So, I think there might be a “missing” gender and sexual minority (GSM) “letter,” as in LGBT[…]+++++… and QUILT[…]+++++….
For now, I’m going to call this “letter” ‘R’ for “reversed.” I’m super interested in any better (more useful, more descriptive, more synergistic) labels.
I use the word “reversed” for two reasons, one having to do with a specific aspect of “sexuality,” and one having to do with “relationship role.” You might jump ahead to the “sexuality,” “career,” “relationship role,” “having kids,” sections, where these “reversals” are more directly discussed, if you are impatient.
The “data” for all the below comes from a sprinkling of informal surveys and discussion, qualitatively aggregated, as well as my personal observations of self and others, and finally personal relationship experiences. I’ve done my best to provisionally, speculatively, appropriately weight all of that—there will be both profitable and distorting selection bias and other qualitative distortion. But, qualitative impressions and concept formation are extremely powerful and necessary “pre-science,” at the very least. It’s just a speculative first-pass.
I’d like to preempt a critique of the below, that it might seem regressive or overly focused on binary roles. I note below that people who might loosely be described by this category have plenty of individual variation as well as wide-ranging preferences. If “reversed” *is* a descriptive cluster, people who identify with it may find it useful for sensemaking, for mutually, first-pass finding and identifying sexual and romantic partners, and, when life planning, for predicting how their preferences for career and family might change over time.
This is maybe a tonally weird document. Parts of it may be off puttingly clinical and inappropriately speculative or descriptive. Other parts will have a warmer feel. I’m trying to give people a lot of detail, to make it easier for them to exploratorily look for themselves, and to experimentally try things on for themselves; as well as provide detail, to add credibly for potentially curious researchers; as well as, finally, to indirectly offer some possible advice. That’s a lot of things to do at once.
I think my provisionally “suggesting another letter” might come across as disrespectful, exhausting, attention-seeking, or of course just “inconsequential whatever,” given (a) I personally have significant “passing privilege,” and, (b) I haven’t had a lot of contact with the wide range of gender and sexual minority culture, and (c) I don’t have a strong historical grasp of how all those letters got listed in the first place. So, I’m taking a bit of a presumptive chance, here, and maybe leading with the “letter” framing might be the wrong way to do whatever I’m trying to do. This provisional framing does come directly out of personally felt “invisibility distress,” for what it’s worth. Finally, I haven’t run this document past a bunch of people, yet. I figured I’d post it here to make it generally available, and it would always be possible to revise it and give it a new home, if desired. (As to why it’s at least temporarily, currently hosted at *this* URL, on *this* blog, maybe that’s transparent or at cross-purposes, but, in any case, I’ll expand on that at a later time.)
Below, I write with a bit of an assertoric or “authoritative” tone, but this is for concision and expedience. I try to hedge a bunch, too. I’m not a professional or academic researcher in gender or sexuality, and I don’t have any training in that direction.
(Anyway, hold it all lightly?)
- an important note on terminology
- overlapping or coextensive cluster?
- childhood salience
- childhood play style
- puberty; kinks/fetishes/paraphilias
- relationship role
- having kids
- conclusion/etiology/happiness/what’s next
a important note on terminology
For the sections below, loosely descriptively, not prescriptively, I introduce the terms “r-boy”/”r-girl”/”r-man”/”r-woman,” as in “reversed-*.”
BUT, for ease of expression, I’ll often just use the words “boy”/”girl”/”man”/”woman, instead.”
So, for example, below, when I say man, I mean “r-man,” and so on, by default, unless I specify otherwise.
(I’ll sometimes also explicitly use the term r-individual.)
overlapping or coextensive cluster?
Brief aside, before I even go into what “reverse” is: Does heteroflexibility have a relationship to “reverse?”
Research seems to have shown that there’s something distinct from bisexuality, something that shows up with people labeling themselves as “mostly[-but-not-entirely] straight,” “heteroflexible,” “mostly gay,” “homoflexible.” Notably, this cluster tends to empirically have different needs, problems, etc., than people who identify as bisexual, etc.
I’m not sure at all, one way or another, but I’m curious if some or all people who identify with, for example “mostly but not entirely straight,” tend to also be “Reverse,” as described below.
(end brief aside)
(This may seem very pat, appropriative, or narratively convenient, but!—) anecdotally, r-kids may have strong opinions about relationships and relationship roles, from a young age (even two years old to five years old). “Out of nowhere,” they may feel like “marriage is death” or that marriage is not for them. If they’re a boy, they may be sad or even horrified by how much time dad spends away from home, working. If they’re a girl, they may be sad or horrified about how little time mom has to herself. They may very much “not want that any of that,” that is, a “traditional role relationship,” from a young age.
childhood/tween/teen play style and interests
In childhood, boys may eschew team sports, competition, and overt athleticism and be less outdoorsy or less interested in “getting their hands dirty.” They may be slightly more likely to play with lots of action figures (“boy dolls”) and perhaps have some number of “more feminine” interests, hobbies, and media consumption as they get older. Girls may be more tomboyish, outdoorsy and have an especially wide range of interests. Both boys and girls may tend to be more analytic (perhaps as a deep-seated gender sensemaking strategy). Boys may start inclining towards linguistics, philosophy, and/or spirituality (with some math and programming but not as a main interest). Girls may start inclining towards math and programming.
(Due to lack of data, I don’t have any current sense of the relationship between “reverse” and autism, sensory processing issues, etc.)
[Note: Some of these initial sections my seem out-of-order, oddly specific, overgeneralizing, or cluelessly or cringely sample-size-of-one seeming—on first reading; but, the ordering of sections is to facilitate re-reads and is loosely “developmental” (childhood → puberty → etc.).]
Anecdotally, in puberty, and through 11-16 years old, some [surely not all, or even many or most] r-boys may start to experience sexual fantasies/desires involving “control” of women. These might be (a) “purely imaginative” or (b) they might be things that they want to actually enact with partners as they get older. An example of (a) might be “magical mind control,” and example of (b) might be a dominant role in a BDSM scene, etc.)
Notably, as we’ll see, these kinks/fetishes/paraphilias may be “aptly paradoxical.”
Girls (“r-girls”), similarly to “non-r” girls/women, do not seem to tend to develop overt kinks/fetishes/paraphilias.
- “trans” sometimes(!) tends to be more “monolithic” (“I’m a girl/woman;” “I’m a boy/man.”), and
- “nonbinary” sometimes(!) tends to be more “undifferentiated” (I’m ‘feminine nonbinary.'”), and
- “bigender,” “genderfluid,” etc., (sometimes!) tends to feel “disjoint”,
- in contrast (maybe!), r-individuals tend to describe their gender as things like “cis plus,” “cis and,” “and-by,” or just “mostly cis.”
That is, r-individuals may tend to not feel gender dysphoria at all; they feel fine/good about their gender, or dysphoria is mild, fleeting, intermittent, or particularly inchoate.
Also, while they tend to feel pretty clearly like a “boy/girl/man/woman,” they ADDITIONALLY, interestingly, tend to also have, salient, significant, and personally meaningful, felt aspects of the OPPOSITE gender, as well.
Sometimes this additional gender experience is (a) a “side” or “part” or “partial,” and (b) sometimes it’s an “inner entire extra whole,” but, IMPORTANTLY and especially, in either case, this experience tends to feel very INTEGRATED, not-disjoint, not separate: “plus,” “and,” “also.”
Sometimes r-individuals may feel like they are, simultaneously, both especially masculine and especially feminine. Androgynous might be an appropriate term, or it might not have the right denotation or connotation.
It seems like most r-individuals may tend to present as relatively, unassumingly gender-conforming, or as mildly androgynous, and perhaps they have a felt sense that “something is missing,” or “not quite right,” in their presentation/expression but not have a good way to correct it. And because that sense is mild, they kind of low-key give up or resign on feeling like they’ve really comfortably nailed their gender expression/presentation. But, again, this is maybe a mild feeling. It might just not bother them enough to further pursue, or being gender conforming is just “fine.”
(Western-culture-wise, men may or may not at all choose to have longer hair, women may or may not have shorter hair or undercuts, and so on. Men may add color, jewelry, or not at all, etc.)
R-men tend to identify as straight, mostly straight, or heteroflexible. A smaller subset may identify as bisexual but likely not biromantic.
Women are more likely to identify as bisexual and a (much?) smaller subset identify as biromantic.
In both cases, there seems to be relatively little ambivalence about alloromance, either exclusively or as an unambiguously acceptable option. That is, r-individuals are mostly solidly sexually and romantically attracted to opposite sex or gender, albeit with maybe (or not at all) some fluctuation, alternation, or questioning in the first half or so of life.
Men maybe tend to be a bit thinner/shorter/smaller but can still easily be 5’8” (172cm), 5’11’ (180cm), etc. Their hands might be a bit more delicate, their facial features, while clearly masculine, can be a bit more feminine/”beautiful,” their skin a bit more “glowy” than a usual guy.
Women sometimes have, while clearly feminine, slightly more masculine facial features as well as sometimes a bit more of a “boy voice”—the pitch/tone/timbre/resonance can tend to be more masculine, e.g. sometimes mistaken for a boy or man if overheard from a distance.
Genitals for r-individuals seem “almost basically completely normal.” Men may statistically have fractionally, barely larger [sic] than average penises in diameter or length (cf. studies of penis size in gay men). Women seem to have completely variationally normative clitorises, vulva/labia, vaginas, etc., on the bell curve. Lastly, R-individuals seem normally fertile.
(Unfortunately, I have zero sense of the classical “digit ratio” thing, re prenatal testosterone, at this time–but maybe people could measure this and submit it?)
Allosexual attraction and arousal seem nonambivalent, normal or even intensified for r-individuals. With a compatible-enough partner (cf. the major histocompatibility complex)—the opposite sex smells amazing (breath, genitals, apocrine glands); and opposite-sex genitals—sight, touch, taste, smell—are interesting/engaging/appealing. PIV-penetrative (penis-in-vagina) sex is appealing.
Women have less of a general disgust response and have notably a somewhat more “masculine pattern” of sexual casualness and exploration. They may have slightly less interest in vaginal penetration. They are more experimental and “game” for trying things.
Both men and women may be “vers” (versatile) or “flip,” but here, finally, is where one of the titular “reversals” is: women tend to be more “top” and men tend to be more “bottom,” in terms of “sexual role,” though with any particular sexual encounter (cf. “vers”), or any period within a sexual encounter (cf. “flip”) being an exception.
I chose to use the terms “top” and “bottom” (and “vers”), instead of Dom(me), sub, and switch, because the former are a bit more neutral/noncommittal with respect to “vanilla” sex versus kinky sex.
Additionally, while the terms top and bottom are somewhat borrowed from gay male sexuality, potentially referring to penetrative and receptive roles in anal sex, here, these terms don’t necessarily have anything to do with penetration—anal, vaginal, or otherwise (oral)—though they certainly can.
Here, for “top” and “bottom,” I’m more referring to how r-individuals seem distinctly uncomfortable with normative sexual roles, at least when that “energy” is “really actualized.”
That is, women tend to “lock up” or to “not want to melt” if the man is being “overtly toppy.” And, men tend to “become tired” or “lose motivation” when called upon to be particularly proactive, directive, imaginative if the woman is being “particularly bottom-y.”
Generally, e.g. the r-woman will still happily receive touch, direction, penetration, all things being equal, with any particular moment/time being an exception, and the man will, at some point, want to actualize various preferences, and/or to actively or passively penetrate (and ejaculate/orgasm), all things being equal.
But, the overall “desired weight” will tend to be the woman choosing (maybe entertaining requests and options), the woman enacting her preferences, the woman touching or moving (or directing if being still). And the man will be more still, more sensuous, more receptive, more likely to be physically stimulated (nipples, penis, testicles) and perhaps penetrated (orally or anally). The woman is maybe a bit more likely to avoid or at least delay vaginal penetration (though not clitoral stimulation). And the man (and possibly the woman) is a bit more likely to at least delay a bit, though not avoid, direct penile stimulation or penetration.
(Sidebar: Someone might note, at this point, “isn’t this just describing ‘sex,’ freed from overly gendered cultural expectation and baggage?” As far as I and others can tell, there’s a real, distinct thing, here, that’s overlapping but not the same as “enlightened sex.” That is, there’d still likely be a long-run “energy clash” between, say an r-woman and a progressive, self-accepting, sensuous non-r-male. And, additionally, the Reverse phenomenon maybe doesn’t quite seem to be when a man and woman are each far enough along the masculine/feminine bell curves, that they “go past” each other—see maybe the “cis plus” gender reporting. [end sidebar])
All of that said, above, regarding “sexual role preference,” all of this is confounded by cultural roles and expectations:
- R-women might not be able to ask for the above or might not have the “cultural slack” to easily make it happen for themselves; they will be socialized to not take the “top” role, and they might be quite confused by their (suppressed?) desire for this role or the (partial) lack of satisfaction in the “bottom” role.
- Non-r-men may be happy to go along with the desires of an r-woman, some of the time; they might be delighted with aspects of their “more masculine” or adventurous sexuality. But, over time, they might come to be uneasy or frustrated with intermittent pressure to be in a more bottom-y, passive role.
- R-men, as per an above section, may develop “paradoxical” kinks/fetishes/paraphilias that involve women being “controlled,” that may seem like normal, non-reversed sexuality. (This might happen because their “actually desired role” is so deeply implausible or culturally inconsistent, that they (a) need to invent a fantasy mechanism or social context for eliciting aspects of the desired complementary behavior from a woman. And/or, (b) they vicariously identify with the woman’s role in a fantasy or an in-real-life enacted scene.)
- Given the bullet immediately above, in BDSM, non-r-woman who are submissive, given interaction with an r-man who self-identifies as a Dom, may expect a particular “energy” from the Dom that he can only partially supply, and this might be confusing for both individuals.
All in all, sexuality and sexual expression can be very confusing, challenging, and time-consuming to sort out for r-individuals. Because r-individuals are a minority of the population, given they’re relatively presentation-/expression-conforming and straight-ish, it can be hard for them to find each other or especially even to know that “there’s a complementary there, there,” to find. BDSM, D/s is maybe a convergent vector, for some people, but many r-women and r-men don’t identify as kinky, and there’s the additional layer of an r-man having a paradoxical, seemingly-but-not-exactly Dominant identification/kink/fetish, which could be confusing for everyone. There may be many other challenging factors.
Given the confusing, somewhat culturally induced challenges of sex and romance, as per above, I tentatively suspect that there are a few slightly more likely outcomes for r-individuals.
First, r-women may tend to advance successfully in conventional careers, becoming programmers, analysts, managers, etc. They might also have “hustle” and be “solopreneurs.” The former may be because it’s maybe a bit easier for an r-women to blend in (having a more “masculine vibe”), in slightly more “intense” or high-paying roles, as well as tending to be a bit more analytical, and might be more socialized to accept help and mentorship as is sometimes offered to women in the workplace. R-women may also spend less time feeling the need to sort out sexuality and relationships, though that might catch up with them, later. (Non-r-women of course do just fine and excel in “intense” roles, too, and may be the [overwhelming?] majority of women in such positions, etc.)
R-men may have a harder time in conventional workplace settings, tending to eschew competition and having less of the right “energy” to effectively engage with same-sex colleagues. They might also be quite skilled at analysis and programming, but then somehow not “flourish” in a technical workplace role, and this contrast could be quite confusing.
There is also still tremendous stigma against men appearing (or privately feeling!) feminine, passive, submissive, sensuous, not-completely-hetero, etc., which can be internalized and thereby also be a huge source of confusion or pain.
I tentatively suspect that r-men have an increased chance of “failing to launch,” or “imploding,” somewhere between 20 and 40 years old.
(Of course, any particular r-man or r-woman might “fail to launch,” and any r-man or r-woman might wildly succeed in the pursuit of valued goals and activities, and everything in between.)
There’s a lot of confusing things for r-women and r-men to figure out, made yet harder because it’s sometimes hard to realize that there’s even a “there, there,” because of relatively normative presentation and orientation. And, this might create a bottleneck on relating, life-planning, career, and so on. Combined with “presentation privilege” and “hetero-ish privilege,” it could additionally seem like any life problems are due to “personal failings,” “merely one’s own fault,” etc. Some of this, in any case, is similar to challenges of other gender, sexual, ability, class, race, etc., minorities, though the spectrum of privileges and disprivileges and “net balance” may be different for each.
Relationships these days tend to be more egalitarian, flexible, fluid, and so on. But, sometimes, there might be a complementary “core energy” that helps make a relationship smooth and rewarding, that makes the relationship feel “safe” and “correct.”
The list below maybe more properly belongs in the sexuality section, or might seem regressive or even somehow suggestively dangerous; some people are, for example, “only submissive in the bedroom,” and so on. And, some of the list items have a BDSM or power exchange feel, which should rightly be accompanied by cautions about coercion, exploitation, self-assertion, autonomy, boundaries, individuation and differentiation, ability to walk away, and so on.
And/but, there’s a complex interaction between gender, sexuality, relationship roles, and happiness/satisfaction, and so on.
The list items below might typically be attributed to a very sexually submissive non-r-women. I’m listing out things from the the “bottom” side, because the “top” side might perhaps be higher variance and more “world focused,” versus relationship or dyad focused. I’m making this list unqualifiedly “extreme,” in order to starkly highlight ways in which, in this case, an r-man might feel, either solely when sexually aroused but also possibly or even especially with respect to ways that might relate to entire-relationship preferences. Any individual might not identify with some or even any of these bullets, or might identify with something less extreme. And, any particular “r-woman” might identify with some of these, too.
So, here’s the list; again these are mostly, though not entirely, “sexual” and likely “context dependent,” but there might be a feel or energy that extends “outside the bedroom.” This might be controversial or inaccurate; we’ll see:
- “I want to do what you want to do.”
- “You can do whatever you want to me.”
- “I’ll do whatever you want.”
- “Don’t make me take initiative or be proactive.”
- “Don’t make me think.”
- “I want to play a support role in what you want to do.”
- “I want to be taken care of.”
Most of the bullets are quite “raw” or “pure” or “unqualified” or “unfocused” sentiments that might only be found during sexual arousal, and even then only partially or only some of the time. Everyone likes some autonomy, independence, etc., to be sure. And mostly everyone wants to support and “raise up” their partner. And surely some people who might identify as an r-man wouldn’t identify with any of these at all.
The last bullet, or the last two, have more of a “relationship feel”:
“Taken care of” could mean emotionally, financially, in old age, or none or all of the above, and more.
Affirming/qualifying/expanding, some (many? most?) NON-r-men, I think, of course, very much want to be the breadwinner, the earner, the financial backbone of the family or the relationship. And many NON-r-women prefer to have the independence and safety of earning a living. Further, many r-women might not at all want to be the sole earner, for all sorts of reasons, and r-men might want independent income for the same reasons that non-r-women want income.
In any case, in terms of roles, whether emotional, financial, etc., r-women and r-men, in some ways, might be seeking a reversal of (“traditional”) *”relationship”* roles, in addition to possibly a reversal of “sexual” roles. Maybe the r-man would raise the kids while the r-woman worked, just as an example, as often happens even in non-reversed relationships.
As a final note, r-individuals may be just a bit more likely to be at least de facto polyamorous, out of learning or necessity, trying to work out or assemble all the things they want and need in relationships. And, also, some polyamorous r-individuals might or might not find themselves more preferring something more monogamous (or “monogamish”) over time (and/or they might have always had this as a long-run preference.)
First-pass, it seems like r-individuals are a bit less inclined to want to have children. R-women seem at least slightly endogenously less motivated to have children than non-r-women.
But, for r-men and r-women, some of the disinclination to have children might be artifacts of two things. First, r-individuals may have deep-seated distrust or dispreference for traditional gender roles and anything that looks like a “conventional marriage” from a very early age. So, they might not have realized that an “r-relationship” or “r-marriage,” including with raising children, might be highly desirous with the right person.
Additionally, gender/sexuality/relationship confusion, and career issues, can reduce emotional/introspective bandwidth and delay financial security, which otherwise might make it easier to consider whether one wants to have kids and to go ahead and do so.
(And, to enumerate the somewhat regressive obvious, how would that all work out logistically? If not independently wealthy, who works? If an option, who stays home with the kids? Is the r-man more likely to want to raise the kids? The r-woman more likely to want to work? Would both parents want to stay home? I’m not sure. In any case, generally speaking, there are more options, here, with each passing year.)
So, all in all, one of my hopes is that people encountering this document might start to consider whether they want to have kids sooner, and thereby end up with more optionality around doing so or not doing so.
Are r-individuals a “natural cluster”? Is “the same thing going on” with putatively labeled “r-men” and “r-women”? How does it relate to prenatal testosterone, brain development, transexuality, homosexuality, hetero-/homoflexibility, asexuality, aromanticism, bisexuality, genetics, autism, autogynephilia, paraphilias, environmental pollutants, endocrine disruptors, prenatal and postnatal nutrition, socialization, and more? I’m not sure. A researcher might use this document as an initial touchstone in trying to determine whether there’s really a “natural kind”, here, and how it might relate to all these other dimensions. It sure seems like there is, first-pass.
Being an r-individual is hard, not as hard as some things but harder than other things. An r-individual may often have at least partial presentation-/expression-privilege and hetero-/straight-passing privilege. But, an r-individual currently at least still has invisibility disprivilege, often at least some gender-non-conforming disprivilege, minority disprivilege, and all the challenges and energy drain that can come from that, and more.
It can especially take a long time to sort out what one wants, let alone how to get it. (Not always! For some people it’s smooth sailing!) Therapy, journaling, discussion, meditation might all be long-term tools to sort out preferences and to overcome other challenges.
Finally, I apologize for all the ways this document is potentially clunky or pigeon-hole-y or maybe regressive. First-pass documents like these usually get a bunch of things wrong, at first. But, hopefully other people will critique and build. Could/should “R” be another “letter?” In any case, hopefully this will save some people hundreds or even thousands of hours, in sorting out who they are, who they might be, and what they might want.
P.S. I expect https://www.reddit.com/r/RoleReversal/ won’t resonate with everyone, but a lot of work has been done, there (see e.g. the wiki/faq), to sketch out something in this space, and it might be a useful jumping off point, for some people, at the very least. I’m not saying what they’ve sketched out is the same thing as this; I see some possible differences, but it might well be.
Update: One question might be, how might one differentiate a reversed-woman from a “high testosterone” woman? (A so-called “high-T” woman might be competitive, ambitious, sometimes athletic, etc.) The difference might be that a high-T woman might seek out even “higher-T men,” stereotypically masculine or even hypermasculine (surgeons(?), athletes(?), soldiers(?), etc.), on some dimensions, anyway, and/but a reversed-woman will seek out a reversed-man, as a above.