Questions from the search terms: “I’m attracted to my biological sex only but I identify as genderqueer. Does that still make me lesbian?”

It’s time for another question from the search terms! Today I bring you:

I’m attracted to my biological sex only, but I identify as genderqueer. Does that still make me lesbian?

Dear searcher,

I’m hoping that you were just being a little sloppy with your words in the relative privacy of your internet search (it’s not like you actually said this to another person, and I know that sometimes using less-than-correct language is the best route to the results you want on the internet, because those are the smae words other people are using!) but before I address your actual question, a quick clarification for other people reading this:

Being a lesbian doesn’t mean being only attracted to ‘biological females’. For the most part, it means being only attracted to women (who may or may not be the same biological sex as you, searcher!) I also realize that lesbian community and culture is in reality messier than that, and I know that there are complicated and delicate questions around trans men and lesbianism – some trans men identify as lesbians, I think? And I know that there are women who date both (cis?) women and trans men, who still identify as lesbians.

I also know that TERFiness and transmisogyny are pretty rampant in many lesbian communities, though, so those community norms may not be things you want to play into or live up to. It is some complicated stuff, and I am not a great authority on the nuances of lesbian communities, but suffice to say that if you actually think that being solely attracted to ‘biological’ females is an unproblematic definition of lesbianism, you have got another thing coming! The group of people who share your biological sex includes a wide variety of genders, from men and women to all kinds of non-binary and genderqueer people, and that’s not what lesbianism is about, as far as I can tell.

But ok, I’m going to pivot to the more generous reading of the question now, so you can get an actual answer!

I’m going to take it that you’re a genderqueer person who was assigned female at birth, and you find yourself exclusively attracted to women. So, are you a lesbian then?

…maybe?

I know there are non-binary people out there who identify as lesbians, and I know there are lesbian communities who are open and welcoming to enbies (afab ones, anyway…) who identify this way.

Ultimately, though, what you’ve actually run into here is a major limitation of the way in which we try to categorize sexual attraction. At its core, the hetero-/homo- binary is very dependent on a binary gender system, both for the people feeling attraction and the objects of that attraction. I’ve written more than once about how these categories aren’t really sufficient to properly contain attraction *to* non-binary people (see here and here), but I’ve somehow missed the aspect where they fail even harder to provide labels for non-binary people’s own experiences of attraction.

This is partially because my bisexuality/queerness does map onto my non-binary identity in the same way that it did onto my birth-assigned gender. I can be attracted to people of any gender, and that remains true regardless of *my* particular gender.

Shit gets complicated when you’re only attracted to one gender, though. If you want to be strict about it, a non-binary person who is only attracted to one gender (other than a non-binary gender) is heterosexual (though possibly not straight).

But that’s not at all helpful. So where do I go from there?

In general, I think it is a terrible idea for non-binary people to define their sexual orientation in terms of their birth-assigned gender. For one thing, doing so would require non-binary people to out themselves about their birth-assigned gender, and how about we just don’t do that?

So, in general, non-binary people who are only attracted to women aren’t lesbians. You still might be, if it’s really what feels right for you? But, since I suspect that you aren’t actually exclusively attracted to women, and that your attractions probably include other non-binary people and possibly trans men as well, I encourage you to consider other identities. Queer is a really good label for people who don’t fit well into the existing models of sexual identity. Is there a reason why you don’t want to use it?

I think the main reason people in your sort of situation sometimes shy away from this, is they don’t like the implication that they’re into men, but if that’s the case, try this: “I’m a queer non-binary person who isn’t attracted to men”. Problem solved, ok?

6 comments

  1. I really thought at some point you would at least suggest the term “gynosexual” as an option. It’s about who you’re attracted to without bringing your own gender into it and it’s basically meant for this situation, as far as I’m aware?

    http://wiki.asexuality.org/Gynosexual

    This is assuming by the question they didn’t mean they were attracted to trans men or even nonbinary people though, yes.

    1. Haha, yeah, that’s fair. I am just a little skeptical of gynosexual because it’s rooted in the idea of genital-based attraction (the counterpart is phallosexual), and also because the person who coined it did so alongside skoliosexual (which is meant to mean attraction to trans people). Basically the model gynosexual is meant to fit into is one where either you’re attracted to cis women, cis men, or trans people, and no thank you!

  2. I’ve only ever heard of what is mentioned in that asexuality/AVEN wiki article on the subject, which us gynosexual’s counterpart being androsexual (NOT phallosexual), and I didn’t realize it was rooted in genital based attraction. I am not super competent on trans related issues and I learned about these things mainly through the asexual community, so my information is likely skewed and limited though haha. So thank you for explaining your reasoning and feelings there!

    1. …oh jeez, it’s totally possible I’ve always seen it paired with androsexual also now that you mention it. That is definitely somewhat better, though it’s still AL overshadowed for having been proposed alongside skoliosexual in my head.

    2. …I’ve been doing some more digging into these terms since you brought this up. It definitely seems like they’ve been redefined in much better ways since they coined. The definition on the AVEN wiki is actually pretty good, and it seems that these days skoliosexuality is taken to mean attraction non-binary people, which is way less weird than when it was trans people generally. I might actually like these labels now, so thanks so much for pinging me about them :)

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