a blog by J.M. Cottle
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Hallelujah, it’s raining labels

If you hate labels, this post is not for you.

Labels are simply adjectives that hold a lot of meaning for us. I could label myself blue-eyed, if having blue eyes was an important part of who I am, but for me the important adjectives are the ones that go against what is considered normal. This includes adjectives about gender, sexual orientation, romantic orientation, and relationship structures. There are others as well, but today I want to focus on them.

So, my friends, let’s play a game. I’ll give you a few lists of labels and define them as well as I can, and you pick which ones fit you or ignore the lot! Sound like fun? Let’s go!

[Edit, October 2015: Back when I wrote this post I got a ton of comments, a ton of people’s anger, and a ton of requests for edits. I changed definitions and learned things and it was generally good. I also got so anxious about the responses that I ended up not wanting to blog at all anymore. I’m back now, and I really wanted to delete this post. Instead, since lots of people said it was useful, I’ve done one final fix on some of the definitions and I’m closing the comments. I don’t plan to make any more changes. Take this as a historical document, if you like — a snapshot of my understanding between 2011 and 2015 — rather than some kind of definitive queer dictionary. Word use changes and new identities are created all the time. I won’t pretend I’m able to keep up!]

Step 1: Gender identity

Before we can find a label about how you relate to other people, we have to find a label that’s just about you. Gender is a good place to start. Buckle up, because this could get complicated.

Some gender identities

  • Genderless/Agender: What did you say? Gender? What’s that? I don’t think I have that…
  • Neutrois: I have one gender, which is neutral. And it’s usually said noo-TRAW, kind of French-like, or noo-TROSS, or noo-TROZ, or noo-TROYS, or noo-TROYZ. Take your pick.
  • Woman/Man: My culture’s idea of woman/man feels right to me, so that is my one and only gender. It is very nice to have society accept the existence of my identity! (The idea of woman and man varies around the world, but we grow up with these ideas, so within your own culture you tend to know it when you see it.)
  • Androgynous: I have one gender that is a mix of two, man and woman. Andro = man, gyno = woman.
  • Bigender: I have two genders, maybe including man or woman , maybe not.
  • Trigender: I have three genders, maybe including man or woman, maybe not.
  • Genderfluid: Some days I may be one gender, some days I may be another. Try to keep up.
  • Polygender: I have multiple genders, but not necessarily all of them. Poly = many.
  • Pangender: I have all the gender! Yay gender! Pan = all.
  • Genderqueer: My gender is unusual, and that is all I need to say about that.

Whew. This isn’t a complete list; I only included labels that I know about and understand, and you may disagree with some of my definitions. My own identity is genderless, so I have no personal experience with any of the others and can only use research and my knowledge of language to define them for you.

There are some other labels that you can use to describe yourself, too, and you can pick some of these if you like.

Related identities that don’t specify your gender

  • Transgender/Transsexual: When they assigned me a gender/sex at birth, they got it wrong.
  • Cisgender/Cissexual: When they assigned me a gender/sex at birth, they got it right.
  • Intersex: My body doesn’t fit the typical medical definitions of female or male.

Now that we’ve chosen some labels that describe only ourselves, we can move on to labels that describe how we relate to other people. Are you excited? I’m excited.

Step 2: Sexual orientation

One important way that we relate to other people is how our bodies respond to them, and one kind of response is sexual. Sexual attraction is something that I can’t personally understand, but allow me to consult my good friend, the dictionary.

sexual adj. of, characteristic of, or involving sex, the sexes, the organs of sex and their functions, or the instincts, drives, behavior, etc. associated with sex

attraction n. the act of attracting or condition of being attracted

Helpful, thank you, dictionary.

attract v. 1: to draw to itself or oneself; make approach or adhere 2: to get the admiration, attention, etc. of; allure

Okay, let’s put this together then.

sexual attraction n. admiring or being drawn to something based on sex, the sexes, or the organs of sex and their functions

That sounds pretty good. Let’s use that. It’s time to find a sexual orientation label!

Some sexual orientations

  • Asexual: I don’t experience sexual attraction. The way you feel about people you’re not sexually attracted to? That’s the way I feel about everyone.
  • Demisexual: When I get to know someone really well and like them a lot, I can start to feel sexually attracted to them, but otherwise I don’t experience sexual attraction.
  • Gray-asexual: I’m kind of asexual, but kind of not. Black and white thinking sucks anyway.
  • Homosexual/Gay: I’m sexually attracted to people whose gender is the same as mine.
  • Heterosexual/Straight: I’m sexually attracted to people of one gender that’s different from mine.
  • Bisexual: I’m sexually attracted to two or more genders, or two groups of genders. Sometimes one more than the others. Bi = two.
  • Polysexual/Multisexual: I’m sexually attracted to many genders, but not necessarily all of them.
  • Pansexual: Gender doesn’t factor into my sexual attraction, so people of all genders are eligible. Pan = all.
  • Omnisexual: I’m sexually attracted to anyone/anything that can consent. Omni = all.
  • Queer: My sexual orientation is unusual, and that’s all I need to say about that.

Related identities that don’t specify your sexual orientation

  • Nonlibidoist: I don’t have a sex drive, and that’s all right. Libido = sex drive.
  • Hyposexual: I have a low sex drive, and that’s all right. Hypo = below.
  • Hypersexual: I have a high sex drive, and that’s all right. Hyper = above.
  • Sexually abstinent: I choose not to have sex. This may be for religious reasons, medical reasons, safety reasons (STIs and unwanted pregnancies suck), or because I just don’t want to have sex, okay?
  • Selfsexual/Autosexual: I’m not interested in having sex with other people, but I do like to have sex with myself (i.e. masturbation).

Got your labels? Good, now it’s time for…

Step 3: Romantic orientation

Another important way that we relate to other people is romance. I don’t understand romantic attraction all that well, and when I ask people how they define it they all give me different answers, so I’m just going to give you a kind of cop-out definition. (My good friend the dictionary just wants to talk about Romance literature, which is nice, but not helpful right now, dictionary.)

romantic attraction n. wanting a romantic relationship with a person

So what’s a romantic relationship? I know, ugh. I’ll deal with this in a later post. For now, I’m going to distract you with romantic orientations, ooooooh.

Some romantic orientations

  • Aromantic: I don’t experience romantic attraction. I may not even know what it is. Let’s be friends!
  • Demiromantic: You might lock eyes with someone across the room and immediately want to be with them, but I need to know someone really well before I feel romantic attraction.
  • Gray-aromantic: I’m kind of aromantic, kind of romantic. Black and white thinking is for squares.
  • Homoromantic/Gay: I’m romantically attracted to people whose gender is the same as mine.
  • Heteroromantic/Straight: I’m romantically attracted to people of one gender that’s different from mine.
  • Biromantic: I’m romantically attracted to two or more genders, or two groups of genders. Sometimes one more than the other.
  • Polyromantic/Multiromantic: I’m romantically attracted to many genders, but not necessarily all of them.
  • Panromantic: Gender doesn’t factor into my romantic attraction, so people of all genders are eligible.
  • Omniromantic: I’m romantically attracted to anyone/anything that can consent.
  • Queer: My romantic orientation is unusual, and that’s all I need to say about that.

You may have noticed that romantic orientations have basically the same structure as sexual orientations. That’s because the only people who usually concern themselves with romantic orientation are asexuals, who wouldn’t use the word “homosexual” to refer to themselves, for example. Most non-asexuals use their sexual orientation to apply to romance as well. That’s why there are words like gay and straight, which can be used for sexual and romantic orientations alike.

Of course, there are non-asexual people whose sexual and romantic attractions don’t line up, and this list can be useful for them, too. A woman who doesn’t feel romantic attraction to anyone but is sexually attracted to men would be an aromantic heterosexual. I have a character who is sexually attracted to women and romantically attracted to men; he could call himself a heterosexual homoromantic, but he calls himself bi.

My own romantic orientation is aromantic, because I have no idea what romance is and I kind of suspect that it might not exist. More about this in another post. For now, let’s get into some really fun stuff: relationships themselves.

Step 4: Relationship structures

I’m going to write a whole post about my views on relationships, so this is just about the labels for romantic ones.

  • Single: I’m not in a romantic relationship, either because it doesn’t fit into my life right now, I can’t find one, or I’m just not interested.
  • Open relationship: I have a committed romantic relationship, but we are each free to have romantic and/or sexual connections with other people, depending on our agreements.
  • Monoamory/Monogamy: I have one romantic relationship/marriage at a time, with one other person. Society is built to cater to my needs, and it’s very nice for me. Mono = one, amor = love, gamy = marriage.
  • Polyamory/Group marriage: I have romantic relationships/marriages with more than one person at once, with the full knowledge and consent of all involved. Society thinks that cheating is better than what I’m doing, but society sucks. Poly = many. Polyamorous folks usually don’t use the grammatically correct word polygamy for marriages with more than one person, because of the cult connotations.
  • Polyfaithful/Polyexclusive: I have one romantic relationship with multiple people, and all of us are in love with each other. This is a specific form of polyamory.

Does one of these relationship labels fit you? They don’t really fit me that well, so don’t feel like you have to pick one.

Step 5: Putting it all together

The fun part is when you get to list all of your labels in one sentence and sound like the biggest freak in the world (in the best way). If you want to see some examples of this, go no further than the profiles on Genderfork. What would your string of labels include?

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