Is the idea of ‘heteroflexibility’ as a way to be more accepting of fluid masculine sexuality doing more harm than good for LGBTQ identities?
Young millennial men have been witness to great strides and broken barriers on the front of LGBTQ awareness, issues, and rights than any other generation before. With this, traditional boundaries of heterosexual conduct and awareness have been pushed and further liberation of hetero-sexuality is beginning to be explored. This came by way of heteroflexibility arriving in 2010. Urban Dictionary defines heteroflexibility as: “A person who identifies as a heterosexual, but is not afraid to explore curiosity towards the same sex,” “A primarily straight individual who, in certain situations, can find persons of the same sex appealing,” or put simply, “I’m straight but sh*t happens.”
Being able to describe anyone who feels open enough to explore their full sexuality, the term heteroflexibility has gained most prominence and popularity amongst young, mostly white, cis-gendered, straight-identifying males. For many, heteroflexibility as an identity (and idea) is a way to allow men permission to explore the full spectrum of their sexuality in what is changing from a conservative, heteronormative society which has traditionally limited the expression of male sexuality to a narrow range of “acceptable” behaviors. With more young men being willing to defy normative masculine heterosexuality and openly experiment and explore a sphere that has often been taken up by an LGBTQ presence, is heteroflexibility really pushing young men to be more accepting of gays and transgenders themselves?
I want to be clear; this piece is not about which label someone should use or the biological (or lack thereof) basis and naturalness of sexuality, but more so about the labels that are in actuality and rather the societal component of sexuality in regards to how we choose to identify, and the political and cultural consequences of that identification (as observers and critics of cultural studies). With sexuality being a highly complex human trait that I believe to be atypical and idiosyncratic, this piece is not to suggest that any or all men should be forced to take on any individual label(s). Essentially, heteroflexibility allowing men who willingly self-identify as “straight” (for any number of reasons) to expand upon the limited range that a heteronormative society allows them without guilt, shame, and alienation is, without a doubt, a positive and enlightened effort in allowing men to explore and express their full sexual selves and be connected with their full capacity for intimacy. But this is not what heteroflexibility is.
What I am attempting to analyze is how the identity marker of heteroflexibility and its current representation fails to bridge the (heteronormative) gap between “gay” and “straight” on the man’s sexuality spectrum, and instead causes a further divide of these two sexualities (and also other identities one may choose) by staking a claim in heterosexuality which all the more furthers a heteronormative outlook on queer exploration. Choosing to identify as heteroflexible is a marker that allows men who identify as mostly straight to maintain the political privileges that are concomitant and exceptionalized with that identification while avoiding the cultural consequences of degradation and pathology that are exclusive to “gays” and “queers.”
Do a google image search of heteroflexibility (be sure your safe search is on if at work!). Go ahead and open up another tab. I’ll wait. You’ve probably noticed that a greater majority of the images resemble what I’ve found below.
An almost all too common monolithic representation of heteroflexibility through the subjectivity of a mostly white, muscular, cis- and able-bodied “straight-looking” man has two consequences. First, it excludes people of color, full-figured, trans, people with disabilities, and “queer-appearing” people (women are also excluded, as female sexuality has always historically gotten a pass at sexually fluidity). How would these pictures look if there were an Asian or a black guy in them as well? In order for heteroflexibility to be maintained, it is oftentimes most likely for pairings or groupings to be the same “type” in that all parties are all white, muscular, cis- and able-bodied “straight-looking” men, or as close to it as possible.
The reason for this goes outside of heteroflexibility, and stems back historically further into the sexualized pathology, deviation, and effeminization of minorities. While this history does not stem from heteroflexibility itself, heteroflexibility sure does still play on the residual sentiments of the past (and present, if we want to take it there) sexualization of minorities as either depraved or exotic as opposed to a normalized white subject who fits the WASP “bro” prototype which has become the embodiment of heteroflexibility. As a result, most depictions of heteroflexibility are between white men in order to retain the assumed straightness (or in this case, not too gayness) that often comes with whiteness. Once a man of color is added, it then directly becomes a question of is this a “DL” relationship, yellow fever, etc?
The second consequence of heteroflexibility being mainly represented by mostly white, muscular, cis- and able-bodied “straight-looking” man is that it actually reinforces a heteronormative view of gay respectability. We overwhelmingly see what is called in the gay community as “passing privileges” among the face of heteroflexibility in straight-looking, acting, and conforming young men who engage in homosexual acts. As in the case with race difference being a marker for queerness, if out of a group of heteroflexible men one can be easily identified as “gay,” those that do have the passing privileges are then under scrutiny of their “true” identity. Once again, in order for heteroflexibility (and how we understand it in today’s sense) to remain intact, all subjects must adhere to straight conformity so that being “gay” doesn’t become too much of real possibility.
Although it allows young men to explore and take on their full sexuality, the current “identity” of heteroflexibility advertises and popularizes a very heteronormative exploration that still limits sexual exploration to only certain people and only under certain circumstances, further isolating and repressing the LGBTQ community’s identity. I am not averring that heteroflexibility is actively doing harm to LGBTQ interests among today’s young men. Rather, I am stating that there is hope for how the idea of heteroflexibility can be leveraged beyond what it is now, which is not necessarily promoting LGBTQ interests among young men.
If men choose to identify as heteroflexible to carve out a niche for themselves which allows him to explore all the surfaces and full reaches of a healthy and safe sexuality without shame, then more power to the diversification of male sexuality! However, if men who already feel comfortable to choose to identify as heteroflexible do so because they simply want to avoid being attached to the abject and abnormal traits erroneously associated with the LGBTQ community and queer culture, therein lies the problem.
With it being evident that there is still a long way to go for true equal gay rights, for the men who choose to take on the title of heteroflexibility, the wedge between the LGBTQ community and the potential for allyship can be bridged by confronting and dismantling the false and homophobic thoughts around the LGBTQ community by educating and spreading awareness through the experience of heteroflexibility.
Another millennial trying to figure it out, Seon’s interests include current events, race issues, womanism/ radical feminism, queer theory, animal rights, politics, history, and philosophy. Seon is a graduate of the University of Michigan and is currently pursuing his master’s in Africana Studies in New York City where he works in government education management. Future aspirations include becoming the heir to Oprah’s empire.
Photo: Getty Images