I am coming out of the closet: I have made out with straight girls (before and after coming out as a lesbian) at parties on several occasions. I am not ashamed to identify with this often stigmatized activity because it provided me with insight into my sexuality as well as an entire relationship. The phenomenon of sexual interaction between self-identified straight girls is a very structured activity from the perspective of an observer, but the internal experience of the participants varies widely and presents an interesting window into the concept of heteroflexibility.
We’ve all seen it happen, often in a very predictable way: two girls, usually close friends, get drunk at a party and somehow decide to make out in front of an audience of a varying size but always including a large proportion of straight men. The scene ends with an obligatory cheer from the onlookers and an obligatory loud proclamation from the lip-lockers that they are, indeed, “soooooooo drunk.
But there appears to be more going on here than what meets the eye. In a 2010 article by Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor called “Straight Girls Kissing,” the authors walk readers through an interesting dissection of the straight girls kissing phenomenon and the ways it can be an interesting example of heteroflexibility. The article researched this phenomenon at the infamous UCSB and boiled it down to an act motivated by one of three factors: male attention, experimentation, and same-sex desire.
One of the biggest reasons why straight girl kissing is stigmatized is because it is sometimes motivated by the desire for male attention. Although a desire among straight girls for male attention is not surprising, the critique comes from the fact that the male attention is perceived to be objectifying and crass. Calls of “dayummmmm,” “fuuuuuuck” or “that’s so hot” may not be outright degrading, but the fact that these comments are exclusively offered as responses to women’s bodies and sexual acts makes them more offensive than empowering for many women. I don’t mean to sound judgmental, but until a man uses these same phrases to cheer professors on, and not just girls drunkenly kissing, I’ll continue to label these comments as a pain in the ass when I’m trying to kiss a woman out of love and not desire to entertain.
Despite the objectification, the male gaze in this situation actually serves some good–it gives the straight women permission to be sexual with one another. Experimentation is the second motivation Rupp and Taylor present for straight girl kissing. Our society might be working toward erasing stigma applied to the queer community, but we aren’t quite there yet (and if we aren’t accepting of two feminine-looking women making out, we have a LONG way to go). Men cheering and observing (albeit in an objectifying and degrading way) allows women to experiment with other women without being immediately labeled as lesbian or bisexual, a concept called heteroflexibility.
I am sure many queer women would disagree when I say heteroflexibility is a good thing–you have worked hard to accept yourself as a queer woman and feel it is unfair that these women get the benefit of lesbian sex without enduring the inequalities queer women face in other arenas. However, why are we so surprised women are enjoying being sexual with other women? If we are arguing for equality and therefore less judgment, why are we judging straight women for flirting with the same-sex attraction we know and love?
Furthermore, as a lesbian whose first kiss was, in fact, a straight girl make out at a party, these moments of experimentation can be extremely instrumental in exploring one’s sexuality in a relatively safe space. The third motivation that Rupp and Taylor discovered when interviewing UCSB straight girls was same-sex desire. I highly doubt I am the only person who discovered same-sex attraction through a casual make out with a close female friend.
The fact is, heteroflexibility is exclusively granted to women, and is one of the few perks of being the gender whose worth is judged primarily based on appearance and ability to serve as a sexual object. Rupp and Taylor make the apt point that straight guys making out in front of girls is a less common occurrence at parties because men are not granted heteroflexibility, and it often makes it harder to acknowledge one’s sexuality. If guys were allowed, let alone encouraged, to make out casually at a party without being permanently labeled as a fag, experimentation and homosexuality as a man might be an easier label to identify with. Mad props to guys who identify with being DL, because I know from experience that staying closeted is emotionally and pragmatically difficult, not to mention the risks of engaging in sometimes unsafe sexual practices when trying to keep things anonymous, but for people wishing to eventually be open about their sexual preference, heteroflexibility can be a crucial tool.
The bottom line is–same-sex experimentation is a complicated topic. It may not be possible to determine whether the heteroflexibility is worth the sexual objectification, but at least for me, the mind-warping experience of chemistry with my soon-to-be girlfriend when we had our first kiss at a random frat party was an internal experience that far outweighed the discomfort of giving some guy in a bro tank a boner. And when she pulled me into the bathroom and closed the door, the realization that our public straight girl kissing was now private lesbian sex made every drop of degradation worth it.
For Rupp and Taylor’s original article: