This past summer a friend of mine who I hadn't talked to in a while came out to me as asexual and bi-romantic. Beyond this, she asked me to co-author an article that discussed our own personal journeys with LGBTQA+ issues and publish it on Odyssey (she has asked to remain anonymous so she will be referred to in this article as "friend"). So, we met in a quaint little coffee shop one afternoon, and talked for hours about our stories. The following is an only slightly-edited version of our conversation (I left it as raw as possible). I should say, we have both been incredibly lucky to grow up with loving families in a very liberal town, and consequently neither of us have faced hardship anywhere close to that which many people face on a daily basis. That being said, these are still our stories, and I hope you enjoy, or at the very least learn something.
Friend: Tell me about your coming out story and how you knew you were pansexual.
Me: Throughout my childhood I wasn’t always questioning, but I remember having moments where I’d get a crush on a guy and I’d think "Oh ok, thank God I’m not gay." So there was always this sort of ever-present question of "How do I know for sure that I’m straight?" The summer before my junior year, I legitimately confronted it, and actually started questioning. I did a lot of research, I read a lot of posts online and started following some lesbian Youtubers. Eventually I came to the conclusion that I MIGHT not be straight...I don’t remember it super clearly anymore but if I thought I might be gay it didn't last very long, I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that if I wasn’t straight I was most likely bisexual because I knew I had had crushes on guys my entire life. I told my first friend in the fall, and throughout the year I told more and more friends. What I told them, and really the way I thought of it, was that I might be bisexual (which, if you think about it, is about the most ambiguous statement one can make). So, I really didn't feel completely sure of my sexual identity until the fall of my senior year. What confirmed it for me was finally having a crush on a really butch girl who just oozed lesbianism (because up to that point I hadn't had crushes on the stereotypical "lesbian-type." At some point after this moment of confirmation I told my therapist. I told my parents over the summer, right before I went to college, and I told my sister at college. A few weeks into college I started dating my ex-partner. They identify as non-binary (they don’t identify as a boy or a girl) so when I realized I liked them was when I started identifying as pan-sexual because that identity indicates that I can be attracted to people beyond the male/female binary.
What is your coming out story?
Friend: I think mine was more of a moderate thing. I was never really into anyone and I was more masculine I guess--I was into sports, I didn’t like dresses, I didn’t like pink. I also didn’t date anyone through most of high school. My sophomore year I briefly dated this guy that I was really close with at work. Turns out he is gay now and happily in a relationship. Clearly we weren’t meant for each other so we moved on. Then I had a really big crush on this guy for awhile, and I got my first real boyfriend the summer before junior year. Over winter break it got kind of rocky, we weren’t talking much, so we broke up. I was pretty devastated, and this is when I started questioning "Am I normal?"...I’m just not into sex, I don’t think sex is interesting. Although, like most people, I thought I was heterosexual. Around this time, I saw a video by Buzzfeed about asexuality--I think it was the Asexual Visibility and Education Network?
Me: Buzzfeed helps so much with this type of thing.
Friend: [On the Buzzfeed video] ...and I realized that it really describes who I am. Throughout high school I kind of kept this hush hush. Our high school had a strong Gay-Straight Alliance (now called Gender-Sexuality Alliance), but I didn’t really see myself fitting in with that crowd. Most of those people were outgoing and very interested in talking about their sexuality and I’m not very outgoing and my sexuality didn’t matter as much to me. In fact, I feel like in the LGBTQA+ community, I didn’t matter as much because my sexuality doesn’t really apply most of the time. This is why I didn’t start talking to people about it until college, when I realized I liked a girl and I felt like I had to tell people I was asexual because the girl I like is an active bisexual, which would pose some hurdles if we were to have a relationship. So now I identify as asexual and bi-romantic because I like boys and girls, and now I’m more open to talk about it.
Me: I thought of something while you were talking. When you said that you being asexual doesn’t "matter that much" did you mean that you personally don’t view it as a very defining feature of your identity or you’ve been taught to believe that it’s less important than some other sexualities?
Friend: I mean it doesn’t matter to me in that I wouldn’t walk in the front door and say "Hey, I’m asexual." I mean, I would mention it to somebody I was dating. Though it's important to remember that asexuality refers to a spectrum and some asexual-identifying people wouldn’t want to take part in sex under any circumstances, whereas others would be willing to please their partner. I think I fall more in the latter half of the spectrum. If I don’t mention it, people typically assume that I’m heterosexual... I don't always want the label of LGBTQA+ because sometimes if you’re actively part of the community, you’re stigmatized, or looked upon differently. If I don’t say anything people just think that I’m "normal."
Me: You mentioned that the LGBTQA+ community does often view some sexualities as being lesser than others [I realize now she said nothing of the sort], and I don’t think that’s the way it should be, I think every sexuality is equally valid.
Friend: One thing I do object to is that people assume the A in the acronym means “ally," whereas I actually think it should be "asexual" because asexuality is less of a norm than the assumed heterosexuality of an ally.
Now from the other end of the spectrum (as you identify as pansexual), do you find that your sexuality is something you bring up right away to people or are you more selective with who you share that information with?
Me: I generally only let close friends know come to think of it. It was different once I entered into a queer relationship because me telling people I was dating my ex was kind of like coming out to them. I mean, it would have been different if my ex were a girl, but they were still assigned female at birth so because it’s not a boy-girl relationship, I think of it as a queer relationship. I’ve told most friends at school...I don’t think I have too much of a problem telling people right off the bat. I mean, I feel a little awkward throwing it right out there because if I do I feel like people might see me differently or think "why is did she share that, why is it necessary to know?” However, if people ask me I certainly don’t hesitate to tell them.
Friend: Yeah, me being asexual doesn’t affect the people around me, asexuality only affects if I have sex or not...the absence of sex doesn’t affect who I’m attracted to romantically. I feel like if I’m out dating a girl then I appear as though I’m a lesbian, and if I’m out dating a guy people would assume I’m heterosexual.
Me: If I were to date a guy now, I would have to get used to people thinking I was straight again, it would be a real mental transition. I don’t know if it bothers me if people think I’m straight...I suppose I would appreciate it if people didn’t automatically assume that if I’m with a guy I’m straight, at least it would save me from surprising them when I tell them I’m pansexual. Perhaps another reason I would appreciate them knowing that I’m pansexual is that then they would know that they’re friends with and being respected by somebody of a minority and that for that minority I’d be representing nothing but compassion and care.
Friend: I feel that I’m not queer enough to be part of the “movement.” Often you’ll see people wearing really bold outfits in Pride parades, for example, but I look pretty damn normal. Although, I suppose I still have a right to be part of the community.
Me: Can we talk about stigma around queer stereotypes? For example, the stereotype of a gay male is often extraverted and bubbly, etc. and "everybody wants a gay guy best friend," whereas the stereotype for lesbian women is often more reserved and intimidating and there’s not the same urge to be friends with a lesbian as there is to be friends with a gay man. It sucks because if you’re a gay man and you don’t fit that stereotype you come off as less fun or possibly even less gay and you aren’t delivering what people expected of you. I don’t know what the stereotype for an asexual would be...perhaps somebody who isn’t interested in much romantic connection at all?
Friend: Some gay men are very masculine and they could "pass" as straight guys, until you see them holding hands with their partner, which is really cute.
Me: --I actually have a problem with people calling gay couples "cute" but we can talk about that in a minute--
Friend: I just mean that they [the gay couple] is just really happy with who they are, and valuing somebody and having them equally value you back is cute.
Me: Yes, I agree that’s cute
Friend: People view gay relationships as cute in a way that they don’t view gender queer or asexual relationships as cute. When you were in a relationship with your ex-partner, how did people from the LGBTQA+ community treat you?
Me: Hmm, they were generally supportive--what I was going to talk about before is that when gay people introduce their partner others will often respond with "oh how cute" or "you guys are amazing" and I have a problem with that because it shows that they’re still treating gay couples differently than they would treat a straight couple. In a way, I think their excessive sweetness is masking their discomfort with the topic. I’ve had a couple friends who I think just aren’t as familiar with gay people in general tell my ex and I that we’re really cute (which we are), but I think LGBTQA+ people in general don’t do that as much and understand that we’re just a couple. Although they still do to a certain extent…
Friend: I see what you're saying about how calling gay couples cute can be problematic. It's sort of like they're saying "I don't know what I’m supposed to call you guys but I’m going to compliment you because I don’t know what else to say."
Me: This relates to what we talked about in my disability studies class--it’s actually very problematic to call people with disabilities inspirations because, for example if somebody with cerebral palsy climbs a mountain and you’re like "oh, you’re so amazing," it shows that you originally expected less of them and that’s not fair to them. I guess it’s showing respect, but the bottom line is that you view them as different than the normal. We won’t have reached true equality until we’re actually treating people the same. Until we stop calling them "gay weddings" and just call them weddings!
Friend: Exactly! I mean, do you really need to point out that it’s a relationship between two people of the same gender? It’s just a relationship between two people who love each other.
I have a question. Did your parents ever ask if you were gay? Because my mom did...multiple times.
Me: Haha no, but my grandmother did! It was awkward because I wasn't even out to myself at that point.
Friend: Going from bisexual to pansexual, did you notice any differences in the way you view yourself?
Me: Honestly I’m still in the habit of calling myself bisexual because I identified as that for longer than I’ve identified as pansexual. When I told my parents that I was dating my ex I also told them that I hence had started identifying as pansexual, but I didn’t get to see their reactions because that interaction was over text. I haven’t really noticed anything with my friends. I have a lot of personal theories on sexualities, I think my views are changing but for a little while I didn’t really believe that anybody was truly straight or truly gay, I thought it was too extreme and unlikely for somebody only to be attracted to people of one gender. Now I don’t want to discredit their sexuality if they’re saying that they’re gay or straight, but if you think of it as a spectrum where one end of the spectrum is gay and one end is straight, and people fall somewhere in the middle, or outside of it, I just think it’s unlikely that so many people would be at the very, very end of the spectrum, like it’s more likely that they’d fall in between. Although, I think SOME people are going to fall at the very end of the spectrum, and perhaps the way humans are genetically designed most people truly do fall at the very end of the spectrum. I suppose the best thing to do is to take everybody’s identity at face value and not question it, like they are what they say they are, end of story. Though, personally I do think that a lot more people than those who identify as queer have the ability to be attracted to people of the same sex, they just haven't been able to be honest with themselves or others because of the stigma surrounding queer identity.
Friend: I agree with the spectrum thing. I also think that people who are towards the end of the spectrum, if they get a crush on somebody of the gender that they are not typically attracted to, they feel this societal pressure to continue identifying as straight or gay.
Me: I’m not here to tell people what to identify as, and I know plenty of people "experiment in college" and they have been attracted to somebody of the same gender once and they still identify as straight, and that’s fine, you can identify as whatever you want to identify as.
Friend: Yeah, my current crush on a girl started as me just thinking she was like the best person ever, and then I realized I probably wanted more than a friendship with her...I never had that boy-crazy phase. And I don’t understand it, just because I don’t have that attraction.
Me: [Jokingly] I think you’re more advanced than the rest of us. I think getting distracted by crushes is a hinderance and you have risen above it. I suppose you need a sexual drive to continue the population, but not even in today’s world, you can adopt.
Friend: When people asked me who I had a crush on I would think "oh, this guy’s pretty nice, I guess I have a crush on him" and I would always feel like I was SUPPOSED to have crushes and I just didn’t. Like I “should” have a boyfriend.
Me: Society needs to stop telling people what they "should" be doing and just let you do you.
Me: I guess I experienced that with celebrity crushes. For whatever reason I have way more celebrity crushes on girls than on guys and because I didn’t know I had crushes on girls for a long time, I just thought I didn’t have any celebrity crushes and I remember thinking "what is wrong with me?" because I felt like everybody else had these crushes, so why didn’t I? I also remember feeling attracted to girls on tv and thinking "this shouldn't be happening."
I have another question. Do you hope the world gets to a point where we just say our sexualities when we introduce ourselves like we introduce ourselves with pronouns?
Friend: I have a friend who learned English as a second language and she originally learned English using “they/them” pronouns so now she has to correct herself to him or her, just like we have to correct ourselves to they/them.
Me: I've heard some people argue that we should come up with a new word instead of "they/them" because "they/them" can cause confusion as it is also used to refer to plural nouns (although, people can use context to figure this out). Honestly I think the real problem that is occurring when people make the argument that "they/them" is confusing is that they are uncomfortable with non-binary people, or perhaps don't even believe in it.
Friend: I mean, pronouns can give context.
Me: But so can non-binary pronouns. Also, there are plenty of descriptors to use other than gender.
One last thing that we haven't really brought up yet is that this is a very personal thing to talk about. When it boils down to it, people are taking issue with who we want to have sex with and who we have crushes on and we’re expected to talk about it in places as public as court, whereas straight people never have to do that. I just want to recognize that it takes a lot to talk about this and publish our ideas for the world to see.
Some other points that my friend brought up but I had trouble fitting into the edited conversation were:
- Society is over-sexualized
- Often gender gets clumped in with sex when people try to mentally categorize them
- On bi-romanticism: it’s difficult to connect with the LGBTQA+ community because you’re like "gay SOMETIMES" and "straight" other times
- People completely forget that you can choose not to have sex with anyone
- Having labels can be comforting
On that note, I will leave you to ponder and thank my friend one last time for this great article idea and a very interesting discussion.