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16 Aug 2023 (Last updated 16 Aug 2023)

Queer identity in a straight-assuming relationship.

Empowerment LGBTQIA+ 6 min read
Smile Makers Author
Queer identity in a straight-assuming relationship.

Little Rabbit's author Alyssa Songsiridej shares her personal experience of queer identity in a relationship that is hetero-appearing.

One big barrier to exploring pleasure and sexuality is the very binary gender narratives many of us grew up witnessing in education, pop culture and beyond. These scripts limit us to roles that fit certain expectations and behaviors, rather than allowing us to discover who we really are. For some of us, we are left to feel like our own experiences and identity are not valid.

What is straight-assuming?

This can especially be felt in a straight-passing, or straight-assuming, relationships. Queer and kinky educational platform Shrimp Teeth explain the difference between the two well: 

'[...] use the term straight-passing to describe folks who make deliberate decisions to appear straight for reasons of safety, privilege, or otherwise. By contrast, the term straight-assumed refers to the erasure of queer folks who are in relationships that mirror heterosexual presentation by others.'

Alyssa's experience.

Honestly, being queer in a heterosexual-seeming relationship can sometimes feel like a mind f**k in both good and bad ways. The good: understanding that the entire body is a pleasure organ, and that the limits of your sexuality do not come from the stories you have been told about it - or the sexual script society writes for us. Also, another good: having an extra sense for some of the b*llshit that’s been baked into the culture about how women are supposed to relate to men, and vice versa. I’ve found a freedom and openness with my partner born from being curious and improvisational about our relationship. I’m happy to be with someone who isn’t afraid of murkiness or change.

But seeming straight, when you aren’t totally, can also be lonely and isolating. I often feel that only part of me is visible to the world at any time. A worry that still nags at me: if the side of me that lusts after a wide variety of genders, the side that is uncomfortable in a really traditional heterosexual-female role, doesn’t get any recognition in the outside world, will it wither away and die? Am I betraying myself somehow, by falling for a cisgendered dude? How can something that is very private, and not always a choice, diminish my past, my attractions, my values and belief that we need to change the world to be more fair?

Experiencing bi-erasure.

The way the culture often presents gayness and straightness, even within a bisexual person, is that they are two mutually exclusive identities that can only exist one at time, hence the tendencies toward bi-invisibility or its milder-seeming but still sinister cousin, bi-condescension. As if my sexuality were a coin with two sides, a straight one and a gay one, and when one is up the other is pressed flat to the ground. But I don’t feel like my desires are at war with each other.

My sexuality isn’t like something that gets turned on and off, like a switch. It feels instead like a big messy question, an ongoing dialogue with the world.

The war instead takes place between how I understand myself versus how I am understood by other people. Not just casual strangers, but even people who are close to me. I wouldn’t say this war is over, but I think the battle has reached some new current livable ceasefire. It took a long time to get here, though. To accept that I will be read by others as a giant mess of contradictions, instead of how I actually feel: wide and open and occasionally a little chaotic.

Gender expression.

Before I got here, though, I overcompensated for my straight-seeming relationship by repressing any kind of feminine expression. I didn’t wear dresses or paint my nails or wear jewelry, but wore cheap bicycle shorts and oversized men’s shirts I found in someone’s trash and also ill-fitting jeans that I found in another person’s trash. I thought that if I allowed myself any kind of ornamentation that could be read as frivolous or unnecessary, I would be catering to an abstracted male gaze (my partner’s actual gaze, though appreciative, can also sometimes gloss over what feel to me like important details, like a new haircut, or when I finally capped my extremely chipped front tooth).

I kept up a near-constant surveillance of myself, aided sometimes by the judgements of other people. Did I actually enjoying cooking and fermenting my own kombucha and cleaning my space, or was I just brainwashed into feminized labor? If I dressed in a dowdy and utilitarian way, would it shield me from the very real dangers and damages of a society that values some human being over others? Would my pants from the trash keep me from sinking unthinkingly into heteronormativity?

I will admit that during this phase of my life I was making myself a little bit sick. I held every decision up to an impossibly high standard and berated myself constantly for failing. My creativity and my work and my sex life suffered because I would spend all day making tiny decisions like what to have for breakfast. I was torturing myself a little bit. My relationships, both romantic and not, suffered because many of us were holding each other up to impossible imaginary standards that did little to alleviate the genuine injustices of the world.

Breaking the narrative.

During the pandemic, in the early days of lockdown, I began dressing differently because no one could see me. Like many people, I temporarily substituted online consignment shopping for the satisfactions of human interaction, and stress-purchased a whole bunch of flouncy dresses. (During this crisis point, by the way, I wrote the first draft of Little Rabbit). Now that I was no longer presenting myself to anyone but my partner and my cat, I played around a bit with how I dressed, and thought seriously for once about how other people’s assumptions about me influenced how I thought of myself. I began to reconsider and renegotiate how much control I wanted to give to external perceptions, and how much they affected my own articulation of my identity. A surprising side effect of being in my house all the time was the realization that I didn’t need to be fully legible to other people in order to be coherent to myself, and that overcompensating by wearing clothes that made me feel unattractive was totally pointless and not doing the world any good.

This strange experience, like a sensory deprivation tank for other people’s opinions, was weirdly transformative for me. I wish I could say that this change was permanent, but of course nothing in life is. When I put on an outfit that makes me feel attractive, I still pause and wonder—who is this for? I still often feel afraid to lean into being queer, for the simple fear of rejection by other queer people. And then there’s always the what ifs in my head, especially when I run into difficulties in my relationship—would this be easier if I were with a woman, or with someone of a different gender?

But something that has come from growing older and knowing myself and other people more is the realization that these “what ifs” are, like taxes and death, universal, and all relationships contain inherent risks. Understanding this, and the mess that comes from just wanting and being alive, is the only way I know of how to move forward.

little rabbit by alyssa songsiridej

What is Little Rabbit?

The debut novel by Alyssa Songsiridej is a coming-of-age story about desire, pleasure and sexual identity from the eyes of a bi-sexual writer who finds herself in a romantic (and submissive) relationship with a creative man. The book carefully explores bi-erasure, and a woman's experience having to validate her queerness to herself and others around. Little Rabbit brings together sexual politics and eroticism, which we love at Smile Makers. Plus, the focus on the artists and the sensual blend of words and movement reminds us of our very own creative vibrator collection.

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