The Pulse

December 3, 2019

What Does it Mean to be Skoliosexual?

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Gender is a fluid thing — that is something we can (hopefully) agree on. And because the way we define our gender(s) is always evolving, it’s important to keep up-to-date with terminology, and respect how people identify.

A more recently used term is skoliosexual, which refers to an attraction to people who are non-binary, as in people whose gender expression cannot be classified as either male or female.

Am I skoliosexual?

Laura Lee Townsend, a clinical therapist, tells Mic that some people use skoliosexual to refer to an attraction to anyone who is not cisgender. Therefore, some people who use the term say that skoliosexuality includes an attraction to transgender people — people whose gender identity is different from the one they were assigned at birth. 

However, other definitions say that to be skoliosexual is to be attracted to non-binary folks only. Alas, the definition of skoliosexual may be intentionally ambiguous, writes Tracey Anne Duncan at Mic, in order to account for how gender can be ambiguous. 

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the term first appeared, though it has been mentioned on social media sites like Reddit and Tumblr, and by a handful of media outlets, like Advocate, Women’s Health and Refinery 29. 

However, Jennifer Litner, a certified sex therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist in Chicago, tells O.school that while she’s aware of skoliosexuality, she has not heard the term in her formal training as a sexuality educator. 

Skoliosexual is “not one of the more commonly used terms when we talk about sexuality, but it's definitely there,” she says. 

Litner is not aware of any studies about people who identify as skoliosexual, which could explain why the term is not more widely known by the public. (Another less-widely-known term? Ceterosexual, which refers to a non-binary person who is only attracted to other non-binary people.)

“Language is always evolving,” Litner emphasized, pointing out that there is not a singular “gatekeeper” of the sexual orientations that a person can be. Instead, labels tend to evolve as people find that other existing categories don’t fit them. For example, the National Center for Transgender Equality notes that the terms “agender,” “bigender” and “genderqueer” all mean similar but slightly different things as the term “non-binary.”

Ultimately, it all comes down to how a person wants to be identified. “If people want to use this term to identify [because] that makes sense for them,” then they should, Litner says. 

Not surprisingly, there is resistance to new labels, including Reddit threads that question or dismiss the existence of skoliosexuality.

“We question a lot of things that are new in our society,” Litner points out, but it’s important that people can self-categorize in a way that makes them feel represented. 

“It's really important to validate people and their experience with sexual orientation — especially if they're often coming from a place of marginalization — when these new terms come out,” says Litner. “And so we have to be really sensitive to that.”

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Jessica Wakeman is a journalist who focuses on women’s social, cultural and political issues. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Bust, Bustle, Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Cut, The New York Times and numerous other publications.


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