Let me start by saying that yes, people can be heteroflexible, homoflexible and bisexual. If reading this article makes you feel uncomfortable or gives you a negative reaction, then I suggest you check yourself and your attitudes and preconceptions. Whatever our judgments or over-reactions may be, they say more about ourselves than they do the person or situation that we are judging.
Wikipedia defines heteroflexible as "a form of a sexual orientation or situational sexual behavior characterized by minimal homosexual activity, despite a primarily heterosexual sexual orientation that... distinguish [es] it from bisexuality."
"13 Minutes or So Minutes" is an award-winning film that dramatizes heteroflexiblity. I think it is sweet, endearing and illustrates how complicated all of this really is.
It is a real dynamic and an appropriate label for many straight men who occasionally have sex with other men given the right situation or circumstance, and not necessarily based on any attraction toward men as a whole. Significantly, the word itself brings out strong reactions from many people -- men and women, young and old, gay, straight and bisexual. But the worst reactions typically come from males (both gay and straight), who may become emotionally charged and sometimes even enraged at the thought of a straight man identifying himself as sexually flexible
"He's gay, they insist. "He is closeted, and it's only a matter of time before he comes out. Doing anything sexual with another guy... that makes him GAY! End of discussion!"
I understand this reaction when it comes from openly gay men. When a man is still in the early stages of coming out and fairly deep in the closet, he will usually identify himself as straight. He literally considers himself as straight, but perhaps "just a little kinky." He'll convince himself and everyone around him. Later, when he recognizes his true gay identity, he looks back and realizes all the intense work it took for him to hide and suppress himself and then to finally come out.
He may well feel indignant that other gay men are trying avoid the same pain that he went through, and so will force the label of "gay" on anyone claiming to be heteroflexible or bisexual. We gay men have fought hard to be accepted and counted, to exist and not be ignored. We continue to fight to be counted as citizens with full rights and privileges. So, we cling to the term "gay" and expect others to be out and proud, just as we have fought to be.
But I also understand this same overreaction when it comes from straight men. Many straight men have been taught to reject anything that is gay. After having grown up in a homophobic society, these particular men have developed a deep fear of having anything to do with being gay, so if another man says, "Yeah, I'm straight, but sometimes I like to have gay sex," this threatens these straight men's views of what being a straight man means. Growing up male, most boys are taught not to touch other boys through hugs or holding hands. Gay or straight, we're typically warned to suppress our feelings and block access to our inner emotional world, branding that kind of self-expression as "gay" or "feminine" -- as if both terms are related, and as if anything is wrong with either one.
Urban dictionary describes this as a gay man who has come out and embraced his identity fully as a gay man and chooses to have sex with a woman.
A gay man or woman who has sexual play with someone of the opposite sex under certain circumstances thereby making [him or her] a "homo" who is "flexible." Not "bi," [being] actively interested in both sexes, but a person who is normally 100% gay [but] engages in some sort of sexual encounter with someone of the opposite sex for various reasons [...] in exchange for something, circumstantial timing, for fun, or out of boredom.
When a gay man does this, people don't immediately label him as straight. Sometimes they'll say he is bisexual, but never straight. So, when a straight man has sex with another man, why is he automatically gay -- with no questions asked?
But if you think that a man who calls himself straight and has sex with another man is gay or bisexual, then you must also agree that when a gay man having sex with a woman, that means he's secretly straight and/or bisexual.
You can't have it both ways.
When a gay man has sex with a woman, it's understood that he's still gay. No one says, "Doesn't matter if he's sucked dick. Now that he's been with a woman, he is straight from now on."
Straight people also reward the homoflexible man. I was telling a straight friend that as I get older, I find myself noticing women in sexual ways more than I ever have before. This straight friend high-fived me! He didn't say, "Ew, that's STRAIGHT!" or judge me negatively. Inherent in both of these terms is homophobia -- the idea that there is something wrong or out of control about gay sexual behavior.
Wikipedia defines bisexuality as romantic attraction toward both males and females. The term is mainly used in the context of human attraction to denote romantic or sexual feelings toward both men and women. Different from heteroflexible and homoflexible, bisexuals have an enduring attraction romantically and sexually toward both genders. Sometimes it is more toward one gender over another.
Women aren't immune to having negative reactions to bisexual and heteroflexible men -- they just aren't as harsh about it.
When I do my talks around the country, women in my audiences agree that if they were to discover the man they were dating was bisexual, they would end the relationship. So if you're a man who identifies himself as bisexual, most women don't want to date you! I hear this complaint all the time from my bisexual male clients. They tell me that once they share this with a woman, she immediately labels him as gay and feels she can't trust him. There's also the prejudice that those who "swing both ways" are more sexually active and can't maintain monogamy -- as reflected in Woody Allen's joke that being bisexual automatically doubles your chances of having a date on Saturday night.
Or women worry the man might actually be truly gay. "He won't stay true to me," many women say. "He will likely turn gay and leave me." Men don't have the same concerns. If they think a young woman is bisexual, that makes her more experienced, more "hot."
Why? Because women enjoy a permission to be sexually fluid, while men don't. Now, years after Ann Heche's sexual and romantic relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, the paparazzi isn't hunting her down. But male celebrities are constantly being hunted down and like vultures, people are waiting to see them do something "gay" so they can expose them!
Bisexual men are seen as inclined to be sexual with either gender, finding both men and women to be hot and sexy. Straight men who have sex with men are primarily attracted to the sexual act itself, and not the guy in question.
These definitions can drive people crazy! When someone can be fitted inside an either/or category, everyone breathes a sigh of relief. OK, you can be gay or straight, but if you are a real man, you can't be anywhere in between.
We are too attached to a system of sexual identity labels that are being shown to be increasingly outdated. Young people are embracing terms like "genderqueer" and "pansexual" and creating a host of others because those labels describe how they view themselves better than the "old" ones did.
Sex and sexuality are far more complicated than this, because so are people. Labels work great when you're writing a book, giving a presentation or explaining to others who you are. But the truth is that these labels are limiting and only box people in, restricting what they are and can become.
It think that in the future, the complexity and fluidity of both genders' sexual identifications will overcome the present binary way of thinking -- but because of the political systems we live in, it won't happen suddenly or overnight.
Whatever reactions this article brings up for you, it's high time to discuss them. It is time we listened to each other and became curious about each other's experience is, beyond our own projections or assumptions that make it easier for you to sleep at night. All people have a right to identify themselves however they want without pressure from others to define them prematurely.
We have to keep talking. We can disagree, challenge and even partly agree at times. But not talking about sexuality will only keep a large portion of it in the closet, and those who are on the spectrum between being fully gay and fully straight will only continue to suffer.
(Editor's note: This post was originally published by SDGLN content partner GLAAD.)