It’s important to note from the onset that this happens to a very wide variety of people who have vastly different life experiences and identities. I am not speaking for anyone else, this just happens to be my personal experience.
I identify as male. I am exclusively attracted to women. For the past several years, a large percentage of the people I know have assumed that I’m gay.
I’ve been told a lot of the reasons why people assume that I must want to have sex with men. I’ve been told that it’s because at cocktail events, I’ll often wear a bow tie instead of a normal tie, or colourful socks instead of dark ones. I’ve been told that it’s because I’m skinny and not particularly sporty. I’ve even been told that it’s just inherent in the way I hold myself and the way I talk to people. These, and many more reasons I’ve been given, make it pretty clear to me that people are assuming that I’m attracted to men because I don’t have a lot of typically masculine attributes.
Assuming someone’s sexuality because of the way they act, or the way they dress, or whether they took drama in high school, is always going to be futile because there genuinely is no connection between those things. Additionally though, those kinds of assumptions and the gossip that surrounds them is incredibly damaging. It creates a cloud of self-doubt behind every action that you take and it makes you second-guess the clothes you put on in the morning or the drinks you order at a bar because you become worried about what other people will associate your actions with. Someone’s sexuality should never be a matter of concern for anyone but themselves.
There are also a few problems that stem from implying a connection between masculinity and heterosexuality. The first, and most obvious, is that it sends the message that if I show traditionally masculine traits, I must be straight, and if I don’t, I must be gay. I’m not allowed to be straight and effeminate, and likewise, people aren’t allowed to be gay and masculine. Obviously, this is bullshit.
Things like sexuality and gender do exist on a spectrum, and it’s important for people to realise that it’s impossible to determine the way that someone identifies based on some external attribute about them.
Furthermore, as someone who has this happen to them all the time, these assumptions only make me question my identity more, feel more uncomfortable about who I am and feel like I’m doing something wrong or not behaving in the way that I should. I’m surprised that it has gotten to a point where I actually feel uncomfortable about the fact that I’m straight. The cumulative effect of these assumptions and the consistent insistence that I must be gay is that even though I know that I am not attracted to men, I feel like I’m somehow doing something wrong or not behaving correctly. This makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable with who I am. For example, I’m really, really uncomfortable with dancing. Only a few weeks ago, I was told by someone that that must be because I’m repressing something (how very subtle). But it’s not because I’m repressing the fact that I’m secretly gay. It’s because I’m not comfortable with who I am in a way that has nothing to do with my sexuality, and having people say things like that only makes me more uncomfortable in my own skin, and more questioning of my actions and the way people perceive them.
The second problem is that it makes me feel even more insecure about the fact that I’m not particularly masculine. The nature of social norms around masculinity is that men feel pressured into acting as masculine as possible. I am well aware of the fact that notions of masculinity are baseless and stupid – yet I still can’t help but wish that I was more masculine. That’s the bizarre paradox of masculinity: I wholly believe that I don’t need to act in a way that is typically masculine, but I still can’t help but want to. It affects me in strange ways, too. For example, I’ve wanted to cry countless times since I hit puberty, but I’m nearly always physically unable to. And that means that I struggle to express and let out my sadness, it means that it’s harder for me to deal with it, and it pushes me towards either just wallowing in the fact that I feel shitty, or taking it out on other people. I feel trapped by masculinity, because although I’m fully aware of the fact that I should be able to cry, there’s still a part of me that won’t allow it. When the message that you send is that for me to be straight I have to be masculine, you force me to try and identify with those masculine attributes. You push me towards trying to be someone that I’m not, and trying to engage with a form of identity that I’ve been trying my hardest to escape from.
Even further to that, people’s continuous insistence that I must be gay makes me want to change my behaviour to stop them. Even after I explain that I’m just not attracted to men, or that I have a girlfriend, the same people tend to immediately brush what I say aside, in a, “You say that, but we both know it’s not true,” kind of way. One of the worst effects of this is that I do feel a pressure to change the way I act to somehow prove the fact that I’m attracted to women. When people tell me that I must be gay because in some of my Facebook profile pictures I’m posing with another guy, it means that I’m less comfortable forming close friendships with men. I’m less comfortable hugging men. I can guarantee right now that my next profile picture will be a picture of me, alone. But it really shouldn’t have to be.
The reason this article has been published anonymously is not because I don’t want to be associated with it or are uncomfortable with what I’ve divulged. It’s because hopefully, in not knowing who wrote this, maybe you’ll think about whether you’ve made similar assumptions about people and how it might be affecting them. Assigning any value or identity to an attribute, or making assumptions about anyone’s identity in general, isn’t just stupid. It hurts people.