Sexuality and gender are complex and complicated. For those who hate ambiguity, this might not be the greatest era.
According to researcher Sandra Bem, gender is on a spectrum. Meaning, we can have both masculine and feminine traits. But, because we like to think in boxes, we are not comfortable with spectrums and we insist that people check the box. We are forced to pick a camp, thereby, limiting our emotional and behavioral openness.
Martin Bergmann in his book “Anatomy of Loving” explains that is hard to know true gender identity because society influences us. Gender stereotypes are enforced before we are even born. Some might argue that gender expectations are not particularly problematic; “why does it matter if we expect boys to be lawyers and girls to be nurses?” Besides for limiting our intellectual opportunities, the main issue with gender stereotypes are the repercussions. Men and women experience immense shame when they do not live up to their gender expectations.
Sigmund Freud believed that we are born bisexual and we suppress our attraction to the same-sex. Therefore, he wrote that we all have the potential to be gay. Sexuality is fluid but we have been socialized to be heterosexual. This is not to say that all of us are attracted to the same-sex and we are denying it. Merely, some of us have emotional and sexual openness to both genders.
What about fantasies? Is this an indication that I am gay? No! Our sexual fantasies have specific psychological benefits (a longer conversation for a different time), in short; men experience gay fantasies as a relief. They feel that gay fantasies are less performance based and a test of their manhood. Yet, on the other hand, some men experience immense shame about their fantasies and see it as a threat to their masculinity. Similarly, women have gay fantasies or watch lesbian porn as well, and in the same way that men find these fantasies freeing, so do women.
Perhaps bisexuality does not apply to you, but love sure does apply to you. When we fall in love with the opposite gender we are falling in love with gendered parts of ourselves that we rejected. From early on, we received explicit and implicit messages about what’s acceptable and lovable in a boy or a girl. We learned to shut down and cut off those parts (behaviors) that did not fit our gender. When we fall in love we feel whole again, because we have found the person who has the missing pieces.
Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, LMHC is a licensed mental health counselor in NYC, where she provides individual counseling and intimacy counseling. You can contact Sara at email@example.com and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc