When I was in high school, my default response to inquiries about my sexual orientation was that I was heterosexual or asexual. I found men to be good-looking, but I was never really interested in anyone, at all. I had a boyfriend for around a year and a half, but I considered him a friend more than anything.
I’ve learned a lot about myself since then and what I’ve come to realize this: I like who I like. Whenever I humored the idea of being in a relationship, I always thought about my significant other as a faceless person, not a man or a woman. So I guess my question is this: I’m not really sure what to call myself. I don’t want to label myself for the sake of others, it doesn’t really matter what they call me. Rather, I want some sort of clarity for myself. I’ve considered myself pansexual, and I truly believe that one’s personality is all that really matters for me to be attracted to them. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to date a woman or someone outside traditional gender binaries, but I don’t want to unless I find myself truly attracted to them.
I’m 19, so I’m still considered rather young, and it’s taken years for me to realize this, but I know in my heart that I’m attracted to something more than gender. Am I actually pansexual, or polysexual? Or am I just an open-minded person?
Anna says: A few years ago, I was at a party in Chicago, talking with a hot butch girl that I’d seen around plenty of times at parties and whatnot, but didn’t really know anything about. We got to talking about sex, naturally, and I ended up asking her how she identified. “Sex-positive,” she said, without hesitation. Not gay or bi or polysexual (I don’t even know what that means) or pansexual. Just sex-positive, as in no moral distinction, no label except that of openness. At first her answer really annoyed me. “That’s not an identity,” I scoffed to my then-girlfriend. “It’s an adjective.” But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed kind of brilliant. I feel the same way about your description: “I like who I like.” It’s apt, it’s precise, it’s grammatically sound – I see nothing at all wrong with using such a phrase to sum up one’s sexual proclivities.
In other words, sexuality encompasses far more than we could ever capture in a word, so why not instead embrace an idea of creation, of recognizing our potential, rather than our limitations. That’s sex-positivity. It’s also being human.
Lidia Yuknavitch, in an interview at the end of her memoir The Chronology of Water, put it this way:
Remember that as you go about your days, looking for the faceless person you want to end up with. Labels are just words, just stories we tell ourselves. They can be comforting at times and restrictive at others, but the only power they have over us is the power we assign them.
You could ask ten different people to define “bisexuality” and I guarantee you’d get wildly different answers. Some days, I don’t even know how to define it, and I’ve been calling myself bi for years.
Our tendency to want to categorize is very normal; it’s how our brains make sense of information, how we process things. Like when we see an androgynous-looking person on the street, we almost immediately think, “Is that a boy or girl?” We look again, we take in visual cues, hair, posture, wardrobe. Trying to piece together a gender identity even though it doesn’t matter at all. (Unless that cute butch girl you’re eyeing is actually a twelve-year-old boy. Then it matters, and you should abort that mission post-haste.)
It’s very difficult to sit in the stillness of uncertainty. In fact, it’s something we have to force ourselves to unlearn. So when you ask yourself things like, “Am I pansexual or asexual or genderflexible or whatever,” turn those questions around, and ask yourself instead to accept the non-knowing. There’s great power in not knowing, some might say the greatest. It doesn’t mean ignorance, or tuning out, or losing your self-awareness. It simply means finding joy, not anxiety, in life’s inconsistencies and mysteries and WTF-ness.
You’re only 19, and you’ve already done a great deal of work finding out who you are, and what you desire. That’s fantastic. Don’t lose that – keep pushing yourself. And know that sexuality is just one chapter in this messy lifelong narrative. It doesn’t need a title, just living.
Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a professional tweeter/blogger for Mother Jones and a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.