Heterosexual and Homosexual in Nonbinary Contexts.

by Izaak

I mentioned in my previous post, Math and Sexual Identity, how the words heterosexual and homosexual lose meaning when they are applied to people who don’t identify as strictly male or female. I want to expand on that, because I mentioned it very briefly.

The basic concept isn’t very hard. Most of society is caught up in the idea of a gender binary, so much so that we still use it, implicitly, in the way we define sexual orientation. If you’re straight, you’re attracted to the opposite gender. An opposite gender can only exist in a gender binary. Homosexuality isn’t described in such a way that depends on a gender binary, but the words gay and lesbian are. They imply that there are two types of homosexual people that correspond to the two binary gender identities.

That is why, when writing the previous post about gender identity and sexual orientation, I used the terms “attracted to men” and “attracted to women” instead of the perhaps more common heterosexual and homosexual. This was primarily because I identify as genderfluid, and I was wondering what it could possibly mean for me to be homosexual or heterosexual.* Would homosexuality imply that I’m only attracted to other genderfluid people? That seems weird to me, and the reason it’s weird is because genderfluidity isn’t technically a gender identity, it’s a label for the recognition that my gender identity isn’t a constant**. And heterosexuality has even less meaning, because would it mean an attraction to all genders except male and female? That’s certainly not the idea that is being used when someone in the gender binary uses it. They don’t mean that they are attracted to every gender except theirs.***

This is true even more so for people who are agender or third gender. There is literally no word for someone who identifies as agender, and is attracted to women. If you’re third gender, the only word that exists today that can be used to describe your sexual orientation is pansexual, or homosexual. Any of the other words requires either more clarification, or are meaningless.

So, I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit to try to eliminate these words, if not in common conversation, from academic dialogue about sexual identity and gender. On the other hand, it’s a small percentage of the population- probably less than 1%. So maybe the confusion created isn’t that big of a deal, and we can live with this. This isn’t a post condemning the people who use these words for being insensitive or erasing—I don’t think that the use of these words is erasing my identity.

But this post is a reminder that it isn’t a perfect system, and I think it’s an issue that a lot of people have never thought of, which is why I made this post.

We can do better, and it’s always worth trying.


For a post that is essentially a footnote, this post has a lot of footnotes.

*I identify as bisexual, so this isn’t really a problem for me—it’s just hypothetical.
**This is a more complicated issue that I may get into at a different point.
***The final idea that I decided on was that a genderfluid person could be heterosexual or homosexual: it would merely mean that, while they identified as a guy, they would like men, and while they identified as a gal, they would like women. Or vice versa.