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Male, Female, Other: When Issues of Gender Cause Dating Confusion

(Author’s note:  I got this letter in the Loveawake support box and realized it was way out of my realm of expertise.  So I had Pace of field this question, and it’s so good, I’ve made it a separate article outside of the Loveawake Friday series.  Enjoy and be enlightened.)

Dear Loveawake,

This is going to be complicated, so bear with me.

I am a biological male, yet socially and in my head I’m female. I like girly things, I like to feel pretty, and I like it when people on the net treat me like a girl. They’re nicer to me and it makes me feel good.

The problem is that I am still sexually attracted to women. If I weren’t, I’d get gender reassignment surgery. But I figure, since I still want to have sex with women, why remove the organ that’s perfectly suited for such a task?

To be clear, while I do have some body issues, I don’t hate my body for being male. If I could live in a society where crossdressing is accepted, I would do so!

As you can imagine, this makes dating difficult, online dating doubly so. When I fill out an application, which gender do I select? Am I a lesbian? I don’t mind posting as a man and then as the relationship develops explaining my “dual nature” but it’s a bit of a crapshoot how the girl will react. I don’t want to intentionally lie to people, yet being upfront about who I am gets me all the wrong attention.

Basically, I don’t know where to begin to address this complex situation, and any help you could provide would be great.

Thanks in advance!

- Lesbian in a Man’s Body

Dear LMB,

Hi there! E asked me if I could help answer this question, and since I have some hands-on experience with this sort of thing, I hope I’ll be able to help.

The first thing to tease apart is that sexuality and gender are totally different. What gender you’re attracted to has nothing to do with what gender you are. You can be a man who’s attracted to men, a man who’s attracted to women, a woman who’s attracted to men, a woman who’s attracted to women, a bisexual woman, or a bisexual man.

And that’s just assuming there are only two options for gender — if you consider multiple genders, you can even be one of the non-standard options — a third-gendered, bigendered, agendered, or differently gendered person. And in that case, you could be attracted to men, women, both, or all sorts of differently-gendered people. And if you account for more than two genders, “pansexual” works much better than “bisexual”.

In my case, I was born male and was attracted to women. Later I transitioned to female and I was still attracted to women. Trust me, there are plenty of other organs and accessories that are also perfectly suited to the task. (; It’s more of a personal choice of what feels right to you and what feels like it belongs as part of your body. So here comes the next thing to tease apart: gender and sex.

Sex is your anatomy. Your primary sex characteristics (your genitals and reproductive organs) and your secondary sex characteristics (e.g. breasts).

Gender is, well, it’s kind of two things, it’s your social role (your gender role) and it’s also your internal sense of self. In your case, you’ve said that you’re female in your head and so you prefer the female gender role. Awesome.

It’s possible to have a sex and gender that don’t match. It’s also possible to be attracted to different sexes than genders. In my case, I’m attracted to both (or more) sexes but almost exclusively the female gender. This means that I’m attracted to women, regardless of their anatomy. So if there were someone who was born male and decided to transition to female in all ways except for sex reassignment surgery, that would be A-OK with me. (In point of fact, my ex-wife fits that description.)

The reason I’m mentioning this is that the world is a big place, and if there’s one of me out there (which, in fact, there is), there are plenty more. There are people out there who will want to date you, regardless of what gender you are, regardless of what sex you are, and regardless of whether they match up in the usual way. Yes, there will always be creepy fetishists, and yes, you attract more of them when you’re a combination that isn’t common (fetish implies not standard) but there will also be real, caring human beings who will love you for who you are and be attracted to you for the way your body is, whatever way that happens to be.

The last complication is that your social gender role is male IRL and female online. That can get a bit tricky. But there are plenty of options other than skipping straight to sex reassignment surgery.

It’s possible to change your gender role to female regardless of whether you choose to undergo surgery. It’s not easy, though — it requires changing your body, voice, and mannerisms so that others will recognize you as female. If you’re interested in learning more about that, here are a couple of links:

In my case, I wasn’t sure what combination of sex and gender role I wanted to end up being. So I experimented. I tried out various gender roles online and found that I was far more comfortable in the female role. After that happened, I found that I wanted to avoid social situations IRL, because I became more and more uncomfortable in the male gender role. So I took steps to transition to the female gender role.

For me, this is how I relieved the dysphoria of not knowing how to act, how to introduce myself, what option to check on profiles, etc.

I picked the gender role that was right for me and shifted everything else in my life to fit that role.

So it sounds like you are:

Sex: male

Sexuality: attracted to women

Internal gender: female

Gender role: female online and male IRL

So to answer your question “Am I a lesbian?” Yup. A lesbian is a woman who’s attracted to women. And from “in my head I’m female” it sounds like you identify as a woman. So congratulations and welcome to the club. We’ll email you your secret lesbian decoder ring shortly. (:

This response ended up being super long, so I’ll wind up. The most important thing is to find out what’s right for you, regardless of whether it’s weird or nonstandard. Two good ways to do this are to read more about gender, transgender, and that sort of thing (Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook is a good place to start) and to experiment! There are a lot of things you can try that don’t cause irreversible changes to your body, and in my experience, trying (carefully) is the best way to know whether any given option is really right for you.

I hope this helps, and I wish you the best on your path, wherever it leads you.


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