Ask Katie: What’s The Deal With All Of These Labels For Sexuality?

If there is one thing that frustrates every well-meaning ally about queered sexuality, it’s all of these labels. Yes, us queer folks really like to think up a lot of labels for our sexuality. We aren’t trying to make it hard for you straight-leaning lady allies. We just want to have choices. A lot of choices, at that.

One Gurl frequenter asked: “There are a lot of labels when it comes to the LGBT community. I’m not sure what they all mean. Can you help me out with some definitions? I want to know what I’m talking about!”

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Let’s work on this question a bit. In life, labels are how we categorize ourselves and others, which is actually pretty cool. That whole self-definition thing is where it’s at! It’s important to have the space to express who you are in relation to others. And that’s what labels allow us to do.

But people are complex. When it comes to sexuality in particular, they don’t always fit in binary boxes of “straight or gay.” Sometimes, they are a bit of both. Or mostly — but not totally — gay. Then what?

Well, that’s where all these labels come in. Lesbian. Bisexual. Pansexual. Demisexual. Queer. Asexual. And that’s not even an exhaustive list of queer sexualities! That’s a lot of labels!

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Now, I could sit here and give you definitions for each popular label, and then wash my hands of this whole conversation. But that’s not really how I roll. And I can’t do that and still sleep at night. Here’s why:

These labels can mean different things to different people!

Sure, you can say MOST lesbians are attracted to just girls. MOST bisexuals are attracted to both girls and boys. MOST pansexuals find attraction all along the gender spectrum. But it isn’t always that simple.

Let me give you an example. I identify as queer. To me, that means I like people who identify as men, women, neither, and both. My sexuality doesn’t know gender boundaries. But to someone else, queer might mean they only like people of the same gender. And, to someone else, it might mean something totally different.

The point is, when talking about sexuality, labels aren’t always enough. Sometimes a little elaboration is needed, which is why I can’t give you a definite definition for each label.

Okay, so now enter our problem: You really want to know how someone identifies. There is a simple way to find out. Ask! Asking, “How do you identify?” may seem awkward at first, but it is the clearest way to get your answer.

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Pro tip: Keep in mind that no one has an obligation to tell you how they identify. If they seem reluctant to answer, don’t push them! It’s their identity and their decision who they disclose it to. Problem one solved.

Okay, so on to problem two. Your friend says they are demisexual. And you have no clue what that means! Should you go home and read a shoddy Wikipedia page expecting to learn all about their sexuality? How about no.

A better solution? Ask them, “What does that label mean to you?” This is a very important, caring question to ask. It will not only get you your answer, but it will also give your bestie a chance to explain their experience with that particular label to you. Which is pretty important in a solid friendship, if I do say so myself.

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Okay, so your two go-to questions: “How do you identify?” and “What does that label mean to you?” Navigating all these labels and finding their meanings to particular people will suddenly seem a whole lot easier with these two solid Q’s in your back pocket.

I know that this isn’t the simplest of answers, but sexuality isn’t the simplest of things! I challenge you all to expand how you think about labels. Especially the simplicity we think of labels with. Get a little complicated. See things a little differently.

And always remember, just because you have never heard of a label before doesn’t make it any less valid.

Happy defining!
Katie

Got an LGBTQ question you want Katie to answer? Email her at staff@gurl.com with your queer conundrums so she can work her advice-giving magic! 

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