Given the wide-ranging types of human sexuality, the binary gender model is no longer viable.
My first boyfriend, in the eighth grade, turned out to be gay. So did my second, and my third. By the time — at 19 — I finally succeeded in hooking up with a straight man, I was so relieved to be with someone who was actually attracted to me that I married him. However, I continued to fantasize about men with men throughout our 13 years of marriage. As I write this a few decades later, I’m married to a bisexual guy whose romantic liaisons have primarily been with lesbians.
The word “girlfag” was invented by Jill Nagle in a 2003 article in BUST Magazine (“Manly, Yes, But I Like It Too: The Life and Loves of a Girlfag”). Nobody knows who invented “guydyke,” but it seems to have been coined a year or two later. Most members of the English-speaking girlfag/guydyke community are less than thrilled with the terminologies, which began in an era when many minorities were actively seeking to reclaim potentially negative words (as in Dan Savage’s “Hey Faggot!” column). As of this writing, though, nobody has yet come up with a viable English synonym for “girlfag,” although “male lesbian” for “guydyke” has achieved some currency.
Terminology notwithstanding, girlfag and guydyke identities are a subject of increasing awareness. A growing group of men and women are discovering that they identify with LGBT culture and understand themselves as ineluctably queer, and are drawn erotically and culturally to gay people of another gender.
Although the identity is new, the reality of the girlfag predates contemporary notions of flexible gender by at least centuries. Mary Renault, for example, wrote homoerotic novels on Greek and Roman history that inspired several generations of gay men; Renault had a lifelong female partner but was unapologetic about her attraction to male/male sexuality. Before her, Amantine-Arore-Lucile Dupin — better known as George Sand — often dressed as a man and formed erotic attachments to effeminate men such as Frédéric Chopin. We have no way of knowing how many other women fit into this specialized niche of gender and orientation, as only the famous few have come down to us via the written word.
Today’s girlfag might express her erotic self by reading or writing “slash” fiction (a predominantly woman-created and consumed genre in which men from popular culture have gay sex together — the word “slash” derives from the virgule in “Kirk/Spock” — one of the first recognized pairings in the field). She might consume yaoi, a form of Japanese hentai comic in which two beautiful boys become lovers. She might or might not present as masculine-of-center.
I do, but some other girlfags think of themselves as “female drag queens” and love dressing in hyper feminine clothing. She might or might not be a “fag hag” — a woman who enjoys the company and culture of gay men without necessarily thinking of herself as one of them or wanting to have sex with them.
Meanwhile, what is her guydyke colleague up to? He might be consuming female/female porn — but unlike his straight brethren, he’ll be imagining himself not as the unseen male on whom both women are about to turn their attention, but as one of the women engaging in lesbian sex. (Susie Bright’s excellent article, “Men Who Love Lesbians (who don’t care for them too much),” in 1993, was one of the first mainstream pieces to suggest male lesbianism as a radical form of queerness rather than as a patriarchal appropriation of women’s sexuality.)
Objectifying Sexual Fantasies
Many readers, in learning about girlfag and guydyke identities, might feel some concern for the life path of a woman or man so identified — after all, what are the possibilities for a romantic future for someone whose lust object is, by definition, not interested in them? I’m happy to report that many of us do indeed settle into stable and happy arrangements — sometimes in a relationship (often non-monogamous) — with the gay man or lesbian of our dreams. Sometimes, like me, in a relationship with a bisexual whose affection and values are “gay enough” to meet our desires. Sometimes with a fellow girlfag (leading to a relationship between two female-assigned people who relate and play as gay men) or a fellow guydyke (creating a “lesbian relationship” between two male-assigned people). Some girlfags and guydykes, like other genderqueers, may find their male or female identities waxing and waning over time, and may seek out partners flexible enough to follow their lead.
Girlfags and guydykes are sometimes accused of objectifying gay male/lesbian sexuality — to which I answer, resoundingly, “Duh”: Sexual fantasy is inherently objectifying in that it tends to focus on a projected image of the fantasy object rather than on the entire, complex human being. But a well-behaved girlfag or guydyke, like a well-behaved person of any gender or orientation, does not project their fantasies onto non-consenting partners. Female-presenting people who insist on invading men’s spaces, or male-presenting people who do the same to women’s spaces, are beneath contempt, as are those of any gender who pester uninterested people for attention, dates or sex. Such behaviors have nothing to do with ethical girlfaggery or guydykery.
Viable Gender Models
By far the greatest obstacle facing most girlfags and guydykes, though, is angry resistance from those wedded to binary gender, often monosexuals (entirely gay or entirely heterosexual), who worry that our very existence calls into question the immutability of gender and orientation. For those who consider the world to be clearly divided between men and women (and thus gay and straight people), girlfags and guydykes present an intractable problem: In that worldview, it is impossible for a woman to be a gay man, or a man a lesbian.
Such statements point to simplistic beliefs about gender — that “male” equals “masculine” equals “XY-chromosomed” equals “penis-owning,” for example. The reality that one individual may have a vulva, may present as masculine, may have XY chromosomes and androgen insensitivity syndrome and may be legally female — just to pick a random sampling of the chaos of criteria that are supposed to encompass gender in our culture — mocks the reductiveness of the old binary gender system.
Another oversimplification of the girlfag/guydyke identity comes from a controversial and pathologizing theory about cross-dressers and transsexuals, holding that they are expressing “autogynephilia/autoandrophilia” — erotic attraction to the image of themselves as a person of another gender. Given the spectrum of gender presentation among girlfags and guydykes, which ranges from exaggeration of one’s assigned gender through full gender transition, and all stations between, this theory appears to be a desperate attempt to cling to a no-longer-viable binary gender model.
Relevant books written for non-academic readers include Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality by Hanne Blank, The End of Gay (and the Death of Heterosexuality) by Bert Archer, and PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality by Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel. You might also want to check out my own Girlfag: A Life Told in Sex and Musicals while you’re at it.
And if, after checking out a few of these resources, you find yourself looking with fresh eyes at your history of romantic attractions — remember that beautiful, soft-spoken boy in high school with whom you did everything but, and who still shows up in your fantasies once in a while? Or that softball-playing tomboy whose butt looked amazing in jeans but whose short haircut seemed to be a clear statement that you weren’t batting for her team? Well, welcome to our world.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.