I think I became aware of the fact that sexual orientation is supposed to be an important part of one’s identity around 4th or 5th grade. I made a special homemade valentine’s card for another boy who had moved in. I was not romantically interested in him; I meant it as a special gesture of welcome. But he avoided me thereafter. In middle school, my male peers would talk knowingly of which female classmates were “hot,” but would profess utter ignorance about which male classmates were attractive. Female peers did the same. Being male (and straight, though this part went unspoken) meant, so we thought or affected to think, that the attractiveness of the other gender was transparent and that of our own opaque. Which, of course, is utter nonsense.
For as long as I have been attuned to the beauty of the human form, I have been attracted by male beauty as well as by female beauty—though my appreciation of male beauty more easily remains purely aesthetic, while my appreciation of female beauty more easily becomes erotic. And yet with males as well as females I experience the potential for sexual interest. I think that is true of most of us, in some degree—or would be, at least, if our sexuality had not been affected by a particular identity regarding our sexual orientation. For better or worse, my sexuality remained unaffected by my “straight” identity at least in the sense that I continued to experience some sexual interest towards men, even though I was not “supposed to.” For example, there is one scene in “George of the Jungle” whose evident purpose is to accentuate Brendan Fraser’s sexiness—and my response to this scene was similar to the response I would expect in an analogous scene accentuating the sexiness of an actress. This and other similar episodes caused me a great deal of anxiety. Was I actually “gay”?
The attempt to repress a thought or a feeling often backfires, especially in the sexual context, where the allure of the forbidden is part of the mystique. It was so with me. My anxiety grew to the point where it became clinical, and I received therapy for how to deal with intrusive homoerotic thoughts—thoughts which increasingly corresponded with homoerotic feelings. Therapy helped. Eventually the thoughts became less disturbing to me: so what if I had some gay/bisexual tendencies? I could still act out my sexual identity in the way that conformed to my moral code. (I was and am a Christian).
Kinsey (of Kinsey scale fame) claimed that the subjects of his studies experienced shifts in their sexual orientation, sometimes even from day to day. Some social scientists disagree, but others have achieved the same result. (Here is Wikipedia page on “sexual fluidity,” i.e., change in sexual identity or sexual orientation.) I, at any rate, can testify that my own sexual orientation has shifted, over the last fifteen years. It has moved some indefinable but significant distance from a dominantly “heterosexual” orientation towards “bisexuality” and back again. I am sure that my personal choice as well as my religious and moral convictions played important and complex roles in both shifts, among other things.
It was only after I was able to distance myself from distress over my sexual orientation that I began to think more carefully and more clearly about the whole binary of gay/straight and the taxonomy of homo-/hetero-/bi-/asexual. (For strangely, this binary coexists with this taxonomy even though they are in tension with each other. Perhaps this just goes to show how unthinking we can be in these matters.) Learning a little about the history (i.e., that these categories were not thought to exist until the 19th century, see Part One) was an important part of obtaining clarity. I came to see that all of that anxiety could have been avoided if I had known and adopted the medieval/ancient way of thinking, which conformed more closely to my lived experience.