The ever-expanding LGBTIQ+ alphabet sometimes still doesn’t seem to have a letter that works for everyone.
Growing in popularity are the terms heteroflexible and homoflexible: people who are not quite strictly straight or gay – but not bisexual either.
Erica always considered herself straight, but as she began exploring her sexuality after her divorce, the label heteroflexible started to feel right.
“I use it for myself in the sense that it’s what I put on my FetLife profile,” she laughs.
While she’s never been in a relationship with a woman, it’s a part of herself that Erica is keen to explore further.
Although she recognises that bisexual identity is important for others, she is reluctant to embrace the label herself, feeling more comfortable with heteroflexible.
“I am attracted to women, and enjoy sex with women,” says Erica.
“I kind of don’t feel that’s enough to consider myself bi.
“Maybe it’s purely my conditioning and history that makes me feel like that.
“There’s always a chance I will meet woman one day who will change the way I see it.”
Erica says that despite having long thought of herself as straight, in hindsight she can recognise times when there was “more than a hint” that wasn’t totally the case.
“In one workplace in the 90s, our accountant was a lesbian,” she recalls.
“A colleague who was a good friend always joked about us flirting.
“I said he was being ridiculous… but maybe not so much.”
‘Safer than bisexual’
Catty was aware of her own same-sex attraction from an earlier age.
She says she grew up knowing that she didn’t care about gender in that regard.
“In high school, I just assumed that every straight woman was attracted to other women,” she explains.
“I think being socialised to assume you’ll be straight leads a lot of bisexuals down a confusing path, because you are straight! But also… not straight.”
Like many people, Catty struggled with her sexuality, first cautiously identifying as heteroflexible.
“I played the typical LGBTQ+ internal head games where I tried to negotiate my identity with what seemed ‘normal’,” she says.
“Normal felt safe to me; being a type of gay felt terrifying.
“Heteroflexible was the word I used, only among people who I felt safe enough to kiss girls around.
“Otherwise I would identify as straight.
“Heteroflexible was still dangerous but safer than bisexual.”
Catty says that denying her bisexuality for so long led to “ridiculous situations” like referring to herself as heteroflexible to a woman she was kissing in a gay club in her early 20s.
“It’s deeply embarrassing to me now, but I think it’s a funny example of the ways in which LGBTQ+ people often try to negotiate being socialised to think you’re going to grow up straight with your very not-straight feelings,” she says.
Finally coming out as bisexual, aged 24, was easier than Catty had expected.
“It went quite smoothly,” she remembers.
“Unfortunately, I think using the label of heteroflexibility in high school and my early 20s still suppressed a lot of my same-sex feelings and expression.
“I was essentially saying I was straight but made exceptions sometimes, so it didn’t help me express my identity.
“Being out as bisexual and claiming a place in the community I love so much hasn’t changed much materially about my life, but mentally, it’s been healing.”
‘Still figuring out a good term’
Bob often describes his sexuality as gay or queer, but finds those terms don’t always cover everything about who he’s attracted to.
He hasn’t taken on the label of homoflexible, but finds the idea resonates.
“I probably wouldn’t define myself that way, but I’m still figuring out a good term to describe my sexuality besides queer,” he says.
Bob considers that homoflexible probably refers to someone who is “predominantly same-sex oriented but doesn’t mind an occasional fling with someone of the opposite sex”.
As a gay man, he imagines encountering “cognitive dissonance” if he were seriously attracted to a woman.
“Most people think of gay as meaning a guy who has sex with guys, period,” he explains.
“It also tends to exclude in some people’s minds guys who have sex with trans men, which right now is my predominant orientation.
“So since there really isn’t a precise word to describe my sexuality, queer works best.”
Bob adds that being attracted to trans men makes him no less gay, because trans men are still men.
“It’s always interesting when a new term is invented for this spectrum of sexuality,” he says.
Bob speculates that many gay guys might have sex with women but not really consider themselves bisexual, and that homoflexible could be a good term for them to choose to explain their sexuality.
“I think we’re learning that it’s almost impossible to put labels on sexuality,” he says.
“There are so many variations that the old gay, straight, and bi terms don’t have much relevance anymore.”