sexual orientation

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?

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!

“Like everyone else, people who are LGBT start out as babies”: a book review

Cover of the book Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityYes, that is an actual quote, from the newly published children’s non-fiction book (copyright 2017!) Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It’s is just one book in a series from GLSEN under the banner “Living Proud!”

This book is hot mess, y’all. Such a mess that I need to rant about it.

Despite what the title implies, the vast majority of Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is very specifically focused on the topic of ‘homosexuality’. Which, that’s a perfectly fine topic for a book and all, but it’s not great for one that claims to be about sexual orientation generally, let alone sexual orientation *and* gender identity.

Gender identity is addressed only in the first chapter of the book, “The Origins of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. Right off the bat, we learn that the definition of gender identity is “A person’s self-image as either a male or a female, no matter what gender they were assigned birth”.

Oh, yes. We are off to a fabulous start, folks.

The book is, unsurprisingly, relentlessly binary in its discussion of both sex and gender, with the exception of a special text box acknowledging that intersex people exist. The paragraph on intersex people concludes that “many intersex people live happy and satisfying lives outside of the ‘normal’ female and male gender identities,” which is the only inkling we get that non-binary genders exist at all.

So much for “understanding gender identity” then. How about sexual orientation?

As I mentioned above, for the most part the book really only talks about homosexuality.

Outside of uses of the LGBT initialism, bisexuality is mentioned a grand total of four times:

  1. in the opening glossary, within the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ (which provides the options of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual (which, yay ace visibility for once, I guess!?))
  2. in the phrase “gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning”, shoehorned in suddenly at the end of a paragraph about the importance of the nature versus nurture debate around ‘what causes homosexuality?’
  3. in reference to Freud’s (*sigh*) theory that everyone is bisexual
  4. in the phrase “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”, in an image caption.

Asexuality’s only mentions are the two mentioned above. It doesn’t even merit an entry in the “Series Glossary” (a list of vocabulary words from the Living Proud! series, many of which do not appear in this particular book), or the index.

In fact, a full three out of the four chapters of the book are explicitly focused on homosexuality/being gay. First we have “Born Gay: Biological Theories of Homosexuality”, which concludes with a quote from Dr. Qazi Rahman, who states “as far as I’m concerned, there is no argument any more – if you are gay, you are born gay.”

Contradictorily, the next chapter (“Becoming Gay: Psychological Theories of Homosexuality”) concludes that “…human behavior is such a complex combination of mind and brain – the psychological and the biological working together – that it is nearly impossible to separate the two”, before segueing into the question for our final chapter: “Why Does It Matter?”

This last chapter provides a broad overview of the ways in which the question of choice with respect to sexual orientation has been rhetorically important to LGBT (or, since transgender people aren’t mentioned at all in this chapter, LGB) civil rights struggles.

I do want to be clear here; much of the content of this book is totally fine, and some is even pretty ground-breaking for a children’s book! But I have no idea how a book primarily focused on the nature/nurture debate about homosexuality wound up with such a misleading title.

Better yet, one of the other titles in the series is Being Transgender, which has the same authors as Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, because why bring in transgender people to write a book when demonstrably uninformed cis people can do it, I guess? I may need to review that one one I can get my hands on it as well.

If you’re into me, then you’re not straight: Orientations and attractions to non-binary people

Non-binary people are a weird position in the dating world (ok, I mean, we’re in a pretty weird position all the time to be honest. But anyway, today I’m talking about the dating world). This is true in a bunch of ways, and I’ve written about some of them before, but today I’m looking at the ways in which people talk about sexual and romantic orientation is often non-binary exclusionary.

So, for instance, as an enby person who is pretty regularly perceived as a woman, straight-identified dudes are sometimes attracted to me. They usually don’t magically stop being attracted to me when they find out I’m non-binary, either (much as I might love for it to work that way).

To me, it seems pretty clear that these people are not actually straight then, since they are attracted to people of more than one gender, and not just the other binary gender. Attraction to more than one gender falls pretty clearly under the umbrella of bisexuality (which includes plenty of identities that aren’t strictly bisexual).

the_bisexual_umbrella_by_drynwhyl-d4gq9ji

Simultaneously, though, these folks are also technically still heterosexual, because they’re only attracted to genders different from their own. Such is the difference between straightness and heterosexuality, I guess. All we learn from this is that you can be bi without being same-gender attracted, which means bi and hetero aren’t (again, technically) mutually exclusive identities. Cool?

I’m actually not terribly fussed about the idea of straight, gay and/or lesbian people occasionally being attracted to enbies, without questioning their identities around that. Plenty of monosexuals people have one or two exceptions in their lives, I guess? And if you’re not really acting on them, then whatever.

I’ve dated people, though, who have continued to identify as straight even while dating me. And I have… complicated feelings about this. On the one hand, by and large I am actually talking about people who were/are in hetero ‘primary’ relationships who absolutely benefit from straight(-passing) privilege. And I both empathize with and actually appreciate it when folks in this sort of situation feel iffy about identifying as anything other than straight, because they don’t want to appropriate LGBTQ struggles. This is a pretty good instinct, to be honest.

But you don’t actually have to have faced struggles, or even be out, to be LGBTQ. And the thing is, people who date non-binary people and still identify as straight (or gay, or lesbian), even if they are doing so based on a well-meaning, privilege-acknowledging instinct? They’re contributing to non-binary erasure. If you are into me, and still identify as straight, you’re basically saying that my gender isn’t real, or at least isn’t important enough to acknowledge; you’re saying that it doesn’t ‘count’ in the context of your orientation. I am the unstated footnote, the silent asterisk to your identity.

And that’s a shitty fucking position to be in.

So, to all the straight- (or otherwise hetero-*)identifying men and women who are dating, or have dated, or are open to dating non-binary people, I am issuing you a challenge.

Let go of that straight identity for a while. Accept that you are not just attracted to the gender that your identity implies, and really sit with the implications of that. Think about what it would feel like to think see yourself as fitting under the broad LGBTQ umbrella. You can dip into the shallow end of the pool and just admit that you’re heteroflexible. Or you can go whole hog and embrace the idea that you are, after all, kinda bisexual, or even outright queer. I don’t know what works for you.

I want you, particularly, to consider the idea that maybe your discomfort with identifying as anything other than straight might be because you are a victim of bi+ erasure. And I want to let you know that the messaging you’ve received about what is means to be bisexual, or to be queer, are wrong. I want you to know that you do belong under that umbrella; we have room for you here.

And I also want you to ensure you understand that your straight identity invalidates and erases the many other beautiful people of beautiful genders to whom you may be attracted. So, in this weird ourobouros kind of a way, by identifying as non-LGBTQ, you are failing as an LGBTQ ally. Or, less paradoxically, (especially since some of the straight people I’m talking to right now are trans, and already LGBTQ) by not identifying as LGBQ, you are failing pretty terribly as a non-binary ally.

I actually feel weird about asking you to do any of this; I’m not the kind of person who questions how other people identify, and I don’t really think it’s my business. Wherever you land is up to you, obviously. But I also think these are things you need to consider all of these things before you make that call.

And, I guess what I’m really saying is:

Image is of a spherical light brown cat with a devil tail, with taxt "Join usssss we're adorable"


*I’m letting non-binary-attracted gay and lesbian-identifying folks off the hook for now, because of reasons?

Comment-related CW: comments contain references to naked bodies, and draw connections between bio-sex and sexual orientations. I think the ppints made are legit enough to stand, but for sex-repulsed and bodily dysphoric readers, please tread carefully here <3

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!

Monosexuality: I still don’t get it

A few years back, I wrote about how I struggle to understand how monosexuality (that is, being attracted to only one gender – straight or exclusively gay or lesbian) is even a thing. I know now that a great deal of my confusion around this is likely related to my demisexuality – because I don’t experience primary sexual attraction, it makes sense to me that sex and gender are not terribly relevant to my sexuality, I guess.

But this new-found knowledge doesn’t help me understand what it’s like to be monosexual so much as it clarifies why I don’t understand it (on top of the original obvious fact that it is simply not my experience, being bi/pan/omni version of queer and all). And now I also have a whole new set of questions around romantic orientation – I am so curious to hear from people whose romantic orientation is limited only to some genders, but not all, because I can’t wrap my head around it any more than I can sexual orientation. Less so even, because I can at least write off most people’s experience of sexual attraction as simply something I am never going to get, while I actaully feel like I have a pretty good grasp on romantic orientation.

So anyway, my little blog has a grown a lot since I last asked about this stuff, and I might now get more perspectives on this than I did back then, so I’m just going to repeat some of the questions from my first post about this:

So monosexuals: how do you define the boundaries of the sex[/gender] 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[/gender] 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?

And monoromantics: kind of the same questions, I guess?

And people who have different sexual/romantic orientations (sexually pan, but romantically mono maybe?): I super want to hear from you too! Tell me about yourself and how this stuff works, because I want to learn!

‘Reasons I Should Have Known I Was Asexual’

[This post is part of the November 2015 Carnival of Aces, a monthly blogging carnival centered on asexuality and the asexual spectrum. This month is hosted by (A)sex and the City around the theme ‘reasons I should have known I was asexual’. Check out the previous Carnivals here: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/a-carnival-of-aces-masterpost/]

As a demisexual person who only came to that identity in my mid(-to-late)-20s, I would have known I was ace much earlier if I lived in a culture that didn’t talk about sexual attraction as a singular monolithic experience, as if it is the same for everyone. I would have known that my experience of sexual attraction (such as it is) was not generally comparable to the the norm if people, in general, were more willing to stop using the catchall term of “sexual attraction” (or even just “attraction” as it is often even more vaguely called) and to actually break that experience down into the different ways it manifests.

I find it really interesting now to look back on the ways I struggled to frame my experiences around sexuality prior discovering the language of demisexuality (as I did here and here), and just how many times I have since felt motivated to very minutely break my experiences down in ways that deconstruct the usual (non-ace) discourses around attraction (from when I initially “came out” as demisexual, to my repeated attempts to solidify that identity for myself and push back against a culture that leaves no room for the ways I have (and have not) experienced attraction. These ideas are important to me, and useful in so many ways.

I know that there are many valid criticisms to be made of the primary/secondary distinction in sexual attraction, as it doesn’t explain nearly all of the variation in the ways that ace and non-ace people can experience attraction. There are also ways in which the distinctions among sexual, romantic, aesthetic and/or platonic attractions are inherently murky, fuzzy or otherwise forced. None of these categories should be used prescriptively, and these boxes are porous and their distinctions and boundaries are fluid and open to interpretation (as so many categories are).

But I also know that having language that allowed me to break down my own experiences in these ways and see them in a new light was revelatory and allowed me to gain a better understanding of myself and the ways I relate to other people, and why my attempts to force myself to follow standard narrative arcs around attraction to other people simply didn’t work and left me anxious and miserable. And I know I’m not the only person who felt that way upon stumbling into ace circles and learning new ways to talk about these things.

Even though some of these categories are subjective and different people use them in somewhat different ways, it is still all less confusing and more open to nuanced conversations then simply and opaquely stuffing all of these varied and complex things under the singular category of “attraction”, and pretending we all know what that means. Non-ace folks: I honestly don’t know what y’all mean when you do that, especially when you so often seem to be switching between different interpretations without even realizing (let alone acknowledging) that you’re doing it.

I would have understood my ace-ness much earlier if more people took a more nuanced perspective on how sexuality and attraction works.

And, more importantly, I really should have known I was ace much earlier. Because we should, societally, strive to bring more nuance to these discussions, around attraction and desire and sexuality generally. I think that everyone would benefit from the concepts and tools the have been developed in the ace community for talking about these things.

Ways of breaking down different types of attraction, and the different bases for those attraction (primary/secondary attractions, or the framing I prefer which considers whether the attraction is primarily based on physical characteristics or on emotional affinity, or whatever else) are useful in conversation about how non-ace people experience attraction, in the never-ending debates about sexual preferences and whether or not they are mutable, and whether racism and anti-trans bigotries are somehow acceptable when they manifest in sexual preferences.

I would like to see nuanced discussions of how non-ace attractions evolve over the course of long-term relationships, as people’s bodies drastically change with age, into things their partners would not have initially been attracted to.

I would like to see so many different discussion that are impossible without the concepts created by ace folks of all kinds.

I should have known I was asexual because we should all have known that attraction is a complicated and many-faceted thing that manifests in different ways for different people (and in different ways even within any individual’s experience) and feels different for different people, in ways that go well beyond base-line sexual preferences and orientations.