On paper, gender might not matter because it might not be an influential factor in attraction. Ideally, I don’t want gender to matter. My capacities for affection and attraction are not confined by gender. In concept, gender might not matter because positive intimate relationships can offer oases from everyday patriarchal pressures and binary assumptions. I feel most relaxed and cared for in spaces where gender does not dictate social behaviors and I’ve found a person’s gender doesn’t affect their ability to provide that space. However, in practice, gender matters.
We experience gender as meaningful outside relationships and our relationships are not insulated from the rest of our lives. We experience family, workplace, and public spaces similarly or differently from our partners depending on similarities and differences in our perceived genders or lack thereof. We bring those experiences back to our partners, positive and negative. Reasonably, we may want our partners to have similar or different experiences related to gender, race, class, religion, or other aspects of identity and lived experience.
As an adolescent, I assumed dating men and women would be inherently different and each would have their upsides and downsides. I later learned it is only inherently different if a person wants it to be by emphasizing gender roles. Casually dating in my early twenties, I was bothered by the fact that my presumed role in a potential relationship changed depending on the preferred gender performance of my partner. In this small sampling of experiences I found my masculinity was more valued among women and my femininity was more valued among men. So moving into more committed partnerships, I primarily dated individuals with non-binary sexualities [beyond gay and straight] and with similar perspectives on gender. This change led to comfortable relationships, but had the side-effect of skewing my available dating pool away from men. I felt a lot gayer and a bit higher on the Kinsey scale. I redefined the role gender played in my practiced sexuality. I felt more “homo” since even my male partners’ perspectives on gender were more similar to mine.
As women with non-binary sexualities explore their identities and how they speak and write about their sexuality it is likely that gender will continue to have a great influence on the language of sexuality. Historically, academic and scientific knowledge of sexuality has been instrumental in normalizing LGBTQIA experiences and pressing for civil rights legislation. The embrace of the “non-label” could work to minimize the importance of gender in discussing sexuality, but labels with definitions are easier to study. My more recent understanding of my sexuality and how I conduct my partnerships didn’t quite fit into survey studies hoping to inform physical and mental health treatments in our communities. There wasn’t exactly space in multiple choice questions to express that my male partner was also bi and the default list of sexual activity questions for a different sex couple didn’t quite fit. For better or worse, gender matters in how we learn about ourselves as individuals and as a community because it is meaningful elsewhere.
Liz is a twenty-something science writer.