sexual orientation

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.

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?