Sexuality is a huge part of our lives, especially for those of us who do not ascribe the majority of straightness. It defines who we are sexually attracted, the thoughts we have about those people and the sexual acts we might enjoy with them. Most people are born into straightness. They are attracted to people of the opposite sex; therefore, they created society around them. However, there are millions of people like me who are not straight. We are queer or Gender & Sexual Minorities (GSM), and we have the privilege of exploring who we are through the prism of our sexual orientation.
In recent decades, tolerance and acceptance of queer folk has dramatically increased in western Europe. It has come through greater understanding and the power of the shared experience by those who live their lives proudly. Despite the great leaps that have been achieved, there is still work to be done. Those of us who are LGBT+ still face discrimination both from the state and from individuals in society, not to mention religions. We are always asked basic questions about our very existence. Even told it is a phase or something fashionable or that we chose this lifestyle. These discriminatory attitudes can only ever be challenged with greater understanding.
Fundamentals of sexual attraction
Here is my understanding of the fundamental sexual orientations. Two forms of attraction contribute to our overall sexuality: sexual attraction & romantic attraction. The sexual attraction deals with who we are attracted to physically, whilst romantic attraction is who we are romantically attracted to on an emotional and mental level. For most people, those two attractions match up. But not for everyone. Let’s start with sexual attraction.
- Gay – To be gay is to be a man who is physically attracted to another man. They are attracted to someone of the same sex as they are. It is the reverse of the straight man. It is a guy who wants to have sex with another guy.
- Lesbian – To be a woman who is physically attracted to another woman. They are attracted the same-sex as them. It is the reverse of the straight woman. Simple right?
- Bisexual – Bisexuals are not exclusively attracted to either sex, but are attracted to both. They find both the male and female form sexually attractive. They will have sex with either. Unfortunately, bisexuals are subjected to erasure because some people (especially within the gay community) do not have the basic understanding that if you can be exclusively attracted to the same or opposite sex, then you be attracted to both. It is not helped by homosexuals claiming they’re bisexuals to make their coming out transition easier (I am guilty of doing this).
- Asexuals (ACE) – the reality is that if you can be attracted to people sexually, you can also lack that sexual attraction. That is what asexuals are. They do not find other people sexually attractive. That does not mean that they are not interested in the aspects of relationships such as marriage or family or love, and it also doesn’t mean they don’t have a libido or want sex. It merely means that they lack the sexual attraction that drives most of our initial instincts regarding relationships. These folk also face erasure as bisexuals do (Microsoft Word offers its squiggly red line under the word ‘asexual’ as if I have spelt it wrong).
Those are the fundamental sexual orientations under the queer banner. Most people find that they can fit into one of those. However, sexual attraction isn’t the only part of sexuality, as mentioned above, because we are more than meat sacks. We have minds with consciousness, emotions and personalities within them. Romantic attraction crosses the physical boundary into the mental and emotional realm. We’ve all heard stories of straight people who are sexually attracted to the opposite sex, but they fall in love exclusively with someone of the same-sex. That’s not sexual attraction but romantic attraction.
Fundamentals of Romantic Attraction
Romantic attraction is more powerful than sexual attraction and plays a more critical role in defining our sexuality as a whole. Romantic attraction can offer incredibly overlap in terms of gender, emotions and personality. These are my understanding of romantic attraction in the queer world.
- Pansexual/pan-romantic -This is where the person is physically attracted to both sex but is, in fact, more attracted to the person within regardless of their gender. In basic terms, they are sexually bisexual, but they are romantically open-minded to understand that a sexual figure can hold a different gendered mind or no binary gender at all. To them, the sexual body matters less than the mind within.
- Gay/Lesbian – These folk, like me, match their romantic and sexual attractions. I am attracted to men in male bodies. Lesbians are attracted to women in female bodies.
- Homo-romantics/bi-romantics – You know I mentioned asexuals above. Some lack sexual attraction but are filled with romantic attraction. These folks can be exclusively romantically attracted to one gender, or they can be attracted to both.
- Aromantics – These people are not romantically attracted to anyone. They lack the ability to be romantically attracted. Instead, they could be sexually attracted to people, but just not have the desire for a deeper connection beyond the sexual. Or they could be both asexual and aromantic and simply wish for plutonic relationships with others.
Call for more exploration
There are so many different ways for humans to identify both sexually and romantically. These are just a basic understanding of the fundamentals. But it is only through further exploration and experience that we can learn more. Some dislike the labels spelt out above. They believe it is better if we don’t put people in boxes.
Yet boxes allow us to increase our knowledge of the human condition continually. It helps us to identify with each other through shared desires and experiences. Thereby it offers us a greater understanding of the nuance of human existence. We’ve started with the fundamental basics, but nothing is humanity is fully settled. There is always more beyond to be explored and understood.
What we need is patience and acceptance as we explore. The issue with society, especially around the exploration of sexuality and gender, is that it is obsessed with remaining in lockstep with current understanding and past thinking. There is a constant pushback on multiple fronts against further exploration. The carnage of culture wars is scorching the ground on the topic. The focus has to return to acceptance and compassion; otherwise, we might lose out on a greater understanding of ourselves.
Notes for the 2 diagrams above:
Diagram 1 – The system shown above depends entirely on the gender of the person using it. Ie a straight man would place his dot in the bottom right corner.
Diagram 2 – Again it depends on the gender of the individual on where they choose to place their dot.
The ideas developed above were done in random conversations between a gay guy (me) and an asexual pan-romantic guy (JJT)Matthew and JJT