When I came across the term ‘skoliosexual’ last year, I was pretty excited. As someone who is predominantly attracted to people who are in some way gender non-conforming, it felt like for the first time in my queer little life that there was a label that came close to fitting me. However, skoliosexual is a somewhat problematic identity and not necessarily one that everyone supports cisgender people (like me! 2022 UPDATE: I no longer identify as cisgender) using. So, what is skoliosexuality, what issues surround it and is it really a suitable sexual identity for me?
According to Genderqueer and Non-Binary Identities, this term first appeared in 2010 on a Deviant Art diagram about sexual attraction. The creator, Swiss artist Nelde, used ‘skoliosexual’ as a category for people who are attracted to people that aren’t cisgender. The term was derived from the Ancient Greek word σκολῐός (skoliós), which roughly translates as curved or bent. The medical condition scoliosis, where a person’s spine curves sideways, takes its name from the same word.
Like many identities, the definition of skoliosexual varies but is generally now understood to be a person who is sexually attracted to non-binary people. Similarly, ‘skolioromantic’ refers to a person who is romantically attracted to people who are non-binary. However, some definitions of both skolio-attractions are broader and include anyone who is agender, genderqueer, trans or generally gender non-conforming.
Why is skoliosexual problematic?
Firstly, the name is implicitly negative. Apparently, Nelde selected this particular word from Ancient Greek because of the English association between ‘bent’ and ‘queer’. He felt that it was essentially a way of categorising queer sexuality that existed specifically outside of the gender binary. As someone who has a lot of affection for reclaimed words like queer, I can see where he was coming from, especially considering where a lot of conversations were around gender and sexuality a decade ago.
However, it’s understandable that some people don’t like how unnecessarily negative this word is. Too often queer identities are saddled with language that places them in opposition to cisheteronormativity. For example, I know genderqueer people who don’t want to identify as non-binary simply because the word starts with a negative prefix. So, alternative names for non-binary attraction have been suggested, which I discuss below.
Secondly, there are arguments against cisgender people identifying as skoliosexual because it could encourage a fetishisation of non-binary and genderqueer people. Concerns around this are understandably drawn from the issue with cisgender people who specifically seek out sex with someone is who trans, particularly (but not limited to) cis men who are ‘chasers’ of trans-feminine people. By objectifying trans bodies, chasers treat trans people as kink, which is deeply demeaning.
Thirdly, while some non-binary people look overtly genderqueer or androgynous, the majority don’t. There is no one universal way in which a non-binary person should look because they have any and all types of gender presentations. You can’t ‘tell’ if someone is non-binary simply because there are no visual codes or signifiers. So, if non-binary people don’t look a certain way, how could a sexual identity be based on attraction to them? It’s important to point out that sexual attraction is not something that always occurs immediately and, in fact, there are people who only experience it once they really know a person.
What is ceterosexual and allotroposexual?
Some of the above arguments against the word skoliosexual led to the term ‘ceterosexual’ being coined. Yes, it sounds remarkably similar to heterosexual but is specifically for non-binary people who are attracted to other non-binary people. It is derived from the Latin word ceterus, which roughly translates as ‘the rest.’ It’s also the origin of the phrase ‘et cetera’ (abbreviated as etc.) so it’s a pretty inclusive, umbrella term that is without the negative connotations of skoliosexual.
Another option is ‘allotroposexual’ (try saying that when you’re drunk). It comes from the Ancient Greek words ἄλλος (állos meaning ‘other’) and τρόπος (trópos meaning ‘way’ or ‘manner’). While ceterosexual is specifically an identity for non-binary people, allotroposexual appears to be open for cisgender people to use (although there would still be the same arguments against this).
What does this mean for my sexual identity?
When I first came out in the 90s, there were no terms like pansexual or non-binary (well, not in regional Australia). I told people that I was bisexual but it felt like I was false advertising. How could I say I liked men and women when the people I was most interested in didn’t look or act in any way like straight men or straight women? My early crushes were very exciting but confusing to me: Freddie Mercury in I Want To Break Free, Gina Gershon in Bound, the baffling camp but relatively straight Richard E Grant and basically any woman who has ever worn a tuxedo. It took me many years to understand how deeply I am attracted to queerness in others.
Looking back over the past 20 years has given me an enormous amount of perspective over my sexuality. I’ve had connections with a really diverse range of people but it’s interesting that the deepest romantic and sexual connections I’ve ever felt have been with people who are in some way gender non-conforming. I don’t see this as necessarily the blueprint for the relationships I’ll have in the future but it’s interesting to reflect and see these patterns. I also have a growing understanding of how much my experiences with most cis straight men were often fuelled by the validation I received from their desire for me rather than my desire for them. This is something I wish I’d understood about myself a lot sooner.
For me, discovering that something like ‘skoliosexual’ existed as an identity made me suddenly feel very seen. I’d always stumbled around in the grey margins of identity, never really fitting in anywhere but this made me realise that not only do my desires have validity but there were others like me. Of course, labels and identities are constructs just like the genders and sexualities we seek to categorise. Skoliosexual obviously doesn’t perfectly fit me and I doubt any label truly will. However, maybe one day, there will be an identity that feels positive, celebrating people beyond the gender binary and anyone who loves them.
So, for now, I’ll just stick to queer. There’s always a spot for me under this umbrella term, no matter where my relationships lead me in the future.