“Hi, I’m Sara and I’m 15. I’ve been trying to figure put my sexuality for a while and when people ask about my sexuality I just tell them ‘Oh, I’ve had a boyfriend for two years’ and they just leave it at that. When the truth is I’M CONFUSED AS ALL HELL!!! I love my boyfriend but I’ve never been interested in sex. Ever. And I think I’m Asexual but there’s also the factor of having had crushes on people of all genders and I don’t know if that makes me pansexual or what. Or Pan and Asexual? Advice?”
-Question submitted by Anonymous
Kara Kratcha Says:
Oh geeze. I have felt these feelings (confusion! conflict! ambivalence!) and given similar non-answers when people ask about my sexuality so many times. As I’m sure you know, I can’t tell you whether you’re asexual or pansexual or anything else. I can, however, tell you a little bit about how I felt when I was 15 and offer some advice about sexuality labels.
When I was 15, I barely knew any “LBGTQ” people. To make matters worse, almost all of the “LGBTQ” people I knew were gay men. There’s nothing wrong with gay men, of course, but the lack of queer representation in my life really limited my options in terms of possible sexuality and gender labels. (I know you didn’t ask about gender, but a lot of what I’m going to say applies to gender as well as sexuality.) I keep putting “LGBTQ” in quotation marks because, although I knew the letters in the acronym at 15, I didn’t hear the word “queer” as I understand it now until I was in college. As far as I was concerned, the Q stood for questioning. And honestly? 15-year-old me kind of liked “questioning” as a sexuality label.
In a lot of ways, you’re doing better than I was at 15. You have access to words like asexual and pansexual, and you’re not afraid to use them. That’s excellent! Unfortunately, with access to so many words comes pressure to pick the correct words. If it’s possible to figure out that you’re a (for example) biromantic polyamorous grey-ace nonbinary human, wouldn’t you want to know?
Sometimes you would. I bet you’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the truth about yourself. It feels good to find words that reflect how we experience the world. The thing is, words like asexual and pansexual are trying to capture the commonalities between many people’s experiences. Identity words allow us to form communities around shared truths. Identity words also don’t always provide for each person’s experiences all the time.
Having crushes on people of all genders and not experiencing any sexual attraction is an experience that some people would call panromantic asexuality. You can identify that way if you want to, but you don’t have to. For more asexuality words, you can check out this glossary from the Asexuality Archive. You might find something you like there.
My advice is to think about what you want out of an identity label. Who is your identity for? Is it for you, to help you understand your own experience better? Is it for your community, to help you find people like you? Is it for other people, to help you explain your experiences to them? (If you haven’t, it might be a good idea to discuss what you’ve been thinking about your sexuality with your boyfriend. A supportive partner probably wants to know what’s going on with you so that they can support you better.) No matter what you decide, how you use these identity words is up to you.
I also want you to remember that you don’t have to use the same label at all times with everyone forever. Explaining your complex feelings and experiences gets exhausting if you try to do it for everyone! You can tell people different things about yourself in different contexts. You can offer different levels of information about yourself to different people. You can decide on a label and change your mind in five minutes or five years. Let yourself use the words that feel good now, and give yourself permission to use different words later. Your future self will appreciate that!
You don’t owe anyone absolute consistency, and you don’t have to explain yourself to everyone who asks in order to claim the identity you want to claim. You’re pan or ace or queer or whatever enough because you say you are. Anyone who refuses to allow you to keep learning about yourself, preserve your energy for when you need it, and tell your truth how you want to is bad news. You can keep questioning as long as you want to.
Kara Kratcha studies English literature at a university in New York City. She recently applied to library school and tells everyone that she’s an aspiring librarian, but really she’s always wanted to be an advice columnist. (Kara would like to thank Everyone Is Gay for making hir dream come true.) If she had to pick a label, she would probably go with “genderfluid polyamorous demiromantic grey-ace,” but usually she just kind of shrugs. Right now (like, probably literally right now) Kara is working on hir senior thesis on representations of asexuality in Sherlock fan fiction.
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