There is a difference between gender identity and sexual orientation. Gender identity is how you see yourself – the gender of the person on the inside. Sexual orientation is what gender of person you are attracted to – who you will choose for a sexual and/or life partner. Some people’s gender identity and sexual/romantic attractions are more fluid than others’ but they’re always separate entities.
Does that mean that when a person transitions, s/he will continue to pursue the same type of intimate relationships as before? I used to think so, but now I’m seeing that I might not have been completely right.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who told me, “When I was presenting as a gay man, it was important to be highly sexual. Now that I’ve transitioned, not only has my desire for sex decreased, my selection of a potential life partner has shifted. It’s not about the sex anymore, but about the relationship.” My friend might still be attracted to men, but the type of man she desires has changed. Now she is hesitant to get involved with a gay man because she wonders if he will truly be happy with her in the long run, and a straight man who catches her eye will have to be looking for more than just sex in order to catch her heart.
Another friend said, “Before transition from female to male, I identified as bisexual. Although I was attracted to women, I had an intense desire to be perceived as normal. I was so fixated on trying to fit into society’s definition of what a female should be like that I never considered acting on my attraction to women. Now that I started transitioning, I’m not sure how much of my attraction to men was that need for normalcy or how much was genuine attraction. I still don’t know, and I don’t trust my feelings about this. I do trust my feelings about women though, so I feel more comfortable with the idea of dating women only.”
Still another experience signifies further diversity. “When I was presenting as lesbian, I was not attracted to men. I never doubted for a moment the exclusive attraction I had toward women. Now that I’m male, gay men are very vocal about their attraction to me and it doesn’t completely turn me off. I don’t know if I would ever sleep with a man, but my attention is not as exclusively focused on women.” So did your sexual orientation change? I asked, and he said” “I don’t think my orientation changed, but maybe just the situation in which I found myself. When I was immersed in the lesbian community, women who were attracted to me might have let on about it in subtle ways, but rarely did they just come right out and say it. Now I’m still in the LGBT community, but as a man. Gay men are very vocal about their attraction to me, even if just in good humor. When a man comes up to me and flirts (harmlessly), it puts images in my head of sexual interaction between me and that person. Sometimes it’s not appealing to me, but other times I’ve been surprised at my open consideration of the image.”
These friends’ testimonies don’t mean that their sexual orientations have changed. It just means that closer inspection of the circumstances might be needed when they notice a shift in their attractions. It might not be any different than a person who, in their youth, only dates slender people, but then decide in maturity that they prefer people with curves.
So, if you notice a shift in who you are attracted to, take a look at what else has changed in your life. Are you living in a different culture or in a different body? Are you in a different stage of life or hanging around a different group of friends? Instead of refusing to give in to new attractions, consider allowing fluidity to enrich your life.
~ Brent Walsh