Am I Gay or Straight? How Do I Know?
There may have been a point in your life, or many points perhaps, where you have asked yourself “How do I know if I’m gay?” Or maybe the question was “How do I know if I’m straight?” Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple answer to this? Like most things in life, it isn’t that simple. And perhaps that complexity can be owed to how society defines sexuality. Some folks see two boxes to choose from: heterosexual or homosexual. Others see a continuum - like, mostly homosexual, but with some heterosexual desires and/or experiences. And still others might not identify with any label except for one given to them, such as pomosexual- a person who does not find such labels useful and thus does not identify as any. Because people and society are complex, so to are our sexual orientation identifications, as well as the feelings and emotions about what it all means.
In the simplest terms, you might be gay if you are attracted to and sexually interested in those of the same gender as you. Now, that is not as easy to realize as it may seem, especially considering some of society’s opinions of what it all means. This might explain why in 1948 a now well-known sexuality trailblazer named Alfred Kinsey developed a scale to help people figure out the answer to that question, called the Heterosexual-Homosexual Rating Scale, a.k.a. the Kinsey Scale. To find out how you rate, there are surveys online that can give you a Kinsey rating. Your score will be from 0 (exclusively heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual), and everything in between. For instance, a score of 3 is identified as “equally heterosexual and homosexual”, which some may call bisexual. You might be thinking, how great! A test on the Internet will tell me if I’m gay, straight, or bi, and it may. However, knowing what we know now about gender identity and sexual orientation, this scale is a bit inadequate for truly identifying your sexual orientation.
There are different aspects to one’s identity. Let’s focus on three; sexual orientation (who we are attracted to and find sexually appealing), biological sex (the label assigned to us at birth based on outward sexual characteristics), and gender identity (the gender we identify with). When some people are born, the doctor might label them “female” based on the outward sexual characteristics. Some time later in life, they might realize that this does not feel like the right label for them. Maybe they identify as male and decide to transition and bring their outward gender expression more in line with their inward experience. They may now be labeled female-to-male transgender. So if their gender identity is male, and they are attracted to male-identified people, their sexual orientation may be “gay”. If they are attracted to female-identified people, their sexual orientation might be “straight”. Perhaps they are sexually interested in both- and maybe they would say, “I’m bisexual”. And yet, there are more options. For those who are sexually interested in gender variant people (i.e. people who may identify as transgender or gender fluid, or some other identity that was not what the doctor labeled them at birth), they may identify as “skoliosexual”- attracted to gender variant people- or perhaps the broader, “pansexual”- attracted to all genders. Perhaps you are not attracted to, or sexually interested in, anyone, which might be labeled as “asexual”.
If these labels and categories give you a headache, then perhaps you can identify a little bit with the frustration of the experience of someone who is other than heterosexual (being attracted to the opposite gender), and cisgender (identifying as the gender assigned to you at birth) in our society. You may start to wonder why we need to have labels at all, and that is a really good question. Why do we need to label these parts of the human experience as though there is really a black or white answer to it? Some look at this as the beauty of humanity, with the breadth of experience that is possible. Others may find it shameful to even consider other possibilities, and the answer to the question may be harder to come by.
Social science researchers are continuing to study the many complexities in human sexuality. The reality here is that sexual orientation is as unique as the person who experiences it. Without identifying with a label, who are you interested in having sex with? Canoodling or making out with? Going on a date? Marrying? There may be some people who have different answers for each of those questions, and some who have the same answer for each. Another part of sexual orientation reality is that it is not always fixed. Sexuality can be fluid and/or evolve over time. Perhaps you remember the first crush you had, or being a “fan” of boy bands (did you like Joey or Jordan when you were 10?) Those attractions have probably changed as you got older, and experienced more types of people. So, to answer the question, “how do I know if I’m gay?” a great place to start is, “who am I attracted to right now?” Other questions that might be useful are: “Who did I used to be attracted to?” “Have I ever been attracted to anyone?”, “Where did my ideas of who I am supposed to be attracted to come from?” And if you feel like you would like some help, as you dive deep into your own experience, a therapist can help by joining you on your journey, as an objective and non-judgmental sounding board.
– Connie Glenn, MS, LMFT
Coherence Associates Inc. (760) 942-8663