We’ve come a long way in describing sexual orientation. We used to be limited to the terms “straight” and “homosexual.” In 1948, Kinsey’s famous seven-point scale brought us a better understanding of what sexual orientation is. Today, sexuality is defined across an entire spectrum (or dare I say… rainbow) instead of two distinct categories.
For example, here are the orientations and genders available for selection by users on the popular lesbian dating app, HER: “Straight, gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, bi-curious, fluid, pansexual, flexisexual, polysexual, asexual, demisexual, questioning, male, female, non-binary, boi, agender, androgynous, bigender, cis female, FTM, MTF, gender fluid, genderqueer, intersex, pangender, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, hijra, kathoey, mak nyah, muxe, waria, mahu, and other.” The terms you never heard of? They are the “+” in “LGBTQ+”.
The growing list of ways for people to self-identify, especially regarding their gender or sexual identity, is proof that people and emotions are too complex to be defined by a limited set of labels. A label creates a box to put yourself in, when each human being is too unique to be put inside a box.
But here’s the thing: labels can also be liberating. Like sporting a rainbow flag, it’s a symbol of pride. It identifies us as being a part of a community.
Personally, I flip between choosing not to label myself and choosing to define myself as “sexually fluid.” “Fluid” indicates something without constraints and ever-changing, which I think is an accurate description of human sexuality in general. I like it because it implies openness. I prefer the term to “bisexual,” because it doesn’t imply that gender is a binary construct, and I prefer it to “pansexual,” because it implies something that evolves over time. “Sexually fluid,” along with “queer” (i.e. an ambiguous term for non-heterosexual / non-cisgender), might be the closest to shrugging off a label altogether.
As someone who has dated both men and women, I’ve observed a few dating differences that I’m going to share with you — for the curious, for those hoping to better understand LGBTQ+, and food for thought for both labelled and label-less
1. Gender roles can get confusing.
People like to say chivalry is dead, but, if a man and woman are on a date, gender roles often still exist. The man will probably offer to pay for the first date. He will probably hold open doors. At some point, he might buy his date flowers or chocolates. But when dating someone of the same sex, who makes the first move? Whose arm goes over whose shoulders? Who is the “big spoon” when cuddling? It’s all hazy. Sometimes you’ll buy flowers, and sometimes you’ll receive flowers. It’s an exciting dynamic, but it can also be totally awkward to try to figure out. I remember the first time a woman bought me flowers: I was too busy feeling like a jerk for not buying her flowers first to really appreciate the beautiful bouquet she’d given me. My advice is to just roll with it. Awkward is the new cute.
Not to make a sweeping generalization, but there are often behavioral differences in the way men and women act that can take some adjusting. I’ve noticed that women pick up on hints and notice little things. They’re more sensitive, and there’s a lot of guessing about their real feelings Guys are generally more direct and will say exactly what they mean.
Being able to read your partner and understand how to communicate with them is an important skill to develop.
And, okay, physically, women are softer. A guy’s stubble may contribute to overall rugged good looks, but kissing can leave your sensitive skin looking like you got attacked by wasps.
2. It’s often hard to figure out what your “type” is.
After dating almost every shape, size, colour, hairstyle, and religious affiliation, I can confirm I don’t have a type. I’m sure many people feel the same way. Still, if you’re bisexual/fluid/etc., your preferences probably vary according to whether you’re talking about a man or a woman. Maybe you like your men “manly” and your women “feminine,” whatever that means to you. Maybe you like men to be a few years older but women to be around your age. Maybe it takes you longer to build trust with one gender than the other.
My advice: don’t stress about trying to figure out your type. My experience dating people with such a variety of viewpoints and backgrounds has been enlightening and I would recommend it. You might surprise yourself and find out you’re actually really into intellectual types, or ambitious daredevils, or someone who is the total opposite of you in every way possible.
3. Emotional connections can be different.
It’s common for a bisexual/fluid/etc. person to experience different levels of emotional or physical connection depending on whether they’re with a male or female. I have heard that many women report an easier time forming an emotional connection with another woman than with a man, for instance. In the early stages of dating someone of the same gender, you’re bound to discuss your sexuality and when/how you realized you were L, G, B, T, Q, or + (your “coming out story”). For me, anyway, engaging in such a personal topic with dates of the same sex means a quicker connection. (Incidentally, my story began with the Pink Power Ranger.)
4. You may feel more self-conscious about what to wear.
When among members of the LGBTQ+ community, I often get told I “don’t look gay enough.” In a community that is generally sensitive to personal identity issues, it’s surprising each time I hear this. So, when I want to “look gay,” I consciously embrace the stereotypes: plaid flannel shirts, Converse sneakers, less makeup, maybe sweep my hair to the side. Plus, I have this awesome t-shirt that says “Wingaydium Lesbiosa,” so there’s always that. If I’m on a date with a man, I’m more likely to wear heels and makeup and dress more feminine.
This dichotomy is ridiculous. But again: much like proudly wearing a label, this can also be a source of pride. As stupid as stereotypes are, being able to dress or look a certain way as an identifier is empowering. So while discriminating based on appearance needs to go away (equally, telling someone they “look gay” and telling someone they “don’t look gay enough”), it’s cool to have that freedom of expression to be able to identify yourself as a part of the LGBTQ+ community through the clothes you choose to wear.
5. People – both men and women – often lie in their online profiles. How much do people resemble their online profiles? Through the extensive empirical and scientific research of my own experience, I have decided the accuracy factor is somewhere between 18% and 67%. The main lie guys tell is about their height (which sucks when you show up in heels, and he’s not as tall as he said he was). The main lie girls tell is through photo manipulation (airbrushing apps, slimming camera angles, and cartoonish Snapchat filters are all commonplace). I’ve found that everyone is a little different in real life from their online profile. Tip: Don’t lie in your online profile. My most successful online-based relationships have been the ones where the person most closely resembled his or her profile. I believe this is because we start our relationship with honesty. (Okay, I’m guilty of some Snapchat filtering and airbrushing, but I do my best to be real.) It’s not good to start your first date with a sense of “wow, this person is not who they said they were.” Subconsciously, it sets you up for disappointment as you wonder what else they weren’t upfront about.
6. Meeting strangers is confusing.
Flirting with the same sex in real life is often misinterpreted as platonic friendliness. I can think of two opportunities in my life where I thought a girl was just being really complimentary and I learned later that she was hitting on me. I can also think of several occasions where a straight woman in a committed relationship was at least as touchy-feely as that towards me. Seriously, there needs to be a secret gay “signal” or a universal rainbow wristband to make identifying potential dates of the same sex easier. Here’s where labels help. Confusion can be avoided for same-sex flirting if you casually mention how you identify.
For some, a label provides a sense of identity and community. For others, it’s restrictive. I identify as sexually fluid (or none of the above) because, as I told my parents when I came out, “I don’t think I’m straight or gay or bi or anything. I’m just me.” I believe labels don’t matter; this is 2017, and the only label that should exist is the one called Love.
Grok with us:
- How do you feel about labels? Do you find them restrictive, empowering, or a bit of both?
- Do you feel social pressure to apply one to describe yourself, in terms of your sexual identity, political identity, religious identity?
Tiana Warner is the author of Mermaids of Eriana Kwai, a trilogy about kickass female warriors featuring a mermaid/human LGBTQ+ romance. Her books have been acclaimed by Writer’s Digest, Foreword Reviews, and the Dante Rossetti Awards. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from the University of British Columbia and spends her free time riding her horse, Bailey.