“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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"So I currently identify as pan/demi. But sometimes I feel asexual, or straight, etc. Is sexuality-fluidity a thing? Or does that fall under being pansexual?"
- Question submitted by Anonymous
I think this is a pretty subjective question. I call myself a gay, but I know full well I’m totally attracted to humans that would make it so I don’t “fit” that description. HOWEVER, that is the word I choose and the word I like and the word that makes me feel comfortable.
I don’t think we created these labels because we wanted to define the few categories there were so each person could pick the ONE CATEGORY they fit into. I don’t think that makes sense. I think the words were created so we could recognize that the human experience isn’t just ONE THING. We have these words so that we have the ability to recognize there are people who experience life and feels the same way we do. Or at least, in a similar way.
You’d be surprised to find how many people feel exactly how you feel. In fact, there are so many books and academic papers and essays written about sexual fluidity and how troublesome it can be to try and fit yourself into one tiny little box of a category.
If it makes you feel better to say you’re pansexual, and to define what that means to you, go for it. Your identity is just that, it’s yours. I identify as gay, to me, that means I am primarily attracted to cisgender ladies, but I would fucking marry Janet Mock in a heartbeat and I would make out with Zac Efron for HOURS. So, does that mean I can’t claim my own identity? NOPE. I AM WHO I AM AND WHO I AM IS A GAY BASICALLY MOST TIMES.
This is exactly why identity is the best and the worst all in one confusing package.
Firstly, Anon, if all of the feelings you have fall under what you mean when you say ‘pansexual,’ then f*ck yea, it all falls under pansexual! That’s what Dannielle is saying about identity being ours to claim and define. If you tell someone you are pansexual and then they declare that such an identity means you cannot also be asexual or demisexual, then they are misinformed. Who you are attracted to and how you prefer to act on those attractions are not dependent on one another, nor do they need to be connected in the same way for each human being. That wouldn’t make any SENSE. Being asexual or demisexual does not and cannot make you any less pansexual. COME ON YOU GUYS.
Also, the very base definition of the word pansexual is to suggest that gender isn’t something that explicitly determines your attraction to another person. I don’t use the word pansexual in identifying myself to others but I sure as hell don’tthink that gender plays a dominant role in who I find attractive (or at least not in the ways that society seems to think it would). Why don’t I use the word to self-identify? I have NO idea. Words are hard.
However, this isn’t about me, it’s about YOU, Anon. You may also recognize feelings that set off your ‘straight’ alarms a little more fiercely than the rest at times because a) they are the most identifiable since they are reflected everywhere, or b) you are afraid that those within the LGBTQ community will exclude you if you aren’t “gay” or “pan” or “whatever” enough to fit into the community (on this note I will hold back my angry diatribes). Maybe it’s both things, maybe it’s neither or something else entirely, but I can tell you this —- if the word pansexual makes sense to you and your feelings, then that word belongs to you, and it can include being demisexual and asexual if you want it to, and it also certainly includes feeling attracted to all genders — even if your brain might signal some as “straight.”
Lastly, you asked if sexuality is fluid.
You better f*cking believe it is.
Perhaps you want to know, can our identities and attractions change and shift given the space of time?
You better f*cking believe they can.
Maybe, still, you wonder if all of us have a responsibility to each other and ourselves to respect those shifts and changes and identities?
YOU BETTER F*CKING BELIEVE WE DO.
"Hey, so I came out to my parents as both genderqueer and pansexual last week (I’m 14). Today my mum went clothes shopping with me and didn’t make MANY comments when I went to the male section of the shops. Until, on the way home, I asked if she could buy me a binder, and she started crying. I’m AWFUL at talking to my parents, and I cant get out any of the words important to this conversation (sexuality, gender, binder, queer, etc.) What can I do? Please help me."
- Question submitted by PridefullyQueer
I always suggest writing your feelings down when you can’t communicated them properly. Your mom / parents are going to feel pretty sensitive because this is all HELLA new to them. I mean, you’ve been feeling it, thinking about it, discovering what it means, etc for weeks/months/years and you JUST told them recently. We all need time to process things when it comes to gender / sexuality because we just aren’t used to thinking about these things.
Part a. Your parents are clearly trying, if your mom went shopping with you, that is HUGE. There are so many parents that would either (1) give you $50 and send you on your way, (2) tell you not to buy “boy clothes,” (3) buy you clothes without asking what you wanted, making you feel 1000x worse.
Part b. Your parents want to understand and communicate, but right now this is all new and they are confused and they don’t know what to say. WHICH IS FINE because you don’t know what to say. You have all these feelings you want to talk to them about, but no clue how to say the right thing OR how to respond when your mom bursts into tears on the freeway.
Write a letter. Say the things you want to say, tell them you understand it’ll take time until they totally get it, tell them you want to have these conversations but you don’t always know which words to use, appreciate them for being supportive, let them know you’re willing to talk, give them mad props for being amazing, accepting, loving and wonderful parents.
They don’t totally get it right now, but they’re working towards an understanding and they will get there.
I agree one million percent.
First of all, you feeling really torn up about the fact that your mom burst into tears when you were just trying to communicate something about yourself makes complete sense. We all wish that those around us – and especially our parents – would simply understand us immediately, and be happy that we are working toward a place of understanding ourselves. But, like Dannielle, said, this is a different process for every person, parents included.
I think the absolute best thing you could do is to write that letter. Explain that you are still learning about yourself, that it is hard for you to talk about it sometimes, and that you understand that it might be hard for your mom as well.
Make this about how much you love each other and how much you want to share your journey with your mom because of how much you love her. The more she is able to focus on how incredible it is that she has a child who feels comfortable enough to try to speak about things, the more she will begin to be thankful, open, and patient with her own and your process.
Almost every parent forms a certain idea in their head of what their kid’s future will look like, and almost every parent has to adjust that picture to the actual reality of their child’s life. Your mom is going through some feelings, likely related to those pictures she had in her head, but you can work with her to help her form a new picture of the real you.
It won’t happen right away. There will be some slip-ups, and some moments that both of you wish you could take back. That’s okay. You will learn to better express yourself over time, and she will learn to better understand you.