When I was 13, I decided to become a vegetarian until I realized I loved shrimp cocktail too much, so I became a pescatarian instead. There were things I missed, like buffalo wings and (obviously) tacos, but the most trying time in my vegetarianism was when I went on a month-long trip where the only vegetarian food option was corn schnitzel. Corn schnitzel is fucking gross. Everyone around me was eating shwarma and kefta and I was trying to figure out how much hummus I needed to make corn schnitzel not taste like corn schnitzel. I had committed to this way of eating and I wasn’t going to break it because chicken shwarma looked really great. I came back and ended up with a stomach parasite and a complicated relationship with food.
Then I had an epiphany. I did not understand why I was depriving myself of things that I wanted for the sake of staying in between defined lines. It’s a very hedonistic view, but I don’t really see the point in depriving myself of things if it’s what I want in that moment. This informs a lot of my outlooks on things like monogamy and sexuality and the reason why I’m never going to go on a juice cleanse.
Sexual identity is another set of labels that people use to set rules for themselves and each other. Having all of these different terms to describe sexual preference is supposed to be inclusive, but ends up being exclusive. Lesbians love when straight girls sleep with them, but hate when lesbians sleep with straight men. Straight men love watching girls hook up, but never talk about the times they come onto gay guys. Bisexuals think up new and creative terms for themselves because nobody likes bisexuals. Sapiosexuals are attracted to intelligence, regardless of gender, and pansexuals are attracted to people, regardless of gender. What’s the difference there? Does the term ‘sapiosexual’ exist just to make pansexuals feel shallow? Do we really need terms to describe what feature of a person attracts us? Can I start identifying as basicsexual? Because I really love girls that love J. Crew and SoulCycle. [You are so flirting with me right now, huh? — Amelia] And if you have a Longchamp bag and a summer house, I’m sprung.
For a really long time, I couldn’t say the word ‘lesbian.’ I stumbled on the word ‘gay.’ When asked about my sexuality, I’d usually just describe myself as “pretty gay.” I couldn’t fully commit and was basically subletting my sexuality the way that I sublet the nine apartments that I’ve lived in in the last three years. As much as I think a lot of that was my way of having one foot out the door because being gay is a big commitment, I also think much of it was tied to the word ‘lesbian’ and what it meant to me. The way I feel about the word ‘lesbian’ is the way some female celebrities balk at the word ‘feminist.’ Yeah, I think that sleeping with women is more fun than sleeping with men, but ‘lesbian’ just felt aggressive to me. It meant cargo shorts and short haircuts and going to WNBA games.
I grew up in a sex-positive household with very open-minded parents, but I was a self-hating lesbian. I refused to wear flannel, boots, buttondowns and vests, and I would not refer to myself as a lesbian. Even now, I am an adult, I write about being a lesbian every week, I am so far removed from anybody that could make me feel any sense of shame over my sexuality, but calling myself a lesbian still doesn’t feel that great. Amongst friends, I say it all the time, but I still can’t imagine describing myself as a lesbian to co-workers.
I love the word ‘queer,’ though. It’s a great word. It’s inclusive and forward thinking and it also makes for a really good cop out — for good reason. There are a lot of things we can call ourselves: straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual, sapiosexual, PoMosexual, ambisexual, trisexual, omnisexual, asexual, heteroflexible, and questioning, and the list goes on and on and on. There are so many reasons why all of these specific terms for sexuality exist. Maybe it’s to escape the social stigma that comes with one sexual identity or maybe it’s to show that we have a more evolved mentality, or maybe it’s to shun the idea that sexual preference is based on physical attributes, or maybe we just want a super specific word to identify with like you’re predominantly straight, but sometimes you dabble in same-sex lovin’ when Mercury is in retrograde. The fact that we need all of these terms to accommodate everybody’s sexuality is proof that sexuality is too complex and encompassing to be broken down and defined by words.
I can appreciate that labels have their value sometimes. It sets expectations for everyone around you. It’s a lot easier to say you’re one thing or the other than get into the deep details of sexual attraction. I don’t want to say I’d never sleep with a dude, but I’m not going to tell random straight dudes that because I don’t want them to think there’s a chance in hell. At the same time, we are headed towards a future where nobody should really care. At some point, it’s going to be socially acceptable to be attracted to whoever you want, coming out will be obselete, and you’ll never have to deal with assumptions about your partner’s gender. I know we’re headed there when Miley Cyrus can casually drop that she’s had relationships with women and leave it at that. Many of the girls I know currently going through their coming out process have a really hard time putting themselves in that box. Does identifying as a lesbian suddenly make their previous relationships with men obsolete? Are they any less attracted to women if they occasionally sleep with men?
I am a lot more comfortable with sexual ambiguousness than I am with the girls I know who have identified as a lesbian and then dated men. I think there’s something well-adjusted in the knowledge that you’re not going to fit neatly into a category, so it’s better to just not try. Sexual identity seems so antiquated and hierarchal in the same way that it doesn’t really matter how many people someone has slept with. As women fight social norms and become more sexually-empowered, it’s no surprise that the defined lines of sexual identity are becoming blurred. Women don’t need to set any more rules for themselves. That may be why they are so much more comfortable talking about attraction to the same sex.
We’re headed in a direction where we don’t need a dozen names for sexual identity (that we’re probably going to break anyways). And, frankly, I’m relieved. I studied sexuality, I think about it every day, and I still had to Google what ‘PoMosexual’ was.
By: Morgan Cohn