Explaining sexual orientation is far more complicated than it strictly needs to be.
For starters, there are the standard self-identifiers you get given in your ‘Sexuality 101’ class: ‘homosexual’, ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘heterosexual’ and ‘bisexual’, before you branch off into less known but ever-growing terms like ‘pansexuality’, ‘asexuality’, ‘demisexuality’ and ‘queer’.
These terms, for better or worse, are loaded with history, politics, assumed behaviours and identify specific communities with wildly complicated history relating to other communities. They are important, and they are needed – even if I don’t personally need them myself.
It’s not that that I don’t understand that for many, these terms, with their history and politics and behaviours aren’t incredibly important. These words are important because they tell a historical narrative through which I benefit – If it hadn’t been for the campaigns and fights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people before me, I wouldn’t have either the opportunity or freedom to shrug and declare myself to vaguely ‘just be really into people y’know?’.
These terms work to help to explain who we are as people, how we relate to history and politics, and help us build the lives we want to lead. There is an incredible power in words that can only be accessed by declaring who we are and what we aspire to be. It’s just that these words don’t work for me and fundamentally, I don’t care about finding that one very specific self-identifier.
I’ve at one point or another hopscotched through a dozen terms, shrugged my shoulders and went ‘good enough (for today)’.
It’s a very indulgent thing to say when the world is still fighting for basic human rights, including to safely identify themselves with one of these terms. Most people have had their own fights; with themselves, with family, with friends and employers. In contrast, I empathize but don’t relate to these stories. I’m very fortunate to have been born in the time and place that I was, where I never had a crushing intense sexuality realisation to upend my life but a general personal feeling that gender only matters when you’re thinking of what kinds of contraception you need to use.
By not identifying with a specific term to represent me, it has always called into question my history: Who have I dated, what have I done? Have I heard about the fluidity of sexuality? This typically ends with someone well-meaning offering me a term I did not want, and giving me a detailed explanation of what they think it means as if it were a rare jewel on a royal pillow.
Certainly, I have used these terms in the past: lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, fluid-sexuality, gay. Sometimes in succession, sometimes simultaneously to different people. It’s that I don’t have an attachment to any specific term to identify and apply a narrative to my life. I made a conscious choice to stop roughly estimating who I am to describe a sexual orientation that has never changed.
The fact that people are willing to have this discussion and to educate others is a sign that times are certainly changing. I always will maintain that these terms are vital for so many people, but I will always maintain that for some, they aren’t.
There are so many ways to live a life as authentic to your inner self as possible, and if a specific term, a range of terms or none at all, helps you to do that, then I am incredibly joyous that you’ve found your way. I appreciate the history that has come before me, and I hope another generation is born into a world, just a little bit better than mine.
But at the end of the day, laissez-faire: as long as you’re not hurting anybody, have fun kids.
Words by Madison Kennewell.
Image by Nicole Faiello.