Social Question

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

How important is it to you to put a label or a name to your sexual preference or sexual orientation?

Asked by ANef_is_Enuf (23288 points ) October 12th, 2010

I have been thinking about this a lot for the last few days, and usually if something is on my mind.. this is where I come with it. As a married woman, people rarely if ever question my sexual preferences, so I suppose it is a little bit out of sight out of mind. For the majority of my life if a form or a profile or anything of that nature asks for my sexual orientation, I just leave it blank. Pretty much always have. I tried in my teens to choose the best word to suit me, but never really settled on one. It faded into the background.
Yesterday when the status update was floating around facebook, I did repost as a “straight ally.” It feels very strange to say that, though, because I’m not really sure that “straight” or “heterosexual” are the best words to describe me. Then again, I’m not really sure what does. I have always been more inclined to just not use a word in that place at all.
Recently, I had a friend who I had always assumed was heterosexual. She felt the same. She got involved with a woman, developed deep feelings and found herself very confused. We have been friends for many years, but only close friends for the last few. While talking with her about it, I asked if this was her first (I can’t remember what word I used, may have been lesbian) relationship. She replied by saying that it was the first time she was with a woman, but that she does not consider herself bisexual. She is just a woman in a sexual relationship with another woman. It is an interesting point, to me.

So my question is this: How important is it to you, personally, to put a label or a name to your sexual preferences or orientation? Do you feel like it helps to define who you are, does it give you something concrete?
Have you met other people like myself, ones that don’t know what label best applies to them? I know exactly what I like, I just don’t know what category that hurls me into. Or whether or not I even want to be in a category at all.

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39 Answers

marinelife's avatar

It is not important to me. I once heard someone describe themselves as heterosexual, but not by choice. That struck a chord with me.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I’m not a huge fan of labels, as I find them very constrictive and they don’t offer a full view of a person. That said, my identity and who I am is not entirely tied up with being a lesbian. Not only that, but in the gay community, there is some prejudice/disdain when someone doesn’t fit neatly into a category.

I’m not entirely gay, in that when I’m single, I occasionally sleep with a guy. I’m not interested in men emotionally, don’t want to date them, or anything like that.. my interest is purely sexual and it’s usually just a one-time thing. So, technically, I’m bisexual. I’m okay with saying that, especially now that I live in the Bay Area again, where there is much more acceptance of bisexuals (it seems they are misunderstood and looked down upon by straights and gays alike). However, given my extremely strong preference of women, that I have never even come close to feeling about a guy the way I do about women, and the fact that I very closely identify with gay/lesbian culture, I have long called myself gay.

But, as you can see, ‘gay’ doesn’t begin to cover the nuances. It’s like that for a lot of people who aren’t exclusively one or another. The problem is that people are most comfortable when they can label and categorize someone, so I think many people find them necessary. I don’t, really.. I think you love who you love, it’s about people and not gender, so who cares what you call it?

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@MissAnthrope I’m inclined to agree with everything you said. I feel very much the same way. I don’t think that I’ve ever had the opportunity to hear how other people feel about this. I don’t find myself attracted to a man because he is a man. The same for women. I am attracted to a person for whatever combination of things about them appeal to me. What is between their legs just seems like a completely different part of the equation, in my mind. The same applies to my ability to fall in love. Did I say that in a way that made sense?

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

It is not important to me and I can’t imagine that it ever will be.

syz's avatar

I hate labels, and avoid them whenever possible.

lapilofu's avatar

This is something I think about a lot. My feeling is that labels like heterosexual and homosexual—gay, lesbian, what have you—reinforce the gender binary; they support the totally wacky notion that the biggest possible difference between two people is their gender and that each person is either man or woman.

There are so many dimensions to a person that it seems silly to define my sexuality solely by the gender of the people I am attracted to. @TheOnlyNeffie, you pretty much sum up my feelings when you say, “I don’t find myself attracted to a man because he is a man.”—Similarly it should be pointed out that I’m not attracted to all women. I’m attracted to individuals, not entire genders. I could just as easily define my sexuality by the body type I’m attracted to, the hair color, the ethnicity, &c. &c. For me those would all be equally accurate and inaccurate.

I am easily read (even to people who know me well) as a straight cisgendered man, and I’ve never bothered to correct anyone about it. I readily admit that I’ve never been attracted to anyone who either identifies as male or is socially assigned male. (I have been attracted to a few vaguely feminine androgynes) But in my own mind it’s important to me that I don’t use those labels at all.

I’ve had a lot of discussions with friends who find themselves in the midst of an unexpected attraction and end up agonizing over whether they’re gay or straight or bi, but it doesn’t really matter so much. Everyone’s attracted to some people and not to others. Labels will never accurately encompass the diversity of that.

Brian1946's avatar

I’ve given it some thought but putting a label on it isn’t that important to me.

I’m not sure that there is a label for my specific sexual orientation, so I just label myself as being basically or 80% straight and leave it at that.

DominicX's avatar

It’s important because I’m a linguist-in-training and words are my specialty. I don’t like “not having a word for something.” If I don’t have a word for something, I create one. I’m creating my own language, and I’m constantly creating words for things that we don’t have in English (or take multiple words or confusing sentences to express). So, the same goes for this (and why sentences like “labels are stupid” don’t sit well with me).

I acknowledge that labels are not meant to be perfect, but the goal for me is to be as accurate as possible. For me, it’s easy. I’ve never been attracted to females before. I have no problem whatsoever calling myself “homosexual/gay”. It’s always been clear to me. I understand that it doesn’t always work that way for everyone. I don’t care if you use a label or not, but if you want to, the goal should be to find the one that’s most accurate and not to expect it to be 100% perfect.

josie's avatar

Not relevant to me personally. Does anybody want to know? If so, I am heterosexual. If nobody wants to know, well now you know anyway.

Cruiser's avatar

As sure as I am a white male I am just a certain I am heterosexual. I do not see anything wrong with labels as it helps to define who you are so others can also know who you are and where you stand.

MeinTeil's avatar

There is only one solution for this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinsey_scale

Remember kids, your only as gay or straight as your last relationship.

lillycoyote's avatar

It doesn’t matter much to me, the labels, but I am a heterosexual living in a predominately heterosexual world so it’s maybe not something that is as important to me as it might be to other people. It think sexual orientation is something that falls along a continuum and that there are people who are very solidly at the heterosexual end of the continuum and people who are very solidly at the homosexual end of it. “Labeling” those people one or the other would be pretty accurate but for all the people who fall along the continuum somewhere between each end it gets a little more complicated and more difficult to assign labels that accurate.

@MeinTeil I was working on my comment in a text editor when I saw your post. I think though, that even with an 8 or so point scale some people are going to be left out, are not necessarily going to fall exactly into one of those classifications.

Sarcasm's avatar

It’s pretty unimportant to me that my sexuality has a label.
I certainly fit the label of heterosexuality, given that all of the urges I do have are for women. But sexuality is such a minimal part of my life, I’m certainly not getting any. And as friends in the past have discussed nice asses and big breasts, I never had anything to contribute, I guess I didn’t see what they saw.

If people got my “label” wrong? If people were convinced I was gay, or otherwise non-heterosexual? I wouldn’t mind.

KatawaGrey's avatar

I consider myself bisexual because I take the word literally. I am sexually attracted to males and females. However, when you go outside the realm of sexual attraction, that becomes much more complicated. I have no problem placing the label of bisexual on myself because of ease of explanation and because, purely for sexual attraction, it is accurate. I have a tendency to date a very specific kind of person. If my boyfriend and I break up now, I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to date anyone except that specific kind of person, who is male. I would have no idea how to court a female nor would I know how to have a relationship with someone who was not a quiet, geeky type.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It has only been important when a person has said that they are interested in me when it comes to moving our relationship forward.

TexasDude's avatar

It’s not important to me at all. I like girls. I would have sex with girls. There are guys I think are attractive, but I would never do anything sexual with them. I guess you could say I’m heterosexual, but I really just think of myself as a relatively sexual person, in general. It doesn’t really bother me and I don’t ever really think about it.

Loried2008's avatar

It’s not important to me because I’m married to a man, but I have been with two women and been attracted to both sexes my whole life. Some call me “Bi-curious” or Bi sexual. I find myself as niether, just a woman in love with a man. At this point there’s no point in bringing the female attraction into my “label”

muppetish's avatar

I don’t like labels. I go out of my way to avoid using them. I do not identify with a religion, race, political party, sexual orientation, or gender. If people want to know me, they are going to have to get to know me.

When it comes to filling out paperwork… I’d rather peel wallpaper. At least there is usually a “decline to state” box for me to tick off. I get a lot of use out of those.

Nullo's avatar

I find myself slightly offended every time that I see “sexual orientation” on a form, though for completely different reasons that the lot of you have.

I guess I’d say that it’s unimportant to me because I feel that there ought to only be one.

I don’t mind labels in general, because they let me more easily categorize the world. I’m a busy man, what with all this Fluthering that I have to do, all the Heinlein that I haven’t read, all the anime that I haven’t watched, and all the games that I haven’t played.
What really bugs me is when a label is misrepresented or misapplied.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Nullo Just to clarify, when you say:

”... every time that I see “sexual orientation” on a form, though for completely different reasons that the lot of you have.”

“I guess I’d say that it’s unimportant to me because I feel that there ought to only be one.”

What exactly do you mean by that?

DominicX's avatar

@Nullo

Yes, wouldn’t it be convenient if people didn’t choose to be gay and make their lives complicated? If only people would just accept being straight. But no, we always want to be different…

Nullo's avatar

@lillycoyote “One” refers back to “sexual orientation.”
* braces for flame-fest *

@DominicX Yes, it would be great; we’d be spared all of this drama. Ah well. One must make the best of things. :D

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Nullo: Why do you answer these kinds of questions if you know you’re just going to draw fire?

@DominicX: I would like to point out that you, sir, are kissing a female in your picture! ~

Nullo's avatar

@KatawaGrey So help me, I like to participate! My opinion is explicitly asked for, and I am sufficiently self-absorbed that I cannot help but offer it. Maybe I was deprived as a child, or something.
Besides that, I feel that my diverse views help to make for a more well-rounded discussion.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@Nullo: I didn’t mean for that to sound like an attack, but you so often seem frustrated in these questions and I just wondered why you put yourself through that. :)

Nullo's avatar

@KatawaGrey Ah, the why. If I understood the why, I would understand a great many things.

lillycoyote's avatar

@Nullo dear, no need to “brace for a flame fest.” But I still don’t see that you have clarified what you have to say regarding sexual orientation. “One” refers back to “sexual orientation.” Are you saying that there is only one sexual orientation?” Are you saying that there is only one “acceptable” sexual orientation? Just say what it is you are trying to say. People disagreeing with you is not a “flame-war” unless they turn it into one and that is about what they are, what they’re made of, not about what you have to say or what you believe. I know that that is the position of and idealist but… just say what you have to say. We’re going to eat you alive anyway, so why be coy about it? :-)

Nullo's avatar

@lillycoyote It is my policy to be polite (but not necessarily PC) whenever possible. I gain nothing from using harsh language in normal conversation. As a result, I tend to try to gift-wrap concepts in soft words.

You want my unvarnished opinion, then? Very well; you shall have it.

As you might have surmised, I do not think that homosexuality is either natural or acceptable, and I wish that society would stop pretending that it were.

iamthemob's avatar

@Nullo

Polite is always preferable to PC. I would like to hear your reasons why, although I think that’s another thread.

Leanne1986's avatar

It’s not important to me to be able to label my sexuality but, by the same token, I don’t shy away from doing so either. If people ask or it comes up in conversation then I am happy to admit that I consider myself to be bisexual. I happen to be in love with a man right now but I have always been attracted to women and have enjoyed sex with both (not at the same time though!). Ever since I can remember I have identified as bisexual.

liminal's avatar

There have been times in my life when I have wanted to grasp onto a label. The fluidity of my sensual attractions scared me and I thought “If I could settle on one ‘orientation’ life would be stable”. I’ve since found peace with not settling. I love the heart, the soul…I give the same. I also find all sorts of ‘wrappings’ sensually pleasing and I can’t be pinned down to one. It is refreshing to know there are others who feel the same.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@liminal love that answer. I very much relate to everything you said.

iamthemob's avatar

When you’re talking about fluid identities, I think the only productive use of labels is to take a political stance on the issue. Although my beliefs and understandings of how the universe works align me with atheism, I have found it difficult to call myself an “atheist” as I take issue with many of the public arguments made, and the way that they’re made. However, I’m coming to believe that I should call myself an atheist as it is an important political standpoint.

The same goes for sexuality. I waivered between calling myself gay or bisexual. I call myself gay when discussing myself in mixed company, and bisexual in discussions with the queer community. This is because sexuality, I think, is really only expressed when people are having sex or being physical generally. Stating “I am gay” at this point is much like saying “I am equal, I am free” etc. It is aligning yourself with a political movement, rather than stating who you are attracted to. It’s also why I like “queer” although rarely use it. Queer implies an alignment with non-normative concepts of sexuality – there is no requirement to categorize yourself as straight even if you are (technically). It’s necessary as long as normative concepts of sexuality are in place.

Eventually, I hope, the labels will not be necessary. At that point, you’ll hit on someone at a bar, and that person will just say, “Yes” or “No, I’m not into it.” No gender assignment required.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@iamthemob I love your answer, as well. Though I don’t intend to hit on anyone at a bar anytime soon (or anytime ever, if all goes as planned)... it’s a nice thought.

If nothing else, the responses to this question have given me much peace of mind. It’s good to know that I am not alone in this sort of lingual limbo. Not that I truly expected to be, but every now and then it’s good to be reminded when you aren’t alone.

NaturallyMe's avatar

Not important at all. And nobody has ever asked me that before anyway.

iamthemob's avatar

@NaturallyMe

But have they asked your sexual preference?

If not, what’s your sexual preference? ;-)

LuckyGuy's avatar

@TheOnlyNeffie You see? This is why I love your questions.
I don’t care how long you stay in “lingual limbo”, I’m still zipping my sleeping bag next to yours at the Fluther campout.

Mikewlf337's avatar

I try not to use labels. I am straight and that label is fine because it is my sexual orientation. I don’t like the other labels such as what people like. I have a thing for feet but I have to use the term foot fetish because of the way society has made it seem like a condition more than just something I like that’s a little different. You don’t hear the term boob fetish do ya?

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