“Growing up, I used to always think something was off about me. I never understood the attraction to women as the boys would describe it,” Quin May, a 20-year-old cook from Mississippi, United States, told VICE.
May said he was attracted to women, but not in the same way other guys he knew were.
“[Boys] would praise [girls’ physical] attributes and I would just agree with them because it was normal and everyone would get suspicious if I thought otherwise. As I progressed through high school, I soon came to the realization that I was sexually attracted to men and emotionally attracted to women,” he said.
People who identify as straight are attracted to the opposite gender, while people who identify as gay or lesbian are attracted to the same gender. Those who identify as bisexual are attracted to more than one gender, and people who identify as pansexual are attracted to people regardless of gender. Usually, who you’re attracted to is the same in both the sexual and emotional sense, but not always.
For some people, like May, sexual and emotional attraction are split across sexes and/or genders. Many have taken to TikTok to share what it’s like to have this kind of attraction, detailing the confusion, worries, hopes, and joys that come with it. May’s video on the topic now has over 3.2 million views.
His video is all of a few seconds long, but it took a while for May to understand the nuances of his attraction and articulate how he feels.
“For women, I get to connect with them on a deeper level, and that’s what gets me to fall for them. For men, it’s kind of different for me because men don’t typically open up as much. Instead, the majority of the time I am in contact with other men, it’s usually pleasure-related,” May said.
He added that while he’s now able to define his attraction, he’s still quite confused by it, and that it’s not always the same. There are, he said, a handful of men and women whom he was attracted to both sexually and emotionally, but even that can get tricky.
“I do enjoy having more options, but it’s kind of hard with females because a lot of [those] I talk to already know I’ve had previous relations with men, or just think I’m strictly gay,” May said.
Stephen Brenland, a 23-year-old content creator based in Barcelona, Spain, has dated both men and women, and said that reflecting on how he treated them and how they treated him helped him understand the way he’s attracted to different genders. His TikTok video on the topic currently has 290,000 views.
“Dating a girl feels light. You have a sense of responsibility along with enthusiasm—it’s like being in love with your girlfriend and best friend. The path is clear, society has made it clear. When I dated girls in the past, I always felt safe… Things were mapped out for me and I Iiked order and structure,” said Brenland. “But with men, it’s a whole different story. It’s all-consuming, it’s fun, and dangerous. The physical attraction to men is dominating.”
Brenland said that the split in his attraction is neither strict nor constant, but that it’s difficult for him to find a person who ticks both sexual and emotional boxes. Someone who does might come along one day, but Brenland said it’s quite intimidating not knowing for sure whether or not that will actually happen. Right now, however, he said he prefers to try and find that match in a man.
“I don’t know if this [preference] will be forever, but it definitely is now. Unfortunately, when I’ve dated men, I’ve really failed to connect with them like how I did with women or the guy I once loved, because of the lack of emotional connection, and this makes them feel like I’m not into them.”
The realization of being sexually attracted to men and emotionally attracted to women was also tricky for Luka Hauptmann, a 27-year-old English teacher from Munich, Germany.
“I went from thinking I was a heterosexual girl to a bisexual girl, but only dating women because dating men as a woman felt odd mostly. Then I discovered I was trans, and since then, I’m more open to dating men as well, as I’m being perceived as a guy now,” he said.
For Hauptmann, whose TikTok explaining his attraction now has around 121,000 views, there are also nuances to the nuance—he said that he always had a sense of finding both men and women attractive, but only recently understood that they pull him in in different ways.
“I’m not exclusively attracted to men in a physical way and to women in an emotional way. It’s more that initially, when meeting someone new, that’s the kind of attraction I feel first. I usually have an emotional connection with a woman first before I develop physical attraction, and vice versa with men,” Hauptmann said.
He added that the variety in the ways he’s attracted to others also makes him feel freer.
“It can also feel very liberating to know that I don’t have to be attracted to everyone in the same way. Every person I’m attracted to feels different because, obviously, everyone is different. I think it’s very cool to experience different kinds of attractions with different people.”
Despite the split in their attraction, Hauptmann, May, and Brenland all share an ideal endgame—to each find one person that they’re attracted to both sexually and emotionally, and with whom they can be in a committed relationship.
Before relationships, however, Hauptmann thinks people should first understand and accept the many ways they can be attracted to other people.
“I think it’s just important to keep talking about these things. There isn’t just heterosexual and homosexual anymore. There are so many different layers of attraction. Knowing these things about yourself is really useful so you also know what you want and expect from future relationships,” said Hauptmann.
Some say being sexually attracted to one sex/gender and emotionally attracted to another falls under bisexuality, but Hauptmann, Brenland, and May still can’t quite decide what label to use to represent their attraction accurately—or if there’s even a need for one.
Brenland said that he is definitely not straight, and that he’s “very gay, but not 100 percent gay.” He added that he relates to the term “demisexual” because he needs to have an emotional connection with someone to have satisfying sex with them.
May said that of the many labels available, he mostly identifies with “pansexual,” but that he prefers to not go by any labels at all. “I just tell everyone who I like whenever the topic is brought up. I don’t like labels because I don’t want to be confined to something that is a spectrum,” he said.
Hauptmann said he often uses “queer” as an umbrella term, because he’s both trans and not straight. He also sometimes tells people he’s bisexual or pansexual, just to satisfy their need for a label.
“But honestly, I don’t mind,” Hauptmann said. I think as long as you know who you are, the exact label you use doesn’t really matter that much anymore.”
Follow Romano Santos on Instagram.