Evolving Identities

josephine-amalie-paysen-341672CN: discussion of sexual and romantic identities, sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sexual arousal, labels

If you asked me when I was 16 what my sexuality was, I would have said straight.

I would have been lying.

I wouldn’t have meant to lie, at least not exactly, but there would have been a few things I didn’t mention when I answered that question. Like how I sometimes had crushes on girls. Or how I never thought of people as sexy and didn’t ever desire sex the way most people seemed to.

I wouldn’t have told you about that one time in 5th grade when me and three other girls pretended that two of us were guys, and we carried on, holding hands and flirting. I told myself that it didn’t matter if I was acting gay, everyone else in my class was gay so what did it matter? Granted, that was a truly erroneous statement, and I barely had a concept of what the word gay meant, but I was trying to justify liking a girl when I had a vague but menacing notion that it was not approved of in rural Tennessee.

If you had asked me that question at 16, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you about the girls I kissed in college because it hadn’t happened yet. I wouldn’t have been able to explain that we just did it for fun, none of us were anything but straight (because there was only straight and gay, right?), or that despite enjoying kissing them, as well as some guys along the way, I never had sexual feelings for any of them, something I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain.

So now that I am not 16, now that I have found my voice, I can tell you the truth:

I am not straight.

I did labor under the delusion that I was straight until my late twenties. It was then that I stumbled upon the word demisexual. This word seemed to describe me perfectly: a person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form a strong emotional connection with someone (from AVENwiki). This opened up all kinds of doors for me. It made me feel seen and understood and I no longer felt broken or weird for not desiring sex like most people seemed to.

It would take another couple of years for me to be fully honest with myself that demisexual was not the whole story of my sexual identity. During this time I was also transitioning from being an evangelical, Southern Baptist conservative to a spiritual, Two Commandments liberal, so my views on feminism and LGBTQIAP+/queer issues were solidifying. This led me to a greater understanding of human sexuality, namely that identity is fluid and that there is more than one kind of attraction.

So last year at age 30, I determined that my full identity was hetero-demisexual and biromantic, which meant that I was only sexually attracted to men after making a strong emotional connection, but that I was romantically attracted to men and women. That fell under the asexual umbrella term gray-ace, so that is what I started using.

A year later, gray-ace is no longer my preferred term. The reason is because no matter how much we may know ourselves, sometimes there is always more to learn.

Earlier this year, I was planning a presentation on asexuality, so I had to dive in deep in order to try and describe what being ace means to the many types of people that fall under the ace umbrella. In addition, I had to try and explain this to both ace and non-ace people. One of the key points of this presentation was that sexual attraction, sexual arousal, and sexual action are three different and separate things.

The more I understood about these three things, the more I realized that in my own sexual identity, I had been confusing sexual attraction with sexual arousal. I thought that because I was experiencing arousal (in my body) that meant I was experiencing attraction (in my mind). But while the two can correlate and happen simultaneously, they don’t have to, and I realized for the first time that I was not actually experiencing sexual attraction, which means I am simply ace, no other descriptors needed.

As to my romantic identity, I had some learning to do there too. Attraction can be a funny thing and mine is quite specific. There usually has to be some combination of facial features, outward presentation, and personality to ring my romantic/sensual/aesthetic attraction bells.

But I realized this extended beyond binary-identifying people, so I fall under panromantic. In queer communities, bi- is used to mean “more than two,” so biromantic still fits as well, but I’m trying to get comfortable using panromantic because it is more in line with how my romantic attraction manifests.

So it has taken me about five years to understand my own sexual and romantic identity to the point where I feel solid in the labels I choose to use. Does that mean they won’t change again at some point? No, but at least for now, I feel confident that I am representing myself in the truest way possible.

Identities evolve, and that’s okay. You should never feel ashamed about questioning who you are or how you relate to the world around you. It took me a long time to figure things out, but no matter how long it may take you, your journey and your identity are valid. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

For more information on asexuality, please visit
The Asexuality Visibility and Education Network.

To look up terms mentioned in this post, please visit the AVENwiki.

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Photo Credit: © 2017 Josephine Amalie Paysen via Unsplash

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