Quaint Little Categories
Let’s play a game. I’m gonna erase everyone’s sexual orientation and kink identity for a second. Just for a minute. You’re not straight, you’re not gay, you’re not dominant, you’re not submissive. If you were at a party, you could look around and see lots of other people. You’d be attracted to some of them, probably barely register most, maybe see a few that actively repulse you. Your reaction could be based on physical attraction, demeanor, intellect, humor, political views, anything. Doesn’t matter. The point is, patterns emerge. Maybe all or most of the folks who catch your eye are male-bodied. If you female-identify, you’re likely to phrase this pattern as “I’m straight.” If you male-identify, you’ll say “I’m gay.”
Socially, it’s acceptable to rebuff advances by saying “sorry, I’m straight” or “actually, I’m gay.” And I agree with this. No one is obligated to be attracted to anyone else. Being able to say “no” is incredibly important.
What if we imagine the same scenario again, only this time the person who’s attracted to you is of your preferred sex and/or gender. You’re still not interested. So you say “I’m flattered, but…” and what comes next? “I only date people of my own race”? “I’m just not attracted to people who are taller than me”? “I really can’t see myself with a disabled person”?
I’m guessing those all sound a little more uncomfortable. Definitely more polite to just say “no, thank you,” right?
I’m not going to start a rant about racism or sexism or perceived norms regarding what makes a person attractive. That’s not the point here. Let’s just go back to the party and take a look at the patterns again. (you can have your sexual identity back now, by the way. I’m done with it.) If you’re straight or gay you’ve already established that all (or almost all) of the people you’re attracted to are of a specific sex. There are probably other patterns, too: gregariousness, hair color, humor, height, weight, fashion, attitude, interests and competencies. If you’re kinky, you may look for specific behaviors that indicate a certain style of dominance or submission. This is not an attack. These patterns are not a bad thing. If anything, being aware of them shows that you know what you like. Go you!
What confuses me is that biological sex is somehow the one unimpeachable determinant of attraction for so many people. Somehow only liking men or only liking women is (1) normative and (2) treated as the sole basis for sexual identity. Imagine any other trait–let’s say hair color. If someone says “I only like redheads” she’s not a gingersexual, she’s a straight or gay or bisexual person with a fetish for redheads. Or we can pick on me for a moment: I hate having partners who are taller than I am. If I have to look up to meet someone’s eyes when we’re both standing together, I’m going to be irrationally annoyed to the point of distraction. Men, women, intersex, cis-, trans-, or genderfluid; doesn’t matter, there are people I’d be attracted to somewhere in all these groups. As long as they’re not too tall*. But if you ask my sexual orientation I’ll still say “bisexual**”
Same deal with D/s. When I say I switch, it’s almost never taken at face value. Sometimes I’m brushed off as a submissive with too much pride, which I at least understand: I am far more comfortable bottoming than topping in public scenes and most of my kinky social circle is male doms. Sometimes it’s statements that I was a “real brat” in an impact scene with zero D/s involved, or Fetmail from a submissive man reassuring me that I don’t have to pretend to be a switch to get male attention: there are men like him who love dominant women (Gee, thanks, stranger on the Internet. I never knew dominant females were in high demand. Guess I can quit this silly charade now).
I’m not trying to say everyone’s bisexual or a switch or that labels aren’t useful or any of that nonsense. Cisgendered heterosexual male dominant is a perfectly valid identity. The point is that when someone identifies that way, challenges to that identity are going to be pretty rare. Gender-not-quite-conforming bisexual female switch is just as valid. It would be nice to not have it challenged quite so often, especially in a theoretically pansexual open-to-all-orientations kink group.
*Even that’s not a total dealbreaker. The Fireman (whom I rarely see these days) is 6’2″. It drives me nuts, but not to the point that he isn’t worth playing with. I always pick really tall shoes when he’s going to be around, though.
**Not wholly accurate. Bisexual implies attraction to two binary sexes/genders, and I’m perfectly happy with anyone anywhere on the spectrum of either sex or gender. But it’s the word I’ve used since age fifteen, so I’m kind of attached.