Identity

There’s A Word For When You’re Straight But Flexible

“It’s about disrupting the idea that straightness means one thing and can never be messed with.”

Two people smile at each other when they're about to kiss. "Heteroflexible" means mostly straight, but open to attraction to other genders.
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You’ve always thought you were into people with a different gender than yours — you really believed you were as straight as an arrow. But then you realized that there’s simply no heterosexual explanation for what happens to your body when Daisy Johnson in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. blasts her way onto the screen. Searching for a word to describe “well, I’m mostly straight, but oof, people of all genders are cute” might lead you to the term “heteroflexible.” But what does heteroflexibility mean, anyway?

What Does Heteroflexible Mean?

As with any label, heteroflexibility is different for different people — but in general, if you say you’re heteroflexible, you’re saying that you’re mostly straight, but flexible about which genders you’re attracted to. Think the low end of the Kinsey Scale, if you must.

Different vocabulary — which can include labels like heteroflexible — can offer people fresh avenues for understanding themselves, says psychotherapist Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C. “When a person is given the opportunity to sit with themselves without distractions, they have a chance to think more in-depth and reflect on what is working, what isn't working, what they want, and what they don't want; this includes exploring sexuality. When we are given room to explore, we can get to know parts of ourselves that may not have had space otherwise.”

For Holly, 28, finding the word heteroflexible gave her that kind of space to explore herself. “When I was a baby bi, I lived in a really homophobic town with no openly bisexual role models to look up to,” she tells Bustle. “You were either straight (‘good’) or gay (‘bad’) or one of ‘those women’ (vague, but also ‘bad’). I didn’t know there were other choices.”

When her best friend started making out with her at parties, she realized there had to be other words available. “My best friend just wanted to keep kissing me and make it OK with her reputation,” Holly explains. “So she kept saying she wasn’t gay or bi, she was ‘heteroflexible.’ So I thought, ‘hey, OK, that must be me, too.”

If I’m Heteroflexible, Am I Queer?

Sexuality is definitely a fluid thing for so many people — most, I’d say,” says Jacqui, 33, who occasionally uses the term “heteroflexible” to describe themself. For them, heteroflexibility is a good way to describe the fact that they’re usually attracted to women and nonbinary femmes, but certain men and transmasculine folks just do it for them.

When you’re on the market for a new set of words to describe your attractions and identities, Morales encourages you to get to know yourself. “Be curious about all of the different pieces of the puzzle,” she advises — which might include trying on different labels. While heteroflexible isn’t a super commonly used term in queer circles, you might want to give it a whirl if it resonates with you.

This can help distort assumptions about attraction and intimacy, Jacqui explains. “I love the idea that heterosexuality is not this impenetrable, stable thing,” they tell Bustle. “Calling myself heteroflexible once in a while isn’t about denying my queerness or aligning myself with straightness,” they explain. “It’s about disrupting the idea that straightness means one thing and can never be messed with.”

Is Heteroflexible Different From Bisexual?

For Holly, the term heteroflexible only felt validating to a point. After a while, she says that it felt like covering up who she was with a straight-ish label. “Different people feel empowered by different labels, and that’s awesome,” she explains. “But I realized that for me personally, by saying I was ‘heteroflexible,’ really what I was doing was making out with girls I loved and saying ‘no homo.’ But... yes, homo.” She now identifies as bisexual and queer. (Bisexuality, pansexuality, and queer are identities that describe attraction to folks of all genders, whereas heteroflexibility often is used to mean “mostly straight.”)

For some, identifying as “heteroflexible” may feel comfortable or familiar in its centering of straightness. But Morales encourages people who resonate with this label to think about how they relate to queerness as an identity — and if it’s possible that societal messages about queer people play into that. She explains that many people have been taught to reject and shame themselves for non-heterosexual sexualities and identities. “Consider if those internalized voices and messages are familiar,” Morales suggests. “Is it a relative, a peer, etc.? Whose voice got stuck on repeat in your head? Once we can notice what's going on, what got stuck, and what we don't want to keep replaying, then we can start to make gentle movements to start unlearning.”

In Holly’s experience, calling herself heteroflexible was a way to avoid calling herself bisexual, pansexual, or queer. “It was more acceptable in my cishet friend groups to present bisexuality and queerness as a choice, something that doesn’t actually impact your whole life,” Holly explains. “And then my teenage brother broke it down for me — he said that I was risking perpetuating internalized and societal biphobia by saying ‘yeah, I like more than one gender, but that doesn’t make me bi or queer.’ He was all, ‘Why not embrace your queerness?’ And it changed my life in the best way.”

Experts:

Lillyana Morales, L.M.H.C., psychotherapist