Wednesday, December 13, 2006
More questions than answers
Do more people than ever, these days, wonder about whether they might not be totally straight or gay? I think they do. In the past, and in most places around the world now, everyone just assumed they were straight unless there was staggering evidence to the contrary. And sometimes they didn't believe even that.
Things are different now in much of the western world, even in repressive countries like the US (Joke. Sort of). This is a feeling, rather than evidence given us by people with masters' degrees in research methodology. Many people on MySpace - where people commonly give their sexual orientation - give it as Not Sure. Not bi, which is also an option. As I said in this post, many people ask (both me and themselves): "Am I bisexual?" which is a kind of questioning too.
Apparently the LGBT acronym is now being joined by I (intersex - which I will leave for another time) and Q (questioning) which means that I'm not the only one noticing this.
So what does "questioning" or "not sure" mean? Different things to different people, I'd say.
When I was a young feminist, decades ago, there were groups for women who were lesbian or questioning their sexuality. (Not bisexual, of course; that wasn't allowed!) The idea behind questioning then, I think, was that women would re-consider their relationships with men in the light of their feminism and subsequently - necessarily - reject them. In short, they'd done the questioning already and answered themselves: men were out. They were just talking it through.
This is a different kind of questioning, though. Maybe those questioning their sexuality actually don't know the answer. They feel nervous that they might be choosing the "wrong" identity. They don't want to close off their options when they don't even know who they are. They might be attracted to all sorts of people but bounce from one gender to another without thinking that is OK. They might not be attracted to many people at all.
This is indicative of a new openness, I think, an accepting that the old ideas of "straight equals good and gay equals bad" are a bit more blurry than they used to be. And my main reaction is: terrific!
So is this the same as "experimenting"? Well, it can be, except that "experimenting" seems to imply something more sexual, more active rather than introspective.
It is both easier and more acceptable to experiment when you're young. No one thinks that a 16, or even a 21-year-old should have seen and done everything (with the possible exception of the young persons themselves!). When you are a youngish teenager, wondering if you prefer girls to boys is perfectly fine, even for old-fashioned biological determinists. It might be hard for you personally, people might be chivvying you to make your mind up, your boy- or girl-friends might be giving you (and getting) hell but you are allowed to go through a "stage". Still, by your mid-20s, everyone expects you to have made your mind up.
Then people also analyse their lives and themselves after the end of a long relationship, which can happen at any time. In fact, the longer the relationship and the older the person, the more intense the questioning in my experience (well not my own experience, you understand…, but that of people I've known). Not to mention the experimenting / dabbling / putting themselves about a bit or a lot.
But there is another questioning group that I discovered in the research for my book: men in their 50s. Commonly, they had lived mainly heterosexual lives up till that time. Not repressed lives, but often happily married ones. Then, sometimes very suddenly, their feelings shifted. Either they just started looking at men; or they had an out-of-the-blue gay-sex experience that knocked their metaphorical socks off; or they felt that mortality was hitting them round the face like a wet kipper and they needed to do as much as they could before it was too late. In general, they found that a lot harder than the people in the previous two groups, particularly if they were or had been in long-term, previously monogamous relationships.
For some people, too, Not Sure is another word for Bisexual - which often pisses off those of us who are Very Sure that we are bi. But when "bisexual" is such a disliked word by so many, perhaps it's not surprising when they say that.
And of course, there's that slightly more developed side of Not Sure and Questioning: Bi-Curious. I'll leave that till next time.