If you hate labels, this post is not for you.
Labels are simply adjectives that hold a lot of meaning for us. I could label myself blue-eyed, if having blue eyes was an important part of who I am, but for me the important adjectives are the ones that go against what is considered normal. This includes adjectives about gender, sexual orientation, romantic orientation, and relationship structures. There are others as well, but today I want to focus on them.
So, my friends, let’s play a game. I’ll give you a few lists of labels and define them as well as I can, and you pick which ones fit you or ignore the lot! Sound like fun? Let’s go!
Step 1: Gender identity
Before we can find a label about how you relate to other people, we have to find a label that’s just about you. Gender is a good place to start. Buckle up, because this could get complicated.
Some gender identities
- Genderless/Agender: What did you say? Gender? What’s that? I don’t think I have that…
- Neutrois: I have one gender, which is neutral. And it’s usually said noo-TRAW, kind of French-like, or noo-TROSS, or noo-TROZ, or noo-TROYS, or noo-TROYZ. Take your pick.
- Woman/Man: I have one gender, which is feminine or masculine. It is very nice to have society accept the existence of my identity!
- Androgynous: I have one gender that is a mix of two, masculine and feminine. Andro = man, gyno = woman.
- Bigender: I have two genders, maybe including male or female, maybe not.
- Trigender: I have three genders, maybe including male or female, maybe not.
- Genderfluid: Some days I may be female, some days I may be male, some days I may be other genders. Try to keep up.
- Polygender: I have multiple genders, but not necessarily all of them. Poly = many.
- Pangender: I have all the gender! Yay gender! Pan = all.
- Genderqueer: My gender is unusual, and that is all I need to say about that.
Whew. This isn’t a complete list; I only included labels that I know about and understand, and you may disagree with some of my definitions. My own identity is genderless, so I have no personal experience with any of the others and can only use research and my knowledge of language to define them for you.
There are some other labels that you can use to describe yourself, too, and you can pick some of these if you like.
Related identities that don’t specify your gender
- Transgender/Transsexual: When they assigned me a gender/sex at birth, they got it wrong.
- Cisgender/Cissexual: When they assigned me a gender/sex at birth, they got it right.
- Intersex: My body doesn’t fit the typical definitions of female or male.
Now that we’ve chosen some labels that describe only ourselves, we can move on to labels that describe how we relate to other people. Are you excited? I’m excited.
Step 2: Sexual orientation
One important way that we relate to other people is how our bodies respond to them, and one kind of response is sexual. Sexual attraction is something that I can’t personally understand, but allow me to consult my good friend, the dictionary.
sexual adj. of, characteristic of, or involving sex, the sexes, the organs of sex and their functions, or the instincts, drives, behavior, etc. associated with sex
attraction n. the act of attracting or condition of being attracted
Helpful, thank you, dictionary.
attract v. 1: to draw to itself or oneself; make approach or adhere 2: to get the admiration, attention, etc. of; allure
Okay, let’s put this together then.
sexual attraction n. admiring or being drawn to something based on sex, the sexes, or the organs of sex and their functions
That sounds pretty good. Let’s use that. It’s time to find a sexual orientation label!
Some sexual orientations
- Asexual: I don’t experience sexual attraction. The way you feel about people you’re not sexually attracted to? That’s the way I feel about everyone.
- Demisexual: When I get to know someone really well and like them a lot, I can start to feel sexually attracted to them, but otherwise I don’t experience sexual attraction.
- Gray-asexual: I’m kind of asexual, but kind of not. Black and white thinking sucks anyway.
- Homosexual/Gay: I’m sexually attracted to people whose gender is the same as mine.
- Heterosexual/Straight: I’m sexually attracted to people of one gender that’s different from mine.
- Bisexual: I’m sexually attracted to two genders, or two groups of genders. Sometimes one more than the other. Bi = two.
- Polysexual/Multisexual: I’m sexually attracted to many genders, but not necessarily all of them.
- Pansexual: Gender doesn’t factor into my sexual attraction, so people of all genders are eligible. Pan = all.
- Omnisexual: I’m sexually attracted to anyone/anything that can consent. Omni = all.
- Queer: My sexual orientation is unusual, and that’s all I need to say about that.
Related identities that don’t specify your sexual orientation
- Nonlibidoist: I don’t have a sex drive, and that’s all right. Libido = sex drive.
- Hyposexual: I have a low sex drive, and that’s all right. Hypo = below.
- Hypersexual: I have a high sex drive, and that’s all right. Hyper = above.
- Sexually abstinent: I choose not to have sex. This may be for religious reasons, medical reasons, safety reasons (STIs and unwanted pregnancies suck), or because I just don’t want to have sex, okay? (Many people use the term celibate instead, though the literal definition of celibacy is the choice to be unmarried. These two things get combined because certain people think that you should only have sex when you’re married.)
- Selfsexual/Autosexual: I’m not interested in having sex with other people, but I do like to have sex with myself (i.e. masturbation).
Cool, let’s take some labels! I am a nonlibidoist asexual. Got yours? Good, now it’s time for…
Step 3: Romantic orientation
Another important way that we relate to other people is romance. I don’t understand romantic attraction all that well, and when I ask people how they define it they all give me different answers, so I’m just going to give you a kind of cop-out definition. (My good friend the dictionary just wants to talk about Romance literature, which is nice, but not helpful right now, dictionary.)
romantic attraction n. wanting a romantic relationship with a person
So what’s a romantic relationship? I know, ugh. I’ll deal with this in a later post. For now, I’m going to distract you with romantic orientations, ooooooh.
Some romantic orientations
- Aromantic: I don’t experience romantic attraction. I may not even know what it is. Let’s be friends!
- Demiromantic: You might lock eyes with someone across the room and immediately want to be with them, but I need to know someone really well before I feel romantic attraction.
- Gray-aromantic: I’m kind of aromantic, kind of romantic. Black and white thinking is for squares.
- Homoromantic/Gay: I’m romantically attracted to people whose gender is the same as mine.
- Heteroromantic/Straight: I’m romantically attracted to people of one gender that’s different from mine.
- Biromantic: I’m romantically attracted to two genders, or two groups of genders. Sometimes one more than the other.
- Polyromantic/Multiromantic: I’m romantically attracted to many genders, but not necessarily all of them.
- Panromantic: Gender doesn’t factor into my romantic attraction, so people of all genders are eligible.
- Omniromantic: I’m romantically attracted to anyone/anything that can consent.
- Queer: My romantic orientation is unusual, and that’s all I need to say about that.
You may have noticed that romantic orientations have basically the same structure as sexual orientations. That’s because the only people who usually concern themselves with romantic orientation are asexuals, who wouldn’t use the word “homosexual” to refer to themselves, for example. Most non-asexuals use their sexual orientation to apply to romance as well. That’s why there are words like gay and straight, which can be used for sexual and romantic orientations alike. Of course, there are sexual people whose sexual and romantic attractions don’t line up, and this list can be useful for them, too. A woman who doesn’t feel romantic attraction to anyone but is sexually attracted to men would be an aromantic heterosexual. I have a character who is sexually attracted to women and romantically attracted to men; he could call himself a heterosexual homoromantic, but he calls himself bi.
My own romantic orientation is aromantic, because I have no idea what romance is and I kind of suspect that it might not exist. More about this in another post. For now, let’s get into some really fun stuff: relationships themselves.
Step 4: Relationship structures
I’m going to write a whole post about my views on relationships, so this is just about the labels for romantic ones. [EDIT: P.S., I wrote that post.]
- Single: I’m not in a romantic relationship, either because it doesn’t fit into my life right now, I can’t find one, or I’m just not interested.
- Celibate: I choose not to be married, maybe for religious reasons, maybe for personal reasons, or maybe as a protest against the flawed institution and laws of marriage. (This is the literal definition; many people use celibate as a synonym for sexually abstinent — see above under Sexual Orientation — Related identities.)
- Open relationship: I have a committed romantic relationship, but we are each free to have romantic and/or sexual connections with other people, depending on our agreements.
- Monoamory/Monogamy: I have one romantic relationship/marriage at a time, with one other person. Society is built to cater to my needs, and it’s very nice for me. Mono = one, amor = love, gamy = marriage.
- Polyamory/Group marriage: I have romantic relationships/marriages with more than one person at once, with the full knowledge and consent of all involved. Society thinks that cheating is better than what I’m doing, but society sucks. Poly = many. Poly folks usually don’t use the grammatically correct word polygamy for marriages with more than one person, because of the cult connotations.
- Polyfaithful/Polyexclusive: I have one romantic relationship with multiple people, and all of us are in love with each other. This is a specific form of polyamory.
Does one of these relationship labels fit you? They don’t really fit me that well, except for celibate, so don’t feel like you have to pick one. Again, there will be another post where I’ll talk about relationships some more.
Step 5: Putting it all together
The fun part is when you get to list all of your labels in one sentence and sound like the biggest freak in the world. If you want to see some examples of this, go no further than the profiles on Genderfork.
As for me, I am a genderless, aromantic, nonlibidoist asexual. Sometimes I identify as trans, trying to avoid the whole transgender vs. transgendered debate (I agree with this article, and this one provides an interesting counter-argument). Sometimes I identify as celibate, because marriage law is really screwed up right now and I’m not participating until it gets an overhaul. Sometimes I tack on other unrelated labels, like atheist, existentialist, pacifist, minimalist, and barefooter. That’s just because I love labels.
What would your string of labels include? Did I overlook your label? Did I define your label totally incorrectly? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
[EDIT: The response to this post was much bigger than I could have anticipated! Thanks, everyone, for your input and kindness. I've decided that I'm not going to add any new labels to the list, since it was never intended to be exhaustive, but I will still change the existing definitions that might need some work. Feel free to tell everyone about other labels in the comments, though -- I always like hearing about them.]