What Does the Term Skoliosexual Mean?
Here, an explanation of what skoliosexual means and how to figure out if it's how you personally identify.
Skoliosexual is a new term on the block you may hear in conversations surrounding sexuality and gender identity. And, as it turns out, it's very controversial — so controversial, in fact, that people are already brainstorming other alternatives as a replacement.
Learn why, plus what you need to know about the true meaning of skoliosexual.
What Does Skoliosexual Mean?
The term skoliosexual popped up on an internet forum around 2010; it was included in a diagram one user made as a way to explain all the possibilities of sexual attraction, according to dictionary.com. Since then, there hasn't been one universally used definition of skoliosexual. Rather, there is a couple of variations, and which you follow depends on your personal attitudes toward gender and sex, which can make things convoluted.
The dictionary.com definition of skoliosexual says it's the attraction to anyone who identifies as a nonbinary gender. FYI, the gender binary refers to the labeling of people as either male or female. Any gender outside of the gender binary — anything other than male or female or a blend of the classic genders of male and female — refers to a nonbinary gender.
"You usually think about what you're attracted to as being an orientation," says Stephanie Buehler, Psy.D, a certified sex therapist and founder of The Buehler Institute. "But people can be not only be attracted to people of all kinds, but to bodies of all kinds." Sexuality doesn't necessarily always fit into a perfect box or label, and it can change over time — aka, it's fluid.
And there's fluidity in the term skoliosexual. Even still, not everyone in the LGBTQ community agrees with its use.
It's Caused Some Friction
The prefix skolio- is the Greek root for "crooked" or "curved," (as seen in the word "scoliosis," for example). That connotation presents some issues: "Labeling transgender and gender non-conforming people as 'crooked' is stigmatizing because the word 'crooked' has multiple meanings, some of which are distinctly negative," says Buehler.
Many nonbinary and other non-cisgender folks in the community agree. That's why some have taken it upon themselves to introduce less stigmatizing terms such as apeirosexual and ceterosexual, with roots meaning "boundless" and "the rest," respectively.
Aside from the potential issues associated with the prefix's root meaning, there's debate about the need for the term entirely. Some people in the LGBTQ community believe skoliosexuality fetishizes trans and nonbinary people, that it excludes gender-normative trans people, or that it weirdly groups all generqueer identities together regardless of the fact that these identities exist on a spectrum.
But there are also people in the LBGTQ+ community who say that being attracted to someone because of their gender or non-gender isn't a fetish. In a forum on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network website, some people argue that a woman (cis or trans) who identifies as a woman is a woman. However, some Redditors say that a term specifically for nonbinary identities isn't a bad thing, reiterating the idea that skoliosexual is purposefully ambiguous to mean whatever resonates with the identifying person. "The creation of the term, I think, signals the cultural awareness and relevance of gender variance, gender fluidity, and trans and nonbinary people," says Jesse Kahn, L.C.S.W., director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in NYC.
This ambiguity opens up the debate for tossing out the term altogether. "I have found very few people connect with the label," says Michael Guichet, L.M.F.T. and sex therapist. "I've interacted with clients that acknowledge their trans and genderqueer attraction as part of their sexual attraction. I've also found that the group who would connect a bit closer to skoliosexuality are often those who label themselves as trans for trans." (Meaning, a trans person who seeks relationships with other trans individuals.)
FYI, regardless of whether you're talking about gender identity or sexual orientation, you should never assume how someone identifies. Always ask, or allow the person to disclose it themselves.
Misconceptions About Skoliosexuality
Skoliosexual ≠ Genderqueer
Genderqueer is a gender identity and skoliosexual is a sexual orientation. Gender identity is how you feel inside, separate from your assigned sex at birth or genitals, whereas sexual orientation is how you're sexually and (sometimes also) romantically attracted to another person. You don't need to identify as genderqueer to be skoliosexual nor do you need to be skoliosexual to identify as genderqueer. You can be skoliosexual and identify as genderqueer or any other gender or nongender.
You Aren't Only Attracted to Transgender Folks
Skoliosexuality is the attraction to any gender or nongender that isn't cisgender. Some trans people don't identify as the classic cisgenders of male or female, while others do. Just because someone identifies as trans doesn't undoubtedly mean they also identify as nonbinary.
People identify with whatever gender or non-gender they feel resonates with them, regardless of their sexual attraction. Being skoliosexual doesn't mean you're only attracted to trans folks. There are nonbinary folks out there who don't identify as trans and vice versa.
You Don't Need to Identify As Nonbinary Yourself
Skoliosexual is a sexual attraction that can apply to any gender identification. But tread with caution: Anecdotally, some people in the LGBTQ+ community believe nonbinary folks should be the only ones allowed to identify as skoliosexual to prevent fetishization of trans and nonbinary identities. The concern is sound given the issue of chasers, cisgender people who specifically seek out sex with trans folks to fulfill a kink or earn brownie points.
"If you're a cisgender person identifying as or questioning if you identity as skoliosexual, it could be worth exploring: how you came to that awareness and identity, what it means to you, what attracts you to nonbinary and trans people, the cultural relevance and impact of that identity, what the nonbinary and trans folks in your life say about that identity, and if you think and feel like you're fetishizing," says Kahn.
If you choose to refer to yourself as skoliosexual, keep the gender identity of folks in mind. Not everyone agrees with the use of the term but so is the case for most socially-constructed sexualities and orientations.
Skoliosexual vs. Pansexual vs. Omnisexual
Omnisexuality and pansexuality both acknowledge that gender identity exists on a spectrum and so they're often used interchangeably. But there's one difference: Pansexuality doesn't use gender to determine attraction, and omnisexuality does. Pansexuality is the sexual attraction to any and all genders, regardless of gender, whereas omnisexuality is the sexual attraction to all genders, with room for genital favorites. (More here: What Is Pansexuality, Really?)
How, then, do those terms relate to the term skoliosexual? Pansexual and omnisexual are umbrella terms for skoliosexual. For example: A pansexual person may be more into someone's personality than gender. An omnisexual person may be more attracted to a particular gender, but not rule out any genders. A skoliosexual person may like someone because they don't fit into the gender norm.
Everyone has a right to identify as whichever sexual orientation or gender identity they feel resonates with them at any given moment in their lives. Gender and sexuality are fluid concepts that have the ability to evolve throughout your life. Some people experience this fluidity and others don't. Both are natural. (More on exploring gender identity: What It Really Means to Be Gender Fluid or Identify As Non-Binary)
How Do I Know If I'm Skoliosexual?
You're the only one who can determine that. But how do you know if you're skoliosexual? Do you feel like this is a term you resonate with at this point in your life? Do you wonder if there's a term that sums up your feelings for people who fall outside of the gender binary?
Ways to Explore Your Sexuality…
Exploring your sexuality can lead you down many roads. Here are a handful of resources to send you on your way to sexual exploration.
Going on Tumblr: You can go to the place where the term originated to find out how other people are talking about it. LGBTQ Tumblr is full of answers and people to connect with.
Scrolling through Reddit: Search for the term skoliosexual in the search bar on Reddit and watch how many communities pop up. Caution: You may get lost in a rabbit hole of commentary.
Trying a dating app: Apps like Tinder and Bumble are fine, but some people say that they have better luck finding people they're into on dating apps made for the LGBTQ community. A handful of safe, sex-positive spaces to connect with other LGBTQ folks: Taimi, Feeld, Her, Thurst, and Jack'd.
Reading about sexuality: Skoliosexual is a new term with little research to back it. It's okay if you can't find anything in textbooks or queer memoirs about what it means to be skoliosexual. Read up on nonbinary and trans folks to help you explore the drama surrounding the term skoliosexual. Try: Whipping Girl by Julia Serano, Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg, Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein, and High School by Tegan & Sara.
Connecting with queer folks on socials: Follow other folks in the LGBTQ community. When you fill your social feeds with different identities and lifestyles, it does good things for our mental health. Some cool ones to start with: @CtrSexPositive, @alokvmenon, or any listed in this guide to celebrating pride.