Some people like labels, and some people don’t. I’ve found that the majority of people who don’t are people who’ve never worried about what theirs might be.
It’s true; we do have many labels used to describe gender and sexuality. But that’s not a bad thing. It means that people can keep searching until they find a word that fits them. And if you’ve never struggled with your own labels, you can’t understand the relief that provides.
You probably know the basics – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender. They’re easy. But you might not know pansexual, polysexual, the whole spectrum under the term asexual, and the even bigger spectrum under the term genderqueer. And that’s not even starting on romantic orientations.
So allow me to explain.
Pansexual means attraction regardless of gender identity. You have the physical capability to be attracted to anyone (but not everyone).
The difference between pansexual and bisexual is a common question, and everyone has a different answer. But really, all you need to know is that if someone identifies as either pansexual or bisexual, then that is what they are and you need to respect that.
Polysexual is similar. It means attraction to multiple genders (so someone who previously called themselves a lesbian may change to polysexual to include anyone with a vagina, regardless of gender identity).
If a person is asexual, it means they don’t experience sexual attraction at all. There’s a whole host of terms under the asexual umbrella, including demisexual (sexual attraction only when a strong romantic bond has been formed) and grey-asexual (sexual attraction only in specific cases, perhaps only towards one person). Asexual people can still be in fulfilling romantic relationships.
Then, of course, there’s romantic attraction, which is entirely different. Romantic attraction refers to people you are interested in dating. A person can be panromantic (romantic attraction to all genders regardless of gender identity), biromantic (romantic attraction to all genders, but not regardless of gender identity), polyromantic (romantic attraction to multiple genders), homoromantic (romantic attraction to the same gender), heteroromantic (romantic attraction to the opposite gender), or aromantic (no romantic attraction at all). Romantic attraction doesn’t necessarily line up with sexual attraction – it is possible for a bisexual person to be heteroromantic, for example.
Now we’ve covered sexuality, we have to start on gender. Cisgender is the term for people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender is the opposite. Genderqueer covers a whole host of terms, listed below.
An agender person doesn’t identify as any gender at all. A bigender person identifies as two genders, sometimes at the same time and sometimes switching between. A genderfluid person identifies as all genders, often changing throughout the day. This can lead to dysphoria (discomfort with physical appearance, mindset, or how you are perceived socially). Dysphoria is common amongst transgender and genderfluid people, but if a person doesn’t experience it, their identity is no less valid.
The important thing to remember is that transgender people are the gender they identify as, and they always have been. A transwoman doesn’t want to be a woman. She isn’t changing from a man to a woman, and she wasn’t born a boy or in a boy’s body. She just happened to be assigned male at birth.
The important thing to remember as a cisgender, heterosexual person, is to always be respectful of someone’s identity and personal pronouns, and never ask any questions about their gender or sexuality that you wouldn’t expect to be asked about your own.