Separation of Gay and Straight

Attraction is experienced differently by most people. It depends on preferences, DNA, personal values and even geographic location. It is hardly a simple concept. In this post, I cover a few ways one can experience attraction and, whether gay or straight, I think you'll find more similarities than differences. This will provide a foundation to help readers understand future posts that will build off of certain principles and facts that may not be widely known.

Pretend you're really good friends with Joe. You can't put your finger on how you know he's gay and you've never asked. So you finally ask him, "Joe, are you gay?" That's a perfectly legitimate question! But Joe denies it...what? Or maybe Joe says, "I'm bi." Oh. Wait...what? Or pretend some guy on Facebook marries this girl, comes out as gay and then blogs about it? Haha. Wait. WHAT?

How does that work? You're not the first to ask that.

To understand this properly, we first need to understand a few things about sexual orientation and attraction. I'll use simple logic and scientific data. You can choose to believe science or choose to be wrong.

Heterosexuality vs. Homosexuality
Sexual orientation is described as patterns of sexual attraction. Yes, we all have the ability to make our choices regardless of predispositions. It is not widely known that we, in fact, cannot choose our sexual orientation any more than we can choose our skin color because both are equally beyond our limits. It's the combination of nature (like DNA) and nurture (environment, like the womb) that determines sexual orientation. Studies are suggesting that it's even determined before birth!

Heterosexuality (“straight”) is a sexual orientation because it is consistent and stable over a lifetime. Equally, homosexuality (“gay,” or sometimes “lesbian” if female) is an orientation too because it is also consistent and stable over a lifetime. Simple enough, right?

Curveball #1:  Sexuality is a spectrum. A very renowned scientist, Alfred Kinsey, did a lot of research and studies on sexuality in his time. Though gay and straight are polar opposites, his studies found that sexuality is actually a spectrum instead of two unrelated categories. Kinsey even developed a scale, called the Kinsey Scale (Coincidence? Probably not.). It ranks men and women from 0-6 based on their patterns of sexual drive, with straight as 0 and gay as 6.

The crazy thing is that recent studies found that many straight people (gays too) experience at least a subtle degree of attraction to the sex their orientation says they should find unattractive. Thus, this actually places more people slightly toward the middle of the spectrum, making fewer completely straights and completely gays than we used to think (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2rTHDOuUBw, minutes 21:00-29:00). The middle of the spectrum is described as bisexual: individuals who can be sexually charged by either sex.

One's inner carnal desire is actually just a smaller component to a larger picture. Attraction is experienced (loosely put) in other ways like emotionally, intellectually and some even argue spiritually.

Curveball #2: You can be attracted to someone in one way and not another. There are many examples of this, but I think a universal one could be when you're in that awkward, "unofficially together" phase of dating someone new because you're still testing the waters with your connection. You don't know the person as well as you'd like, that's why you're trying them on. Then you'll have even a better idea of how the attraction does or doesn't continue.

Curveball #3:  Sexual orientation doesn't necessarily match sexual behavior. Take Katy Perry for example. I apologize if you're not a fan, but in her song "I Kissed a Girl," Katy sings about having a boyfriend while kissing a girl and denying that it meant anything romantic--meaning it didn't make her a lesbian. I realize this is not the most appropriate example, but I'll bet you'll remember this principle a little better now. The point is this:  orientation and behavior are two separate concepts. Generally, they match. They do not have to.

A more digestible example is (hopefully) my situation. I identify as gay and am happily married to a straight woman (called a mixed-orientation marriage). That doesn’t change my orientation, even if having a sexual relationship with my wife. We share similar values, are very compatible, and we compromise and make sacrifices as in any relationship. What we are is fulfilling for us because we communicate frequently and honestly, and we cultivate all levels of love and attraction. In short, we're each others best friend and you make sacrifices for the ones you love like in any relationship.

Curveball #4:  Sexual fluidity. This explains behavior that doesn't match a person's sexual orientation in a certain time period, sometimes due to changes in the environment (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2rTHDOuUBw, minutes 29:00-39:00). Hopefully this makes more sense using these two examples:  1) A straight man may feel a boost in romantic feelings or in sex drive toward other men if he finds himself in an environment with no women, and 2) A woman who has always identified as straight, finds herself falling for one particular woman even while still identifying as straight.

Now back to the question for our friend, Joe. Are you gay?

That's three simple words, but not a simple question. A label misses your uniqueness but they do help people understand you a little betterSo how did you mean that? Yes, many may understand this question is meant to ask if Joe is attracted to men. Since there are more ways than one to experience attraction, he may feel conflicted (gay Joe feeling conflicted? Yeah puns!) in how to respond and he may shock you with an answer you weren't expecting. Maybe he feels sexually attracted to men, but attracted in all other ways to women. Or maybe he feels sexually attracted to men and also craves a lifelong emotional connection and companionship. Or any different combination of attraction between men and women. We're finding it's more common than once thought. Does that make him gay? Does that make you bi? It is simply up to each person how he/she identifies because attraction is experienced personally. It is felt on multiple levels regardless of sexual orientation. We are all different, but we're generally the same in that way.

It's in our differences we may find we are more similar than we once thought.