I'm not sure if I'm bi anymore, and I wish I were more androgynous.
Lately I have been very confused about my sexuality and gender identity. I have identified as Bisexual for the past two years, but I don’t really have much interest in sex. I feel especially uncomfortable in sexual situations with men, and whenever I have sexual fantasies they’re about women. I have only dated men in the past, and liked those relationships but never had sex with them. I do develop crushes on men, often on gay men. This makes me wish I were a man, or at least sort of androgynous. These feelings have led me to question my gender identity. I am female and dress in a very feminine way, but I feel like this might be more of a reflection of societal expectations than what I actually want. Sometimes I really want to wear men’s clothes and wish I could just wear either without it seeming strange. Sorry if this question is incoherent, I just have a lot of questions jumbled around in my head right now.
Thanks for turning to Alterheros in what seems to be a confusing time for you.
First I would like to address the fact that you are 16 years old. You are still in puberty. This means, whatever you like right now, has the potential to change over time as you mature. This could be one of the factors affecting your mixed feelings about your gender identity, and about whom you are or are not attracted to, both physically and emotionally. Knowing you are bisexual from a young age (in your case, 14 or so) is great, however, when you discover this during teenagehood, it is very normal for your tastes to change. The uneasiness you feel in regards to having sex is also normal, as I presume from what you’ve written, that you have not yet had sex. Trying new things is always a bit daunting. And just because you have the ability to crush out on someone, or date someone, or even enjoy kissing someone, it does not necessarily require you to have any sexual desire, at your age.
The pressures on teens are pretty high, and perhaps the ‘norm’ in your school or environment is to be coupled off, but it doesn’t necessarily mean YOU are ready to be in any serious or ongoing relationship. And it certainly does not mean these relationships need to be with men. That kind of pressure could be affecting your comfort level around males when things start to go in the direction of intimacy.
Another thing I’d like to touch on is that you seem to feel that crushing out on gay men affects your self-image, making you wish you were more androgynous, or possibly even, that you were a man yourself. Nowhere in any instruction manual has it said it is abnormal for a straight, bisexual, pansexual etc female (female who essentially can have attractions towards males) to prefer “gay-looking” men. To you, what is attractive about gay men? Not all gay males dress, act, speak or think alike. Ask yourself what it is about them that attracts you over straight men. Is it purely aesthetic? Is it perhaps about comfort because knowing they are not interested in women, you feel relaxed with them, and know there would not be any sexual advances on their part, whereas you might expect a straight male to make those advances on you?
In any case, feeling drawn to gay males does not necessarily mean you are gay or straight or identify more as female or more as male. Each is independent of the other, though they intertwine at some point once you KNOW what you like and who you are. This leads me to the issue of your desires to dress less feminine. Is this in the sole goal of attracting the type of men you say you are most attracted to? Or is it purely for your own comfort and self-esteem (ie: not always having to wear feminine attire). If you present yourself with a more androgynous image, do you think these gay men would be more attracted to you? Personally, I feel they would not. If they are really gay, I don’t think your choice of clothing will convince them that they are attracted to a woman 😉 If you are feeling you are more masculine than feminine inside, perhaps you might be transgender, but this is a whole other can of worms (feel free to write us back about that if you have further questions on transgenderism, and definitely have a look at other questions and answers on our site about this topic). From what you’ve written here, I don’t feel that you are trans, but at this point in time, it may be impossible to judge. Puberty, as I mentioned, is a weird place where many questions may be asked, and much confusion may take place. It looks however, that you are just plain confused by the mixture of physical and emotional signs your body and brain are sending you. It may not be easy to decipher those signals right now, but with time, things will become clearer and clearer, especially when those hormones stabilize!
Now let’s talk about your presentation dilemma (in other words, they way you ‘present’ yourself to others, including your choice of clothing, hairstyle, demeanor, makeup or lack thereof, etc). You say that you like to dress in a feminine way, but that some days you just wish you could dress in what most would deem ‘masculine’ attire. So why not! Speaking from personal experience, I like to mix it up! Sometimes the shock value is amusing. Sometimes they might think ‘Well, hey, that necktie looks super cool on her, I wonder if I should try mixing and matching a man’s tie with a feminine blouse?’. Others might think you are strange or inconsistent. But fashion is there to be challenged. Fashion is not your gender identity, it is only there to help you express whatever is inside you. Use it how you see fit. If one day you feel bummy, nothing wrong with wearing ripped or worn-out jeans and a t-shirt. If on another day, you feel very girly, put on your lipstick and flowery sun-dress and heels! On yet another day, if you are feeling lazy to wear nylon stockings or shave your legs, make use of the more masculine pant suit! If you are more creative, a mix of both feminine and masculine clothing items and accessories can make a lovely combination! We can even see these pairings on the runway in fashion shows! Some designers who meld feminine and masculine styles are seen as innovators and trend-setters!
So I don’t think there should be any shame on your part, at wanting to wear more masculine clothing every now and then (or more often if you really like it). I have a friend for example, who is extremely feminine. She is gay, has a huge collection of high heeled shoes, loves to wear skirts and dresses, and spends hours doing her hair and makeup. But some days, she plops on her baseball cap with her hair in a ponytail, and wears a track jacket and jeans with sneakers. She is adorable both ways, and I find that the contrast between her two ‘styles’ is what makes her special. There is absolutely nothng wrong with mixing it up, depending on your mood! As you say, society makes us feel a female must always present herself as feminine, but womens’ magazines also make girls feel it’s okay to starve themselves for the sake of ‘beauty’. Who do you think is right?
What you might like to try, before completely appearing to your friends, peers and family in head-to-toe menswear, is try to accessorize your female-identified attire with male-identified accessories. Wear a men’s belt, tie, cuff links, shoes, etc. See how people around you react, see how you feel wearing these items. Do they make you feel comfortable with whom you are? Does the outside match the inside of you? Do you feel stronger with these items on you? Do they change how you interact with others? In the end, you might discover they are ONLY accessories, and don’t really affect your personality at all. If that’s the case, that is fine too!
Once you have decided how you feel incorporating these items into your everyday wardrobe, you can try adding larger pieces – assuming you had a positive reaction to the little accessories. You might be very surprised to see friends start mimmicking your fashion-sense 😉 Female friends might even ask you to borrow that cool tie or hip pair of men’s running shoes! And if they don’t; if they judge you or belittle you on your taste in clothing, try not to let it get you down. You need to be true to yourself! If wearing men’s clothes boosts your confidence, or if you feel this is really who you ARE as a person, as they say “you gotta do what you gotta do”!
If, through this image exploration, you find yourself leaning more and more towards the masculine style, don’t be scared to suddenly pull out that great little black dress that you loved so much, if you so desire. You don’t need to box yourself into one style or another. Do what is most comfortable for you. This carries over to your gender identity and your sexual orientation. If in the past, you felt attracted to both boys and girls, but now you feel less interested in men, that is alright. I’ll also mention here, that some people feel strong emotional attachment to one gender, but a strong physical attraction to another gender, and this is acceptable as well. If you feel intimidated or uncomfortable being intimate with men, regardless if you are having sex with them or not, maybe you were meant to simply have good friendships with them, and putting pressure on yourself to like them more than friends is what’s killing it for you ultimately. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, funny enough.
In your question, you did not mention having any intimate relations with women (with or without sex), so I wonder if they too might cause you to feel uncomfortable, if you have yet to experience this. If you are feeling uneasy around both genders, this could simply be the teenage hormone thing acting up. It is natural for someone to feel uneasy, nervous, etc in first-time relationships. When you get used to it, your feelings about it may alter drastically.
Whether this means you are heterosexual, bi or other can only be determined by you, with time and experience. The same goes for your ambiguous gender identity. If you feel most comfortable being androgynous, go for it! If you feel you must conform to any normative gender roles in how you dress or groom yourself, think about what is making you conform. If it is just peer pressure or societal norms, it is up to you to find out where you ‘fit’ within certain labels. But I am a firm believer of avoiding labels altogether. Labels are there to help us identify things, but when they start discriminating or squashing the ability to expand, then they can be a disservice to us.
Hopefully your hormones will start to level off soon, as girls tend to mature earlier than boys. With that maturity, you will start to see things more clearly, and become less confused over all these issues you are dealing with right now. If ever you need our help digging deeper, just let us know!
Good luck and take care,
Dee for Alterheros.