Oh that’s easy, you may think to yourself. I know that one. You don’t have to tell me what that means.
That one’s easy too.
Oh that one’s a bit harder, but I’m pretty sure I know what that is.
Isn’t that something to do with plants?
Um, I think I heard that somewhere once.
‘Androsexual. Gynesexual. Skoliosexual.’
Are you just making these up now?
I’m guessing that if you have only a cursory knowledge of sexuality then this will be pretty accurate to what’s going on in your head. But, you’re also probably thinking, why does it matter? Why do I need to know all of these? Well, the short answer is, you don’t, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important words. The interaction between sexuality and language is astoundingly important to shaping someone’s identity.
When I first started questioning my sexuality the only words I knew for people who weren’t straight were gay, lesbian and bisexual. I thought that was all there was so I must be one of them. I had liked both guys and girls so I must be bisexual, right? This wasn’t as big a deal as I thought it would be; one of my friends had come out as gay and two others had come out as bisexual not long before my big discovery. That was my final year of high school and everything seemed to go alright. There was only one slight problem: bisexual didn’t feel right. I assumed I wasn’t embracing it fully or some bullshit like that.
It wasn’t until about six months later that I learned something amazing. There were more than three sexualities. Suddenly there were all these new words I could explore. I figured I must actually be pansexual, which was considered more inclusive than bisexual as it is attraction to all people regardless of gender.
Calling myself pansexual lasted for a year or two, but it still didn’t seem quite right. It started to feel the same as bisexual had. By this point, I was sure that there was no word that described me and that I would forever be unsure of myself. My sexuality was so connected to my identity and sense of being that I felt like I didn’t know who I was in any sense without being able to describe my sexuality.
I played around with the idea that I might be asexual since I seemed to be romantically attracted to people, not sexually, but that didn’t seem to fit either. Being so confused felt awful. I was very comfortable with the rest of who I was, but my sexuality felt like such a large chunk of me that I couldn’t understand. It shouldn’t be this hard, should it?
When I finally found my one perfect word it was like a whole world had opened up for me. Suddenly, I was no longer confused about who I was. All those odd almost-crushes I’d had that didn’t make much sense now did. Everything just clicked into place. Demisexual. To me, this means that I can only be physically attracted to someone after I get to know and love their personality.
But even after all this searching and my final discovery, something was still off. Yes I understood myself now; I could explain how I felt about people. But the problem I had was with labels themselves. Now I had a word that I could use to explain myself to people but it felt so constricting. This was who I was, so I couldn’t be anything else. But there are other ways to describe sexuality.
You’ve probably heard about sexuality as a spectrum and that is a great way of looking at things. But a spectrum doesn’t really allow the right dimensionality that sexuality needs. A spectrum conjures up the image of a line on a page with heterosexual at one end and homosexual at the other.
Langdon Parks’ Purple-Red Scale of Attraction offers an alternative. This Scale has a grid with ‘Orientation’ running across the x-axis and ‘Attraction Type’ running across the y-axis. Attraction types have letters A through F that range from Aromantic Asexuality (A), where someone has no sexual or romantic attraction, to Hyper Sexuality (F), where sex is the ultimate purpose and reason for a relationship. Orientation has numbers zero through six where zero is ‘exclusively attracted to the opposite sex’ and six is ‘exclusively attracted to the same sex’. With this model your sexuality boils down to the combination of a letter and a number. For the record, I consider myself D2.
This model is a great way to help people understand sexuality and figure out where they fit in amongst the LGBTQIA+ community. But the problem of labels remains.
The issue with both a single word and a model of sexuality is that you’re suddenly boxed in. It feels like that is how you must act now. In the process of looking for liberation in language you suddenly find you have contained yourself within it. None of my words ever felt perfect to me because sexuality is not just on a spectrum or a grid; it is multidimensional. It changes, adapts and fluctuates as you change and you gain new experiences. Sexuality is part of your identity but your identity is never set in stone. Imagine if you liked hot wheels as a kid – but because you liked hot wheels and you told everyone you liked hot wheels, now, 20 years later everyone still assumes you must like hot wheels and that’s all you get as a birthday present every year. That would suck, wouldn’t it? So why would we treat it any different for sexuality?
You might argue that you can’t be born gay if sexuality is fluid but I think we have to grow into our sexuality just like we grow into our body. It is a journey to figure out what your brain is telling you and how you see yourself, and language can certainly help in that journey. Language in sexuality can guide people to figure out who they are but it can also be restrictive. I love how learning new words and new language to deal with sexuality helped me create a path for myself, but nowadays if people want me to define myself, to help them understand I’ll either say I’m bisexual or just not straight. It’s not the full story and it’s not always the truth, but they don’t need that. The definition is for them not me. I’ve used language to find who I am but now that I know that, I don’t need to be restricted by words or labels.
 Nowadays this is hotly debated as bisexual and pansexual are considered essentially the same by many people in the bisexual community since bisexual can be defined as being attracted to two or more genders.