The Moment I Discovered My Sexuality Didn’t Fit In

Natalie Slaughter

Sexuality doesn’t have to fit neatly into a checkbox. 

I came about my queerness a little backwards.

I’ve heard a lot of coming out stories, and a common version goes something like, “I knew I wasn’t attracted to the opposite sex. I kept feeling attracted to the same sex, and I finally put two and two together.”

I never figured out that I was attracted to the same sex.

At the age of 16, I hadn’t been attracted to anyone – and I wasn’t really worried about it. I knew someday I’d meet someone I liked who liked me back, and until then I wasn’t going to let it bother me.

The same year in my life, I was sleeping over at a female friend’s house when I was awoken by her kissing my head. My sleep-addled brain didn’t really understand what was going on, but I didn’t try and pull away. She looked up at me with a question in her eyes, and to this day I don’t know who moved first, but that’s when we kissed for the first time.

We dated for four years after that, and our relationship only ended because of her death.

It would’ve been easy for me to assume this meant I was a lesbian. I’d never been attracted to men, I was clearly attracted to at least one woman, but I’d never been repulsed by men either; similar to the way I felt about women before my first girlfriend, I simply hadn’t been attracted to one yet. So then, I wondered, did that mean I was in fact bisexual?

But that didn’t quite fit for me either. It was possible, sure, but it would’ve been disingenuous for me to say I was interested in both men and women when I wasn’t really interested in men. And then I learned about transgender folks and nonbinary folks, and that threw my whole world into a kind of tailspin.

I had a relationship with two people who identified as nonbinary in my late twenties, and one person who identified as FTM – or female to male – in my early twenties. Clearly my sexuality didn’t fall into the ‘lesbian’ category either. I remember being called out by a friend at the time when I claimed to still be a lesbian.

“Not if you’ve had sex with a man,” he insisted.

“But it didn’t count!” I retorted.

It absolutely did. Twenty-two year-old me was extremely wrong.

Calling myself pansexual could have worked, except I still wasn’t attracted to cisgender men (men who identified as men and were also labeled male at birth). I’m 32 now, and still haven’t been interested in one. Since pansexual means being attracted to all types of people, I thought adopting this label might be a bit of a lie. There was one category of gender that I wasn’t attracted to, after all.

It took a lot of years and many internet searches for me to stumble upon two additional words that fit me: polysexual and demisexual.

Polysexual means that I’m attracted to many different kinds of people. Not all, but many. It’s not as specific as I’d like it to be, but it’s more genuine than any of the other labels under the queer umbrella that I’ve found.

Demisexual means I’m only attracted to people once I’ve gotten to know them. So, for example, I’ve never had a celebrity crush – I don’t know who they are as people so how they look physically is sort of irrelevant to me. Same with random strangers on the streets. I remember watching shows as a child and teenager where women or men would sit on patios and make comments about whether or not they’d have sex with random strangers as they walked by. I never understood how they were able to make that call based on a look. I thought there must’ve been something wrong with me.

But the cool thing about sexuality is that it can change as we do. It could be that in a few years I find myself attracted to a cisgender man and change my identity to pansexual. Or maybe queer folks come out with a new word that fits me better than polysexual does.

A lot about us changes as we grow, and it’s supposed to. Sexuality isn’t any different.

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Comment: Have you ever struggled to define your own sexuality?