Thanks to the work of LGBT activists before us, who put their lives on the line to be visible, most of us now know what the letters in the acronym mean. But as we come to understand more about the spectrum of gender and sexuality, queer people are identifying with more terms beyond lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans. If you’ve seen the community referred to as LGBTQIA+ and wondered what the extra characters stand for, know it’s okay not to be familiar with all the terms. Vast sections of our super diverse community still go largely underrepresented in TV shows and films. And as sex and relationships education is only now becoming queer-inclusive, it’s no wonder many of us don’t really know what it means to be part of the +.
I’ve been publicly out as bisexual for years, and yet I’m still discovering new ways to articulate how I experience sexuality. It was only recently I realised that while I may be bisexual (sexually attracted to people of more than one gender – no, bi doesn’t mean you only like ‘men and women’) - I am probably also homoromantic (romantically attracted to people of my own/marginalised genders). Until I learned romantic and sexual attraction are two separate experiences, I didn’t have the language to describe why I felt I’d never be able fall in love with a cis man again. We’re all learning here.
While many LGBTQIA+ people find labels restrictive, others rely on them to articulate their experiences of gender, sex and sexuality to others - and to form communities. There’s no right or wrong way to use a label when self-identifying, as long as we recognise that other people may experience that label differently. And, as is the nature of the spectrum of gender and sexuality, labels can change over time. Being able to give space to that potential for change and growth is one of the most beautiful things about being LGBTQIA+.
Whether you’re an ally looking to learn more about sexuality and gender beyond the LGBTQIA+, or are a queer person trying to find a label that makes the most sense for you, here are 10 lesser-represented identities that sit within the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, and some of the people who identity with them...
It’s positive that we’re seeing more lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans characters in mainstream pop culture. But representation of asexual people is still seriously lacking. This not only contributes to asexuals not being seen, but to allosexuals (people who do experience sexual attraction) not truly understanding what it means to be asexual.
Asexual folks do not experience sexual attraction or have an ‘intrinsic desire to have sexual relationships’. Asexuality is a sexual orientation, but is often conflated with celibacy - which, btw, is a lifestyle choice.
Of course every asexual person experiences their asexuality differently, and there’s no one way to be asexual. Some asexual people will experience romantic attraction, for example. As Stonewall notes, ‘asexual people who experience romantic attraction might also use terms such as gay, bi, lesbian, straight and queer in conjunction with asexual to describe the direction of their romantic attraction.’
For Yasmin, a 25-year-old model and activist, asexuality means experiencing little-to-no sexual attraction. ‘Identifying as asexual is my way of saying that my sexual orientation isn't oriented anywhere,’ she tells me. ‘It's not about having absolutely no sexuality, it's just not experiencing one layer of sexuality which is sexual attraction. It allows my sexuality to be independent of other people and personally, I love that for me!’
Aromantic people don’t experience romantic attraction, and do not have an innate desire to be in romantic relationships in the same way that alloromantic people do. Some aromantic people experience sexual attraction, or occasional romantic attraction, and may also identify as gay, bi, lesbian, straight, pan or queer at the same time.
Aromantic people can and do form an emotional connections with other people. Plenty of aro folks have meaningful, life-changing platonic and non-romantic relationships.
For River, 19, romance and romantic attraction are concepts that they don’t really understand. ‘I am full of love and attraction towards my partners, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether there’s romance or not,’ she says. ‘And honestly it’s entirely irrelevant to me. Love is love!’
3. Demisexual and demiromantic
If you tend to only experience sexual attraction to someone once you’ve formed an emotional connection with them, demisexual might be a label that works for you. Demisexuality doesn’t mean you are sexually attracted to every single person you get close to, though. The same goes for demiromantics, who experience romantic attraction only once they’ve formed a deeper emotional bond.
‘A lot of people misunderstand the demi identity. It's not that I don't want to pursue sex or a romantic relationship unless I'm close with that person, it's that the possibility of attraction doesn't even exist until then,’ explains 26-year-old Sam. ‘For a lesbian, the pool of people you may or may not be attracted to is women. It doesn't mean you're attracted to every woman, it just means that someone has to be a woman for attraction to be possible. I only can say for sure that I've been attracted to a handful of people in my life, all people I was already bonded with.’
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions of male and female. Biological sex characteristics including genitals, hormone levels and chromosome patterns. Intersex is different from gender identity and sexual orientation, so intersex folks can be straight, bisexual, asexual, queer, male, female, neither or both.
Anick, a 26-year-old writer and founder of IntersexAF, says reclaiming the word intersex has given him the autonomy that was taken away from him as a child. ‘It’s a term that originally separated me, one that I hated for shaping my life. These days, it connects my bodily experience to a community and has gifted me with purpose,’ he explains.
With more celebrities coming out publicly as non-binary, awareness of the limitless spectrum of gender is growing. Demi Lovato, Sam Smith and Atypical’s Brigette Lundy-Payne have all spoken openly and generously about their non-binary identities on social media and in interviews.
Non-binary people feel their gender doesn’t wholly comfortably with female or male. All non-binary folks experience their gender in different ways: some reject all aspects of binary ideas of gender, while others identify with some. Not every non-binary person uses they/them pronouns, either.
T, 34, finds it harder to describe the longer they settle into their non-binaryness. ‘I don’t identify with my assigned gender, but I don’t necessarily feel wholly female,’ they explain. ‘To me, being non-binary means a greater sense of freedom and off comfort in my own skin. It’s about being both everything and nothing, often simultaneously.’ For T, a big part of it is a rejection of what they know they are not. ‘But it also brings with it opportunities to explore and play around with what I could be,’ they add. ‘There’s an expanse around it. Although sometimes it’s easier to put yourself into more accepted boundaries for safety, it also feels like an opportunity to say: “I have autonomy over who I am, and my body, and no one else gets to define that’.”
Skoliosexual is a relatively new term that is likely to have originated from Tumblr and Reddit. While there is no official definition, skoliosexuals are said to be primarily attracted to people who are non-binary, trans or genderqueer.
Meg, 25, has used the term to explain their attraction to other genderqueer people in the past. ‘I was dating people who identified with a binary gender (both cis and trans) during that time, and the skoliosexual label was just helpful to designate a slight preference that made me feel more welcome,’ they say.
‘As someone who is non-binary but still feeling out their identity and how they present, prioritising gender-non-conforming and non-binary people when I date has been helpful due to the exclusionary language (women love women etc) I encountered in the lesbian community,’ says Meg. ‘I would also consider myself to be pansexual/bisexual but only attracted to other queer people and I felt I needed an identity label that was really open but which didn’t include anyone cis-het [cisgender and heterosexual].’
However, they say they don’t identify with the label as much of late, after learning there are some elements of the term that other queer folks take issue with. ‘But I think that’s the whole point of labels to begin with - they should help you explore and clarify things about your gender/sexuality/relationship preference/experience of attraction, rather than being another thing sticking you in a box,’ they add.
Unlike bisexuals and pansexuals, who are sexually attracted to multiple genders, monosexuals are attracted to one. Many straight people are monosexual, as they are attracted to what is commonly considered the ‘opposite sex’ (but which we know is a outdated term that views male and female as on opposite ends of a binary spectrum). Monosexuals can also identify as lesbians or gay.
To Lilith, 27, being a monosexual lesbian means the freedom to centre women and non-binary lesbians in her life. ‘We live in a society that’s very heteronormative, and having a sexuality that excludes men entirely is viewed with incredulity. Within the queer community I sometimes see people viewing monosexual identities as limiting or exclusive, when I feel quite the opposite - it was really liberatory for me to realise that I didn't have to include men in my life. It doesn't feel exclusionary - that firm boundary to me is the biggest gift of self-love I could give myself.’
The most difficult part of working out she is a monosexual lesbian was accepting the fact she wasn’t attracted to cis men. ‘I've spent a lot of time actively unlearning my compulsory heterosexuality and in fact had a six-year relationship with a man, during which time I was identifying as bisexual,’ she tells me. ‘I was very mentally ill during that time and when I finally got help, I was able to work out that I was trying to force something that was unnatural for me.’
9. Pansexual and panromantic
Awareness of pansexuality has grown in recent years, with Cara Delevingne and Janelle Monae speaking in interviews about the aspects of the identity that they relate to. Pansexual people experience sexual attraction to others regardless of their gender identity or sex. This doesn’t mean pan folks are sexually attracted to everyone, but that their ability to be attracted to someone isn’t limited by sex or gender. Panromantics experience romantic attraction to others regardless of that person’s gender or sex.
‘Pansexuality, to me, represents ultimate freedom,’ says Prishita, 24. ‘It allows me the space to explore every aspect of desire, lust, attraction, and romance - and to accept that these experiences can be expansive and all-encompassing. My pansexuality acknowledges that my own gender identity is a fluid, evolving state of being, and that my connections with other humans are each original and unique.’
While queer has historically been used as a slur, and many older LGBTQIA+ people have spoken out about disliking the term, there’s been a movement of people reclaiming it. Some use queer to explain their sexuality, others use it to describe their gender. There is no one real definition, except maybe: a person that isn’t cisgender and/or heterosexual.
Novy, 23, likes to use queer as a public and community label. ‘I like that it's such a wide umbrella term. Queer people are where I feel most at home.’ They add that they have specific labels, too. ‘I am non-binary and oriented aroace, attracted exclusively to other queer people but not interested in traditional "dating," they say. ‘This is hard to explain to people. Queer gets across what they need to know more easily.’
For 27-year-old Harley, queer is a label entirely for them. ‘People say queer means strange, different and other. I couldn't think of a more perfect term to sum up my sexuality and gender than that. To me, saying I'm queer is a pushback against everyone who has tried to place me into different boxes to fit in with society. As I've grown up and come out, queer has always been the label that has made me happy instead of pleasing others and has felt like I'm being my true, strange, queer self.’
By Paisley Gilmore. This originally appeared on Glamour UK.