labels

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?

Mislabeled: don’t call me picky! November 2017 Carnival of Aces Submission

This month’s Carnival of Aces topic seems like it was deliberately designed to entice me out of my prolonged break from blogging, so here I am!

This post is in response to the November 2017 Carnival of Aces, hosted by WUT on the topic of “Questioning, Exploration, and Mislabeling”

I have… a lot to say about this topic, but I don’t want to retread too much of what I’ve already said, so if you’re interested in the questioning and exploration I went through in the process of coming to a demisexual identity, you can read through the phases (and cycles) I went through as follows:

I came out strong with “Recognizing Demisexuality”

But I clearly wasn’t as sure as I seemed, as the following year I returned with “Demisexuality, confusion, and self-doubt”, and “Demisexuality: debunking a common misconception”

Since then, though, I’ve become much more comfortable in my identity, and have written about how “Embracing my demisexuality has made me more resilient!”

It’s been a journey, to say the least! But today, I also wanted to talk about something else. Because demisexuality does very often get misunderstood or mislabeled (and not just as being ‘normal’, as I debunked in the above link.) Sometimes demisexuality is also mislabeled as simply being ‘picky’.

This… is an unfair assessment. I don’t think that demisexual people are inherently ‘pickier’ than anyone else (although I’m sure some of us are picky, too!) A picky person usually has a list of criteria that causes them to reject things they might otherwise be into. Everyone who experiences attraction to others has *some* criteria by which people’s attractiveness is measured (unless you’re attracted to literally everyone, I guess?), and the ponit at which these criteria tip you over into being ‘picky’ is kind of nebulous, but ultimately if you think about it, demisexual people are likely *less* picky than allosexual people when it comes to sexual attraction.

Think about it: demisexual people experience sexual attraction only after forming a bond with a person. Although this may not be universally true, what this generally means is that demisexual people experience sexual attraction as a result of personality, interpersonal and relational traits in a person. So it’s fair to say that in general, our ‘criteria’ for experiencing attraction run along those lines.

It’s important to always remember that in the general case, allosexual people’s experiences of attraction are also very much affected by these sorts of criteria, and personality traits can very much make-or-break someone’s attractiveness to allosexual and demisexual people alike. The thing that differentiates allosexual and demisexual experience of sexual attraction are physical criteria.

Allosexual can and do sometimes experience sexual attraction (or lack thereof) based solely on physical characteristics. An allosexual person may be able to reject someone as potentially attractive before knowing anything at all about their personality, based solely on the physical criteria governing their attractions. On the other hand, demisexual people are far less likely to have these kinds of criteria for their experiences of attraction (I’ve written before about how I don’t).

In other words, I’d argue that it’s likely, in general, that allosexual people are technically ‘pickier’ than demisexual people. I even used this idea to pep talk myself when my dating prospects were leaving me sad!

A better way of thinking about demisexuality, rather than in terms of pickiness, is in terms of decisiveness – demisexual people often take longer than allosexual people to figure out whether they are or even can be attracted to other people.

So basically, stop calling me ‘picky’ – I’m just indecisive*! :P

*Not actually accurate either, for the record!

Question from the search terms: “if i love a nonbinary am i straight?”

Another question from my recent searhc terms:

if i love a nonbinary am i straight?

Mostly my answer to this question is: I don’t know, *are* you straight? Because you’re the only real authority on that!

But that’s not helpful at all, I know. So let me throw some more thoughts at you about this.

I am personally of the belief that people who are attracted to non-binary people in more than a passing way should consider finding a label for hteir sexuality that doesn’t imply they are attracted to only one gender. That is, I am dubious about people who identify as straight, or lesbian, or  otherwise exclusively hetero- or homo-sexual/romantic while also dating, fucking and/or being in love with non-binary people. I think that in doing so, these people are implicitly invalidating their date-mate/fuckbuddy/loved one’s gender identity by rounding it into whichever binary gender they are usually attracted to. I’ve written about this idea more fully before, in fact.

I also understand that this is a complicated thing, and that the real problem with these labels is that the ways in which we currently classify sexual orientations simply can’t reasonably account for non-binary people. Because, realistically, all non-binary people are constantly being perceived as one binary gender or the other, and literally all people who consider themselves exclusively straight or exclusively gay may very well have been attracted to any number of non-binary people without even realizing it, and of course it’s ridiculous (or at least entirely unproductive) to conclude that therefore no one is really straight.

So, person who asked this question, I don’t have a clear answer for you here, other than that you should go with your gut on this – it is possible that regardless of your feelings for this non-binary person, that ‘straight’ really is the best description for the way you experience your sexuality. But if identifying as straight while being in love with a non-binary person seems wrong to you, you can go with your gut on that, too – and there’s plenty of other identities that might feel more comfortable to you, maybe you’re heteroflexible, maybe you’re bi, or maybe you’re most comfortable with queer.

I hope this helps!

Blog Notes: Nomenclature?

Just a lil post to let y’all know that the person I’ve been referring to as “former spouseperson” (formerly just “spouseperson” (formerly “my spouse” (formerly called by a gendered spousal term because that’s how long I’ve been writing this blog :P))) will henceforth be known as my “complicated lifeperson“.

Because titles are hard sometimes, but that’s what feels right.

That is all.

The “Shit Cis People Say” Alphabet: C is for “Cis is a slur”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

C is for “Cis is a slur”

Ok, this one is admittedly a little complex. First and foremost, cis (which is short for cisgender) is a descriptor – saying that someone is cis just means that they identify as the gender they were assigned at birth, simple as that! For the most part, it is just a word that means “not transgender”. It’s creation and original intent and usage were definitely not slur-like.

I admit that is not sufficient evidence that a word isn’t a slur, though. So, I want to take the claim that it is a slur seriously enough to probe at what makes people object to the term.

When people object to being called cis or cisgender, it usually comes with one of a number of reasons (and if you drill down, it’s usually not actually that they think cis is a slur). I’m going to try to address the ones I’m aware of here, though if I miss some, please let me know!

There doesn’t need to be a word for that! That’s just normal

It is true that an overwhelming majority of people are cisgender. But that doesn’t mean it’s not useful or important to have a word that encapsulates that particular aspect of gendered experience. Most people are also heterosexual, and in fact we didn’t get around to making a word for that until we had already come up with the category of homosexual – it is a function of categories that if as long as you are assuming everyone is the same, you don’t need a word for that sameness.

It is only when one begin recognizing and naming different experiences that it becomes apparent that there needs to be a word for the ‘sameness’ against which those differences are being identified. The only way to truly make linguistic room for the idea that all of these experiences are equally valid is to have words for all of them, not just the rare or ‘weird’ ones. We all have a relationship to the gender we were assigned at birth (if we were assigned a gender at birth), even if it’s a relatively uncomplicated one that we haven’t ever really thought about, as is often the case with cisgender people.

But I *don’t* really fit the gender I was assigned at birth!

I never quite know what to do with people who don’t like being called cisgender because (of course!) they don’t perfectly fit into the box associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. The thing folks making this claim seem to miss is that cisgender absolutely does not mean ‘conforms to the gender they were assigned birth’, it just means you identify that way. It is totally fine and great to be a gender non-conformist cis person. It just doesn’t make you not cisgender.

But If you really don’t identify as the gender you were assigned at birth, then that’s another thing entirely, because then you would be trans. And then you’d be right to object to being called cisgender, because it would be inaccurate. But continuing to claim you’re not cis while simultaneously living a dysphoria-free life in the gender you were assigned at birth – and benefiting from the privileges that come with that – isn’t going to fly.

You don’t get to decide what labels to use for me!

So, most of the time when I see this one get pulled out, it’s straight-up trolling – the person making the argument doesn’t believe in their own premises in the first place and it’s pointless. But I’m going to go ahead and assume someone somewhere has made this argument and meant it and address it anyway.

I guess the major thrust of this argument is that it is hypocritical for a group of people who have fought – and are continuing to fight – very hard for the right to define the words that are used to describe them, to then turn around and choose words to describe other people.

The thing is, though, that there is a false equivalency going on here. In terms of questions like the general rejection of the word ‘transsexual’ in favour of ‘transgender’ is a question of the words’ accuracy to what it is describing. While transsexual is a word that some trans people find to be an accurate description of their experience, many of us experience our trans-ness as specifically related to our gender and may have little or no dysphoria around or desire to change our sex/sexual organs. I, for example, am transgender, but I am distinctly *not* transsexual. ‘Transgender’ is simply a better descriptor for most trans people’s experiences.

Cisgender meanwhile, as I said above, is simply a word that arises naturally as the linguistic ‘opposite’ to transgender, and it really does just mean ‘not transgender’. As I said in the previous, if a person is NOT not transgender (i.e. is they’re not cisgender according to that definition), then of course they can object to being called cisgender, because they’re not.

However, barring an actual objection to the word’s accuracy in describing he people it is applied to, this argument is pretty facetious.

But the word is used as a slur!

So, here’s the thing. A slur is a word that it used to oppress or dehumanize marginalized people. A word used to describe those in a position of privilege can’t be a slur in that sense – it simply doesn’t work that way.

I do understand that sometimes trans folks use the word ‘cis’ as a sort-of insult, though more particularly it is usually in an exclusionary way (as in ‘you’re not one of us’ – which, for the record, is true.) I am honestly not really sure what to say about that though. I think that most people understand that when, for instance, a straight woman who is dealing with heartbreak gets her lady friends together to talk about how all men are trash, that is just perfectly reasonable and understandable venting, and that no matter how many times it happens “man” isn’t going to become a slur. To be honest, I think the reason this same venting use of any of the other markers of privilege (white, rich, cis, etc.) doesn’t get as easily read that way is that people in general are less understanding of the very real pain and frustration that various marginalized people are dealing with.

And listen, I’m not going to pretend that no one has ever actually wanted dehumanize and eradicate cis people. It’s just, that’s such an irrelevantly small number of people with – let’s face it – no power whatsoever, that it just doesn’t rate.

Cis isn’t a slur. It is sometimes used in a way that is meant to discredit people, but it’s level of insulting-ness is more along the lines of something like calling someone ‘weird’. Weirdness is often considered to be something that discredits people, but it can also just be a true description of a person, as long as their comfortable with their weirdness. If you just understand that you are cis, and that’s ok, then being called cis shouldn’t be an insult to you, really, even when it is meant as such.

And honestly, if it makes you uncomfortable to be reminded that your relationship to your birth-assigned gender isn’t the same as everyone else’s, that’s actually a manifestation of your cis privilege. So deal with it.


Check out the rest of “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

What is your sexual and romantic orientations? Are they affected by your gender? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge Part 22

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: What is your sexual and romantic orientations? Are they affected by your gender?

LOL, so I literally wrote about this already, when I was hosting the Carnival of Aces back in March.

I am demisexual and queer (which applies to both my sexual and romantic orientations), which is to say that I can be sexually or romantically attracted to folks of any gender (queer), but I only experience sexual attraction after forming emotional bonds with someone (demisexual).

(Also can I just say how pleased I am that I got  coincidentally prompted to write about this on Bisexuality Visibility Day? My queerness falls under the bi umbrella, because I am into people of more than one gender!)

My gender is somewhat fluid but always non-binary.

There is definitely a strong relationship between these facets of who I am and how I operate in the world, though I don’t think I will ever be able to distinguish which aspects affecting which other ones. I am certain that being on the asexual spectrum has something to do with the discomfort I feel at being sexualized, which in turn has something to do with my discomfort at being gendered as a woman, but that’s not ultimately what makes me non-binary.

That’s all I have to say about it today, but you should definitely read my Carnival of Aces submission (linked above) if you want to know more.


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

“How has your relationship with yourself been affected since you realized you were Genderqueer?” 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 21

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: How has your relationship with yourself been affected since you realized you were Genderqueer?

Realizing I am genderqueer has had a profound, and wholly positive impact on my relationship with myself, in ways I find hard to articulate. It gave me a kind of freedom and new perspective to think about who I am to myself, who I am in the world, who I want to be, and who I am capable of being. All of this is true, though I am hard-pressed to say exactly why it is so.

Realizing that I am genderqueer was the start of a much larger and longer journey toward rediscovery, and toward reclaiming myself from all of the miscategorizations and mislabellings I have experienced throughout my life, (and will undoubtedly continue to experience as long as I live.)

Realizing that I am genderqueer has been instrumental in my ability to relate to and feel at one with my body. Although I do experience some degree of body dysphoria, having an understanding of that experience, and being able to articulate it to myself is an important part of being able to handle it. It helped me to better understand some of the reasons why I was so prone to dissociating from my body, which in turned helped me learn how to avoid having that happen.

Realizing that I am genderqueer, or more importantly really, simply realizing that genderqueerness exits, and that it was a thing that could apply to me, that does apply to me, released a million tensions I never knew I had been carrying around. I don’t really know what else to say about it.


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!