pansexuality

Questions from the search terms: “what is your sexuality if you like non-binary people?”

Today’s question:

What is your sexuality if you like non-binary people?

This has become a bit of a theme in my search terms, so much so that “If you’re into me, then you’re not straight: orientations and attractions to non-binary people” is the most-viewed post on this site on most days, and some of my most recent questions from the search terms have been in this vein as well. However, I like this framing of it, so here we go again!

This is an interesting question searcher, and the answer is the incredibly unsatisfying “it depends”.

The way that we currently define sexuality depends both on our own gender and on the gender(s) to which we are attracted – if you know that someone is only attracted to women, that’s not enough information to determine their sexual orientation without knowing their gender also – they could be a straight man, or a lesbian woman, or a non-binary person (in which case, the label would be harder to determine).

It’s also unclear to me from your question whether you’re talking about being exclusively attracted to non-binary people or not, so I’ll try to cover both cases.

If someone is exclusively attracted to non-binary people, what *is* their sexual orientation?

If you’re talking about a man or a woman here, technically they would be heterosexual (only attracted to people of genders different than their own), but not really straight per se. It would be a better bet to identify as queer, really, from my perspective.

A non-binary person who is only attracted to non-binary people might consider themself homosexual or gay, although being non-binary and being attracted to non-binary peopel doesn’t inherently mean being attracted to people with the same gender as you (as there are many different genders that fall under the non-binary umbrella), or heterosexual (sometimes we enbies like to joke that we’re all het, because no one else has the same gender as us), but again, queer might be the best bet.

I don’t actually think that an exclusive attraction to non-binary people is what we’re talking about here, though. Usually people who are into non-binary people are into at least one of the binary genders as well.

People who are attracted to non-binary people plus men and/or women fall pretty clearly under the bisexual umbrella (as they are attracted to more than one gender). There are different ways of identifying within this umbrella, too. If you’re attracted to people of all genders, then pansexual is a good choice, but bisexual still applies if you prefer it. And queer is still on the table here too.

So, yeah, as I’ve pretty much said before, if you’re attracted to non-binary people, there’s a pretty good chance you’re queer, though the precise label you want to use may vary.

Attraction, sex, and gender: what’s going on here?

As a queer person of the omnisexual variety (I’m attracted to people of many different genders), the nature of attraction for people who identify as straight, lesbian, or gay is a bit of a conundrum for me. The discussion that follows is my attempt to parse and understand the experience of what, for the sake of ease, I’m going to call ‘monosexuality’ here (though I in way mean to imply that the sexuality of straight and homosexual folks is in any way monotonous, or uniform.)

My major questions are: Does monosexuality imply that one is attracted to people of a single gender, or people of a single sex? And what qualities of gender and sex are required to make a person fall into the sex/gender category to which a monosexual is attracted? I suspect this varies greatly from person-to-person, actually, but I still want to explore some of the configurations this might take.

For starters, as a nonbinary/genderqueer person who is generally read as female, it happens straight-identified men often find my attractive. Now, there’s a lot of things going on here, of course, and sometimes simply being informed of my gender identity is enough to scare a guy off, other times, it isn’t. And I want to be the first to say that I don’t think this should in any challenge their conception of their sexuality as straight. The fact that I do not identify as a member of the group to which they purport to be exclusively attracted doesn’t really matter to me.

The thing is that, of course, no monosexual person is attracted to all members of the same (or opposite) sex, as the case may be. Each monosexual person is attracted only to some subset of that group. And the alchemy by which such attraction is produced is the result of the interactions of any number of difficult-to-define qualities encompassing appearance, personality, and many other factors. The way I conceptualize it, when someone identifies as straight, lesbian, or gay, what that means is that the combination of qualities to which they are attracted is somehow tied to the sex (and/or gender) of the person in question. And it is simply possible that I possess whatever inherently necessary quality that is connoted in their sexual identity, without actually having to be a member of the group that contains the overwhelming majority of people to which they are attracted.

But then, what baffles me is what that inherently necessary quality may be. Because I’m not actually certain that there is a quality that can be identified that differentiates universally between men and women. Chalking it up to being attracted to primarily masculine or feminine traits certainly doesn’t cut it: there’s plenty of lesbian-identified women who are primarily attracted to masculine-presenting women, but whose interest in masculinity does not extend to include men. There are also straight men who are more attracted to androgynous or masculine women, and straight women who are primarily attracted to androgynous or feminine men. And the are people of sexual orientations who find themselves attracted to gender-benders.

So, is the difference simply sex-based? Does it come down to genitals? I mean, I know that base-level attraction has nothing at all to do with genitals, since most people establish some level of physical attraction long before clothes are removed or genitals are discussed. I also know that discovering that a person’s genitals are different from the ones that were expected can signify an end of attraction for some people.

Or, rather, I suspect it ends the desire to have sex, but not the attraction that was already felt. I suspect that what happens here is that whatever sexual fantasies a monosexual person may have been having about a person to which they were attracted are disrupted when they realize that whatever they had been picturing might not be a physical possibility, and lacking a model for what they might do with that person instead, default to not fantasizing sexually about them any more.

This tends to be the way that such negative reactions to trans folks are conceptualized by those who view them as symptoms as anti-trans bigotry, anyway. But I don’t really think it’s necessarily quite that simple. I do think that for some people, even monosexual ones, genitals needn’t be a deal-breaker. In fact, I know there are some monosexually-identified people who have relationships with Trans* folks who have their ‘original plumbing’, so this can’t be the issue in its entirety. Or at least, not for everyone.

Because really, I’m sure that there is endless diversity in the way that monosexual attraction functions, and what causes that monosexual limitation on attraction to be such as it is. But, and you’ll have to excuse me if this sounds ignorant, or as if I am disrespecting anyone’s identity or self-description, I have yet to find a way of conceptualizing monosexual orientations that doesn’t seem like it’s really just an approximation.

Like, a woman identifying as a lesbian might mean “I’m attracted to feminine people,” though we know this often isn’t what it means, and I don’t see why such an orientation would exclude feminine men. Or they could mean “I’m attracted to people who identify as women,” which, well, I have no idea what that means, since there isn’t a single quality that defines that group of people, or even that differentiates them from the group of people who identify as men, other than their self-identification. Which brings me back to, “I’m attracted to people with vaginas.” Which, again, we know that the primary basis of attraction can, at best, be predicated on an assumption about a person’s genitals, so I don’t get this delineation, either. Even any combination of these statements leaves holes. So I simply don’t understand what it means for someone to only be attracted to one sex. I don’t understand where the delineation of the group of potential partners gets places, and by what mechanism.

Like, lots of straight dudes are really heavily attracted to and invested in having really feminine partners. They value and respond to feminine qualities in the women they date. But even as I respect and comprehend that fact, I don’t understand why all of the attraction would go out the window if they discovered that a person possessing all of the valued feminine qualities was, in fact, a man. What if they were a feminine-presenting person who was assigned female at birth (i.e. had a vagina), but identified as male? Or a person of whatever gender identity, who was extremely feminine-presenting, but who had a penis?

What makes the difference here? Is it really the penis? And if so, why? What changes in your attraction when you learn that someone’s genitals are different than you had imagined? I’m really curious to hear from anyone who’s had this kind of experience. Or from anyone who has gone through any sort of evolution in sexual identity, and seriously given critical thought to the basis of their attractions. I know a lot of it may very well be “Well that’s just how it works for me. I don’t know exactly why, but I know in my gut that this is how it is.” But I’m curious if there’s really something I’m missing that would make me able to empathize with the experience of monosexuality.

I’m seriously confused about this. And please don’t take this to mean that I believe that everyone is secretly bisexual/omnisexual. I simply don’t understand how monosexuality works, and I’d like to try to. So if anyone can offer me some insight, it’d be greatly appreciated.

So monosexuals: how do you define the boundaries of the sex to which you are attracted, and what qualities are the essential ones? Can you explain what might happen if you found someone of a sex to which you are not attracted, but who otherwise possessed all of the qualities you would normally consider essential? What makes the difference? Is it even knowable?