“Just a phase”? Freedom to be a little sexually flexible

Queer women’s sexuality appears to be having something of a media ‘moment’. The new series of Orange is the New Black has got many heterosexual women claiming they’d “go gay” for genderfluid star Ruby Rose and supermodel face-of-everywhere Cara Delevigne is on the cover of Vogue describing her loving relationship with singer Annie Clarke. A comment from journalist Rob Haskell has drawn particular anger “Her parents seem to think girls are just a phase for Cara, and they may be correct.” Having their same-sex attraction written-off as “experimentation” is an experience many queer people can relate to. Photos of Kirsten Stewart sharing intimate moments with her partner Alicia are often naively captioned as “Kirsten and friend”. Bisexuality is often treated as invisible when the individual is in an opposite-sex relationship, as though their past relationships, attractions, preferences and sexual experiences are no longer a part of their identity. People of non-heterosexual identity are keen to stand up and proclaim that their sexuality is not a “phase”, that it’s who they are and it’s here to stay.

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But what’s wrong with having a “phase”? Tastes and preferences vary throughout our lives and experimentation is a way in which we can work out what we like, what we want. The phrase has become imbued with negativity – connotations of inauthenticity. Ideas that sexual experimentation is motivated by ideas of what is “cool”, what is expected at a certain age, being a part of a peer group where such a thing is “expected”. Sexuality is treated as a trend, a fashion. Implicit is the notion that the experience, and any feelings attached to it, is not genuine. In cold hindsight it is rewritten as meaningless.

A particular phase of my own life relates to a period of time where I dated boys in bands. They frequently were dark, brooding and in many ways conformed to the “tortured artist” stereotype. Looking back at this time from my older (wiser?) perspective, some of my choices do a seem a little questionable; it isn’t how I would be now. The experience represents a discrete period of my life, but my feelings were my own and they were real. Although I have different expectations of relationships now the experiences and attraction is still a part of me.

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When singer Jessie J reported a same-sex relationship in early interviews, she was labelled by the media as bisexual and quickly featured in lists of prominent LGBT celebrities. Gay media sources responded negatively when at a later date she refuted claims that she was bi and said she now exclusively dates men. But “bisexual” wasn’t how Jessie had labelled her own experience. She had dated women, now she dated men. The later doesn’t detract from the former. It still happened. Sex-positive “agony uncle” Dan Savage often receives calls from gay and lesbian individuals conflicted by suddenly and unexpectedly, after years of out queerness, feeling attraction to someone of the opposite sex.  What does this mean for their identity? Were they bi or even straight all along?

In a word, no. If you find having a label for your sexual orientation empowering and helpful then that’s just dandy. Use it as you wish. But it’s not a straightjacket; it doesn’t preclude you from having any other feelings that fall outside of the box. There’s nothing wrong with feeling an attraction to a particular person at one time in your life, you don’t have to define yourself by it. Maybe it’ll stay with you, maybe it’s this particular person, or this particular time. It’s your feeling and it isn’t for anyone else to judge as “real”. If you’ve previously defined yourself as a “straight” women and now you feel attraction for a woman you don’t need to re-evaluate all of your past experiences and adopt a gay/bisexual label. Maybe you like women, maybe it’s this woman, maybe it’s this time. Your life going forward is your own. It’s your choice, enjoy this moment and don’t let other people box in and restrict you. Our teenage tastes are often different from those in our 20s, and 30s and so on. Our experiences shape us and everyone has the possibility of changing. Even within heterosexual sexuality few people have a definitive “type” and often describe feeling attraction to someone “unexpected”. We might state a preference now, but can we be certain of what we’ll want in the future? So let’s stop talking about “just a” phase. All of our sexualities have changed in degrees and varied over time. Evolving, experimenting and developing is all part of the fun.

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