Bi, gay, pansexual: What do I call myself?

Dear Alice,

I don't like to be considered gay nor bisexual, and I identified as pansexual for a bit, until I found out that pansexuality is sexual expression of all kinds. I want to know what I am. I don't like labels and I think that everyone and anyone can fall in love with anyone else of any gender; therefore I believe that there is no such thing as sexual orientations. What is a word for that?

Dear Reader, 

It’s true that society tends to put people in boxes with simple labels, especially as they pertain to sexuality, and you’re certainly not the only one who finds this frustrating. Identity can be complex, and one-word labels, whether they describe sexual orientation or another identity category, often don’t adequately capture every facet of an individual’s experiences. Often people feel that singular labels can only offer a brief summary of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that make up their existence. What can be important to remember is it’s okay to exchange labels as you see fit, it’s also okay not to use them at all. Ultimately, the way you define your sexual orientation is a decision for you to make based on what you feel comfortable with at a given point in your life. That being said, you might consider “unlabeled” or “pomosexual” as terms that could describe how you’re feeling at the moment (more on this later). 

While labels can be limiting for some, they can also be useful and even liberating for others. Being able to describe yourself with a word or term that’s shared with others can help you find and form a community with people who might have similar experiences. It’s also worth noting that the meaning of labels can change over time. For example, the term “queer” was often used as a derogatory word against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ+) communities until it was reclaimed by members of that community. Just as labels change over time, so too can a person’s sexuality, this process is known as “fluidity”. 

Some terms are defined quite differently depending on who you ask, even by people who all use the same label for themselves. As a label-adverse individual, though, you might find that the term “unlabeled” describes your feelings best. This term refers to folks who prefer not to restrict themselves to a specific category or terminology as it pertains to their gender or sexuality. It functions as an umbrella term that can refer to someone’s sexual orientation or preference, gender expression or identity, or anything related to who they are. It may seem contradictory to create a label for those who don’t want to be labeled. However, the lack of any specific meaning associated with the term—other than being neutral towards one’s identity—means there are no requirements for, or ideas attached to being unlabeled (which is usually what people find limiting about labels to begin with!). 

However, because of your belief that sexual orientations don’t or maybe shouldn’t exist because everybody has the potential to fall in love with a person of any gender, you might be more drawn to the idea of being “pomosexual.” Similar to “unlabeled,” pomosexual refers to people who “openly and explicitly oppose the use of definitions, categories, groups, or labels that serve to divide people based on their sexuality” including sexual classifications (bisexual, homosexual, etc.). Pomosexuals differ from those who identified as unlabeled because the term is used to describe sexual orientation. Unlabeled, on the other hand, describes either sexual orientation or gender. Additionally, pomosexual individuals tend to openly reject the use of labels, categories, or terminology that divides people based on sexuality. While those who identify as unlabeled, on the other hand, still recognize that labels exist but see them instead as optional and simply choose not to use them. 

While you continue your journey of self-discovery, you might find it satisfying to come up with a term or short description that you can use when you’d like to help others better understand your own experiences. Ultimately, only you can say for sure what labels or terms best describe you. You may decide that you never want to use a label, or that you are okay with a number of them. The most valuable takeaway is that it’s a choice that’s uniquely yours! For a comprehensive list of various terminologies associated with sexuality and gender identity, consider visiting the Stonewall website for more information. 

Last updated Jun 30, 2023
Originally published Dec 12, 2003

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