Sexuality can be a fascinating subject. It’s also a deeply personal one.
Given that society thinks everyone shares heterosexuality as a universal default, straight people naturally find it very tempting to interrogate every non-heterosexual (also known as queer – anyone who falls into “the spectrum,” as we say of lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, and on and on and on) person that they find in an attempt to learn everything they can about their orientation.
And – perhaps unsurprisingly – women who like women are particularly subject to such interrogations.
We live in such a male-centric culture that many are simply astounded that it’s possible for women to be attracted to individuals outside of men – or sometimes not be attracted to men at all.
Even if you mean well or you’re just trying to educate yourself, these questions can quickly become offensive and insensitive. It’s important that you know how to support your queer friends without prying into every aspect of their personal lives.
I also want to acknowledge that many of these questions are based on the assumption that all men have penises and all women have vaginas, which is obviously incorrect. Heteronormative thinking often fails to account for such diversity, including trans and intersex people.
With these things in mind, let’s go through some of the most common questions that queer women are tired of answering.
1. “How Do Lesbians Have Sex?”
My favorite response to women who ask this question is “I could show you,” and my go-to response to men is “Without you.”
Talk about intrusive!
As a general rule, you should only discuss someone’s sex life if they bring up the topic themselves. And even then, try to find a way to broach the subject that’s a bit more tasteful than “How do you do it?!?”
Snarkiness aside, it’s unfortunate that our sexual education is so poor that we’re unable to fathom how sex can even function outside of a heterosexual or cisgendered understanding.
Society just can’t wrap their minds around the idea that women (who, society presumes can only have vaginas) can get sexual pleasure from each other with no penis (who, society presumes only men can have) involved. In reality, plenty of people know that having a partner with a penis is by no means a solid guarantee of an orgasm.
Quality of sex depends on good communication between partners, regardless of your genitalia.
Instead of using your nearest lesbian acquaintance as a source of queer sex ed, head to the Internet! There are plenty of resources that will resolve all your confusion and minimize the awkwardness.
2. “Are You Sure You’re a Lesbian? You Don’t Look Like One!”
What does this even mean? What is a lesbian supposed to look like?
This is primarily said to femme lesbians who are straight passing, usually by straight men who are dumbfounded or petulant that they don’t have a chance with them.
Straight people learn to recognize lesbians through the butch stereotype – short hair, masculine clothes, a defiant rejection of femininity, and so on – so it catches them off guard that lesbians can “look like them” – traditionally feminine women who attract straight men.
The first thing you should acknowledge is that femininity doesn’t always correlate to heterosexuality. Feminine women can like women!
By the same token, just because a woman looks masculine doesn’t mean she must be gay. Gender expression and orientation are two separate things.
We need to start respecting female sexual agency and stop trying to undermine women’s attempts to define themselves.
And straight guys, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t going to convince any lesbian to sleep with you based on your opinion that they’re too feminine to genuinely be into girls. You’re just annoying them – and they’re probably desperately searching for a way to end the interaction.
The bottom line is that it’s incredibly rude to write off someone’s identity (even when they explicitly spell it out for you) because they don’t think your idea of how a certain type of person is supposed to look. (Not to mention the fact that the “too pretty to be a lesbian” logic is based on the myth that all lesbians must be ugly, which is super fucked up to begin with.)
You might be surprised that a woman is gay, but it’s much better if you keep your opinion to yourself.
3. “Have You Ever Had Sex with a Man Before?”
Again, the straight community is very skeptical that a woman actually doesn’t want to sleep with men. Surely she must never have tried it because men apparently have some kind of gravitational pull!
Either she’s never had sex with a man before or she must’ve had some kind of traumatic relationship with a man that drove her to turn to women.
Okay, let’s take a step back and analyze all the ways that’s problematic.
Why is it that every single queer person has to carry around a bibliography of their romantic and sexual history, ready to rattle it off at any given moment?
Think about it this way: If you’re heterosexual, no one ever asks you “Why are you straight? Is it because of that Disney movie you watched when you were five? Something psychologically scarring had to happen to you!”
Similarly, no one will doubt your heterosexuality if you haven’t slept with anyone yet because you’re already presumed heterosexual from birth!
Asking a queer woman whether or not she’s had sex with a man is silly because it doesn’t really matter: If she’s bi, pan, or otherwise polysexual, she’s established that she is interested in men; if she’s a lesbian, she’s established that she’s not interested in men.
Her orientation doesn’t change – and isn’t discredited by – the amount of sex she’s had with men or lack thereof. Trying to corner them in some kind of “gotcha” scenario to prove their identity is illegitimate is just petty.
If you wouldn’t like someone demanding to know your sexual history, you shouldn’t feel entitled to ask anyone else about theirs!
4. “Don’t You Miss Men?”
Ah yes, another dude centric question.
When a woman has any history with men whatsoever, a shadow of suspicion is cast over all future romantic and sexual endeavors.
Even if a woman is in a happy, fulfilling relationship with another woman, people will inevitably still ask her if she ever gets nostalgic for guys, because—you know—men (again, as the folks that society presumes are the ones with penises) are supposedly the only way that women can have “real sex” and everything else doesn’t count.
The inferior sex argument apparently undercuts any chance of anyone taking queer lady relationships seriously because I guess no one else besides cis men know how to give anyone orgasms!
Also, it’s not like someone would dare enjoy being in a romantic partnership for purposes other than sex. Asexuality is totally not a thing. (I hope you’re picking up on my heavy sarcasm here.)
A queer women most likely doesn’t miss men because while she may still very well be attracted to men, she’s managed to find strong connections elsewhere! It shouldn’t be surprising that this question usually comes from straight men who are interrogating lesbians or bi/pan women about their relationships.
Newsflash, dude: She’s not going to spontaneously profess her desperation to you and rip off your pants.
And to answer the burning curiosity of straight women, some women just find relationships or sex with women more satisfying than the prospect of sharing it with men.
It’s a simple difference in preferences. No big deal.
5. “So, You’re Bi? Does That Mean You’re into Threesomes?”
Some people love threesomes! And threesomes can be great!
However, a lot of people falsely assume that all bisexual women are always up for a threesome – and can be particularly callous and presumptuous when they try to proposition her.
I never understood the stereotype that all bi people have to be lusting after all genders 100% of the time.
I think the notion that bi women in particular are supposed to be inherently promiscuous fuels the myth that we must be more open sexually. Like how our boyfriends especially are supposed to be fist pumping with joy because we’ll always be down to bring another lady into the bedroom.
That logic makes no sense.
Being attracted to multiple genders does not mean that you’ll constantly be craving sex with all of them, nor does it increase the likelihood that you’ll have any kinks.
Sure, some bi women are into threesomes, but that doesn’t mean all bi women are. Just like some straight women are into threesomes, and some aren’t. It’s all about individual tastes.
Please stop hypersexualizing our queerness.
6. “You Date Masculine Women? Isn’t That the Same Thing as Dating Men?”
Plain and simple.
Masculinity does not belong to men, and male masculinity is not superior to the masculinity of any other group.
A woman can be attracted to masculinity without wanting a heterosexual relationship. She is not trying to “imitate heterosexuality.” Her relationships are perfectly valid within their own right.
This also assumes that masculine women and men are interchangeable simply because they’re both masculine, but that’s not the case. Many men are not masculine!
I never thought I would sincerely use the phrase “not all men,” but not all men fit definitions of traditional heteronormativity – and the same principle applies to women.
It’s a bit insulting to tell a queer women that she may as well date men because masculine women are a facsimile when, in fact, they’re not.
Be respectful of everyone’s dating choices!
7. “You’re Not Really Bi. When Are You Going to Pick a Side?”
Bisexuality has become synonymous with confusion, lack of fidelity, and disinterest in monogamy.
Although cheating is never okay, many of the stereotypes that we associate with the “bad bisexual” shouldn’t be perceived negatively in the first place.
There’s no wrong way to be bisexual, but it’s viewed as negative by the straight community because it allegedly antagonizes idealistic heteronormative fantasies that we’ve grown up with.
Bisexuality in women is interpreted as an orchestrated, staged act done to please straight men that they’ll eventually grow out of when they graduate college. Men who date bisexual women sometimes worry that their girlfriends will leave them because they can’t provide what another woman could.
It’s never okay to invalidate someone’s identity to make yourself feel superior or to sooth your own insecurities.
Bisexuality only means attraction to multiple genders.
The vast majority of mistrust or bias that you feel against bisexuals is a result of living in a toxic biphobic society that teaches us the legitimate sexuality only exists within the rigid binary of straight versus gay, otherwise known as monosexism.
8. “Aren’t Bisexuality and Pansexuality the Same Thing?”
This is the one that makes me the most frustrated because I never know how to respond.
Yes. No. Maybe. The shortest and simplest answer is that it depends on the person.
It’s hard enough for me to even convince people that pansexuality is an orientation that exists. I know the pun you’re thinking of. No, it doesn’t mean attraction to cookware. That joke is getting old fast.
Pansexuality indicates attraction to any and all genders, thereby panning the entire gender spectrum (pan also means “all”). Bisexuality typically refers to attraction to two or more genders.
Some people feel as though bisexuality – when (incorrectly) defined as an attraction to “both men and women” – fails to account for trans and non-binary folks. Those folks sometimes choose to identify as pansexual instead because to them, bisexuality is cissexist and exclusionary to those who don’t fit on the gender binary.
Still, many others believe that trans and non-binary folks are included within bisexuality. A lot of people, including myself, use bisexuality and pansexuality interchangeably. Frankly, I frequently label myself as bisexual simply because it’s more recognizable and easily understood.
The bottom line is that you should allow people to tell you how they identify and never label anyone as bisexual or pansexual without asking them first.
There is a very complex politics behind it for many folks, so it’s upsetting for them to see the two orientations casually lumped together.
Women have so much of their sexual autonomy undermined and taken away from them, and this is doubly true for queer women.
You might be well-meaning. You might be their friend. It might be genuine curiosity with no intention of being offensive. Regardless of your motives, it just gets tiring after a while.
No one is obligated to be your handy dandy token minority and teach you everything about their way of life. Queer women don’t have to walk you through the most intimate aspects of their sexuality to justify their past decisions or who they love.
There is no reason to encroach upon your friends or complete strangers about a sensitive subject like sexuality. We are just as entitled to privacy as you are, orientation notwithstanding.
If you want to learn, start by educating yourself.
Erin Tatum is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She’s a feminist, queer theory lover, and television enthusiast living in Pennsylvania. She is particularly interested in examining the representation of marginalized identities in media. In addition to Everyday Feminism, she’s also a weekly contributor to B*tch Flicks. Follow her on Twitter @ErinTatum91.