122

I know this is a weird question, but I'm kinda annoyed.

I met someone at my local gym. We started to talk from time to time and one thing leading to another we made out (not sexually) and are a couple as of today. We try to go slowly.

It's been a few weeks now, but I still don't know whether they're a man or a woman. They're Asian, bisexual, with very androgynous traits. Their name doesn't help me, I can't read Chinese, and we speak English. Clothing style is as ambiguous as the rest. Earrings are kinda boyish.

I tried a few time to notice whether they would go the the ladies' or men's bathroom to no avail. (Whether they didn't go, or it was a mixed bathroom.) They stopped going to the gym and I didn't notice before which changing room did they use.

How to tactfully check whether my new partner is a man or a woman? The result doesn't especially matter to me, but the uncertainty does. I'd like to know what to physically expect when I'll... you know...

This person never presented themselves as transgender or as any unusual (statistically speaking, I don't mean to offend anyone) minorities. Even though we talked about similar topics, they never said anything showing they have any kind of special sympathy toward these people. AFAIK, they're not a member of the LGBT+ community.

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    @sudowoodo : any solution that would not raise an interpersonal issue. – user21396 Aug 31 '18 at 14:46
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    Would I be correct in assuming you are not Asian? That could be a factor complicating this - there might be things that someone with the same cultural background could easily identify, but that are eluding you. – RDFozz Aug 31 '18 at 19:44
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    You describe the person as bisexual, and also not "a member of the LGBT+ community"? You're aware of what the B is in that acronym, right? – dn3s Sep 1 '18 at 5:42
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    @dn3s Plenty of people are LGBTQ+ but aren't active in the LGBTQ+ community, necessarily. – Azor Ahai Sep 1 '18 at 18:08
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    @dn3s : I'm aware of it. But I think everyone should decide for themselves if they want to identify to any community/put a label on their back. I agree that people may think differently though. – user21396 Sep 3 '18 at 9:12

14 Answers 14

87

Let's take a few steps back...

You say:

The result doesn't especially matter to me, but the uncertainty does.

You also say that you're annoyed and have been trying to make note of which bathroom they use and the like.

These are somewhat incongruent. It doesn't matter or it does. There's nothing necessarily wrong with having preferences, but be honest with yourself about your preferences. You may be bisexual and enjoy dating both men and women, but it sounds like you may not be pansexual, as in, you may be less comfortable dating someone who may not be comfortable in either of those binary categories.

Taking another step back, you need to know what you mean by "man or a woman". Are you talking about:

  • Sex
    • (the anatomy of an individual's reproductive system, and secondary sex characteristics)
  • Gender
    • (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)
  • Presentation/Expression
    • (how someone outwardly expresses their gender through dress and/or behavior)

It sounds like this person's presentation is androgynous, that obviously leaves you clueless about their gender, and sex. Their presentation may be telling you that they'd rather not be identified, or labeled, as either male or female... Or it may not....

The thing is, you don't know without asking, and asking will be an awkward conversation no matter what the case may be. Whether they strongly identify as a particular gender, and you haven't picked up on it, or if they'd rather not identify as a particular gender... this is likely to be an uncomfortable conversation.

There's no sure way to get around it. Many people don't use the restrooms, clothing, or other constructs that correspond to their assigned sex/gender, so trying to use these as sign posts may not give you the information you want.

So...

If you really want to know, you're going to have to ask. Just be sure you know what you're asking, why you're asking, and what you intend to do with the information once you have it. Does it really matter to you, and if it does, why does it?

As far as the conversation goes, be honest, but be gentle. Try to be self aware and aware that these are questions that may be intensely uncomfortable for the person you're asking. If the answers really don't matter, consider letting them disclose in their own time and in their own way.


As an aside...

A few answers here mentioned checking state issued ID. That isn't exactly a great suggestion for a few reasons.

  • Many countries allow folks to change their names, and the sex/gender listed on their state issued identification, birth certificates etc. without requiring surgical transition. And some places allow nonbinary gender markers on IDs.

    • This means that the sex listed on their ID may not match their plumbing. (So, if that's what you really want to know, ID won't necessarily tell you that.)
  • Some people who are in the process of transitioning and have yet to do the legal paper work shuffle will not be likely to show you their ID. If the ID card lists a name and sex that they no longer identify with, this may be an intensely uncomfortable/delicate question and asking may be seen as a pretty huge invasion of their privacy. The same goes for some agender, intersex, and gender-fluid folks.

Basically the information on their ID card may lead you to make inaccurate assumptions, and asking to see their ID may be seen as incredibly invasive.

  • 4
    I've removed a number of comments arguing about the merits of this answer. Please note that comments on IPS are strictly moderated. Comments which are not asking for clarification or suggesting improvements are subject to being removed without notice. This includes comments to say "I think this answer is bad"; please see this meta post for more information. – Em C Sep 2 '18 at 16:52
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    Thank you for your answer. In order to react on your first premise, I'd like to say it doesn't matter to me. This doesn't mean it can't bug me, I see people as... people. For example, I'm very bad with names, I try to remember but sometime I just can't remember a coworker's name. The name itself doesn't matter to me, but not knowing it is. It's kinda the same here. To me, someone sex/gender/orientation/whatever is as important as their hair color. – user21396 Sep 3 '18 at 9:05
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    Even though I may not agree with every point of this answer, I think it would be the best fit for anyone wandering here and having the same question I had. I accept it and invite anyone to read all the answers and comments. Anyway, folks, it's a girl! – user21396 Sep 3 '18 at 9:15
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    @user21396 if the both of you feel comfortable sharing, you can post your experience as an answer. There is no IPS as good as life-tested IPS after all. And congrats on your awesome partner. My regards and happiness for you both. – Mindwin Sep 3 '18 at 12:18
48

Ask them what pronouns they prefer.

For members of the LGBTQ+ community, this is generally a reasonable and respectful question regardless of the physical appearance of the person. It indicates that you are not assuming that their preferred gender and their apparent gender are the same, but neither does the question imply that you think they are different. You just don't know.

Of course, this won't necessarily tell you what the physical sex of your partner is, but it does open the door to conversations about gender where you might be able to find out.

Even if they are not members of the community, the question is probably still fine.

If they are not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, they are more likely to be surprised by your question. But that does not mean that they are unfamiliar with it, or would take it amiss if you asked. Unless you are unusually bad at reading faces this is probably not the first time your partner has caused confusion about their gender. A tactful, reasonable question about their gender would likely be well received even if they had not heard it asked before.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Em C Sep 1 '18 at 2:55
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    that doesn't address OP's " I'd like to know what to physically expect..." concern – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Sep 2 '18 at 12:44
38

Just ask, after setting up the topic in a way that makes the question natural. There is already too much cloak-and-dagger character to your concern.

Begin or steer a conversation towards gender identity (mention a celebrity, a recent controversy, watch Zoolander 2, there are lots of avenues), describe your own situation ("I've always identified with my biological sex and consider myself a [whatever is true of you]", or something similar). Then you can present a statement like

You know, I've never asked, how have you considered your gender over the course of your life?

There is only so naturally a question as blunt and direct as this can be asked, and if it's legitimately not a big deal to you either way then it shouldn't be that big of a deal to ask about it.

32

When a person outwardly presents as androgynous, there are two cases to consider:

  • They intentionally present as androgynous, and may not (yet) be comfortable discussing/revealing their anatomy with you
  • They have a naturally androgynous appearance, and may be embarrassed to be mistaken for a different sex

In the first case, your partner is aware of the need to resolve this issue before an awkward reveal in the bedroom. If you ask them outright, they probably won't be upset by the question, but may be uncomfortable answering. If that's the case, express support and wait until they are ready to have that conversation.

In the latter case, any attempt to ask outright may be extremely embarrassing and/or offensive to them. Invite them to participate in an activity that would necessarily reveal their sex innocuously, such as going to a beach or pool, or to dress up for a fancy dinner.

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    Beach or pool, or sports activities, should work quite well, except someone who is intentionally androgynous might not like such activities that reveal their physical gender. Fancy dinner not so much. – gnasher729 Sep 2 '18 at 14:38
  • @gnasher729 Do you mean to say that fancy dress would not work, or that it would work and also circumvents the possible discomfort with a beach or pool? – starchild Sep 4 '18 at 19:39
20

A lot of the other answer here doesn't seem to follow the "tactfully check' element. That means you want an objective independent source of information; asking is not checking. Asking opens the door to ambiguity and not to mention the most important aspect it can cause irreversible offense. The average person would get offended with that question (which is why the OP is asking the question here). I would imagine if your answer is "simply ask" then you haven't really read the OP's question.

Also, it's important to know that the OP is trying to find out biologically which sex the person is. The OP wants to know what to physically expect, not the self-identification aspect. So asking would likely either offend the person or get you the person's gender and not their biological sex.

What I would do is to show them your funny looking identity card of sorts and have a laugh about it... Then you claim that it's unfair that they have seen you but not the other way around, at this point, hopefully they would shyly produce their ID card and then you can freely check out how old they are and which natural sex they are.

Another super easy method that you can use is simply ask to add them on social media. There must be clues in their pictures and/or how their friends interact with them. Pronouns and clothing, for example... Or how their family/friends addresses them (brother/sister/son/daughter/my girl/my boy).

=== Proof that ID are more likely to be correct than asking ===

Premise 1 : Your ID naturally shows your birth sex.

Premise 2 : Not 100% of the country allows you to change your birth sex.

Premise 3 : If someone cares about concealing their birth sex enough to alter their government ID, then it follows that they will not simply tell you the truth just like that.

Situation 1: Person is XY, ID still says XY, he identifies as male. Both asking and Checking ID both give correct SEX (male).

Situation 2: Person is XY, ID still says XY, he identifies as female. Asking gets you GENDER (female), checking gets you the native sex (male).

Situation 3: Person is XY, ID is changed to say XX, he identifies as female. Both Asking and Checking ID give you incorrect sex (female).

Thus, checking ID is "at least as correct" as asking and in some cases, more correct.

  • 3
    "the person in question have not shown any signs of being LGBT or anything similar" - OP specifically says that this person is bisexual. – Geoffrey Brent Sep 2 '18 at 21:56
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    "Asking opens the door to lying or misrepresentation. Objective checking bypass at least one layer of deception." Why do you assume that someone would lie, misrepresent, or deceive? Have you ever actually been in this situation, or is this all speculation? – apaul Sep 12 '18 at 1:07
16

One possible way to find more information (not necessarily all, though) about a person's sex is to go together to the beach, an aquatic park, a swimming pool, or any other place where normally little clothing is worn. (Update: better yet, a nudist beach or nudist activity. Thanks to a comment for that! [now deleted])

But perhaps the most appropriate way to find that info about your partner might be to ask. :-)

(Though if you do not care anyway, why ruin the suspense? ;-) )

Update "to back up this answer with supporting information, as required by site rules":

  • This is a good or bad idea depending on various specific, minute details of the involved people and their circumstances only known by them.
  • I suggest this because it was not yet suggested at the time I posted, and it is (to me) a very obvious way to get more information about a person's physique. Whether appropriate or not for them, only they can decide.
  • I thought it was pretty obvious, but going together to a place were normally little clothing is worn
    • is tactful, because such is the dressing code of the place, and
    • more skin is usually exposed, which allows more information about the body to be gathered: male genitalia tend to be at least insinuated, so presence or absence are telling; males often bare their chest, while females cover their mammary glands.
  • 6
    why ruin the suspense? - as OP said, it's precisely the suspense that is bothering them. Some people are simply wired this way, though usually this shows in how they can't stand cliffhangers at the end of an episode/midquel/issue/page/update. – Dragomok Sep 2 '18 at 16:38
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    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – user58 Sep 3 '18 at 7:19
12

It sounds like you should just have a discussion about sex to set expectations. You can start with basic questions about how soon that may or may not happen, etc.

This is a completely normal and reasonable discussion to have when getting together with someone, and segues nicely into discussing specifics about what they like and what they want (or don't) in a relationship sexually and otherwise.

So just have this discussion that you should have anyway, which often has an expected degree of awkwardness, but can be used to set expectations about any aspect of your relationship. At that point, depending on your partner, you could ask how much experience they've had with sex, likes and dislikes, etc.

If you ask about their preferences with specific acts, you may get an answer that tells you what to expect regarding their physical sex characteristics, which seems like the main thing you don't want to be surprised by (it could certainly be awkward to expect one body part but get another, even if you're open to it going either way--if that made you hesitate, it could make them feel unwanted, so better to get it out of the way instead of being surprised in the moment).

Edit: Also in the vein of talking about sex and to offer a more concrete example: prior to actually having sex, you could talk about sexual fantasy. You can ask what they think about that turns them on, and if the right situation arises, you could ask for them to describe what they'd like you to do to them, or ask them to describe what you'd see if they undressed (possibly over the phone. Exactly how to approach it depends on how shy or how direct this person is, which may be influenced by culture).

10

Here's another approach:

There are lots of "getting to know you" conversations that could get your partner to talk about their identity. Some topics were mentioned previously, but I have a few more.

  • You could ask if their name is usually male or female (some names in some countries can be both). Since you presumably can't guess more about their gender by name, you can use your ignorance of their culture as a point of curiosity to start a conversation.

  • Ask what it was like growing up, going to school, etc. This is especially helpful if they grew up in another country. You can ask something specific in this conversation, like how were boys/girls treated, and what was your partner's experience. Talk about your own experiences.

  • Ask casually if they ever plan on having children. If it doesn't seem too serious—but I think this is a reasonable question to ask by a third date. Age is also a factor, since if you're young and the relationship is new, it may not be the most relevant to your lives right now. At any rate, getting to know your partner's goals in life or a good thing (you could also ask the more low key question about what their goals are, but that's more vague). Of course, they could say they want to adopt and leave it at that, which is no help, but there are no guarantees—it always depends on how the conversation goes.

8

A male friend of mine who cosplays as female characters a lot has oftentimes struggled to tell what gender a person is who is similarly cosplaying, and who may or may not be of different genders from their characters. I offered him some similar suggestions once he got started talking to some of them. (Disclaimer: None of these are absolute guarantee of identifying if your 'SO' is a man or woman, but they may help.) If you fear a direct question will be interpreted badly, you could try a few of the following:

  • For the humour of it, compare passport photos, old family photos etc. In many countries, babies and young children are dressed in more gender-specific clothing (blue for boys, pink for girls etc.). Some passports or drivers licences for example may specify a person's biological gender. This is no guarantee of their current status, but it might help.
  • Look to social media and/or how friends and family address them. Some languages use gender-specific wording when addressing someone. This may help who they at least identify as. If they're from a different country from you, ask about their upbringing. Certain local customs mentioned might lend themselves to one gender over another, giving you clues.
  • On the assumption that your own gender is obvious, try to establish (indirectly) through conversation what your partner's sexual persuasions are. If you're a man and she says she is straight, then she is a woman (or at least identifies as such).
  • 2
    Thank you for your answer. I thought about the passport, ID, however, I'm afraid it may seem unnatural from my part. For the rest, they're bisexual, and we speak english so I can't base myself on grammar. And I can't read chinese unfortunately. – user21396 Aug 31 '18 at 15:08
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    @user21396 Ah that's unfortunate. It might be worth adding a few more of the things you've tried / considered to your post. Might help narrow down some new ideas :) . – user8671 Aug 31 '18 at 15:10
7

I am from Europe and I think a lot of the existing answers are not meant for Europeans. For most of Europe (all the parts I have lived in at least), Gender is Biology and not a self-personification like in the U.S. I can say that asking the conversation about pronouns or having them clarify the American version of Gender will lead to a really awkward and confusing conversation. So I would avoid this conversation.

I would probably ask another person that either they work with or is somewhat familiar with them what their gender is.

Ask them to say something in their language, pretend to learn the language or something and see if they respond feminine or masculine.

Some others have mentioned asking for a name and that might work as well.

Some mentioned comparing photo IDs. I think this would work for passports. Most of us have to carry a passport and ask to see a passport from the country or ask him if you can see if he has had such and such document and you want to compare it to yours.

I would also avoid asking about personal life experiences. Most of us are not open like Americans are.

Maybe try calling the person dude or brother in the language and ask if you can use that since you cannot pronounce the name.

I asked this question to my girlfriend and she says to just ask what gender they are and get the awkward conversation over with.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Em C Sep 4 '18 at 11:58
6

I've been thinking about this one for a while, and I think you actually have at least two questions in your question.

  • When I'm talking about my new partner to others, what pronouns do I use? Do I have a new girlfriend or a new boyfriend?
  • When my partner and I go from "making out" to something more, well, naked, what am I going to find in my partner's underwear?

The first question can, in theory, be answered by techniques such as noticing what bathroom your partner uses. But as you've seen, that's not always simple. And if your partner is nonbinary, it's unlikely these observation techniques will work, since they will be forced to choose male or female when neither really applies to them. The only thing that will work is asking. The downside to asking is that if your partner is binary and cis, there's a chance they will be offended that you have to ask. I think that's a small chance, and best overcome by "giving before you take", such as:

I know we've just started being a couple, and it's exciting. Are you telling people I'm your girlfriend, or using a title like that for me? [Or: I would like to be known as your girlfriend.]

[Use the word that applies to you and you would like to be known as.] Pause a little.

And you? When I tell people about you, I should say you're my ...?

Then kind of trail off and see if your partner makes a suggestion, though of course they may suggest "partner" or "lover" or something else gender neutral. If they do, you could be so bold as to say "and your pronouns are?" though it's possible that they won't even understand the question and be angry that you asked. In that case you could try saying that you ask everyone even big bearded lumberjacks who are standing naked in front of you. (If that's true or close to true.)

I don't think any amount of asking is going to prepare you for the underwear situation. If the person is in transition, then they may have genitals that don't match their presenting gender (or the legal gender on their id.) If they are intersex they may have both. If they are nonbinary or androgynous then once the clothes are off everything may be quite clear, but don't assume that's what is going to happen. It is likely that if they are trans or intersex that they will tell you before you have sex, so the less they say leading up to that moment the more likely they are confident that their physical gender matches their presenting gender and you know what it is. If you got a gendered reply to your request for a romantic title, and no clarifications or "wait, there's something I need to tell you" as the making out intensifies, expect that sex when you get to the naked part.

4

Assuming you're not in a hurry and you don't want to make it obvious where you're heading to, one option is to ask for few lessons of Chinese.

While the language is even more tricky in terms of gender than English, at some (early) point you get to words like "boy / girl" which will likely lead to "I am a boy/man" or "I am a girl/woman". It's natural to state your actual gender (however this will be the perceived one rather than biological).

Even if it does not automatically reveal the sex of your partner it may help building a situation where you can either ask plainly or ask your best guess and when corrected just blame your novice at the language.

The benefit of this approach is that it will show your additional interest in sharing something extra and putting some effort into your relationship.

You may also look for example at this paper about gender in Chinese. If you get to examples you should be able to immediately able to recognize the pattern. There is an obvious character signifying the female gender. I don't know though if it is used in any documents and it will require you to check some documents which can lead to an awkward situation (as mentioned in other answers).

Note that knowing the name won't help much. As you can see for example on this page with Chinese names, there are many names used for both genders.

2

This question is quite similar to not remembering a persons name after interacting with them for too long to still be asking for their name.

I think you have three more honest options:

  • Ask outright about their biological sex (!)
    (preferably within a conversation easing into the topic)
    I would do this, but in your case I recommend the second option, unless you really, really need to know, in which case it seems that it does matter to you after all
    (this one might be awkward and / or surprise / offend your partner)

  • my recommendation: wait until a makeout session leads to more intimacy to find out
    (since you're apparently comfortable making out with the person and seem a bit shy to approach the topic, why not simply wait)

  • wait until the person reveals their sex on their own accord - basically a variation of my recommendation (whichever comes first will reveal the sex)

Anything else seems sneaky and dishonest (you may try some of the suggestions here nonetheless if you like).

In conclusion of your statement that the result doesn't matter, you must be bisexual yourself and have no "unpleasant revelation" to expect, so to speak, as a hetero- or homosexual person may have when "confronted" with a gender they're not attracted to.
Hermaphrodites (intersex nowadays) can be a mixture of both sexes, so a bisexual person shouldn't really have issues with that either.

Which means, no matter what their sex turns out to be, you're free to concentrate on their personality and how you two fit together as individuals.

As a European I'm in agreement btw. with ApertureSecurity about the different approach and self evident understanding in comparison to American society.

Non binary gender identity indeed has nowhere near the same importance here.
So asking about especially their pronouns or gender identification may result in bewilderment or awkward embarrassment on the side of the party being asked.

Please note, transgender pronouns are still binary (he/she) and used here according to the sex the transgender person transitioned to or is in the process of transitioning to.

Non binary pronouns (them, they, ze etc.) for example are not even a noteworthy topic (and are quite a bit more problematic to implement) especially in non English speaking countries here, since many languages have male and female ingrained into them in prefixes or suffixes for example in addition to the pronouns to address the person.
Some transgender people chose the gender neutral pronoun "it" surprisingly, despite being a bit strange to refer to a person as "it".

To summarize my reasons for my recommendation:

  • Asking flat out about gender identity/pronoun as was suggested is not as common in Europe as the USA.
    This is also why I said I'd ask for their biological sex, since OP asked to know about man vs. woman.
  • The person is not an outspoken LGBT activist, so they might not even consider there to be ambiguity regarding their sex, causing surprise/embarrassment.
  • OP seems a bit shy in approaching the topic.
  • OP is comfortable to make out with the partner without knowing their sex/gender identity.
  • OP stated,the result wouldn't really matter either way.
  • OP seems to be bisexual, ergo either sex would be fine.

So despite OP having asked the question I think it might be better to just wait instead of it becoming awkward.

  • 1
    Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – user58 Sep 3 '18 at 7:17
  • 1
    @ArwenUndómiel Thought I did.1)Asking flat out about gender identity/pronoun is not as common in Europe.2)The person is not outspoken LGBT activist,they might not even consider there to be ambiguity regarding their sex,causing surprise/embarrassment.3)OP seems shy in approaching the topic.4)OP is comfortable to make out with the partner without knowing their sex/gender identiy.5)OP stated,the result wouldn't really matter.6)OP seems to be bisexual,ergo either sex would be fine.So despite OP having asked the question I think it might be better to just wait instead of it becoming awkward. – DigitalBlade969 Sep 3 '18 at 7:30
  • I would maybe make it more explicit that asking a girl if she is a boy in Europe can be a big faux-pas. Though by the question it does seems a boy. – Rui F Ribeiro Sep 9 '18 at 10:35
1

... but I'm kinda annoyed.

I met someone at my local gym. We started to talk from time to time and one thing leading to another we made out (not sexually) and are a couple as of today. We try to go slowly.

There are a lot of answers here but one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is what jumps out at me from the part of your question I'm quoting.

I'm going to call this person your 'date', if that's alright - it seems to fit. My first assumption is from your American English phrase "we made out (not sexually)" - being British I'm guessing that means you kissed?

OK so that's the background to my answer.

The main issue I picked up on is your annoyance. Is it with your date for not revealing their gender? Or is it with yourself for not handling the not-knowing patiently?

If your annoyance is with your date, is it because you believe that there's some deliberate concealment going on?

If so and your date is concealing it deliberately out of shyness, you'll need to suppress that annoyance, or it could make an awkward situation turn really disagreeable when you decide you can't bear the suspense any longer.

I assume you're quite sensitive and don't want to look like a bull in a china shop in your attempts to solve this.

In fact to avoid such a situation you might want to back off from a relationship a bit and treat them more as a friend than a date for a period - that would give you more time to work out whether you can get into a relationship with this person without forcing a "gender revelation" discussion.

It's obviously very difficult to dial back your feelings for someone especially if you're not the patient type, but if you can, it would be a good approach.

Secondly, your date could be concealing their gender because they enjoy creating the suspense. Did you detect anything that supports that view? If that's the case then there is much less chance of hurting anyone's feelings and you could try any of the suggestions given in other answers.

protected by Community Sep 4 '18 at 14:34

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