The Sexual Orientation Police

 Posted by on March 10, 2011
Mar 102011

By Amethyst Wonder

So far, I’ve written about Mr. Good on Paper, Mr. Emphatically Not Gay, Mr. Judgy Pants, and Mr. No Short Term Memory. By now, you may be under the mistaken impression that only males are the perpetrators on online social ineptitude. You would be wrong.

This month I’m writing about someone, a female someone, I have named the Sexual Orientation Police.

I have a difficult time articulating my sexual orientation on most dating sites. There’s generally not a box that says, “I tend to prefer boys, but sometimes I have girlfriends, and also I don’t really subscribe to the gender binary, so I’m not comfortable identifying as bisexual.” I usually end up constantly switching back and forth between straight and bisexual, with a note somewhere on my profile to expand on things.

I occasionally get a question about this. It doesn’t bother me. Not only do I expect it, but it gives me an opportunity to open a discussion on gender and orientation with someone. However, sometimes that discussion goes awry.

“Hey, I wanted to write to you a little while ago, but when I came back to your profile, it said you were straight.”

“Yeah, I don’t feel like there’s an appropriate box for my orientation, so I change it sometimes.”

“What do you mean ‘appropriate?’ “

“Well, I don’t really consider myself either straight or bi. I mostly date guys, but I’ve been with women.”

“Oh. So, you’re really bi, you’re just not totally out. You should change it back.”

“That’s not what I said.”

“Whatever. If you date both guys and girls, then you’re bi. You need to change it back.”

“Not whatever. I think it’s a complex issue, especially since it’s tied to gender identity. And stop telling me what to do.”

Redacted to keep her overly simplistic and narrow-minded views on gender from derailing me here. “I’m only telling you because you have it down wrong. You’re bi, and you should say you’re bi.”

“Well, obviously we don’t agree on this. So, we probably don’t need to keep talking.”

“OK, but you really should change your sexual orientation back to bi-sexual. You’re just being ridiculous.”

Moral of the story: There are times when how someone self-identifies affects other people. Sometimes this involves misrepresentation; I think these cases earn a bit of judgment and even repudiation. But sometimes the effect is just a matter of challenging someone’s world-view. Someone accurately describing themselves in a way that simply makes you uncomfortable, or makes you think, is not cause for you to sound alarms and deem them incorrect, illegitimate, or ridiculous. If you disagree with someone’s self-identification, stop and think: does it really matter to you? And if it does, really, why?

Also, stop telling me what to do.