Not through the male perpetuated perspective, but through the softer, more realistic eyes of the women who have been forced to play the beauty game and have come out tired and disenchanted by the whole rat race.
    There’s a woman I’ve been seeing for the past few months, and she is beautiful. Maybe not the type that gets whistled at. Maybe not the type who is objectified every time she leaves the house. Maybe not the type that catches the eyes of men everywhere she goes. But she is a beautiful woman, and anyone who is really looking can see that.
    One of the things that gets through to me most is that she –and other women– sees me as beautiful. What a concept! I look at myself and see what I’ve been conditioned to see. I see the patches of fat, the muscles that could be toned, the persistent hair that grows too well in the wrong places, the parts of me that are not symmetrical, so on and so forth. I see the imperfections, the glaring faults. But she sees beauty, and because of that I am starting to see beauty in myself through her. Through her eyes I am learning to appreciate my own beauty, to see myself the same way I see her and all women– as beautiful in their own way. Beautiful because the imperfections make us real, make us much more than the than we are when we chase after the beauty ideal.
    This is getting much longer than I intended. My apologies to anyone with the patience to read my rambling. In short, I say embrace your own beauty. Whether you fit into society’s idea of “too fat” or “too skinny” or “sexy” or “ugly” or whatever.
    Be happy. Love yourself. Love your body. We’re all more beautiful than most of us can see.

  154. A very late comment –

    Thank you for writing this. I also felt like a failure as a girl, because I didn’t “get” why you would crush on smelly, annoying boys. When I came out, at age 20, it was such a relief. It made me realise that there was, in fact, nothing wrong with me.

    As a queer woman – every time I try to nail down my sexual orientation to something more specific I meet somebody who defies thae rule I’ve just come up with – I struggled a lot when I dated a transgendered man. He passed 100% of the time, and I felt like a big portion of my identity was suddenly taken away from me. Admittedly a lot of it had to do with him often emphasising that I was straight now, simply because he felt that anything else would invalidate HIS identity as a male.

    Yes, it was messy. Sexual orientation and gender identity are fluid things, hard to pinpoint and hard to compromise on. We were together for five years, and while this wasn’t the reason we broke up, I have to say that I felt much more free once I could call myself queer again.

    It’s fascinating to read about you being able to be in a straight relationship, and still identify as queer. It makes me very happy!

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