"Sexual orientation" is a problem. Not as a phenomenon but as a descriptor. I promise I’m not about to launch into an I-hate-labels rant! (Because that’s bullshit, and labels are helpful.) Rather, I want to talk about the possibility of using terms other than “sexual orientation” to describe our affinity for certain types of people.
So, the issue I have with the term “sexual orientation” is that it makes SEX the center point. However, not all relationships have sex at the center, and for many, attractions are not primarily motivated by sex. It is also a term that renders asexual people invisible!
To use myself as an example, I identify as a queer demisexual. (I am comfortable with most labels in the label jar: gay, lesbian, bi, queer…sure, whatever.) What “queer demisexual” means to me is that I am attracted to people other than and including cis-gender men…AND…that sexual attraction arises only in the context of emotional connectedness. The reason “sexual orientation” is a problematic descriptor for me on a personal level is because I am rarely sexually attracted to people. I do not primarily orient myself to others sexually. More often, I am attracted to them physically, romantically, socially, intellectually, spiritually, or energetically. Those have nothing to do with sex. And though I find men attractive, I prefer to have a woman partner. So, I need radically different language to describe my patterned affinity for certain types of people. I have heard other terms periodically surfacing in the larger discourse, and there are 2 that I really like:
I like these terms because they center something other than sex. Truthfully, we spend much more of our lives not having sex than we do having sex. So, to ground our identities in sex seems imbalanced. These terms also make room for asexual people, many of whom have relationships that do not include sex.
Why does this even matter?? Well, for a long time queer people have been seen as pathological, deviant, or inferior. One characteristic about a person’s identity is used to other and dehumanize them. I think changing the language we use has the potential to shift the consciousness of others and train the discursive eye to see queer people in their totality—their whole selves and their many facets…not just who they have sex with.