(Cis)heterosexual Folks Ask the Darndest Things

By Joyline Maenzanise

I’m sure every now and then, we all are confronted with some questions- such as those below- that only (cis)heterosexual folks can think to ask. The questions which can range from being invasive to downright silly are all rooted in the beliefs taught to us and constantly reinforced by a (cis)heterosexual society.

“Were you born gay or is this a choice?”

I don’t know if I was born queer but I know I made the choice to embrace the feelings I experienced as my sexuality. Growing up, I tried to fit into the box that society wants us all to fit in. And by try, I do not mean that this was an effort to hide my sexuality from the public. What I mean is I had to make sure I carried myself in a certain, prescribed way and it was tiring.

At that point in time, I never even thought of myself as anything other than heterosexual.

There were some boys my age I developed feelings for. Everyone around me was heterosexual (or some pretended to be, but we may never know) so, to me, it was a no-brainer that I must be heterosexual as well. Even though I would get to a point where I was aware of my feelings towards women, it never occurred to me that those feelings could be accepted as being part of my sexuality. That would only occur later.  

“When did you know you were attracted to women?”

In my late teenage years, I became aware of how I was  attracted to some women I interacted with. I brushed those feelings aside though; as I said above, I didn’t think they could mean anything. I knew that such an attraction was frowned upon in our society with religion forming the basis for most people’s attitude towards what I was experiencing. Besides, I had already had a pastor at church tell me that I was possessed by a male demon so, in hindsight, I shudder to think what I would have been told if I had acted upon my feelings and it had become public knowledge. My efforts to dole those feelings down were in vain because they only became even more pronounced. This happened during the time when I still subscribed to Christianity and had been “praying the gay away” because I knew the religion’s stance regarding same gender attraction.

“Why are you attracted to women”?

I don’t know why I am attracted to women. I just know that I am and I know that I was not influenced (by other people or any external forces) to experience this attraction. I don’t know how it happened. I just know that it happened. Sometimes, the heart just wants what it wants. It has its own reasons that reason may know nothing of. However, if I have to think about this, I can come up with reasons why I would prefer being with a woman (cis or trans) to being with a man. The kind of person I am, or am becoming, the kind of person who does not coddle patriarchy  is probably better off dating women than being with a man who may expect me to nurse his ego. With a woman, chances are higher of us agreeing not to allow patriarchal standards to dictate our relationship. And if we do not allow patriarchal rules to govern our relationship, we will also not allow other people to judge the dynamics of our relationship using patriarchal expectations as the yardstick.

“Who is the man in the relationship?”

Uhm…if no one in the relationship identifies as a man, then there is no man in the relationship. Contrary to popular belief, a romantic relationship need not be only between a (cis)man and a (cis)woman only. It is sad to note that the way we have been socialised to view such relationships has resulted in the way some queer relationships are structured being informed by such heteronormative beliefs. It is then no surprise that, even in a relationship between two women, we are likely to find one of them assuming the role of the “man” which usually means, the dominant partner. This tends to be the case when the relationship involves a feminine and masculine woman. In this instance, one woman- usually the masculine presenting woman- is then seen as the dominant party in the relationship while the feminine woman assumes the role of the submissive party. Sadly, this dominant-submissive paradigm can lead to abuse because the one in the position of perceived dominance is likely to want to assert that power especially in cases where their status in the relationship is threatened or questioned.

“How do you have sex?”

Unless we are close buddies who talk about anything, this question is an invasion of my privacy. Again, it is a question coming from folks who believe we are meant to have sex in a certain way and it should involve certain genitalia. Here, it is important to note a relationship between two people of the same gender- say, a transwoman and a (cis)woman- does not always mean that their genitalia are the same. Since most folks tend to conflate gender and sex, they probably also find it befuddling that two vaginas or penises could stimulate each other. Little do they know indeed! There are so many ways that people can pleasure themselves sexually that do not necessarily involve the penetration of one genitalia by another. That is the beauty of sex in queer relationships (how do women have sex). We are at liberty to explore our sexuality and figure out what lights the fuse for us.

“Why not just date men if you’re going to use a strap-on?”

Because using a strap-on or dildo implies a craving for a penis right? Wrong!

For starters, this question wrongly assumes that it is only men who have penises. Some women (who may also be in same gender relationships) have penises. Secondly, people use various methods to spice up their sex lives and this isn’t suggestive of anything that involves being with someone of a different gender (or has different genitalia). I believe one thing we all need to understand about sexual orientation is that it is not only about sex or who gives us the most sexual pleasure. I believe for some of us, emotional attraction probably plays a bigger role in informing who we want to be romantically involved with.

“Why can’t women just date men if they are attracted to women who look like men?”

When one asks this question, they are insinuating that women (and men too) are supposed to look a certain way and that all members of one group need to fit that preconceived description. This question also assumes that there are only two genders with specified markers and if one has failed to meet the criteria for one gender, then they are seen to be attempting to be the other gender. Women are not a homogenous group. Not all of them are feminine. Some are masculine. Some occupy the space in between. THEY ARE ALL WOMEN. The same can also be said about the men in question. Not all of them as masculine. THEY ARE ALL MEN. One’s way of presenting themselves to the world, their physique or how they dress is not a marker of their gender. When I wear pants or clothes traditionally considered to be men’s attire, I am not trying to be a man. I am not a man and I am not trying to be anyone other than myself. I do agree that our reasons for carrying ourselves in the ways we do may not all be the same but I know most of us are not trying to fit into society’s ideas of how we all ought to look like based solely on the gender assigned to us at birth.

“Were you hurt by men”?

Usually this question is asked at pretty much the same time that I am asked if I hate men. No, I don’t hate men. Yes, I have been hurt by men. I was sexually abused by so several men- men I knew and total strangers. But is that what made me who I am today? Is that what explains my queerness?

Absolutely not.

I know there are several women who are in same gender relationships who may have a history marred by sexual abuse. It is possible that some of them may have decided to date women because of any feelings of distrust or animosity towards men that those experiences created.  However, not all women who have been hurt by men end up hating them or less inclined to get romantically involved with them. In fact this is a very small number. Equally important to note here is that not all women in same gender relationships have been hurt by men. This again is a very tiny percentage as more often than not men have nothing to do with it.

In my case, the sexual abuse did destroy my ability to trust men and this is something I am still battling with to date. But that’s it. I did not decide to date women because I was sexually abused by some men and now cannot trust all men fully. I was with a few guys before I got to that place of acceptance of my feelings for women. In my case, the more I got attracted to and focused on women, the less I noticed men. Not the more I ran away, but the more they did not feature in my sexual mental framework.

Eventually, I just never felt any attraction towards men. Even though, through self-introspection, I have now come to allow myself to feel whatever I feel and towards any person- be they cis/ trans or feminine/ masculine- I am not sure if I can date men because of reasons I mentioned earlier.

I am inclined to think that this question may come from a place of real concern because many folks would be of the belief that the only time someone can be in a relationship with another woman is if they have been hurt by men. To these folks, men must have done something wrong that made women turn their backs on them. However well-meaning it may be, this is yet another invasive question which is also downright sensitive. We are likely to open wounds that some folks may be nursing with such intrusive questions.

Tolerance means (cis)heterosexuality remains the norm and queerness will be treated as if it is a plague that needs to be contained

I know that some of these questions are an attempt to find a reason to tolerate queerness. (Cis)heterosexual folks probably feel the need to find a biological cause for queerness so they can gauge whose queerness to take seriously or tolerate and those to dismiss as either a fleeting phase or mere confusion. I do not want to be tolerated; I want to be accepted. Being tolerated comes with terms and conditions. I will be expected to make sure I don’t overstep certain boundaries which may poke holes in the comfortable bubbles (cis)heterosexual folks live in where they don’t want queer people to be “in their faces”. Tolerance means (cis)heterosexuality remains the norm and queerness will be treated as if it is a plague that needs to be contained lest it spreads or the young and gullible ones are lured into it.

I don’t want tolerance.

Yes, there have been studies conducted on the presence of the gay gene. Yes, science (which is, thankfully, self-correcting) has made great strides in recognising and thus, validating the existence of queer people. This has been very important in getting society to see us for who we are and not people in need of deliverance or therapy as we are believed to be possessed by evil spirits or exhibiting signs of a mental disorder. However, given the experiences of many queer folks, it is going to take more than science for most of society to warm up to our existence. The beliefs that inform the hatred most folks feel towards the queer community are deeply etched within them. That hatred is mostly justified by religious teachings and, even with the backing of science, it is not going to be so easy trying to convince religious folks that they need to unlearn what they have been taught. To most of them, doing so is a disregard of their deities- something they have also been taught to never do because it is a “transgression”. Sadly, the power of religion continues to trump all.

Will we ever get to a point where people are free to love whoever they love, whether they were born queer or just want to explore their sexuality? Will we ever get to a point where no one ever feels the need to fight off or brush aside any feelings for someone of the same gender because we have been taught to despise such feelings? Will we ever get to a point where coming out is not an inherent risk as one stands to lose loved ones…lose their life just because of who they are? And when will we ever get to a point where people do not even feel the need to ‘come out’ because we have completely dismantled heteronormativity? Will we ever get to a point where people aren’t so fixated about other people’s sex lives?

For more articles check out this one on femme invisibility, or this one about a masculine presenting person wearing pink panties. Also there is this one about coming out as STEM.

Also just because there is a dildo does not mean there needs to be a man.

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