PSA: It’s Okay If Your Sexuality and Gender Are Complicated

Mine are—and embracing that has been liberating

(Photo: Florence Ashley)
(Photo: Florence Ashley)

A few months ago, I was scrolling through my Tinder messages when I noticed something surprising: there were an unusual amount of men in my inbox. I’ve been out as pansexual since I was 17, but at the time, I would have professed a preference for women over men, so seeing my sexual record before my eyes gave me pause. Could my sexual orientation have… changed?

The answer to that question isn’t as straightforward as you might think. Although the primary label I use—pansexual, which means that I am attracted to people of all genders—has remained constant over the years, it sometimes feels like everything else has changed. As a non-binary person who used to identify as a trans woman, I have seen the same relationships go from being perceived as opposite sex to same sex to… insert confused stare. And it’s not just about what the outside world sees. There has also been a change in my own behaviour. I’ve always been attracted to men, but I haven’t always been as sexually comfortable with them as I am now, which is one key reason for the noticeable shift in the gender distribution of my partners.

There’s a misconception, even among queer communities, that embracing your gender and/or sexuality is a process with a defined end but in my experience, sexual orientation is complicated, especially when it intersects with evolving gender identities. And my activism alongside other queer people has proven the same thing—sexuality and gender don’t always fit into easy categories. But for those who struggle with making sense of themselves in the world, like I do, acknowledging the inescapable complexity of queer life can be liberating.

I didn’t always understand my own sexuality

I first called myself pansexual at seventeen, as I began to realize that my longstanding sexual curiosity about men betrayed deeper feelings. I have long resented my parents for their dismissive reaction when I told them I was pansexual, but really the first person who disbelieved me was myself. The fact that I had only had relationships with girls until that point made me feel insecure in my attraction to men, and I was hesitant to pursue them because of the expectations I had internalized about gay sex. If I am not a top, and yet am not interested in being on the receiving end of anal sex, could I really be queer?

It took me years to shed those sexual “scripts” that associate gay sex with anal sex, and to acknowledge that sex with men could mean whatever I wanted it to mean. Once I did, dating men became easier—I had my first sexual experience with a man at 23. But just as a whole new world of dating opened itself up to me, I closed the door by transitioning.

To be clear, transitioning was undoubtedly a positive moment in my life, but I enjoyed the world of queer male dating and sometimes wish it could still be mine. Especially because early in my transition, dating men was difficult. I feared them because they were the ones yelling at me threateningly on the street and throwing things my way. Talking to straight men on Tinder was disheartening because of the sheer amount of transmisogyny and fragile masculinity. I just couldn’t, at my most vulnerable, spend all that effort comforting men in their heterosexuality, and nor did I have the emotional energy to wade through the hundreds of men before finding one who didn’t think his attraction to me made him gay. As for queer men, as amazing as some were, I couldn’t take the constant nagging question at the back of my mind: were they only into me because they liked men?

My identity might be more complicated, but sex is way easier now

But post-transition, things changed. A little over a year ago, I underwent the intricate satanic ritual of vaginomancy—also known as vaginoplasty, or genital reassignment surgery. And tbh, going from a penis to a vulva and vagina has definitely facilitated my sex life.

Though I still sleep with women and non-binary people a lot, it’s hard to deny that I sleep with men a lot more. But it’s not because I’m more attracted to men. Rather, sleeping with them is easier because I have less to fear. Straight men’s insecurity about their heterosexuality and masculinity has vanished along with my penis, even though I am non-binary and thus “less a woman” than I once was. Though I still experience my fair share of transphobia—in part because I refuse to tell people on dating apps what my genitals look like—I don’t have to be as scared of men’s violent misogyny. Now that I don’t have a body that challenges their self-conception, they basically all want to f-ck on a moment’s notice.

But this goes beyond the male gaze; sex has also become easier because my intercourse can follow a new (to me) script: oral, then penetration, then bye. Though I resent the existence of these fixed scenarios in the first place, it’s hard not to be grateful for the ways they facilitate my life. Instead of having to navigate and negotiate potentially conflicting sexual interests, I can lie back and let the script work in my favour. In a weird, but not bad, twist, the things I had to work against in my youth are now facilitating sex.

Maybe the question isn’t whether my sexuality changed, but rather why it even matters

But does my increased comfort and sexual intimacy with men translate into a change in sexual orientation? I think the answer is both yes and no, depending on how we understand sexual orientation. On one hand, it’s hard to say that sleeping with more men because more men are sexually interested in me constitutes a shift. Many cisgender bisexual women date men, not because they are more attracted to them, but because men are a significantly larger dating pool. And those women are no less bisexual for it. On the other hand, growing comfort with men means that I take more pleasure sleeping with men. Although I may feel the same about men as I did in my teenage years on an erotic-aesthetic level, it is undeniable that I sexually desire them more.

But I also don’t think the question is all that relevant. During Pride month, parts of queer communities that don’t usually cohabitate are suddenly sharing event spaces, which reignites the policing and denigration of women’s bisexuality/pansexuality. People who feel like these women don’t belong in queer spaces make sure they know it. In such times of increased policing, it bears reflecting on how complex queerness is. Sexual comfort, sexual behaviour and sexual identity often don’t fall in line with one another—sexual identity is built upon a deeper sense of self, sexual comfort for those who experience misogyny and/or transmisogyny often relates to past traumatic experience with men and sexual behaviour is dictated in part by who’s interested in having sex with us.

And not to be trite, but all of that is okay. While some people can fit themselves neatly into boxes, not all can. Learning to be comfortable with messiness is a virtue and rejecting the call to provide tidy narratives of sexual orientation can be an integral part of queer liberation.