This line has cropped up in probably thousands of slash fanfic over the years (it’s even a trope over at TVTropes), and I’ve grown to hate it. Is it a problematic way of looking at sexuality? Yes and no, I’ve come to realize. It depends entirely on the context.
First, let’s look at how it can be problematic, and why I hate it: because it can be used to erase or denigrate non-heterosexuality. When Harry Potter says “I’m not gay, but I love you, Draco”, eight or nine times out of ten, it is because of ingrained stereotypes about gay people. Harry Potter is not a fahbulous, fashion-obsessed, lisping drama queen, so he can’t be gay; he is presented as straight in the books, so it is totally unnatural for him to experience same-sex attraction. He’s just making an exception because Draco is too hot to pass up. Or something. These fanfics also ignore the existence of sexualities that are not one or the other of these binaries. It’s never, “I must be bi because I have been attracted to women and, now, a man”—It’s “I am straight, despite this one exception”.
This phrase was a dime a dozen when I started reading fanfic ten or so years ago. Thankfully, its use in this context has been shamed so much by fandom in general that it has all but died out in fan usage. (That doesn’t stop like every BL manga or anime from using it, though.)
How can this concept ever be a good thing, then? Well, it is pretty commonly accepted that sexuality, rather than being definable with discrete labels (asexual, heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, pansexual, etc.) is more of a sliding scale. According to the Kinsey scale of attraction, most people are at least a little bit bi.
You can have predominantly hetero urges and still identify as bi, and you can identify as straight and be totally blindsided by same-sex attraction when you least expect it. Let’s look at this conversation from Torchwood, between Ianto and his sister. She has asked if it’s true that he’s involved with a man (Captain Jack Harkness, in this case), and he has trouble responding.
Ianto Jones: It’s not that. It’s… my job It’s… difficult it’s…
Ianto: he is very handsome.
Rhiannon Davies: [Delighted] No!
Ianto: [Embarrassed] Now stop it.
Rhiannon: You’re kidding me! Really though? Since when?
Ianto: It’s weird. It’s just different. It’s not… men… it’s just him.
Ianto: It’s only him. And, I don’t even know what it is really. So… so I’m not broadcasting it.
Torchwood in general is a goldmine of this sort of one-off Kinsey-2 same-sex behavior, but Ianto is the one who pretty much said the dreaded line. He has had and lost a girlfriend before, which demonstrates that he has had heterosexual relationships, but if physical affection is any clue he is totally into Jack. Here I saw this line as less of a ‘ew, no, I’m not gay’ moment and as more of a ‘this is the first time I’ve looked at a man in a sexual way, and I’m still learning, but I like it’ moment.
How do you feel about this relationship trope, readers?