Exploring Sexual Identity by Arlyn Owens
A question many of us ask while growing up and, often, throughout our lives is- Who am I?
We spend years exploring what gives our lives meaning & purpose, chasing dreams, creating, seeking experiences, building friendships, relationships, a family, and perhaps a legacy. All in the search of the understanding and expression of our unique, snowflake-y selves. We create ourselves to the best of our abilities, in the context of our world.
Regarding sexuality, this is no different. Our sexual desires may fluctuate & change, from ‘vanilla’ to hardcore kink & BDSM; from straight-as-an-arrow, to asexual to pansexual & everything LGBTQIA+; from cis-gendered to anywhere on the vast spectrum of Trans-, non-binary, & fluid gender identities. The possibilities of sexual & gender expression is endless.
There is a well-known quote in the sex-positive community:
"Sexual Orientation is who you go to bed WITH.... Gender Identity is who you go to be AS"
But Where Do I Fit In?
It’s not surprising that some people might be confused.
Some may have no (conscious) idea. Some may have always known. Many are probably somewhere in between.
Sexuality & gender is an inseparable part of how we relate to ourselves & others, and how we experience the world. It guides who we relate to, who we love, who we connect with and what our social group becomes. It’s in how we dress, how we move, how we express ourselves. The world requests this knowledge of us, from official forms asking our gender & marital status, to pop-culture voyeurism.
People that do not fit an obvious template are questioned – Is he gay?, Is that a woman?, how do they have sex?, are they a couple?. Tabloids speculate on the genitals and sexuality of people with ambiguous non-cis gender expressions, and the romantic secrets of “friends”.
"Sexual Orientation is who you go to be WITH.... Gender Identity is who you go to be AS"
Humans like to sort. We categorise. It helps us to make sense of the world.
We sort safety from danger, pleasure from pain, friend from foe, yum from yuck. We try to create a sense of order, of understanding, with varying levels of success, in the infinitely complex chaos of the known universe.
A pitfall of this is- it often ends up in binary or black & white ways of thinking, when we know in reality, that humans spend a lot more time living the shades of grey (or rainbows!).
Do I Need An Identity?
In a word, No. Well, not one that’s defined in words, anyway.
You do you. But actively choosing to not be defined is, one could argue, also an identity.
Damn, you’ve got me there
But, that’s perfectly fine. You identify yourself however you like, however feels right to you. If labelling yourself doesn’t feel right, that’s fine. Be yourself, and let your feelings and personality demonstrate your beautiful essence.
Why Would I Bother With Labels?
Labels of how someone identifies can serve many purposes. Some of these may include:
- To understand that the way you are is a real, definable thing (e.g. that you are not alone)
- To express your unique personality
- An easy way to describe your preferences & experience of self to others
- To identify yourself to, and seek out similar people
- To feel a sense of belonging & community
- A socio-political identity or statement (e.g. for many people, identifying as ‘Queer’ can be a way of resisting restrictive definitions of gender & sexuality)
- A way of affirming your lived experience & felt sense of gender or sexuality
Importantly, choosing a way of identifying does not necessarily mean you will be that way forever. Your gender & sexuality may be unchanging, or it may not. They may be the same throughout your life, may change periodically, or may be fluid & ever-changing. It’s all good.
Your food preferences, fashion sense, career, relationships, interests & hobbies may change, so it makes sense that your sexuality and gender experience may change too. You’re allowed to experiment & explore, to change & evolve. Importantly, it’s never ok to dictate how another person should experience their own sense of self.
So, What If I Don't Want To Label Myself?
That’s perfectly fine. As mentioned, many people find there is a freedom provided by ambiguity & fluidity. You may choose to not be defined in explicit terms and express in the way that you choose in any given moment. Life is dynamic, so why try to define it?
Joie de vivre!
You might recognise yourself as some form of sexually or gender fluid, queer, grey, expansive, enthusiastic, or anarchic. You may choose to not define yourself in terms of sexuality & gender at all.
Michael Amherst is the author of a wonderful book called “Go the way your heart beats”, which is a meditation on desire & the value of orientation labels, and pulls no punches when it comes to how labels can be sometimes harmful, limiting & used against us. Here’s a quote:
“So, I feel solidarity with other queer people, but an affinity only with those who take how I feel as the last word on my own feelings; just as I feel affinity with those straight people who have no interest in policing the divide, because they know – either through me or their own experiences – both how porous and also, ultimately, how inhuman such a division truly is.”
How Do I Explore My Gender & Sexuality?
“Help! I think I’m…”
The internet is your friend here. We are more connected than ever before.
In the days before this, someone could go years before finding a community of like-minded people or find the words to define their experience. At best, people might have put an advertisement in a magazine, or be lucky enough to meet a friend-of-a-friend.
There are now thousands (millions?) of resources, books & communities online, which you can search to find information. There are non-government, professional peer-based organisations that provide information & community projects such as www.ACON.org.au. You can enter your sexuality & gender in most progressive dating apps & websites (Such as Feeld, Fetlife, Grindr, OKCupid & Bumble). You can search out personalities, professionals, influencers blogs & organisations that share knowledge & express themselves in social media.
If you don’t know of any, try googling some of the terms I’ve used in this article, or searching some hashtags on social media.
Alongside community & self-guided research, there are a growing number of sex-positive sexologists, therapists, coaches & educators out there, who would love to share their knowledge and support your exploration!
Or online publications.. ahem, like Le Journal, bonjour je suis Frenchie!
A great visual resource that breaks it all down is my Venn Diagram below:
Your sexual & gender identity can be as simple or complex as you feel is right for you. In fact, there are numerous studies which identify that the less a person feels they must conform to sexual & gender stereotypes, the more sexual & relationship satisfaction they feel. The freedom to be yourself is directly linked to satisfaction, joy & health… who’d have thought!?
Understanding and expressing yourself, in line with how you really feel inside is central to being a healthy, happy human. Talk to your trusted friends & loved ones, do some googling, seek out community, and have a read of the resources that will be coming up on Le Journal - more articles like this to come!
Bonne nuit, les amoureux
Arlyn Owens x