Legitimate Bisexuality, Presumed Straightness, and Internalizing the Male Gaze


As a bisexual woman who leans toward romantic partnerships with men, it’s very easy to fade into presumed straightness because my sweetie is a man. This can be very de-legitimizing, because if I don’t make the effort to come out, people default to assuming I’m straight. And since many people still believe that bisexuality doesn’t exist, if I do come out some folks assume I’m just looking for attention and to turn my sweetie on by making out with women at parties. It can be difficult to avoid internalizing these kinds of perceptions from others.

Another issue I face is trying to avoid internalizing the male gaze. I get a special thrill when my sweetie and I end up noticing the same woman. But what I notice first about a woman is very different from what many straight men notice.

My first reaction to a woman is largely based on whether she carries herself with confidence. If she’s talking to someone, is she speaking directly and unapologetically? What does her voice sound like? How does she move her hands? What does her smile look like? Is she dressed in a way that seems to match her personality and make her feel comfortable in her skin? If a woman tosses her hair and smiles genuinely when she’s talking, that’s a major turn on for me. Ditto if she moves her hands a lot when she talks, expresses excitement by doing little happy dances, and laughs often, loudly, and with gusto.

I’ve heard straight guys, my sweetie included, speak to noticing the same qualities in a woman, but still the first thing that comes out of my sweetie’s mouth when we talk about women we both find attractive is “she had really nice breasts.”*

At one point in my life, I felt that the way that I notice women was somehow “wrong” and that if I were really bisexual, I would notice the same things straight men notice, in the same order. What I’ve come to realize is that I don’t have to internalize the male gaze to be authentically attracted to and interested in women. I can notice what I notice and still be authentically bisexual.

I’m curious to hear from others who are attracted to women about their experiences. Have you had these kinds challenges or others in this vein? What do you notice about women you find attractive? Do you feel pressure to internalize the male gaze?


*If all you knew about him is that he notices women’s breasts, you might draw the wrong conclusion about my sweetie. So, some additional context: we met when he gushingly approached me at Ignite Seattle last year after I gave my talk about targeted online advertising, the wedding industrial complex and body image. He proudly identifies as a feminist, is a big proponent of women’s agency and reproductive rights, would never harass anyone on the street, and speaks genuinely and with awareness of his straight, white, cis male privilege. Most of his friends are women, and they all adore him because he treats women with respect, kindness, and honesty.

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  1. Posted August 23, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    I’m also bi and am attracted to women in pretty much the opposite way to you – I have a very “straight male” tits and ass approach to women. But I can still get where you’re coming from. I used to feel like maybe I was aping a sexist, objectifying way of fancying girls to prove that I was attracted to them – that in a different sense to you, the way I was attracted to girls was “wrong.” Then I realised that actually, that’s just what I’m attracted to and that’s fine. But if you are a woman who is attracted to women, especially if you’re also a feminist, there is this constant awareness of how your feelings compare to the dominant discourse of how to find women sexy. Thanks for highlighting this.

  2. Posted August 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    I think the key is, regardless of what we initially notice, that we subsequently take the time to really get to know people rather than reducing them to the physical traits that first attracted us. Interesting to hear from someone whose tastes are a little different than my own. So many amazing different ways to be human.

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