Design by Emma Lehman
(Image Description: A grey figure puts their hands to their face in confusion. On the left of their face there are the colors of the bi flag: purple, pink, and blue. On the right are the colors of the lesbian flag: pink, white, and orange. The image has semi-translucent white circles covering the background.)
Dear Ms. Andry,
What does it mean that all my celebrity crushes are men but I only enjoy sleeping with women (so far)? Or does it mean nothing and there is no rhyme or reason to sexuality?
Miss-teries of Love
Dear Miss-teries of Love,
This is such a great question, and one you’re not alone in asking. Many of my queer friends have had similar dilemmas. I want to start off by saying that it can be really tough to feel unsure about how to label yourself, and I’m proud of you for asking the difficult questions!
At the end of the day, there’s no need to rush into any labels you’re not comfortable with. The LGBTQ+ community will be here for you even if you’re not quite sure what particular identity you fit into. I don’t want to tell you that you’re definitely a lesbian because you only enjoy sleeping with women or that you’re definitely bisexual because you also have crushes on famous men. Ultimately, that’s up to you. You may or may not end up finding a label you’re comfortable with, and that is okay! You don’t actually have to label yourself at all if you don’t want to, and you can always wait a bit and think before coming to any specific conclusions. Keep in mind that you can always change what label you identify with. (For example, I used to identify as bi, and after some time passed, I realized I’m actually a lesbian.) Even though I can’t be the one to choose a label for you, I do want to bring to your attention a few possibilities for what might be going on. You can think about these different options, and see if any feel right.
1. I think there’s a strong possibility that you may be clashing against compulsory heterosexuality. Compulsory heterosexuality is an idea popularized by lesbian writer Adrienne Rich in this great essay written in 1980 called “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” In the essay, Rich argues that heterosexuality is an institution imposed upon society, as opposed to a “natural” default setting for people.
Compulsory heterosexuality affects everyone, but it affects queer non-men in a unique way. As queer people, our existence fundamentally contradicts how women are supposed to live under the patriarchy –– by virtue of us having full and complete lives that don’t center men. Compulsory heterosexuality manifests itself in lots of tricky ways, I’ve found, especially for lesbians. For me, it was really hard to admit to myself that I wasn’t bi because it would mean completely letting go of the possibility that I would ever end up with a man, which compulsory heterosexuality had trained me to do since birth. I think it’s not unlikely that something similar might be going on with you.
What ultimately helped me embrace that I was a lesbian was this document affectionately referred to by many as “the Lesbian Masterdoc.” I think it might be really helpful for you to just read through the whole thing. The document includes a thorough analysis of compulsory heterosexuality and how it affects lesbians –– even after they come out!
When I first read through the document, I was so freaked out because it felt like the person who wrote it had gotten in my head and written down my deepest secrets. I had no idea other people also felt like they were constantly testing their attraction to men or felt like they were just being attention-seeking for wanting to label themselves as lesbians.
One of the key ideas that the document talks about is the very topic that you asked me about, which is attraction to celebrities. In the section titled “But I like fictional men/male celebrities…” the author of the document points out that “it’s usually a symptom of compulsory heterosexuality –– male celebrities/fictional characters are completely unobtainable crushes and thus allows the lesbian in question to distance themselves from men.” In other words, it’s possible that since you’ve been trained for your whole life to be attracted to men, your brain may be grasping at straws to maintain the illusion that you’re not a lesbian. These celebrity crushes protect you from having to actually be romantic or sexual with a real-life man, which you may not truly want.
I was in the exact same boat as you about two and a half years ago. I was realizing more and more that I was attracted exclusively to non-men, but I thought I was “faking being a lesbian” because I still had male celebrity crushes. But something really interesting happened when I finally came out to myself, which is that the famous men whom I used to like all started to just kind of look like thumbs to me. When I became aware of the powerful forces that coerced into experiencing attraction for men, my attractions almost magically faded away. Maybe the same thing will happen to you, maybe it won’t. Either way, just know that what you’re experiencing is incredibly common and normal.
If you want further proof that you’re not alone, I’d recommend taking a dive into queer TikTok. While queer TikTok is definitely not free of problems (it can be racist and support infighting within the LGBTQ+ community) it’s been incredibly useful for me. Like “the Lesbian Masterdoc,” it made me realize that so many other people are also struggling with compulsory heterosexuality. Take a scroll through the #comphet hashtag (which has over 7 million views) to see for yourself lots of other people talking about the very same question you brought to me.
All that being said, it’s also possible that you’re a lesbian who just finds these men attractive in a way that’s not that deep! I’m 100% a big old lez, but I still love Howl from “Howl’s Moving Castle.” You’re allowed to have a silly little crush that doesn’t stem from deep romantic or sexual feelings, just like straight girls get to say they have “girl crushes.” (Although, don’t even get me started on how confusing straight girls can be when they talk about girl crushes…)
2. It’s also possible that you’re bi, and the men you know in real life just aren’t that great!
3. It’s possible that women who are celebrities just aren’t your type. A lot of famous queer women are white, thin, and femme, and maybe those aren’t the kinds of women you’re into! Maybe you’re into more butch ladies or gender non-conforming people. There is a painful, noticeable lack of butches in mainstream media (sigh…). Maybe you’re more attracted to the non-men you know in real life, and that is okay! You don’t need to have crushes on famous women to be a real queer woman.
At the end of the day, your sexuality isn’t going to be defined by what celebrities you have a crush on. It’s about who you would be happy to imagine yourself ending up with. For me, the idea of being a lesbian makes me incredibly happy, whereas the idea of having to marry a man makes me sick to my stomach. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle with compulsory heterosexuality. I still question why I dated men in the past or why I used to have crushes on men. I still sometimes feel embarrassed to call myself a lesbian even though I am one. It’s a process. But most of the time, I feel at peace because I’m able to identify the forces that have shaped my experience as a lesbian.
I can’t say that figuring out the answer to your question will be easy, but I hope that my response has made you at least realize that you’re not alone. Attraction, love, and sexuality are complicated enough without the added layer of existing as a queer person in an oppressively heterosexual society. Just know that you are ~valid~ at every single stage of your journey.