Thank you for writing to Alterheros with your questions.
You bring up a few different ideas and concerns about your sexuality and whether or not it has been influenced by witnessing other people’s abusive relationships. You say that you feel threatened by men and in turn, prefer to be around women and men with women’s character traits. Given that you are more comfortable around women, you are wondering if you are a lesbian.
As a witness to other women being in abusive relationships with men, you are reflecting on your feelings towards men, saying that they seem threatening by what you have seen happen to others. It is not unusual to fear away from situations or people that cause us to feel uneasy or fearful. In one way it can be thought of as a defense mechanism that does not allow you to get to close to a potential threat. However, not every man is abusive or threatening and not all heterosexual relationships are abusive. (I’m not belittling the cases of abuse that do happen, as they are very serious and need to be addressed.) It is also true that when there are instances of abuse in relationships it is most often the male who is the abuser but it is important to mention that abuse happens in all relationships both gay and straight by both men and women. While abuse is something to look out for in any relationship, by avoiding interaction with those who show interest in you, you may be blocking out (or shutting down) potentially great partners.
You mention that you are scared of the idea of being intimate with a man. Intimacy with another person elicits many different feelings, including fear. It is understandable that you are fearful of being intimate with men who already cause you to feel threatened. Ideally, one would not begin to be intimate with someone until they have put full confidence and trust into their partner and built a solid relationship out of mutual respect and care.
To answer your question about whether or not you are lesbian: As typically defined, a lesbian is a woman who is attracted to other women and wishes to have a romantic relationship (more than just a friendship) with another woman. Bisexuality involves a person being attracted to (and having relationships with) individuals of both the same gender and the opposite gender. Heterosexuals, by definition, are attracted to and engage in relationships with people of the opposite gender. Additionally, some people are not attracted to people based on gender but by the individual only and many more people chose not to label themselves by their sexuality. As you can see there is a great diversity (and complexity) in sexualities. There is no right or wrong way to see yourself. The way you define yourself today may be very different from the way you identify in one, three or even ten years.
Going by what you have explained in your statement, I do not know if you feel a romantic attraction to other women. While being around people who are non-threatening to you is a positive experience, there are more elements to attraction and sexuality than that. Take a look at how you feel around women, a part from being comfortable with them what other emotions do you feel? You may want to ask yourself some of the following questions: Do you find men attractive…women? (let’s say celebrities with whom you have had no interaction); Can you see yourself in a loving and committed relationship with a man…a woman?; If you could create your ideal partner, what qualities and characteristics would (s)he have? Using your responses to these questions can help guide you through understanding your sexuality.
When you feel comfortable to do so, exploring new friendships and possibly relationships with men and/or women may help you in your path to understanding yourself and your sexuality. Discovering your sexual orientation is a personal journey that you are in control of. Knowing your sexual orientation involves looking at how you feel about someone and whether or not you can have a satisfying relationship with them. This process doesn’t happen overnight. For some, it takes years to finally ‘figure out’ who they are. You can go about this process in whatever way you see fit, perhaps opening up dating opportunities to both men and women and assessing how dating men/women makes you feel.
Thank you again for writing in to Alterheros! Write us again if there are any further questions you may have.