The language of sexual and gender identity has dramatically changed and expanded over time, reflecting how these are extremely personal journeys unique to the person experiencing them. Because of this, many “micro-identities” and niche sexualities have emerged and made their way into mainstream discourse.
One such micro-identity is “heteroflexible”, a hotly contested term that has its fair share of advocates and critics. But what is “heteroflexible”, and does it apply to you? Keep reading to find out!
What Does Heteroflexible Mean?
Heteroflexibility refers to a type of sexual orientation where the person primarily experiences romantic and/or sexual attraction to persons who identify as the opposite sex but may occasionally experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to persons of the same sex.
Heteroflexible’s definition can generally be summed up as “mostly straight” or, as sociologist Hector Carillo put it, “straight with a pinch of bi.”
The word “heteroflexible” has a counterpart in the term “homoflexible”, which describes a person who primarily experiences romantic and/or sexual attraction to individuals of the same sex but may occasionally experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex.
What Is The Origin Of The Word ‘Heteroflexible’?
There is no known definite origin for the terms “heteroflexible” or “heteroflexibility”. However, the word “heteroflexible” is recorded to have appeared in media as far back as the ‘90s. In 1997, the LGBTQ humor glossary When Drag is Not a Car Race defined “heteroflexibility” as “bisexual, or at least open to sexual experimentation.”
The word gained some traction at the beginning of the millennium. In 2000, Salon published an article titled “Heteroflexible” and written by Laurie Essig, then a Yale professor of sociology.
Essig defined heteroflexibility as when someone “has or intends to have a primarily heterosexual lifestyle, with a primary sexual and attachment to someone of the opposite sex, but that person remains open to sexual encounters and even relationships with persons of the same sex.”
In 2002, The Buffalo News named “heteroflexible” the “hot term being bandied about on campus” and giving heteroflexible the meaning, “the condition of being not fully bisexual, but open to adventure.”
What’s The Difference Between Heteroflexibility And Bisexuality?
As can be seen in the definition from When Drag Is Not a Car Race, the term “heteroflexibility” may be used synonymously with bisexuality. Or, at the very least, there is overlap between the terms.
“Bisexuality” is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the quality or characteristic of being sexually attracted not exclusively to people of one particular gender.” From this definition, heteroflexibility appears to fall under bisexuality.
Bisexuality is a spectrum, and a bisexual person may have a stronger leaning toward one of the sexes they can be attracted to. People can also identify as both bisexual and heteroflexible.
However, in the Salon article “Heteroflexible”, Essig called heteroflexibility “a rejection of bisexuality since the inevitable question that comes up in bisexuality is one of preference, and the preference of the heteroflexible is quite clear.”
At this point, there is no singular, universally accepted perspective on the differences or similarities between heteroflexibility and bisexuality.
There is also overlap between heteroflexibility and other terms such as pansexuality (being attracted to all genders, without noticing gender), omnisexuality (being attracted to all genders, with notice to gender), and polysexuality (being attracted to multiple genders; both omnisexuality and pansexuality can be considered subsets of polysexuality).
Controversy Around The Use Of “Heteroflexible”
The word “heteroflexible” has been the subject of criticism. While labels can be handy tools for helping a person to understand their own identity and to find people similar to them, they can also have negative connotations.
In the 2009 paper “The Re-Making of Sexual Kinds: Queer Subjects and the Limits of Representation”, Lisa Blackman noted that the term “heteroflexible” normalizes heterosexuality rather than homosexuality. While emphasizing the heterosexual aspect, the flexibility is only a “temporary interruption” or a “break from the routine” of heterosexuality.
Writer Charlie Williams also wrote an article in Affinity magazine, calling the term “really just a fancy word for bi-erasure”.
Williams went on to say, “It states that being bi is something bad and that labeling yourself with a completely different term will magically erase the fact that you are bisexual. There is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting to label your love, or being confused in general. The problem is when your labels invalidate my sexuality, as well as other bisexuals.”
Similarly, writer Kravitz M. in An Injustice! webzine spoke out about some bisexuals being subjected to so many biphobic remarks that they considered switching labels, which includes the heteroflexible label: “Sometimes, the issue isn’t as simple as a mere preference for another name. Bisexual identity is discouraged by people of all other identities.”
Final Thoughts On Heteroflexibility
The term “heteroflexible” may still be contentious in the LGBTQ+ community. On the one hand, some people think it devalues the discrimination and challenges that queer people face. On the other, it acknowledges that attraction to genders other than the opposite sex can exist on a spectrum – just like other sexualities do.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable with the label or orientation you’re claiming. Remember: these labels aren’t prescriptive, but descriptive. If “heteroflexible” feels like the right identifier for where you are at in your journey, feel free to use it!