If you’re into me, then you’re not straight: Orientations and attractions to non-binary people

Non-binary people are a weird position in the dating world (ok, I mean, we’re in a pretty weird position all the time to be honest. But anyway, today I’m talking about the dating world). This is true in a bunch of ways, and I’ve written about some of them before, but today I’m looking at the ways in which people talk about sexual and romantic orientation is often non-binary exclusionary.

So, for instance, as an enby person who is pretty regularly perceived as a woman, straight-identified dudes are sometimes attracted to me. They usually don’t magically stop being attracted to me when they find out I’m non-binary, either (much as I might love for it to work that way).

To me, it seems pretty clear that these people are not actually straight then, since they are attracted to people of more than one gender, and not just the other binary gender. Attraction to more than one gender falls pretty clearly under the umbrella of bisexuality (which includes plenty of identities that aren’t strictly bisexual).

the_bisexual_umbrella_by_drynwhyl-d4gq9ji

Simultaneously, though, these folks are also technically still heterosexual, because they’re only attracted to genders different from their own. Such is the difference between straightness and heterosexuality, I guess. All we learn from this is that you can be bi without being same-gender attracted, which means bi and hetero aren’t (again, technically) mutually exclusive identities. Cool?

I’m actually not terribly fussed about the idea of straight, gay and/or lesbian people occasionally being attracted to enbies, without questioning their identities around that. Plenty of monosexuals people have one or two exceptions in their lives, I guess? And if you’re not really acting on them, then whatever.

I’ve dated people, though, who have continued to identify as straight even while dating me. And I have… complicated feelings about this. On the one hand, by and large I am actually talking about people who were/are in hetero ‘primary’ relationships who absolutely benefit from straight(-passing) privilege. And I both empathize with and actually appreciate it when folks in this sort of situation feel iffy about identifying as anything other than straight, because they don’t want to appropriate LGBTQ struggles. This is a pretty good instinct, to be honest.

But you don’t actually have to have faced struggles, or even be out, to be LGBTQ. And the thing is, people who date non-binary people and still identify as straight (or gay, or lesbian), even if they are doing so based on a well-meaning, privilege-acknowledging instinct? They’re contributing to non-binary erasure. If you are into me, and still identify as straight, you’re basically saying that my gender isn’t real, or at least isn’t important enough to acknowledge; you’re saying that it doesn’t ‘count’ in the context of your orientation. I am the unstated footnote, the silent asterisk to your identity.

And that’s a shitty fucking position to be in.

So, to all the straight- (or otherwise hetero-*)identifying men and women who are dating, or have dated, or are open to dating non-binary people, I am issuing you a challenge.

Let go of that straight identity for a while. Accept that you are not just attracted to the gender that your identity implies, and really sit with the implications of that. Think about what it would feel like to think see yourself as fitting under the broad LGBTQ umbrella. You can dip into the shallow end of the pool and just admit that you’re heteroflexible. Or you can go whole hog and embrace the idea that you are, after all, kinda bisexual, or even outright queer. I don’t know what works for you.

I want you, particularly, to consider the idea that maybe your discomfort with identifying as anything other than straight might be because you are a victim of bi+ erasure. And I want to let you know that the messaging you’ve received about what is means to be bisexual, or to be queer, are wrong. I want you to know that you do belong under that umbrella; we have room for you here.

And I also want you to ensure you understand that your straight identity invalidates and erases the many other beautiful people of beautiful genders to whom you may be attracted. So, in this weird ourobouros kind of a way, by identifying as non-LGBTQ, you are failing as an LGBTQ ally. Or, less paradoxically, (especially since some of the straight people I’m talking to right now are trans, and already LGBTQ) by not identifying as LGBQ, you are failing pretty terribly as a non-binary ally.

I actually feel weird about asking you to do any of this; I’m not the kind of person who questions how other people identify, and I don’t really think it’s my business. Wherever you land is up to you, obviously. But I also think these are things you need to consider all of these things before you make that call.

And, I guess what I’m really saying is:

Image is of a spherical light brown cat with a devil tail, with taxt "Join usssss we're adorable"


*I’m letting non-binary-attracted gay and lesbian-identifying folks off the hook for now, because of reasons?

Comment-related CW: comments contain references to naked bodies, and draw connections between bio-sex and sexual orientations. I think the ppints made are legit enough to stand, but for sex-repulsed and bodily dysphoric readers, please tread carefully here <3

27 comments

  1. I am curious what you think of section 2 (or 3, depending on how you count it) of this post of mine: 30dGQC E22: Orientation and Gender – http://wp.me/p5e0qe-Kd

    In it, I argue that the definitions you took for granted are intrinsically flawed as regarding nonbinary people. Particularly, but not exclusively, the line “It is impossible to be nonbinary-inclusive while simply ANDing two binary things, and anyone who thinks otherwise has missed the fundamental point of “nonbinary” as a word.”

    On what is more the main point of the post, I have similar feelings but in this case rather than straight men I only have gay men to complain about. Two gay men have expressed to me that they are attracted to me and have continued to identify as gay despite knowing that I’m not a man. So the problems are different, but I still feel weird and uncertain about it.

    At the same time, if there’s only “few” exceptions, they can choose to identify under either identity, but then that sort of feels like a value judgement is being made: “I’ve been attracted to at leas one person outside the group of people described by my orientation, but it wasn’t really Important to my conception of my sexuality.” Even if there’s no reason to believe that that’s actually how they feel, it still feels wrong to me.

    In short, I’m glad that there’s someone else discussing monosexuality and nonbinary genders because it kind of seemed like nobody else cared for a while.

    1. I keep going to reply to this comment, and then getting lost in all the things I want to say :P

      Thanks so much for linking me to your post; it’s pure gold! So many great points, and I love your rant about how ridiculous it is when people can’t accept that lots of words have more than one definition. :)

  2. Wow. As a recently out bi woman, I have to say all of this stuff is new and confusing. I am trying to learn the language to use and avoid and figure out which labels are more generally agreed upon…

    1. Lol yeah I think it’s confusing to us all tbh (and as the previous commenter pointed out, to some extent it’s bexause we’re working with flawed models to begin with.) When it comes right down to it, though, whatever label feels right to you is the one that’s right for you! That may change if/when different info comes available, but yeah, you’ll be fine I’m sure :)

  3. I think there is a lot of confusion here because of the way straightness is being talked about. For the record, I am a straight man. This, to me, means that I am primarily (nearly exclusively) attracted to female bodies when we talk about romantic / sexual attraction. It has nothing to do with gender.

    Most people are similar, and relatively few base their romantic / sexual attraction on gender.

    Consider this situation: A stage full of naked people of many varied body types. Ask the average person which of the people they are attracted to. They will have answers. Hardly anyone will say “But I can’t give any answers. If you tell me which genders they are, then I can give answers no problem.” (Obviously some people will say “But I can’t give any answers because bodies are irrelevant to my attraction” but they are a minority.)

    So when a straight male says he is attracted to you and it doesn’t change when he finds out you are an enby, that is probably because he doesn’t see his attraction as having anything to do with gender. That is actually by far the most common thing. Some are, certainly, transphobic or dismissive of your identity, but let’s set that aside for a minute. I know a lot of straight men, and if I came out as a trans woman (while retaining my stereotypically male body) they wouldn’t suddenly become attracted to me – they aren’t interested in hairy chests and penises, and they are interested in breasts and vaginas. That they refer to themselves as being attracted to women is inaccurate technically but true most of the time, cis/trans ratios being what they are.

    People do constantly equate straight with “attracted to women/men” because they don’t separate women from female bodied people or men from male bodied people. That is true. But if you look at what people mean once they understand that distinction they actually think of straight or gay as primarily a description of what bodies they are interested in rather than anything to do with gender.

    If I described myself as queer or bi because I have been romantically and sexually attracted to people who were not women (but who had bodies that appeared female) I think nearly everyone who heard that would think I was being delusional, a liar, or appropriating queerness for some reason.

    The simplest reason I don’t do this though is that if I said to people that I am bi/pan/omni sexual, their list of who I might feel sexual/romantic attraction to would be completely wrong. If I tell them I am straight they get it basically right on.

    1. Dude I’m not here to argue with any individual people about their orientation. Though this entire comment is p much one of the big reasons why us dating never quite ran smoothly for me. :/

  4. Hah, I was thinking about this whole phenomenon as while back; I had an ex who transitioned to male, and immediately embraced the straight label super hard. Me transitioning made him angry, because he felt it forced him to be “not straight” for having dated me.

  5. I really like this post, and the idea that binary folks who date nonbinary folks should kinda think about what it means to be queer or LGBQ+ and things like that — I think that kind of inspection of identity is probably something that would be worth doing for a lot of people.

    Saying that, though, from a personal sense… I don’t really care if people ID as straight when dating me? My boyfriend actually (as far as I’m aware) still IDs as straight. At first I kinda felt like I ‘had’ to be offended but at this point I just really don’t mind how he IDs. I figure that the gender-based attraction model is just so problematic and flawed anyway that at this point I don’t really see any meaning in any of the words. As long as my boyfriend respects that I’m nonbinary (which he does), I don’t mind which arbitrary category he chooses to describe his attraction to me or the pattern of his attraction more generally.

    1. This is totally fair! I was actually expecting to hear from at least one enby who feels this way, and I’m glad you added you voice here tbh.

      In the end, I don’t want to tell anyone not to identify the whatever way they identify, either. Just, I do want them to consider the ways in which their identity is not a neutral thing. <3

  6. I came across this post while looking for answers about what to label my sexual orientation. I’m a cis female and I’ve only ever identified as gay/a lesbian, but now I’m dating somebody nb. She isn’t quite sure what exactly to label her gender but says she’s probably nonbinary, leaning towards female, but definitely not cis (and not male). She says she has no preference between they and she pronouns and she presents herself femininely.

    So on the one hand, it feels like the identity ‘lesbian’ covers my attraction to her because she leans towards female and generally presents herself femininely, but on the other hand, like you said, it feels like I’m ignoring or erasing her gender. Also I partly feel that as I’ve known her for several years (we’ve only been dating a couple of months), this is more of an attraction as a result of a friendship bond rather than anything to do with her gender (or appearance). But I guess if she were a (cis or not) boy (or still nonbinary but more masculine) I wouldn’t like her romantically? Maybe?

    I obviosuly don’t have a problem identifying as LGBTQ+ because I already do, but I guess the “””fact””” that I’m a lesbian has become part of my identity that I don’t want to change? Bisexual suggests an attraction to boys and it doesn’t feel right for me, homoflexible is similar. Also the biphobia both outside and within the LGBTQ+ makes me reluctant to ID as bi for similar reasons to what you said about appropriating lgbt struggles.

    I might bring this up with the person I’m dating or another nonbinary friend I have and see what they think.

    Idk at all really but if you want to change your mind about letting nb attracted gay people of the hook I’m ready to listen.

    1. Thanks for sharing, and for being thoughtful about this issue! It is very nice to hear about non-nbs who care about this stuff.
      I do think that ultimately what should be most important to you is how your partner feels about your identity as a lesbian and whether that feels invalidating of their gender specifically. To be honest, though, I know a number of non-binary people who are attracted to woman and other nbs and who identify as lesbian themselves, so it seems pretty clear to me that the identity of lesbian encompasses your experiences of attraction pretty well? <3

  7. I am straight not because I’m afraid of being no but because I like women and yet my “girl” friend is non binary. I don’t think that makes me bi because it’s their figure and feature that I’m attracted to.e.g. different jaw lines and wider hips so on. I’m not saying that are stupid or wrong about their choice of gender or lack there of but i still find them attractive so i have come to the conclusion that people are usually attracted to phyical apperance at first no matter what the gender even before their peronality comes to show. But this futher confused me on pansexuality as you would then be bi who doesn’t mind what other feel they are. It’s not something I think about like oh well their not a girl so I go longer find them attractive I just like them anyway. Any idea on what’s going on or is there some issues sometimes with having so many things. Btw im New since I start dating them I’ve been trying to learn more so.
    Also I would like to add they are still figuring stuff out and would say that they are gender fluid which got me thinking that I don’t really associate with any gender personally I would say make because I have make parts but no feeling towards masculinity and they say that would feel more fem one day and more masc another but I have no feeling so I want to know if anyone else is like this or if I maybe am just non binary ot as I always say as a joke just to lazy to care about my gender aha thanks for the help

    1. Heya,
      Based on what you’ve said, you might be non-binary! One of the non-binary genders is ‘agender’, which just means not having a gender at all, so that might work for you!
      Also, though, I think that not really caring all that much about your gender is a fairly common experience for cisgender people (that’s people who don’t disagree with the gender they were assigned at birth), so if you’re ok with being a dude that’s fine too.
      Ultimately it’s about what feels right for you, really!

  8. I just wanted to thank you because this post helped me sort out some feelings I have been having for a while now in regards to orientation and attraction. Basically, I had felt like l was being transphobic or just generally bad person for being attracted to nonbinary/ trans people as straight person. This led me to try to ignore the attraction but it kept coming up with different people. Realizing that attraction might not be the problem but that I might need to reconsider whether my orientation is really accurate. Sorry for wall of text and again thanks.

  9. Hi there.
    thank you for this post i always knew i was capable of being attracted to people of different genders but i never took on the identity of Bisexual as an adult. i flirted with the prospect as a teenager and told some of my friends, but quickly decided that i did not want to take on board the discrimination associated with any sexual orientation other than heterosexual.

    so here i am, finding myself as a 25yo working professional, in a macho industry and yet internally i feel conflicted. however the worst is not how this affects myself as you mentioned in this article.

    i dated a trans woman briefly last year. however, i was so scared about the ways in which this relationship would impact my professional, family and social life. i scuttled the relationship before it went anywhere. we are still friends, she has been understanding beyond measure for my own petty little insecurities.

    My problem is that i am capable of loving someone regardless of gender, but i dont want to take on board the LGBT struggles. yet staying purely hetero not only does a disservice to myself but completely disregards the other genders that i find myself being attracted to on occasion.

    i flirt with the idea of going to some lgbt events,ive been to a gay bar overseas and felt comfortable but i was scared i would be judged for not being gay as such.

    anyways i know this is a gigantic wall of text. but i want to thank you for this article as it cemented in my mind that i need to be more honest to myself and the people around me.

    any ideas how i should go forward? if i identify as bi people will assume i am attracted to masculinity which is not true, if i identify as straight it disregards the trans and non binary people. what option is left?

    anyways, i am sure i said something disrespectful in here somewhere since i have next to no experience with the lgbt world but please know that i did not mean to cause disrespect and as a person i am always trying to improve myself and to learn

  10. Wow this is amazing, I’m a gender fluid nonbinary person (as most of the time I fluctuate in that spectrum) and I’d had wonder a lot about this, like if I can only date bi and pan people because otherwise they would be erasing my identity, and this is the answer, they just have to acknowledge they aren’t straight!!! (Or completely straight)
    -lots of love from other female passing nonbinary person. 💜💜💜💜💜

  11. With the growing trend of queer and non-binary appropriation (knee-jerk all you want, it’s a thing and has been forever) and queer and non-binary being stolen and rewritten by cisgender heterosexual people that they literally mean nothing anymore, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not force your straight cis boyfriends into Queer identities and spaces. Feel uncomfortable with it all you want but that comes with the territory when you choose to date straight cis dudes. If you feel comfortable in heterosexual relationships and dating heterosexual cis people, maybe you should examine that more, choose to date queer people only, or something rather than trying to force queer identity onto STRAIGHT CIS MEN. Our worlds and identities have become so watered down already, the last thing we need is literal heterosexual cisgender people calling themselves queer and invading queer only events. Someone can be straight and cis and there be an exception to their attraction because of how someone feels inside because they look exactly like the stereotype of a cisgender feminine woman on the outside. That doesn’t make a dude queer, he’s still straight. I really wish people would examine their position and privilege in society a lot more and think about what they are taking from those of us who have these identities and wear them every day without the ability to be straight in the world instead of looking for new creative ways to make straight cis people queer and/or trans. Please stop.

    1. Hey, I get that it’s scary to have new people in our space, but I don’t think gatekeeping and victim blaming are really what the community needs more of.

  12. Hey, I get that it’s scary to have new people in our space, but I don’t think gatekeeping and victim blaming are really what the community needs more of.

  13. Actually, I could disagree. Bisexuality is being attracted to two genders regardless of what they are. I think you’re forgetting that pansexuality exists. THAT’S the attraction to more than one “gender.” (they aren’t really attracted to genders, more attracted to the people.)

    1. I mean, many bisexuals are attracted to more than two genders, so your definition is not as strict as you think.

      But yes, pansexuality is one of the possible identities in question here, though I think it’s least likely to apply to cases of people who identify as straight because theyre not attracted to their own gender – pansexuality implies attrwction to *all* genders, which doesn’t apply in the cases in question.

  14. Hey. I just found this post, not sure anyone is looking at the replies anymore, but figured I’d leave one anyway. So I’m non-binary, afab, and present as femme to androgynous. I used to id under the bi umbrella because I am attracted to more than one gender, sexually, and was panromantic. Right now, however, and for about a year, I’ve only been into people similar to me. Like I’m still attracted to more than one gender. That is, I’m into women and nb people. I relate to women because I am perceived as one, and I relate to nb people because I’m non-binary. My attraction is also not only gender-based but presentation based too, heavily. And in that regard I’m also attracted to feminine to androgynous people, so people similar to me. Rarely am I attracted to feminine energy only (where presentation doesn’t matter, or can’t match because reasons. I do have an exception there, from when I was more flexible). Anyway, because my attraction is based in similarity, I recently decided to use gay. And if course I’m having a bit of a meltdown bc I’m using it differently and I *am* attracted to more than one gender, but those are genders I relate to (for example I don’t relate to masculine oriented nb people and am not really attracted to them, although I’ve had my masc moments). I still consider, for example, being attracted to agender people as not being in contrast with gay, if they’re femme-presenting, not only because of presentation, but because I also relate to that non-binaryness (my gender is neutral). So I guess I can sorta see where a lesbian attracted to nb people would be coming from? Just that I see it from another direction. Dunno. Also I wouldn’t care what someone identifiesnas when dating me as long as they respected that I’m non-binary. Just as I wouldn’t really change my label back under the bi umbrella, even though on paper I belong there. And yeah I do feel stuck between two communities and technically more accepted in the bi one but if it doesn’t match internally…

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