How do we know what our sexuality is?
It seems like my sexuality is constantly in flux, always growing and changing in different ways. Part of me feels uncomfortable with this concept, the part of me that desires to label and have absolute and unceasing clarity and self-awareness. Another part of me is beginning to see this flux as exciting—as an opportunity to remain curious and learn more about myself.
How often are we encouraged to genuinely and authentically explore our sexualities? Not often! And if we do, it is easy to be discouraged or feel invalidated by the narrative surrounding sexual exploration— “they’re just going through a phase” or “they’re just experimenting.” These narratives demean the value of these experiences, and could even stunt potential explorative paths.
It was not until I went to college, where I felt free to try things that I had always been curious about without judgment from peers (real and imagined!) that I began exploring what it means to define sexuality and sexual orientation. Even then it was hard—I think there is an unspoken expectation that people “figure themselves out” in terms of sexuality before their twenties, and beginning to have brand-new experiences can be intimidating! But I am so glad that I did, because it helped me to realize a lot about myself.
It helped me to realize, for example, that I had been engaging in compulsory heterosexuality, meaning that I had been assuming I was heterosexual because it is the “norm” in our society. The social pressure to stay within the norm is powerful, and I am attracted to cisgender males, and so I found myself unconsciously forcing my sexuality to fit squarely and neatly into the identity “straight.” But, as it turns out, I’m not straight! And I would only realize that by having the space and freedom to delve into my sexuality.
I now identify as pansexual, which is a sexual orientation that essentially means that sex and gender are not important factors in discerning who you are attracted to. How does it differ from bisexuality? Pansexuality is a little different in that it encompasses all sex and gender expressions. Bi, meaning two, refers to two genders: female and male. Pansexuality, on the other hand, is inclusive of trans*, gender-fluid, gender nonconforming, and all of the different gender identities.
The reason I find myself drawn to this identity is the fluid nature of it—it includes everyone on the gender spectrum—and pansexuality tells me that’s okay! I’m not confused, or experimenting, or going through a phase, or any of the ways that society demeans sexual fluidity. I am a growing, changing, exploring, loving person, and I love deeply and truly.
For a long time, sexuality has been dichotomized (“You are either straight or you are gay!”), and growing up, it seems like everyone is assumed straight until proven otherwise (this is called heteronormativity!).
Between the pressure to be straight and the destructive narrative that there is only straight and gay and anything in-between is confused, it is difficult to feel freedom to explore and remain fluid and curious about your own sexuality. But there is a beautiful spectrum of sexualities, all of which are absolutely valid and incredibly personal and dynamic. I hope as more people join the conversation and speak out about their own sexualities that we will move towards a society where people feel more freedom to explore and be their fully-expressed selves.
The question for you: How do you relate to your sexuality?