His thoughts were interrupted by the two women at the table in front of him.

“I can’t believe he said that in church,” Margaret said, shaking her head.

“Didn’t you know he was gay?” Emily asked.

“I’d heard something about it. I just don’t see why people have to talk about it like that,” Margaret said. “I don’t care what people do, but why do they have to talk about it all the time? It used to be that people just kept it to themselves. I mean, I’m heterosexual. You don’t see me going around advertising who I have sex with.” She looked at Paul, expecting his agreement.

“That’s a nice wedding ring you have,” he said. “Excuse me.”


— excerpt from the novel Angel by Laura Lee

We are homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual, right?  These words supposedly mean that we are sexually attracted to the same sex, the other sex, or both. Right?

No! Not by a long shot! Essentially no one is attracted to men, for example, no matter what their sexual orientation.  I’m straight and female, but I am attracted to a very, very, very small subset of men. I’m generally only attracted to men within a certain age range, with kind faces (I find the chiseled look a bit intimidating); also, I prefer them to be relatively clean.  If I can add non-physical characteristics, then being aggressive with buddies or rude to waitstaff or prone to jealousy are all turn-offs, as are certain politics.  I’ll stop here.  Suffice to say, suggesting that I’m attracted to men is a vast overstatement.  Sexual orientation, as we think of it, simply doesn’t describe my proclivities. I suppose this is true for most of us.

If anyone of any gender has sexual thoughts or experiences about both women and men… it’s not up to the rest of us to say that they’re “really” bisexual. Or, for that matter, that they aren’t. It’s not up to the rest of us to say whether these thoughts or experiences are trivial or important. It’s up to the person thinking them and having them.

Many years ago I was the moderator of a pretty active set of GLBT message boards. One of the most active participants was a heterosexual woman who was “straight but not narrow.”

One thing she didn’t understand was the proverbial bumper sticker of “sticking in people’s faces.” Because she was sincere, and not a jerk, I took the to ask her what she meant - “Why do you have to mention the type of relationship you’re in, or who you’re dating? Straight people don’t do that.”

And the challenge was on.

I told her to try and go for a week without mentioning husband or kids (this was long enough ago that would create a heterosexual presumption - heck, it still does).

She assumed it would be easy, and said, “You’re on!”

She was abashed the first evening she came back to report. “You’re right. I couldn’t do it.”

When I asked what happened, she noted that on her way to work, that very first morning, somebody noticed her keyring, which her husband had given her, and had a picture of him and their children. How could she say what it was, who it was from, without “coming out” as a straight person.

She began to understand further when she got to her office and noticed that she had  pictures of her family on her credenza. Should she take them down? They said “what” she was - and even if they didn’t, what if somebody asked?

This was towards the end of the week, and as folks started discussing their weekend plans. She and her family were going camping. How could she discuss that - “My roommate?” “My, uh, well, friend and, uh, our kids….”

"We name and talk of a problematic ‘transvestism,’ the desire to dress in the clothes of the other sex. We do not usually name and speak of the strong desire to dress in the clothes of one’s own sex. But why would most of us feel intense anxiety at dressing publicly in the clothes of the other sex? Does not our fervid desire to dress in the clothes of our own sex suggest a mystery to be explored? We name and speak of a troublesome ‘transsexualism,’ the feeling of being the other sex… We do not name and talk much about the feeling of being the same sex— the sex we think we are, the sex most of us desire to stay. But does not our feeling relatively comfortable with our sex, and our intense desire to maintain the integrity of our sex, indicate something that needs to be explained…yet the deep desire possessing some of us to dress in the clothes of our own sex, and the profound conviction of some of us that we feel like the sex we are— if we think about these emotions— are quite as puzzling and complex as transvestism and transsexualism."

— Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality