Finding my sexuality in the face of the male gaze

I knew I liked girls as soon as I started thinking about my sexuality. I also knew I had never met a boy I thought was cute, and I knew many girls who were very cute. This therefore led me to the natural conclusion that I was a lesbian and when I got my first girlfriend it seemed to me a confirmation of what I’d already suspected.

It wasn’t until my final year of high school, when I actually met a guy I was attracted to, that I was forced to question everything all over again. By then, I knew what bisexuality was and I started to slowly shift myself away from the lesbian label, and into the bisexual label.

Just before starting university my first boyfriend and I broke up, I was finally truly confident in my sexual orientation but completely unaware of what this actually meant.

It was time to really start dealing with Straight Men.

My first year of university was an aggressive crash course into the ways of the fuck-boy, and into the way so many people, men specifically, think about bisexuality.

As a lesbian, I never needed to think or care about attracting men. I also never needed to think about whether men were attracted to me. While I did speak to the straight boys, I knew at school my close friendships were with girls, as were my relationships. I didn’t have to let any men know about my sexuality, and I therefore didn’t have to hear any of their assumptions and stereotypes.

Jarringly, as a bisexual, I simply had to let a guy know I’d previously been with women to be immediately fetishized. Suddenly, I was considered far more sexually promiscuous, the way they looked at me would change, and I would be inundated with “jokes” about threesomes.

Men thought that they were entitled to objectify any and all of my personal experiences with women, twisting it for their own enjoyment.

My naïve mindset at the time considered this reaction from guys to be good thing, anything that made me seem more attractive or desirable was considered useful, even if it came with a price. I learned to leverage my sexuality in order to increase my own desirability. I did this so much that when I did meet a guy who didn’t immediately over-sexualise me after hearing I was bisexual, I was completely stunned.

It also became an easy way to quickly let people form an idea about who I was. I could use my sexuality and the stereotypes associated with it to create a persona until I figured out who I actually wanted to be.

This significantly contrasted with my experience as a lesbian, which mostly consisted of not telling anybody and sometimes developing relationships when I got lucky.

I don’t have an experience of being fetishised as a lesbian because only the people I wanted to know, knew my sexual orientation.

That bisexual people can present a straight and therefore privileged image in a way lesbian simply cannot do is important to note. There is also this duality where lesbians can, if they choose to, almost completely avoid men in their personal life, I know I did!

It’s bisexual women that interact with men on a romantic, personal level. They get ready for dates wondering how the new guy they’re seeing is going to react to their sexuality.

Because he is probably straight and will very likely assume you are too, until told otherwise.

Something else that has stuck with me was the constant dismissal of my experience surrounding sex with girls.

I’d be faced with comments like “but that doesn’t really count”, whenever I mentioned lesbian sex.

That straight boys can comfortably believe bisexual women are both overtly sexual and far more experimental in bed than straight girls and also that the only sex worth having involves penile penetration, and therefore all lesbian sex can be discounted and isn’t worth talking about, without experiencing intense cognitive dissonance is mystifying to say the least.

Especially when they’ll go down on you thinking they’re about to give you the best head you’ve ever had… sir.

The mindset I had in first year shaped my relationship with my own sexuality. I had to work to distance myself from the people who perpetuated damaging stereotypes. It has only really been this year, my fourth year, where I’ve been confronted with how damaging the reaction so many guys had to my sexuality was to the way I viewed myself.

I had to find out who I was away from the judgements and assumptions so many people made, which was only available when I could step back in second year and make far more open minded and respectful friends.

Now, I always reveal my sexuality early in any relationship so I can figure out where I stand by their reaction.

If it’s negative in any way, I’m out of there.

These are things I now automatically do to protect myself. But the fact that I have to still do this is ridiculous in this day and age.

Especially, considering the sheer amount of resources that are available for people to educate themselves. You’re not woke if you make a threesome joke.

I couldn’t figure out who I was in first year because I was boxed into a personality that fit all the stereotypes about my sexuality, but sexual orientation is no more than that.

You’re not required to act a certain way because of who you are attracted to or because other people expect that from you, especially if those people straight boys. I hope that the freshers in years to come aren’t faced with such ignorance and arrogance and can develop into themselves without suffering through an endless barrage of stereotypes and assumptions.

 

Image: via Wikimedia Commons

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