In English who you are attracted to, who you sleep with, who you have relationships with, are all framed as your personal sexuality. This emphasis on the physical form, of the sex of the other person or persons, frames attraction, desire, and intimacy as a physical concept rooted in biology. Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual et al are framed around this normative construct, that the sex part of sexuality is the key to defining and shaping how we perceive it. Yes, demi-sexual and sapio-sexual (amongst others) cut through the physical descriptive nature attraction etc, but they still frame the narrative around biology. It becomes how you relate to the world, what label you and others assign to you, a personal definition as much defined by the person you desire as it does about yourself.
Yet, when we talk about gendered identities we talk about self-understanding, about how we ascribe ourselves and wish to be defined by others. Our attractions are rooted in what we can see, touch, smell, yet on first sight we have no inherent understanding of the other person’s gendered identity. Our assumptions about our sexuality, other people’s assumptions about our sexuality, are based on the physical form because that is what language and semantics have taught us is the key to understanding our desires and others. Gendered selves do not figure in the semantics of attraction because as a society we have constructed desire purely in the biological.
For a man to have a vagina and for another man who has a penis to find him desirable queers up the language we use precisely because we put so much emphasis on the biological. Logically, a man attracted to and desired by other men linguistically defines them as homosexual if they interact and connect, as perceived by outside observers. Ask them as they entwine and they may define their desire, their intimacy, as something queer, something bisexual, something other. Neither’s gender identity factors into how we describe this moment, yet the fact one has a vagina and the other a penis would cause some to call them a heteronormative moment invalidating either or both perceived sexuality.
The labels we ascribe to desire, intimacy, and attraction all flow from a societal need to understand, square off, and bound the human experience. As a concept sexuality exists as a tool of othering, as a means to box and corral ways of existing as a human being we may not comprehend or understand through our lived experiences. I only use queer to describe myself because to say I like who I like cuts across most people’s understanding of their own sexualities. This is why we use sexuality and labels as terms of reference, short, simple, easily digestible. To say that you live femmes of all body types, or that you are into penis owning bears, or that you lust after all the people yet never what to be in a relationship with anyone except a stone butch; this is the beautiful complexity of the human experience, and the labels we use fail to map out this wonderful messiness.
So why frame it based on sex at all? Why not frame it on gender, frame it around femme/masc, rather than penis/vagina? Genderality does not easily trip off the tongue, sounds foreign to our ears, yet cuts across the biological rootedness of sex. It becomes about who the person is inside and who they express themselves. It deconstructs heteronormative assumptions that attraction is based on genitals, that for a man to desire/love a penis owning woman somehow diminishes his manhood and masculinity. He sees her, he desires her gender expression, and while he may well lust after her body, it is the inherent gendered self that brings the two of them together. Heterogenderal as compounded as heterosexual, yet comes closer to defining their relationship in its panoply.
Semantics are used for a reason, words have impact because we allow them to, and core societal concepts such as sex and sexuality are rooted because they simply explain what it is to be a person who desires (or does not desire for asexual). If the word transsexual was not already taken within the trans* lexicon you could easily ascribe it to same sex attraction, as it is on the other side of cissexual/heterosexual. How we frame language matters because it gives power and perceived validity to those who wield and use it. Homosexual is loaded with meaning precisely because it was viewed as other and on the other side of normative. Heterogendered carries the same connotations as heterosexual, yet somehow also feels subversive because it invites in those who would otherwise be deemed queer and verboten.
It should not matter what labels or semantics we ascribe to ourselves, yet in the self-definition we are saying as much to our audience as we do to our inner voice. The declaratory act of coming out, of stating desire beyond the heteronormative, highlights that it is other people who are the issue, not the self. If desire, attraction, intimacy, love, relationships, families, and heartbreak were all a matter of everyone simply being then there would be no need for labels, no need for pressure, no attempt at trans* panic defences. No need to cauterise the cuts and bruises, set the broken bones, bury the dead. For those who say that language does not have power I remind them that the very words used to describe homosexuals and trans* folk have been weaponised for millennia to force us, compel us, to normalise and be gendered selves that we are simply not. Language may not physically wound, but it instigates, incites, and mentally wounds long after any physical attack wears off. For every person who lives their authentic selves there are multitude who remain hidden because words kept them from being who they are, from loving, from living.
When we talk about sexuality we frame the conversation for the observer, for those who want to know, not because the labels used precisely fit the human experience. Alfred Kinsey’s scale attempted to map out a scale ranging from hetero- to homosexual, yet along the way as we use it we forget that there seven billion people on the planet and each of us has desires unique to each. We expect language to define us because that is what we use language to do; in using sexuality as a framing of self we ascribe ourselves to a particular camp knowing that it is only a pale shade of who we actually are. Maybe genderality is a better way of framing desire and attraction, but it still has the same limitations, it is just a different vocabulary that is alien on the ear, as homosexual and cisgender once were.
This is why each of us has the right to frame and reframe our desires, lusts, loves, and relationships as we see fit without having to fallback on ill-fitting lexicons. Others may be confused, perplexed, and potentially angered by this mode of thinking because they want to understand, but if they fail to comprehend it is on them, not you. I like who I like, and that really should be the end of it.