Un-Gendering Sexuality

Disclaimer: This was written very late at night, while very tired. Very sincere apologies if it’s a bit sub-par, or a bit weird.

Lately I’ve been feeling a little bit lonely.

Sorry, everyone. I know FTB isn’t livejournal, and there’s no “current music – Bright Eyes” or  “current mood- WHEN WILL SPRING AT LAST COME TO THE WINTER OF MY SOUL AND LET ITS SUNLIGHT DRY MY BITTER TEARS” buttons at the bottom of the WordPress Visual Editor (though maybe I could ask Jason to have them installed? I’m sure he’s considered doing it for his own blog). But still, it’s true. I have squishy emotion things. And lately they’ve been rather squishily unsatisfied with my dinners-for-one at the computer, watching the crumbs of my Oreo Cakesters flutter down to the keyboard’s crevices in the romantic light of the antiquated monitor.

And last night, while being lonely, I ended up ruefully thinking about all the various lovely, awesome, brilliant, wonderful lesbian or bi trans women I know in internet-land who have professed crushes on me over the last couple months. It can get a bit frustrating hearing internet people say they think you’re cute when you were just a moment ago reminiscing on the fact that you haven’t been on a date in over three months.

So I began joking that if that’s how it’s going to be, I might as well just throw in the towel on this whole pitifully doomed “heterosexuality” thing and begin accepting applications for a lovely, awesome, brilliant, wonderful trans lesbian girlfriend. Send cover letter with attached resume and cookies (I have a fondness for macadamia snickerdoodles) to sincerelynataliereed at gmail dot com. Please include three references.

But the interesting thing is after a few minutes, I began to start thinking seriously about it. Like let’s say these weren’t people in internet-land, but in real life, here in Vancouver (as though there’s any other city that counts as “real life”… bah!). And let’s say they’re just as brilliant, awesome, intelligent, kind-hearted, etc. Pretty much everything I’m interested in in a partner. And let’s say they actually were indeed interested in me. And let’s even throw in a bonus and say they’re non-op, which would help with all the sexual compatibility stuff. Maybe I really would be interested in experimenting, and exploring a relationship with another woman?

Just a little later that evening, I also caught myself absent-mindedly thinking about sub/dom sexuality, and wondering whether it actually would be fun to try out being a dom. My whole life I’ve only ever been very definitively and consistently submissive. But here I was thinking “hey, maybe that would be interesting and sexy, assuming that kind of position of power”. I started thinking it could be really interesting to have that level of control over your partner’s sensations. Their pain, but also and pleasure. I started thinking about this sort of paradoxically selfless aspect to it. How although you’re nominally the “sadist” in the scene, your job is to ensure they have a satisfying experience. Much like there’s something strangely empowering about being a sub, I started thinking about how there could be something strangely giving about being a dom.

Now… bear with me, because I do have a point. I’m not just rambling about sex here.

(I really hope my mom isn’t reading this one)

See, the thing is that a couple years ago, before beginning transition, none of this would be anything I’d have been able to open-mindedly think about, or feel open to experimenting with. The idea of a female partner, or of assuming a top or dom role, just did not work for me. Even as an absent-minded daydreamy “what if” like what I was thinking about last night, the answer would have been a definitive “No. Not for me. Nope. Never.”

A lot of people describe various changes in sexual orientation over the course of transition. I feel that as tempting as it might be to attribute this fluidity to hormones, the answer is much more likely to be psychological. In transitioning, you almost by definition begin exploring sides of yourself that had previously been suppressed. You become more attuned with your own inner self and your desires and needs. You become more open. Your disguises and conditioning and learned “coping mechanisms” for dealing with your gender assignment begin to slip away. You become more…well… you.

It seems to me that a significant aspect of why, when living as male, the idea of being with a female partner or assuming a sexually dominant role were so uncomfortable was how that kind of sexuality forced a sort of assumed male-ness onto me. In those roles, either as the male contingent in heterosexual intercourse or as the dominant sexual partner, I was taking on roles that were traditionally and culturally coded as “male” and “masculine”. That ended up being this incredibly uncomfortable reminder of my own maleness, and being so reminded meant I could not possibly enjoy myself or let myself go. I was being directly confronted with the most painful aspect of my life and identity.

When taking a passive or submissive role with a male partner, I was at least able to sort of forget my male-ness. I could forget my body. Or at least forget those aspects that were most significantly sexed. At least the focus wasn’t on my penis. But also I wasn’t doing things that were understood to be “masculine”. I wasn’t “being a man”, and therefore wasn’t forced to think about how I was a man, or “male-bodied”.

Yesterday, I talked a little bit about how gender expression can be used as a means of asserting or realizing or actualizing one’s gender identity. Such as that if you identity as female, but you’re stuck in a situation where the only means you have to express or assert that femaleness, and make it understandable to yourself, is by playing with dolls or wearing pink, then you’re going to play with dolls and wear pink, regardless of how much or how little you genuinely prefer them to trucks and blue.

Comparably, if you’re in a sexual context where the only means available of expressing one’s gender is through the role you play, you’ll assume the role that’s coded as “feminine” or “female-ish” (if you can get away with it) as a means of expressing or actualizing that female gender identity, whether or not you mean to do so consciously… or at least as a means of avoiding having the male gender-assignment realized more powerfully instead.

What this has made sort of clear to me is the degree to which we gender sexual roles and acts, even in ways that are removed from any direct biological implications. For instance, why is being on top gendered as masculine and being on bottom gendered as feminine? Physiologically speaking, either way works just fine for straight couples. Why is dom a “masculine” role and sub a “feminine” role? Why is it coded as “feminine” to perform oral sex and “masculine” to receive it? What does it imply about our conceptual understanding of sex, and our underlying cultural misogyny, that we have this strict delineation of how we gender sexual actions and roles- to such an extent that we could probably name any sexual role at random and intuitively respond with whether it’s “feminine” or “masculine”? And of course, the primary line along which this gendering is done is whether the role reads as “sexual agent” or “sexual object”.

The increased openness that has come with transition, and suddenly noticing this opening of possibilities- the possibility to try sex with another woman, or assuming a dom role- this emerges from now no longer needing to have some way of maintaining a sense of female identity in sex, or avoiding masculinity at all costs. Sort of like how in transitioning, a trans woman who had previously been a cross-dresser will toss out all of her more frilly and exaggeratedly feminine clothes due to no longer needing those totemic symbols of femaleness now that she feels secure in actually being a woman, my being a woman is now physically actualized in such a way that I no longer need to express it through symbolically “feminine” sexual roles. It’s no longer a tiny, fragile, precious secret of my identity that I could only preserve in my sexuality by avoiding anything coded “masculine”. It’s now a strong, unwavering fact of my being, and will remain as such regardless of who I sleep with, or how.

This leaves me free to explore the entirety of sexual possibility, should I choose to do so. Nothing I choose to do sexually can now diminish or threaten my sense of myself as female. Just like I’m just as much a woman in a t-shirt and jeans as I am in a dress and leggings.

Beyond that, though, this process of realizing how I had previously understood certain sexual acts, roles and pairings as being gendered “masculine” or “feminine”, and realizing how this was something I’d inherited from our collective cultural understanding of sexuality, led me into awareness of how that gendering was arbitrary. How there isn’t anything innately or essentially “male” about assuming a dominant role or “female” about assuming a submissive role. No more than trousers are essentially male or a skirt is essentially female. And in learning to understand that my femaleness or femininity isn’t compromised by assuming a “male” role (or being with a female partner), in allowing my sexuality to open up, I had begun to un-gender my sexuality. Instead of a minefield of little bathroom boy/girl symbols, that I needed to deftly navigate in order to preserve that intensely delicate glimmer of womanhood inside myself, there are, to paraphrase Foucault, only bodies and pleasure.

But if I had inherited from my culture this arbitrary gendering of sexuality, which could (through a bit of self-confidence) be conceptually un-gendered and broadened, and if I wasn’t the only person who had felt insecure in her gender, then I couldn’t be the only person whose sense of sexual possibility was limited by the cultural construct of certain sexual roles being “for men” and others “for women”, in the same ridiculous sense as are blue and pink. So how many other people out there are stuffing their actual sexual desires into little tiny boxes just to preserve their sense of gender?

And this is where things get excitedly weird, because if sexuality is culturally gendered like this, and used as a means through which people articulate, maintain or outwardly realize their gender, then it’s part of gender expression.

So how much that we take for sexual orientation,  seemingly innate or immutable, is in fact gender expression, and socio-culturally mediated and fluid? How does the relationship between the two work? How fuzzy is that boundary?  Are there straight people whose antipathy to same-sex intimacy is  primarily just a means of maintaining security in their gender identity? Are there men who sub only because they feel unable to express any femininity outside of the privacy of sexual intercourse? Sexual orientation as an extension of gender expression as a tool for actualizing gender identity which stands apart from physiological sex. Beautifully complex, isn’t it?

And how does one find the sense of confidence in gender identity as apart from gender expression? How can we teach ourselves to understand that our gender identity is as we define it for ourselves, and doesn’t necessarily depend on its expression through clothing, hobbies, body language, sexuality, etc? How can we teach ourselves to be able to ungender our sexualities?

I myself had the paradoxical benefit of finding security and confidence in my gender identity by having had to fight for it. It’s mine because it had to be. My transition involved a gradual, painful, difficult and, as the thought process behind this post suggests, ongoing process of eliminating what does not define my gender. Starting with being able to not only say but understand that my genitals and body and gender-assignment don’t define it, moving on to learn that my clothing and presentation doesn’t define it (though I choose to express myself as femme because I enjoy doing so), that my ability to “pass” as cis, or lack thereof, does not define it, that other people do not define it, and now that my sexuality does not define it. Only I do.

But it was such a difficult process, and took so much to move beyond the logical understanding of things like “sex with a woman does not make a woman any less a woman” to the actual reality of really believing it, being able to internalize it. It took needing to assert my gender identity as independent from everything but my self-definition in order to arrive at that level of confidence and empowerment- knowing that my womanhood is my own and cannot be taken away or compromised.

So how to teach that? How do we share it? How do we move past all this cultural gender baggage without having to force everyone through the kind of difficulties trans people deal with? How do we get to the point where nobody’s worried that exploring their desires will make them “less of a man” or “less of a woman”? How do we get to the point where those cultural messages aren’t being asserted in the first place?

What are the consequences of not moving past it?



  1. Mattir says

    This is wonderfully thought provoking, thank you. (And I really appreciate the homeschooler sex education provided by you and Greta, which I suspect will prove to be far more useful in promoting ethical behavior than any offered by a public school.)

  2. says

    Maybe you should try sleeping less in general. This is one of your better articles.

    I’ve suspected for a while that while people have natural tendencies, sexual orientation in itself is largely a social construct. Lots of people could go either way, but social ideas about orientation put them in one box or the other. People ID as straight because it’s basically default and easily fits easily into the gender and other narratives about themselves they like to believe. Or, they identify as gay because they took took a huge social risk in admitting their sax-sex attraction and there’s a lot of pressure not to half-ass it. Groups that have a high social cost tend to exert a lot of pressure for their members to be distinct from groups where membership is easier.

    • Nepenthe says

      Real bisexuals do not exist, dontchya know.

      I swear, I’m going to sucker punch (in my mind) the next person who asks me how I know I’m bi and seriously think about the possibility for the next lesbian I meet who won’t date bi women.

    • Rasmus says

      The interesting part of this is that the data seems to show the reverse of what you might expect. As LGB identities have become well know and accepted (to some extent), the number of people who report experiencing orgasm with same-sex partners has gone down.

      When Kinsey did his research he found that close to 40% of men had experienced orgasm with another man in adulthood. Today the findings tend to be closer to 10%.

      It’s almost as if the view of same-sex-sex has gone from a hobby to an emotionally demanding full time job. 🙂

      But on the other hand it seems like straight guys kissing has become a lot more accepted. I guess that’s probably a better place to start anyway (coming from someone who has zero experience with other men).

    • Sofie says

      I think that sexual orientation is fluid but not a social construct. I would say very few if any people are 100% heterosexual all the time or 100% homosexual (Just look at the Kinsey scale) if we were not pushed towards our socially prescribed boxes but the social construct simplifies sexuality to fit it into their tiny compartments, makes it easier for our fragile brains to understand. Just gotta be careful to separate the biology from the socially constructed norms that stem from that.

  3. Anders says

    You’ll find someone. You’re young, bright eyed and bushy tailed, cute, smart and social. Whether that someone is a man or a woman is beside the point. For you, there is someone.

  4. Movius says

    knowing that my womanhood is my own and cannot be taken away or compromised.

    Not trying to compare my experiences to yours or any other trans person. But I didn’t really experience this (for my manhood in this case) until well into adulthood, even though I’ve always identified as a man, and I suspect that many people never do. There are a lot of men hung up on the idea that you be a man by “not being a woman” as much as possible.

    I didn’t really ‘get’ being a man until I was 24/25, and this came as a part of understanding who I was in general. Before this I didn’t really feel secure in what I understood about myself, let alone the things i didn’t.

    Don’t really have one ideal solution, just a different take on the problem.

  5. Sebor says

    So you are saying that it is neither a choice nor are you born this way? Still trying to alienate everyone?

    But snark aside, I think your observations are fairly accurate and your thoughts are interesting as always.

  6. says

    I went through this sort of thought process over the last couple years, because I’d dated men before coming out to myself as queer and then realizing I much prefer women. And then that became “prefer people who are not men,” and now I have more specific statements of what I find attractive as far as gender and physiology and sexuality, but it’s not normally useful to go into them. It’s frustrating, I’ll call myself a “queer woman” or “lesbian” but then people assume they know what that means to me. They’re really just the closest available terms.

    But there is some effect on my gender expression based on who I date, definitely. Last time I was “kind of the boy”, this time I’m “kind of the girl” (in different ways?), but with guys I refused to be anything like “the girl”. It’s not just that my partners’ gender expressions were very different, it’s that the interactions affect my own gender expression somewhat.

    I’ve heard that people’s sexuality changes when they transition, and heard a couple different theories on that, but they seem to be in conflict and/or not say enough. If you learn more about this I’d be curious to know.

    Also *Internet hug*. I hate to be gauche, but I still hope you’ll consider a tip jar, as we could help pay for your dates or other socializing things that might cost money.

    • Emily says

      I’ve heard that people’s sexuality changes when they transition, and heard a couple different theories on that, but they seem to be in conflict and/or not say enough. If you learn more about this I’d be curious to know.

      My thought on the subject is that in transitioning, you are already shaking off much of the social baggage ( or trying to, at least ) that comes with gender and sexuality. Between that and treating your dysphoria, which can be limiting your sexuality as well, you are able to then approach the subject from a more honest angle. Your sexuality isn’t changing so much as you are allowing yourself to feel or act in certain ways that you wouldn’t before.

      But what do I know? I’ve never dated Q_Q

  7. says

    Can I apply to be your lady paramour here?
    Well I’m 25, enjoy fantasy terrorism, nuclear physics, mosanthropy and human augmentation, am newly local to van from the states and qm a successful… good for nothlong lacksadaosical slacker with a penchant for frealing people out. Oh yeah, I’m trans bit planning to get an inversion 😡

    …but anyway, I was gping to write something like this except for the demise of my computer. When I was gping through my unfortunate fotst puberty I was appalled by my sexual urges. I. knew that I wasn’t a man but also that I wasn’t a woman. To further flummox me the wonderful sites that are still close to the top of a google search for “transsexual” and “transsexualism” had and have a harshly ninarist, transition will totally fuck up your life viewpoint somewhat prevalent amongst older transitionets which, along with the quaint culture of a decade ago meant that I developed a quite unusual self conception — pf feeling that my omyerest in transitioning was entirely sexual, that if I did transition, i’d regret it…
    To cut to the chase I engaged in a crude eelf directed attempt at what was essentially reparative therapy in reverse, trying to think of myself as a gay mwn because while I knew I was into female bodied people I also lnew I wasn’t into using my penis sexually. Needless to say my experience has cpnvinced me of the need for better information sites heared towards tween/teen trans*/questioning people.

  8. Vera says

    This is really fascinating to me, because in a lot of ways it mirrors my own experience with transition. I started out frankly grossed out by the idea of even being with a man. Eventually I relented a little and just defined it as things about the male body I couldn’t handle; guys are totally sweet and I could be emotionally involved with them, sure, but physicality? Ew.

    Then I started transitioning, and my whole worldview changed. I didn’t have testosterone yanking me around by the nose anymore, and I discovered just how fun it is to be an unashamed flirt. This led directly into hooking up with my boyfriend, and he promptly cured me of all my male body issues. The whole time, I’d been externalizing my own self-loathing and dumping it on half the population, rejecting out of hand the idea that I could be romantically attached to a guy, and all because I was deeply uncomfortable with the way my body looked and felt before I started transitioning.

    The same thing’s happened to my outlook on DS interactions. I used to identify as exclusively submissive. Now… not so much. And all it took was my boyfriend telling me he’s a switch for me to start getting ideas. Transitioning, coming out at home, to friends, at work… it’s liberated me in ways I wasn’t even aware I needed. After all that, trying something new doesn’t feel quite so terrifying.

    I don’t know how to share this insight with others at the level it really requires to be effective. It really is keyed to my own experience, and I think any such revelation would need to be keyed to the experiences of the person having it. It doesn’t help that sex is such a taboo topic in our culture that this is literally the first time I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this in any kind of detail. Maybe if we lighten up about it, and we foster a deeper sense of empathy, and get people to really think about how they got to where they are, intellectually and emotionally… then again, maybe some flying pigs would do the trick, and breeding them would probably be easier.

  9. Vivien says

    Ok, I must start of by saying that I have a huge lesbian girl crush on you but never said anything for the fear of it being creepy. Also, love my penis and being submissive 😉

    Ok, now that the creepy sex-proposition-y thing is out of the way, my experience is somewhat the reverse of what you describe:

    I used to fantasize having sex with men in submissive positions as a way to reassert my femme, sub, feminine identity. It is only after beginning transition (or at least deciding to and telling everyone to change pronouns, since I haven’t started on the hormones yet) that I feel comfortable asserting that I am most definitely lesbian (and a woman can pretty much do anything a cis men could by taking advantage of my sex toys drawer if she has a vulva, so…)

    Also, ever since deciding to transition I’m increasingly more comfortable with male-coded gender expressions, such as my deep voice, way of talking or even my facial hair (which I only began being comfortable with and growing after I identified as female to myself, which is an experience I’ve never seen other transgirls say they went through).

  10. Dalillama says

    I do agree definitely that a significant amount of sexuality is to some extent culturally mediated, and I strongly suspect that a majority of people have a certain degree of innate sexual flexibility, which will express in varying ways according to cultural contexts. Most people IME have a ‘base sexuality,’ which is usually straight, sometimes gay, and periodically pegged somewhere between them. Despite this, most straight people seem to experience at least mild and occasional same-sex attraction, and are willing to engage in same-sex encounters if no cross-sex encounters are available long enough (as in segregated boarding schools, old-fashioned seagoing vessels, prisons, etc.). Similarly, many primarily homosexual people will engage in cross-sex encounters for a variety of reasons, mostly relating to passing as straight for one audience or another, but also sometimes because they have a particular affection/attraction for a particular member of another gender. I personally identified as straight publicly for a while, mostly for convenience, but I was always aware of the fact that I was also attracted to other men. It never really occurred to me that that should relate to my conception of myself as male, though, because I’ve never had the slightest reason to suppose that I am anything else.

  11. Mym says

    Aww, no mention of experimenting with polyamoury?

    I am pretty sure the culturally-mediated straightness is a thing that happens in the wild; back when I was passing for a cis guy, there was a friend whom I wouldn’t have hesitated to pin to a wall by his tonsils if he’d just open up to it, but because of his background he was super-repressed and it was several years into college before he was comfortable dating at all. I figured it was never going to happen.

    This does remind me, though, of my recent lament that I used to be frustrated by straight guys, and now I’m frustrated by straight girls… you’d probably be included if I’d ever actually met you. I’m always glad when anyone opens up, I hope it goes well for you!

    At some point pre-transition I realised that I should only be dating bi/pan/queer people anyway, or else they wouldn’t be interested in *all* of me. Somehow it even worked out that way.

  12. Sinéad says

    Hah, I think you’re a lovely and intelligent woman, but I’ve been burnt by straight chicks in the past. 😉

    Seriously though, I think being lonely makes one question how broad one might expand one’s sexual attractions.

    I feel like I hang on to the word “lesbian” to label my sexual orientation because it most accurately describes what I am innately attracted to on first reaction, while simultaneously asserting my identity as a woman that I am sure is just a crutch to support my insecurities.

    But being a trans woman who is lesbian, in my history and experience, has left me bitter and cold. I don’t have to explain, surely.

    I’ve come to accept myself as somewhere along an axis of bisexual/homoromantic. And admitting any amount of bisexual tendency is looked down upon, unless it is explicitly a service of “well so-and-so handsome actor could father my children” attitude amongst cis lesbians.

    And as a final remark, none of my words are meant to exclude pansexuality. I never use bisexuality to imply a binary or that the bi can only mean two. (I could go on about my thoughts about the binary and how it creates the multiplicity of the non-binary, but that’s because I have a very mathematical brain and see the world in that framework…think binary logic and computers. And then no one will understand me and assume I mean this instead of that, and it would just end in tears.)

    • Mym says

      I’m panromantic and genderqueer, and I still identify as a “dyke”. It just seems to fit! Partially is that I do tend to have a dispreference for guys*, partially it’s that I do identify as (trans)feminine as well as genderqueer, partially is that it just seems to fit my gender expression really well (better even than ‘lesbian’)

      *stereotypically masculine presentations, really. It is possible for a lady to hit this by being “too butch”, and I have an easy time falling for someone dapper regardless of gender. Very case-by-case.

      • Vivien says

        Both Mym and Sinéad described exactly what I go through. I generally prefer dating trans women since the risk of rejection is smaller. Also, possible penises are always a plus, since I think I’m way more skillful with them 😛

        And I’m poly as well 🙂

        • says

          Another voice chiming in with Vivien, Mym, and Sinéad…

          I like women. Always have; nobody ever seemed to have a problem with that until they saw me as one. I’ve found within the last few years, since transitioning (first) and becoming sexually active (second) that I like sex where penises (penes? penii? how does one pluralize that?) are present, but I like vulvas (vulvae? Grrr. Stupid inconsistent anatomical vocabulary…) even more.

          Generally turned off by, as Mym perfectly put it, “stereotypically masculine presentations,” and I’ve had the same reaction to AFAB and AMAB folks of varying identities and presentations, including trans-feminine people who aren’t femme.

          Living in the San Francisco Bay Area doesn’t magically make things easier, either; the Cotton Ceiling seems to be at the “standard height,” and it doesn’t help that I prefer to be the receptive partner in penetrative sex, when the few cis* women who might consider getting in bed with me seem to expect that I’ll follow the “default socially sanctioned normative hetero intercourse” script — and moreover, that I’ll play the role of “straight guy” in that script.

          I use the word “lesbian” to identify myself, but only because there isn’t a better, simple, generally understood term to communicate what I want to say. That’s what labels like that do, though — communicate large volumes of already-shared knowledge, in a more concise manner. I can use one word and convey lots of information about my childhood and upbringing by saying that I was “raised in a Mormon family” — and then get an understanding “Oh!” or a nod and a sarcastic “my condolences, dear.” I know the full picture isn’t there, and that the particulars of my growing up will need a lot of filling in, but I’ve got something to work from. In the same way, I say “lesbian” and most of the time I get something to work from, even though the particulars aren’t there either. It conveys as much accurate information while giving as little as possible inaccurate info, and no matter what there will be misinterpretations and misunderstanding…

          And it’s been about a year and a half since I had anything like the kind of that sex that I wanted. There have been a few sexual… situations… but none of them particularly pleasant, and some of them dangerous and desperate.

          P.S. — Natalie, thanks for introducing me to Oreo Cakesters! Apparently I’d missed the existence of these things until now… when I get the chance I’m going to try some. They sound pretty tasty!

  13. Karyn says

    I have no idea what people are on about with the whole gender bit. It’s about as important to me as hair color. How the vast majority of the population seems to be completely turned off by a penis or vagina is as confusing to me as someone feeling they were born the wrong gender. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, I just mean that it’s hard for me to get inside the mindset of separating out my gender/sexuality/socially constructed presentation from each other and putting it into a category beyond ‘human’. I am a human. I like to have sex with other humans. Preferably smart, adventurous ones. Breaking down people into other categories based on their physical presentation seems needlessly arbitrary and a little…bigoted? That’s a horrible word, but I can’t think of a better one right now. Wow…I really hope that paragraph sounds less horrible in real life than it does in my head 😛

    • David Marjanović says

      See, for me it’s the other way around. I agree that people who are 0 on the Kinsey scale are rare, much rarer than Western culture claims – but I am one of those, and I… understand only intellectually how it’s even possible to be anything but gynophilic. That’s both sexual and romantic attraction I’m talking about: I can’t even develop an Internet crush on someone when I’m not sure they’re female.

      Commiserations on the loneliness. Let’s just say I know way too few people.

  14. says

    I share your pain in regard to transwoman lonliness… 🙁
    But what better way to ignore that than with some scientific pedantry 😉

    “For instance, why is being on top gendered as masculine and being on bottom gendered as feminine?”

    Surely that’s due to the fact most land vertebrates have sex with the male on top. Doesn’t make it “right” of course (any more than the fact most animal sex is heterosexual means straight sex is “right”), but it does make it something more than just arbitrary culture like clothing types.

    • lochaber says

      I can’t help but see this as an extension of cultural perceptions of femininity and masculinity. women/feminine = passive, docile, subservient; while men/masculine = active, aggressive, dominant, etc.
      -(btw, not something I agree with, but it seems to be the way a lot of people view/associate things…)

      plus the whole bit with centuries (more?) of conditioning that proper moral women don’t enjoy sex, and only do it to make more babies (prefereably male), or to satisfy their husband.

      I think the whole bottom/top thing ties into this as well. Hopefully all participants are active, but if one participant is completely passive, while not impossible, I would think it would be much more difficult to have them on top.

      I also feel that there is a certain amount of fluidity in sexual orientation, and that very few people actually are on the poles of the Kinsey scale, but a lot more self-identify as being on the poles either due to societal pressure or… something?

      • says

        It certainly works well with cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity, but I do think the real biological tendencies in this case are the main cause of our associations. I would also guess that most terrestrial vertebrates have the female act more submissively during sex, but we know from spiders and such that that’s not universal among animals. Again, it wouldn’t make it right, it would just make it not purely cultural.

        • lochaber says

          Could be *shrugs*

          I’d be willing to bet that if so, it would be based more on observations with agricultural/domesticated animals, most of which seem to fit this model.

          Cows, Sheep, Goats, Horses, Chickens. Pretty sure most of the domesticated critters have the males fight for dominance/access to the females, who don’t seem to have much say in the matter (especially in human-directed breeding of domestics)

          I’m getting way off topic…

        • Mym says

          You would be wrong. For many vertebrate species the female is instead larger, or more dominant, or what have you – saying otherwise is a flagrant overgeneralization, and in this case, a sexist one. You’re taking a human cultural issue and assuming (seemingly without evidence) that it has genetic origin, when in fact even animals as close to us as bonobos (another species of chimp) form matriarchal societies.

          • lochaber says

            Mym – That would be sexist, and it’s not something I believe/support. Apologies if my post gave that impression.

            I started off trying to explain that I thought it mostly had to do with cultural associations about male/female, trying to use a couple adjectives as examples.

            Then I just posted in response to what Mickey said, that I felt if humans were influenced by animal mating behavior (via observing, I guess?), I thought it may be more likely that agricultural/domesticated animals would have a greater influence.

            Although I’m not terribly well versed on the specifics, I am somewhat aware that animal sexual/mating behaviors are quite misunderstood by many people, and are often viewed through our warped cultural lens.

            If I’m completely missing the point or something, apologies, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

          • Mym says

            Yeah, lochaber, I was responding to Mickey. I don’t care if domestic animals fit the model, because the model is broken (and sexist).

          • lochaber says

            ah, ok. I get confused by the thread structuring in these things, and thought that was directed at my post.

            I was a bit worried I had said something horrible, and for whatever reason, was completely incapable of even realizing what it was…

            So, I’m more then a bit relieved 🙂

            anyways, I think there are a lot of misconceptions re: humans/other animals. I can’t cite anything for this, but I can’t help but think it stems from that train of thought where humans are separate from animals, instead of just being a weird sort of animal; and bringing up all the ‘only humans’/’no other animal’/’humans and x are the only…’

            and… way off topic again…. :/

  15. says

    Natalie, I can’t decide whether this post is more interesting or insightful, though at this point I’ve come to expect no less.

    Increasingly over the years I have gradually come to essentially the same conclusion: that there is are significant cultural and social influences on sexuality all the way down even into orientation. I suspect most people do not realize they are even there most of the time, because the influencing factors are in congruence with their identity and self-concept.

    Whenever people describe the development of sexuality in very blunt and divergent terms, it has always seemed a gross oversimplification to me. Clearly, we are not born with our sexuality any more than we are born with our personality. Genes can influence the mind and personal growth, but they are not sufficient to explain or predict it to any notable degree.

    Some will get angry when you even talk about it this way, unfortunately. However, saying that sexuality is not intrinsic and predetermined does not equate it to being the same as a trivial choice. The closest metaphor I can form off-hand is that sexuality is a lot like religion. There are heavy cultural and environmental influences that sway our behavior into pre-organized social directions, and it’s very difficult to swim against the current. Yet, this doesn’t mean we have no control over it. We can change our own deeply programmed behaviors, but only if we recognize how and why they developed that way and genuinely want them to be different. It can’t be forced, but that doesn’t imply that it cannot or will not change.

  16. says

    I think it’s not quite that complicated. There’s what we’re attracted to, and then there’s what we’ll ALLOW ourselves to be attracted to. The ‘socially mediated’ part of our ‘sexual orientation’ isn’t fundamental, but rather it’s the repression we force on ourselves when we’re trying to fit in as the wrong thing.

    Once all the clamps and blinders are off, we allow ourselves to experience all of it. I always preferred girls, then once I transitioned I realized that in fact I’m bi. It’s wonderfully freeing to drop the repression I didn’t even know about.

  17. Enezenn says

    sexuality as gender expression….you’ve got me thinking here Natalie, thanks for this interesting article.I have also been thinking a lot lately about the implications sexial behaviour may have on the we see our own gender. Hall of Rage’s comment (nr.6) striked me because I can relate to the idea that the way one expresses (and even feels) their gender may be influenced by whom one is dating at a certain moment. I feel most of the time quite female (well, ‘neutral’ but being female biologically, and not feeling anything noteworthy, I guess I’m feeling female)but in a romantic context with another woman it is always very clear to me that I am ‘the guy’. Don’t ask me why. Gender roles in lesbian relationships are so twentieth century and so on, but this is how it feels. I could be on heels and in a skirt (I like skirts) but still, when courting a lady (^^) I feel like a man. So sexual behaviour, at least in this, maybe non-representive case, has a influence on…not sure wether it is gender expression or even identification. It’s a fluid thingy.
    Yep, you got me thinking!! I’ll try to keep reading your updates, they’re enlightening.


  1. […] So how much that we take for sexual orientation, seemingly innate or immutable, is in fact gender expression, and socio-culturally mediated and fluid? How does the relationship between the two work? How fuzzy is that boundary? Are there straight people whose antipathy to same-sex intimacy is primarily just a means of maintaining security in their gender identity? Are there men who sub only because they feel unable to express any femininity outside of the privacy of sexual intercourse? Sexual orientation as an extension of gender expression as a tool for actualizing gender identity which stands apart from physiological sex. Beautifully complex, isn’t it? – Un-Gendering Sexuality – Natalie Reed […]

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