One of the greatest disappointments in my life is how FEW people have asked me about my sexual orientation. I have so many good, unhelpful answers prepared for the question “so do you like boys or girls?” Unfortunately, they never ask. Before I come out about my gender, I think most people (unless they’ve never met a queer in their life) assume that as a female-looking person with short hair, I must like women. After I explain my gender, most people seem to give up in confusion. I think that non-binary people are too confusing for the hapless public to imagine us having relationships. Like other groups of people outside of strict social norms (fat/disabled/non-white), we are either desexualised or hypersexualised.
The short answer is that my sexuality alternates between “no” and *vague hand gesture*.
I think my instinct is to be evasive because there aren’t really many good ways of succinctly summarising how I experience attraction. I find myself on the margins of many identity labels, almost-but-not-quite fitting into them. Lots of things about me are nebulous and sometimes fluid, and I would much rather be not understood than misunderstood. These are important parts of my identity that I would like people to know, really, but I haven’t quite figured out how to fit them into existing frameworks of human communication without stripping away nuance that is important to me.
Most but not all of the people I am attracted to are men. There aren’t many good words for non-binary people who are not bi/pan/polysexual, since words like gay/straight/lesbian suggest yourself having a binary gender. Since I am attracted to more than one gender I am technically bisexual, but that doesn’t really feel right. If I were myself a man I would say homoflexible, but I am not. There are some non-binary specific words but I extremely do not like them. I quite like polysexual, and I am definitely queer, but they do not convey the “mainly I like men” part, which is important to me.
Oddly enough, gay feels quite comfortable to me. I feel like my gender is such that a relationship with either a man or a woman would, in the abstract, be “gay”. A relationship with a non-binary person would obviously be gay. I am gay in the sense of “not straight”, since my relationships are definitely that. But when discussing specific relationships, saying “gay” while dating a binary person would lead people to assume I am also that gender, so it is still a label that I hold lightly.
But Wait There’s More. When I say “attracted to”, it’s kind of complicated really, because I am some kind of asexual (mainly the grey-ace kind). I am also flexibly monoamorous and flexibly vanilla.
Before I started exploring my gender identity, I was quite strictly attracted to men only. The more I pushed the boundaries of what I understand gender to be, the less sense gendered attraction made. What does it mean to be attracted to men if men can be anything? As a gender non-conforming AFAB person, I also felt some weird pressure to be attracted to women (TERF voice: trans AFAB people are really just lesbians with internalised homophobia!!11!). Nevertheless, I am still mainly attracted to men, though there are occasional exceptions.
I didn’t date for the two years after I came out as non-binary because I did not feel like it was possible to be seen or loved as my gender. This is why when trans and non-binary people get together, we talk about dying alone with our cats. I felt like my options were dating:
A) straight/bisexual men and be read as a straight woman, or
B) queer women and be read as a lesbian, or
C) gay men or straight women who, even if they wanted to date me, would make me feel constantly inadequate.
All these options are unpleasant, B being somehow the least unpleasant, so I actually tried to do that despite rarely being attracted to women. It didn’t work out though, and for two years I thought of my sexuality as vaguely interesting but ultimately irrelevant, because I am unlovable. I thought this until I moved countries and met people who did see me as my gender, and liked me the way I am.
So here’s a funny story: in between starting this post and right now, I have acquired… a boyfriend! What! We’ve been talking about ways for him to refer to me. I looked at a bunch of “gender neutral things to call your partner” lists but didn’t like most of them for one reason or another. Partner works for me but seems more serious than boyfriend. I would like a direct equivalent to complete the form boyfriend/girlfriend/otherfriend. (Otherfriend is too funny to actually use imo.) This is an extension of the boy/girl/? problem, one solution of which is “enby” and “enbyfriend”, which I don’t like. For shorthand BF/GF/NF works quite well. I made a list of alternative words I like and want to practice using:
- Koramiko: from Esperanto. Heart+friend. Gender-neutral but also used for boyfriend. (koramiko/koramikino/koramiko)
- Amorato: from Ido. (amoratulo/amoratino/amorato)
- zefriend/theyfriend: Pronoun-based friends
- norefriend: from the proposed boy/girl/nore
- Imzadi: from star trek
- Herzmensch: German. Heart+person
- Freund*in: German. Pronounced with a glottal stop. (Freund/Freundin/Freund*in)
- Goyfriend: Girl+boy. Doesn’t work for us, would be perfect for the Gentile part of a part-Jewish relationship. Especially good if people mishearing it as boyfriend so you can say that without having to Get Into It every time is a plus for you.
- Birlfriend: not for me but leaving this in in case it works for you
- (name): as in, “Have you met? This is my William”. Cute.
Koramiko is probably my current favourite because it has existing meaning, sounds quite good, and also has the possibility for the plural koramikoj when referring to our relationship. However, it sounds distinctly non-English, and other people will not know what we are talking about. For general purposes I see us mostly sticking with “partner”, and sometimes “boyfriend” if we want to leave no possibility of being thought to be straight.
If I think too hard about these things I get sad that there isn’t a ready-made word, and think about having to “round off to the nearest gender” for legibility, which sucks. I hate having no words for myself. It is very difficult to exist without language for your existence, and that we have no common words for non-binary people’s love and relationships speaks to my feelings of being unlovable because of my gender.
The problem with using a non-standard word is that it feels alien because it comes without existing emotional meaning and cultural connotations, and we have to develop them ourselves through our own use. I also felt this way when I first started using they/them pronouns, and still feel this way about lots of terms of endearment. (I wrote about that here.) I think like everything else, the solution is to just pick one and keep using it until it’s no longer weird.
PS: I spent way too much time researching gendered nouns in Esperanto. Here’s my understanding of the situation: Most nouns are gender neutral. Traditionally -in- is added for women, rendering the root word itself effectively masculine, but few people do that nowadays, and it can be quite rude, like saying “female doctor” instead of just “doctor”. Eg: instruisto is now used for all genders instead of differentiating between instruisto/instruistino. Koramikino is somewhat of an exception, and people still rarely say koramiko for girlfriend, though they would not be wrong. So in practice koramiko is usually understood as boyfriend although it is gender-neutral. This works very well for me. For symmetry some people have suggested virkoramiko or koramikviro for boyfriend. Read more here (Esperanto) and here (English). On koramiko specifically here and here (both Esperanto).
This post was part of October’s Carnival Outside the Binary. A blogging carnival is when somebody proposes a topic and a bunch of people blog about it. This one is just starting out, I’m excited for future topics!