LGBTQIA+ Identities: What’s in a Name?

By Felice Davids

I am pansexual. Yes, I know. It’s a little confusing. I understand. Maybe we’ve already talked about this late at night, outside of the bar. Maybe you have no idea what I am talking about. Maybe you believe I am trying to be special/hipster/trendy. The multitude of sexual and gender identities out there is confusing, but that does not give you an excuse to invalidate people’s identities. Even on a campus where the acceptance of queer individuals is regarded as natural, it is important to stay aware of our biases and lack of knowledge and understanding.

Whereas some people experience labels as boxes “even more claustrophobic than the closet” (see Lotte Wolff’s Queer Column in the October Boomerang), for others finding the right label can feel like finally coming home after a long journey. This was certainly the case for me when I first heard about the label ‘pansexual’. Even though at the age of fourteen I realised I wasn’t exclusively attracted to the opposite gender, it took me another two years to articulate this feeling. This was not because I was afraid of my sexuality or for its societal implications. Rather, I just didn’t know how to put it into words. The only known label available to me – bisexuality – did not quite feel right.

When I was sixteen, a friend of mine, active on Tumblr, showed me a list of sexual labels and gender identities that I had never heard of. A list so long it made my ears buzz and my brain go fuzzy. It was here that I read: “Pansexual – a person attracted to people regardless of their gender”. It was this little sentence that put into words the feeling I had been ignoring for about two years. Somehow, it all seemed to make sense now. I had found my label.

Still, I do acknowledge that it can be hard to interpret the diversity of identities found within the LGBTQ community.  How are we to understand the meaning of labels such as omnisexual, androsexual and gynasexual? Flexible, poly, and queer? Asexual, demi-sexual, grey-sexual? As the list goes on, your confusion probably grows. There are more and more different ‘sexualities’ that one can identify with, an increasing amount of labels one can put on, but also dispose of at any given point in time. On top of that, sexual acts, and sexual identities do not always mean the same, nor do they necessarily align.

“It is not up to you to decide if someone else’s identity is real or not”

Are you still with me? Perhaps this is the moment where you’d like to suggest that none of it really matters. That labels are stupid anyway. That they are an unnecessary product of societal norms and values. That a rose would smell just as sweet would she be called differently. That we should all just be what we want to be, and do what we want to do. And yes – I agree, we should. However, it important to acknowledge the empowerment that can be experienced through the act of self-labelling. To some, there is in fact a lot in a name, and it is not up to you to decide if someone else’s identity is real or not. If it matters to them, let it matter to you.

If you are interested in learning more about LGBTQIA+ labels, I’d strongly recommend Ashley Mardell’s YouTube series ‘The ABC of LGBT’. Alternatively, feel free to ask me about it next time you see me at the bar!

 

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