Page

AM I A LESBIAN MASTERDOC

What is Compulsory Heterosexuality?

How do I know if I’m a lesbian?

But I like fictional men/male celebrities..

But I think I’ve Liked men before?

Conflicting Feelings About Men

Signs of Compulsory Heterosexuality

‘Attraction’ to men

Relationships with men

Sex and Intimacy with men

Early interest in women

The ‘straight’ version of you

Exploring attraction to women

Gender Feelings

Considering lesbianism

Attraction VS. Compulsory Heterosexuality

Nervousness and Blushing

Hypothetical Attraction

Sexual Fantasies

You might be a lesbian if TL;DR

Conclusion

What is Compulsory Heterosexuality? 

“Compulsory” is the opposite of “optional”. “Compulsory heterosexuality” is exactly what it sounds like - being straight is something our culture tries to force on us.

It affects people of every gender, but it’s mostly been studied as something that affects women. This is because compulsory heterosexuality easily ties in with the misogyny that causes women’s sexualities and even identities to be defined by our relationships with men.

Women are taught from a very early age that making men happy is our job. We’re supposed to be pretty for men, we’re supposed to change the way we talk so men will take us more seriously, we’re supposed to want a man’s love more than anything else. Our magazines are full of sex tips on how to better please men, our movies are about how we’re supposed to fall in love with men. We literally cannot exist in public without men loudly grading us on how well we’re pleasing them visually.

So… what happens if you want to be with women? What happens if you’re not attracted to men at all? When you’re trained from childhood to see romantic/sexual relationships with men - and only men - as major life goals, how do you separate that from what you want?

Compulsory heterosexuality is the voice in my head that says I must really be het even when I’m in love with a woman. Compulsory heterosexuality is what forces lesbians to struggle through learning the difference between what you’ve been taught you want (being with men) and what you do want (being with women), which is why so many lesbians have dated men at some point.

Compulsory heterosexuality is very similar to heteronormativity - the assumption that straight is the default. We’re trained from birth to believe that we will find someone of the other binary gender, fall in love, have sex, etc. In a million tiny ways we’re taught that only relationships with the other binary gender are valid. (And if you’re not one of the binary genders, this can be even more confusing.)

Compulsory heterosexuality is built into you from the moment you’re born into this time and place, and it takes a long time to dismantle it.

How do I know if I’m a lesbian?

 If you’re questioning if you’re a lesbian, it's way more important to ask yourself if you can be truthfully happy with a man than if you’re attracted to them. Ask yourself if you can have healthy fulfilling relationships with men and actually wanna be with them. You can be attracted to men or not know if you are because of compulsory heterosexuality and it doesn't mean you want to be with them. Attraction is supposed to feel good. If being in relationships with men isn’t appealing to you, if you can’t truly see yourself ending up happy in relationships with men, or if your attraction to men makes you uncomfortable, you may be a lesbian. Lesbian isn’t a dirty word and being a lesbian is beautiful.

Many lesbians STILL struggle with compulsory heterosexuality even when they know they don’t want men. If you love women but feel fake about it, just remember that those feelings are the product of a patriarchal society which has conditioned you to believe the false idea that you are defined by your ties to men. this can be really difficult to remember at times, and it might take you a while before you can fully love women without feeling like you’re somehow “wrong”, but just know that there are a million other women who are in the same boat as you are, meaning that this is a problem with society and not with you.

But I like fictional men/male celebrities..

Lesbians are allowed to like male celebrities and fictional characters. it’s usually a symptom of compulsory heterosexuality—male celebrities/fictional characters are completely unobtainable crushes and thus it allows the lesbian in question to distance themselves from men. Because it’s impossible to ever be with that person, they get to avoid the romance and intimacy, which is usually something that girls can recognize that they don’t want with men but can’t exactly place why or what it means. Even if the attraction to male celebrities/fictional characters is NOT an effect of compulsory heterosexuality (which would be really hard to figure out), it’s not fair that straight women can have “girl crushes” and straight men can have “man crushes” without anyone telling them they can’t be/aren’t straight anymore, so the reverse should not be applied to lesbians.

But I think I’ve Liked men before?

You can identify as a lesbian if you’ve liked men in the past but no longer are attracted to men or want to pursue relationships with them. lots of lesbians have dated or had genuine relationships with men before realizing they were lesbians, and that doesn’t make them any less of a lesbian. If you don’t care about men or would no longer like to me with them, you can be a lesbian now. It’s a “now” identity - it matters how you feel now! you’re not interested in men, so you can ID as lesbian regardless of how you’ve felt in the past. if you ID as lesbian now, and then meet a man and fall for him, it would be wrong to call yourself a lesbian but having a relationship with a man in the past doesn’t mean you can’t be a lesbian now.

Many lesbians have previously liked men at some point in their lives before realizing they are lesbians. Now a common misconception is also that everyone is born knowing they are gay and that’s not necessarily true. It can be because of both nature AND nurture. If you have had terrible experiences with men and now would like to no longer date them because you don’t see yourself being truly happy with a man and would only like to date women, you can be a lesbian too. It’s okay to try on the lesbian identity and see how it fits you because many lesbians were unsure of how they felt about men until they identified as lesbians. This helped them realize how much of what they felt for men was actually compulsory heterosexuality over time.

If you think you feel attraction towards men but don’t want to date or be with them and instead want to date and be with women, then you CAN be a lesbian. Lesbian doesn’t need to mean “only experiences attraction to women”, it can mean “only feels comfortable, only prefers, and only prioritizes women & relationships with them”. Many lesbians have found out this way that their “attraction” to men was in fact compulsory heterosexuality.

Attraction is super complicated. It’s possible to recognize a man IS attractive but not be attracted TO him. Attraction is often coerced by societal conditioning and some lesbians have hypothetical attraction to men due to compulsory heterosexuality. But we don’t want to actually date or have sex with a man ever. Allowing people to identify based on where they are willing to put their romantic and sexual energy is more powerful and gives people agency.

Conflicting Feelings About Men

You can really, genuinely have warm, positive, strong feelings towards men and they can still be compulsory heterosexuality. Compulsory heterosexuality is the assumption that any feelings that you have towards a man MUST be attraction because society talks all the time about hetero love and attraction so when you feel something towards a man you think “oh, this must be what it’s like”. Then as part of “discovering your sexuality” you try to find ways that you find men attractive. You think “i’m not attracted to physical appearance, only personalities” or “i only like feminine men” or you find ways to make yourself aroused by men by imagining them in all kinds of unusual scenarios until you hit one that appeals to you

Then when you can’t follow through with this ‘attraction’ in real life scenarios when you have a chance to have a romantic/sexual relationship with a man you assume that’s it’s some broken part of you that’s stopping you, or some quirk of your personality, or a circumstance of your life (”i have high standards” or “i only like older men” or “i have some incredibly obscure made-up sexuality where i only like men until they like me back”), and you explain away why you’re unable to find an attainable man in real life who you’re attracted to.

This is something that’s really difficult to recognise because in the process of figuring out your sexuality you question how you feel and you come back with “well i definitely have strong feelings for men” and assume you’re straight or bisexual. But another important thing to question is “have i correctly labelled and understood what this feeling is and am i certain that it’s actually attraction”

Society puts so much emphasis on the importance and intensity of heterosexual love and attraction that it’s important to actively remind yourself that it’s possible to love someone and have a deep interest in them without having romantic or sexual feelings towards them (especially if that love comes along with another intense interest, like your feelings towards a fictional man in a tv show you love).

Signs of Compulsory Heterosexuality

 If you relate to or identify with a lot of these things, I’d say it’s worth an investigation into why so many of these things resonate with you. Is it because you have a specific taste in men or because society has conditioned you to want this? Is it because you have bad experiences with men related to trauma or because these kinds of desires have been ingrained into you? In no way are these all the experiences of lesbians who once thought they liked men, but these are the most common ones from lesbians I have gathered.

‘Attraction’ to men

Relationships with men

Sex and Intimacy with men

Early interest in women

The ‘straight’ version of you

Exploring attraction to women

Gender Feelings

Considering lesbianism

Attraction VS. Compulsory Heterosexuality

Nervousness and Blushing

A ton of romance media and common cultural tropes have this idea that you know you’re attracted to someone if you’re nervous or blushing around them. Because of this, you might feel like you must be attracted to a man if you feel nervous around him, just because you’re experiencing the physical bodily response you’ve been told to expect, not because you actually want to date him.

Actual Attraction: You’re nervous because you’re excited to get to know someone. You find them attractive first and because you’re thinking about your attraction to them, you get self conscious because you hope they might like you too.

Compulsory Heterosexuality: You’re nervous because you are aware that he is attracted to you, and because he’s paying such close attention to you– especially if he’s pushing boundaries or getting too close into your personal space– you become self conscious because you know he’s watching you. You blush because you’re uncomfortable.

Hypothetical Attraction

Many questioning women have a hard time sorting through their attraction because of hypotheticals. Our culture, in general, disregards or challenges wlw’s attraction and it gives this anxiety that we need to know 100% that we are not and will never be attracted to men no matter what in order to claim labels.

It’s hard to do that as a young person who is just learning about themselves, flooded with “what if”s about the future. Because of this, you might feel like you can’t rule out being attracted to men because you might hypothetically be attracted to one someday. Who knows?

Actual Attraction: You imagine a hypothetical future where you end up with a man and it feels exciting and makes you feel good and hopeful and happy and right. It’s a nice feeling and is comfortable to think about. Reassuring.

Compulsory Heterosexuality: You imagine a hypothetical future where you end up with a man and it makes you feel uncomfortable, scared, sad, disappointed, wrong. It’s an upsetting thing to think about and you hope it doesn’t happen. You don’t want to end up with a man even if you feel like you could.

Sexual Fantasies

Our culture places a big emphasis on sex when it comes to orientation. Some people’s orientation includes sexual attraction and some people’s orientation doesn’t, but most of us feel like our sexual fantasies are the most important indicator of non-straight sexuality because LGBT people have been so thoroughly reduced to sexual acts and sexual objects in the homophobic culture we’ve grown up in.

Along with that, we’ve also grown up in a heteronormative and cisnormative society that repetitively teaches and reemphasizes the same singular sexual “script” for how sex is supposed to go, over and over and over. They do not teach any others, and it requires non-straight and non-cis people to invent their own sexual scripts individually and with partners.

But as a young person, when you’re aroused, your mind has a very limited template of potential narratives associated with that feeling, so many people default to the same heteronormative script in their fantasies because it’s unconscious and easy. Because of this, you might feel like you must be attracted to men because you imagine abstract situations of sex with men, even though you have absolutely no desire to sleep with men in real life.

Actual Attraction: When you fantasize about men, it is because you’re attracted to their bodies or specific men or the idea of having sex with men. You imagine qualities of their body and you like the idea of what you’re imagining. If you think about the fantasy later that day, you might feel like it’s embarrassing, but you also feel like it’s sexy.

Compulsory Heterosexuality: When you fantasize about men, it is mostly just enacting a kind of narrative. More focused on movement than features– the men in your fantasies might be faceless or blank-featured or their bodies might symbolize some emotion. You don’t really like the idea of what you’re imagining. You might not even be in the fantasy, but instead another faceless woman might be. You might even imagine yourself as the man. The narrative follows the sexual script, but the details are more vague and abstract and might even shift and change throughout the fantasy. If you think about it later that day, you might feel vaguely nauseated or uncomfortable or feel invalidated and wrong.

It’s really difficult to unroot compulsory heterosexuality. My simplest advice on getting through it is this: even if you are attracted to men, you do not need to date them if you don’t want to. If you only want to date other women, then you have the right to that. The rest is less important than the simple reality of what you want right now.

You might be a lesbian if TL;DR 

Conclusion

Women can have conflicting feelings for men in a multitude of ways due to misogyny and the patriarchy that oppresses us. You may be reading this and start to question yourself after relating to most of these and that’s okay. If you are unsure or questioning, feel free to try on the lesbian label as well. If you come to the conclusion that you are not a lesbian eventually, that’s okay too. These are the most common signs of compulsory heterosexuality. Plenty of lesbians still struggle with compulsory heterosexuality. There are other ways compulsory heterosexuality may manifest itself as well. You don’t have to relate to all of these to identify as a lesbian. I’d like to assure you that even though you currently have a boyfriend, a husband, or had one in the past, that this does not make you any less of a lesbian. If you’ve had sex with men, you’re not any less of a lesbian. You can still be a lesbian if you’re a trans woman / nonbinary too, if you feel a connected to womanhood through your love of other women. Nonbinary and trans lesbians have always existed as well, such as Leslie Feinberg and her most famous book Stone Butch Blues that entices this. Plenty of lesbians feel alienated for being lesbians and are gender nonconforming or dysphoric. Lesbian is not a dirty word. Do not settle for men if you don’t think you can ever be truly happy ending up with one. Being a lesbian is healing and loving women as a lesbian does not make you predatory in any way. I hope you can do some soul searching and figure out your consciousness.

Credit