Over New Year, I had the following conversation while I was away doing youth work.
Youth: are you a lesbian?
Me: nope, I’m queer.
Youth: so you’re a lesbian.
Me: no, because I don’t just fancy women…
Youth: so you’re bisexual?
Me: um, no, it’s complicated…I’m asexual.
Me: *braces self, commences long explanation of asexuality and the difference between romantic and sexual attraction*
This is exactly the reason I prefer to identify as queer – the long explanation of exactly who I’m attracted to and in what way is exhausting. And honestly, irrelevant to anyone who isn’t a) dating me or b) trying to date me (which by the way, I’m flattered, but very taken). That said, as an attempt to try to explain why queer is such a useful shorthand, I’m going to try to explain how different types of attraction work. For me personally. Please don’t take this as a blanket explanation, attraction is wibbly-wobbly and confusing, and not everyone experiences it the same way.
Alright, so since I mentioned the asexuality thing, I guess we should talk about sexual attraction. That is, wanting to have the sexy times with a specific person. If you’re sexually attracted to someone, you want to do sexy things with them specifically. I’ve heard this is a thing that happens…(this is an asexuality joke. because i don’t ever want to do sexy things with people. because i’m super duper asexual. try to keep up.) Anyway, being asexual means you (or rather, I) don’t ever feel that. I never look at someone and think ‘yep, I’d like to put my naked body near theirs’. (NB, asexuality is a slippery fish and some asexual people have sex, for various reasons, but the point is that they’re not sexually attracted to anyone.)
‘But Elleni, you said you’re into multiple genders of human! How can that be the case if you don’t want the sexy times?’ Excellent question, imaginary second half of this conversation. For me, the answer to that is romantic attraction – i.e. wanting to do romantic things with a specific person. I realise that ‘romantic things’ vary from person to person – for me, that includes stuff like cute dinners out and holding hands in the park and kisses on the lips, but what makes something romantic is basically that one or both parties think it’s romantic. I told you attraction was wibbly-wobbly. Anyway, as I was saying, I’m romantically attracted to multiple genders of human (please don’t be awful about ‘multiple genders’. thanks.) This is made more complicated by another fun label I have collected, which is demi-romanticism. This essentially means that you (or, again, I) don’t feel romantically attracted to someone until you have an emotional connection with them. I realise this sounds kind of intuitive, and like The Millennials have made up a word for a thing that everyone experiences, but…love at first sight is apparently a thing? and so is going on a date with someone you’ve never met? and so is asking someone to be in a Relationship with you having only been on a few dates with them? All of which are things I would argue are romantic attraction without an emotional connection, and are therefore things I do not understand.
But wait! There’s more! Yeah, sorry, I’m not done with Attraction 101 yet. If you’re still here, give yourself a tiny round of applause.
Sensual attraction is a weird one. It basically means wanting physical affection with a specific person, in a non-sexual way. So that might mean cuddles, holding hands, kisses – whatever you personally define as non-sexual contact. This is a particularly confusing one when you’re sensually attracted to someone but not romantically attracted – you might want snuggles and hand holding with someone but without any romance. Which is basically what close friendship is for a lot of people, but for various reasons I am not super keen on physical affection with most people, so if you get cuddles from me, you should feel special.
Okay, last one, I promise. I’m not going for an exhaustive list here. But this is an important one for me personally, because for a long time I thought this is what people meant when they said they were sexually attracted to someone. Aesthetic attraction is when you think someone is pretty/cute/handsome/etc etc, but you don’t want to do anything about that. So like, I think this girl in one of my seminars is super pretty, but I’m not going to ask her out or anything.
I have no idea if this has made any sense, but hopefully it’s at least explained why ‘queer’ is so much more convenient…and also why ‘lesbian’ or ‘bisexual’ aren’t quite right.
My favourite explanation of the difference between choosing labels for yourself and having someone decide what you should identify as is this: as any cat owner will tell you, choosing to get in a box and being put in a box are very different things. I’ve chosen to get in lots of little boxes, but for convenience, I’ve put them all in a bigger box labelled ‘queer’.
PS. I promise I didn’t write this as a practice for explaining asexuality and aromanticism in my dissertation. Mostly. (My dissertation is about queer relationships between women in Austen novels. If you care.)
PPS. I don’t mind explaining some of this stuff more, but maybe Google first? Also, don’t be straight-up terrible. Thanks pals.