November 24, 2014

Commentary | October 28, 2013
Pushing boundaries
Falling on the spectrum between straight and queer
Written by | Visual by Midori Nishioka | The McGill Daily

I watched The OC for the first time since my early adolescence at a friend’s place, about a week ago. In the episode, iconic popular girl Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) was in the midst of a fling with a character played by the luscious Olivia Wilde, simultaneously questioning her sexuality and enjoying the novelty of her first same-sex experiences.

I’m a big believer that one’s sexuality falls on a spectrum and that understanding one’s sexuality is a dynamic and fluid process. A growing number of people seem to think this way nowadays, particularly in the queer community and especially in the context of liberal North America.

Although I’m comfortable with my identity as a gay male, and am attracted primarily to men, I never rule out attraction to people of all genders.

A friend told me recently that despite being in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, she doesn’t label her sexuality and doesn’t feel attracted to specific genders, but just to individual people.

But when does that ambivalence about defining sexuality, especially when someone is primarily ‘straight,’ cross into the realm of ‘queerness?’ Although it can be easier to ignore or stay away from attaching labels, the term ‘heteroflexibility’ provides a middle ground for people looking to potentially branch out and experiment with people of the same sex.

I’ve noticed that most of the people I discuss heteroflexible attractions or tendencies with are young women. As a gay guy who often finds himself attracted to straight guys — friends have told me I need more gay friends, and they’re probably right — I often wonder where all the heteroflexible dudes are. Would one of The OC’s main male characters, say the cute, charming, and sensitive dweeb Seth Cohen, ever have experimented with their sexuality? Probably not.

Men’s sexuality is often viewed as completely black and white. It’s tough to imagine a group of straight guys sitting around and talking about same-sex attractions.

I wonder if there are just as many heteroflexible guys as girls, but young women are disproportionately encouraged to experiment with their sexualities. That encouragement can be in a fetishized and demeaning manner by straight men, such as on Girls Gone Wild, or in the more liberating sense of women claiming and embracing their sexualities, which I’ve witnessed and discussed with female friends.

One friend said this divide might exist because society takes women’s sexuality less seriously than men’s sexuality. While for women, experimentation is more accepted and can be nonchalant, if a guy experiments, he must be gay, and in our often macho-dominated culture, that just wouldn’t fly. Men’s sexuality is often viewed as completely black and white. It’s tough to imagine a group of straight guys sitting around and talking about same-sex attractions. If they had any such attractions, I imagine most straight guys would try pretty hard to suppress and ignore them (having used to think I was straight, I can speak from first hand experience). As compared to the fetishization of female sexual experimentation, a straight guy experimenting with another guy is less common, less socially acceptable, and consistently looked down upon.

Orange is the New Black, the hit Netflix show about an all-female prison, effectively portrays sexuality’s fluidness and heteroflexibility. The main character, Piper, has had both same-sex relationships and a male fiancé. Something I really admire about the show is that it refrains from labelling Piper’s sexuality. She may be bisexual, and seems to be beyond an experimental phase with women, yet her particular commitment to her fiancé implies something closer to heteroflexibility. Despite this interesting and thought provoking portrayal, it’s difficult to imagine a TV show or movie having a male lead role in a similar situation.

Numerous gay friends say they’ve had sexual encounters with ‘straight’ guys. One claims to have slept with a married National Hockey League player whom he met on Grindr. The only serious relationship I’ve been in was with someone who was ‘straight’ when we first met (although he also told me he was bi-curious). Coming out can be a slow process, and one that might involve long periods of secretive sexual experimentation before actually admitting to friends and family that they’re not straight.

When I have my straight guy crushes, I often wonder if they’ve ever been attracted to guys or ever considered sexual experimentation with another guy. At this point, I often assume they haven’t, and thus revert my gaze to the many beautiful members of McGill’s and Montreal’s queer communities.

Although it’s disheartening that women’s sexuality is taken less seriously than men’s, an increased acceptance offers women opportunities to fantasize and to explore their identities. As society’s ideas about sexuality slowly change, people will gain a better understanding of it as a spectrum, rather than a binary. I’m optimistic that concepts and perceptions of men’s sexuality will change as well and that with greater acceptance, more guys will feel comfortable admitting to and acting upon any secret same-sex attractions.


White Noise is a column exploring what it means to identify as gay or queer in McGill and Montreal communities. Eric can be reached at whitenoise@mcgilldaily.com.

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