Q I had my first gay relationship at 18 and, although I have never felt entirely comfortable with the gay “scene”, I do define myself as a gay man. Recently, however, I have been working with a woman to whom I have become very close and I think I may be physically attracted to her. At the office party we kissed and something definitely stirred in me, but maybe it is just wishful thinking. I think some part of me would like to be straight, to marry and have children, but can a person who is gay ever be happy in a heterosexual relationship? Please help. I’m totally confused.
A I think it is time that you stopped allowing your sexuality to define you. Yes, it is an important part of your make-up, but it shouldn’t be a straitjacket, and it certainly shouldn’t prevent you from exploring the idea of a relationship with a woman. You are, of course, fortunate to have been born at a time in history when homosexuality is no longer a barrier to marriage and children, so if those things really matter to you, you can achieve them regardless of your sexual orientation. But if you are attracted to your colleague, there is no harm in asking her if those feelings are mutual.
It may be a complete non-starter, as she obviously defines you as a gay man too, and that may, in part, be why you were able to develop such a close relationship with her in the first place. It is often easier for women to be relaxed and familiar with men who pose no sexual threat and, as such, a declaration of sexual interest might be unexpected and, indeed, unwanted. She will, inevitably, question whether it would be possible for a man who has engaged in sex with another man to become a reliable, or trustworthy, heterosexual partner. And you, of course, may find that your attraction to her ceases once the possibility of a sexual relationship becomes a reality.
Though you have identified yourself as gay to date, I suspect that you are in fact bisexual. The received wisdom is that bisexual people are simultaneously, and equally, attracted to both genders, but this is a misapprehension. Many bisexuals have a transitional phase of heterosexuality or homosexuality before realising that they are bisexual.
Having fought so long and so hard for social acceptance, gay and lesbian communities are understandably suspicious of anything that might encourage advocates for sexual reorientation therapies, but for a percentage of men and women sexuality is not static and stringent divisions between sexual orientations are inappropriate.
The idea that sexual orientation falls along a continuum harks back to Alfred Kinsey’s 1948 and 1953 Kinsey Reports, which introduced a sexuality scale that implied that people are not exclusively homosexual or heterosexual, but varying degrees of both. This idea of sexual fluidity has traditionally been much more palatable when applied to women. In a recent study at Boise State University more than half of the 484 straight women questioned had been attracted to another female at some point. Change the gender in that sentence and it becomes a much more challenging concept.
Hugo Schwyzer, Professor of History and Gender Studies at Pasadena City College, believes that the inability to accept the reality of bisexuality in men is linked to fears about fidelity. Because the myth that men are naturally promiscuous while women are naturally monogamous endures, bisexual men are “dogged by the suspicion that they are either gay, straight or lying”.
It is never easy to swim against the tide, but if you stop trying to classify yourself in terms of a fixed sexual orientation you may begin to find some sort of self-acceptance. Ultimately, we are all looking for love, and none of us sets out with a fixed idea of who we will find it with. Whether or not this relationship progresses will be down to your colleague, but in my experience those stirrings you describe are generally mutual, so she is probably just as confused as you are by this unorthodox turn of events. There is, of course, no way of predicting whether you will be happy or not in the long term, but the same would be true if you were contemplating a relationship with another man. No relationship comes with a guarantee of happiness, so the best that you can do is to be honest, believe in yourself and follow your heart. Good luck.