Wednesday, December 18, 2013


I have never had anal sex with a man. It feels like something has left me as I say this- the only way I can define myself- when during an argument about whether a man who has anal sex with a woman can truly be said to be straight, I was put on the spot about my sexuality. I had never thought in those terms. I had always taken it for granted that I knew what it meant when people said they were straight, gay or bisexual. But to have to define myself in an argument with acquaintances was strange for me. I have somehow always avoided it- not the subject but any personal definition of my sexuality. And I realize now that that is all I can say: I cannot give a definition beyond whom I have or have not had penetrative sex with. 

These days I have been thinking of labels of sexuality. The relentless groupings and re-groupings of individuals based on what type of sex they have and with whom.  The assumptions that follow such labels and how it can be that a person is defined by what type of sex they have. 

I have wondered if sexuality is fixed or if it is a continuum- a scale with well oiled wheels. Are people are always either this or that-  gay or straight or bisexual? How well do labels work? Do they work? Can one be one way for one reason and with one person and another way with others? What is the enduring value of the labels, straight or gay or bisexual? Are labels a cultural thing, valid for some and invalid for others?

In an essay in the American literary journal, The Sun, of November 2012 titled 'Easily Led',  Gillian Kendall writes of her life as a lesbian:
"On the train in 2011, heading north and east through the rain swept counties to see Nelson, I noted in my journal that I hadn't had sex with a man in eighteen years, not since I declared my romantic allegiance to women. I guessed that with any man except [Nelson] it would be:
   'sort of deadish- lacking that aliveness and tenderness and mysterious  excitement of being with a woman. But with him it will be - if it is at all- familiar in some ways and, I think, exciting. I would like for a change that my partners excitement is leading me. I'd like to be the object of desire instead of, or as well as, the co-instigator. I want him to lead - even though I remember that men always, always go too fast. But, hey, at sixty-eight maybe he'll have slowed to a lesbian's pace. Or MY pace. Am I still a lesbian?' "

After the conversation mentioned in the opening, the questions which loomed large in my mind were: Am I truly any of these: straight, gay, bisexual? Do I even know what these fixed notions of sexuality mean or think in those terms? Or do I just love as I go, for different reasons, in different ways, with different people?

More than my being unsure about these classifications, perhaps it is the case that I am unwilling to be so classified. At the heart of the matter is the social construction of what it means to be attached to any of these groupings. For ‘straight’ men, especially straight black men, it borders on the forbidden to publicly confess that another man is physically appealing, whether this is said in a sexual way or not, just as a straight man is not supposed to behave ‘like a woman’. I like to think that I am more than my sexual preferences. 

There is also the cultural application of labels. Sexuality has not always been a part of most people's identity. Historically, for example, ancient Greece and Rome did not have labels of sexuality, whether homosexual or heterosexual. Some historians have argued that then, both (young) men and women were considered objects of desire (for men). More recently labels have taken on great significance. The reasons for this is not the subject of this article. However even now, as prevalent as sexuality-as-a-part-of-core-identity is, not every culture has sexuality as a stated component of identity. (Of course some of this is as a result of widespread homophobia.)

I once saw in a British Council job application form a section for ‘sexual orientation’. Applicants for that job were supposed to tick a box indicating if they were gay, straight or bi. This troubled me then as it troubles me now. Thinking about it a bit more, I understand the 'equal opportunity' issues and that perhaps the intentions were not entirely negative. But I cannot help feeling that there is something worrying about having this on a form. Chances are that if I were to apply for that job I would not know what box to tick, not because I am confused about my sexuality or questioning it but because I do not understand why I have to be domiciled in any of those boxes. Or why anyone should be made to declare their sexuality while applying for a job.

I do understand however that human sexuality classifications and the attendant discrimination against 'deviant' sexuality are real and becoming more and more important in today's world. Thus, and perhaps also as some form of reaction to increasing homophobia, it is becoming more important to believers of human rights that persons are able to identify as being of an alternative sexuality (involving, of course, consensual sex with persons capable of giving consent) without fear of violent attacks or any form of social prejudice.

My thoughts on the issue of sexuality and sexual identity as it plays out in social interaction are far from resolved. But my answer to the question, ‘Are you straight, bi or gay?’ is very simple. I don’t know. I don’t care. And neither should you. 


  1. This fence you choose to straddle is kinda scary Eljo. But I guess you have a right to that too. I do agree thatnpeople have a right to be; as long as they do not infringe on another human being's rights.And all persons deserve equal opportunity.
    But we can't ignore the fact that increasingly diverse sexual preferences are looking more and more like badly-abused perversions as time passes.

    1. Iquo,
      There is no fence o.
      "...not because I am confused about my sexuality or questioning it but because I do not understand why I have to be domiciled in any of those boxes."

  2. Nice Article. Clear and unbiased. I am Gay, I am Happy, Its a choice.

    1. One's sexuality is a choice?

  3. I'm at that beautiful and scary stage where I am questioning my sexuality. I think the boxes- straight, bi or gay- tend to add to the confusion but this was enlightening.Sometimes I feel as if I am the only one within my circle of friends who is questioning their sexuality or the boxes that people want to put their sexuality into. Wish sexuality was a thing that could talk maybe it would tell me what it wants. Thanks Elnathan

  4. As always, rocking the boat and shocking everyone else in-between. Thanks for this. Our invidivual sexulaities are just that, individual and personal and private. Seriously, I just don't care who you sleep with and what you do in bed as far as your consenting adults. But hey, remember, I sell adult toys and am so used to getting all kinds of requests.

  5. I used to be one of those who would yell out "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" without thinking deep about my need to use religion to define people. The same religion says "love the neighbour". After a while, this shameful judgmental side of me saw sense. No one should be vilified because of their sexual orientation. Nobody is in any position to condemn consenting adults for what they truly believe is who they are. And surely nobody should be defined based on their sexual orientation. That in itself is discrimination. Cool article Elnathan.

  6. Gosh, I missed the article when you first posted. Brilliant. I do think sexuality can be a continuum although it can be fixed for some.


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