When it comes to the vocabulary used to define gender and sexual orientation, it can be difficult to keep track of exactly which words people are using to express different preferences and identities — frankly because there are a lot, they're evolving, and they're often defined by the people using them. (Refinery29 created a gender identity glossary for exactly these reasons.)
One relatively new term is "skoliosexual," which means being primarily sexually, romantically, and/or aesthetically attracted to genderqueer, transgender, and/or non-binary people. It's unclear exactly when the word originated, but it's been floated in certain genderqueer Tumblrs and Reddit threads for around the last five years.
It's important to point out that skoliosexuality isn't limited to being attracted to just trans people or just non-binary people, and is inclusive of a range of different genderqueer identities, explains Michael Guichet, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in sex therapy for members of the LGBTQ community. "Sometimes it doesn't include trans folks, and sometimes it does," he says. "As trans folks can fall into genderqueer or gender non-binary, it doesn't mean specifically that they all do." In other words, "skoliosexual" can be used to describe attraction to anyone under the larger umbrella of genderqueer.
There has been some criticism of the actual etymology of the word, because the Greek root "skolio" can mean "tortuous" or "crooked" (like "scoliosis"), which implies that people who identify as skoliosexual are somehow broken. For this reason, a few people on Tumblr say they prefer ceterosexual or allotroposexual as alternative labels.
Others argue that people who identify as skoliosexual are fetishizing trans or genderqueer people, even referring to people with this attraction as "chasers." Or they say that separating trans attraction from cis attraction in itself is problematic and othering.
There are myriad reasons why some people might be attracted to a genderqueer or trans person, and gender identity is only one of them, Guichet says. When we talk about preference and fetishization, it ultimately boils down to the overarching question: Can we really tell people who they're sexually attracted to, how they're wired, and who they should want to have sex with? "That is a truly problematic place to be," he says.
In many ways, using labels is a personal choice, and not everyone subscribes to the process of labeling, Guichet says. In therapy, most of his clients tend to "talk about their attractions in their idealized way, as opposed to labeling," he says. For example, they may say, "I'm really attracted to genderqueer people or I'm turned on by cis men." But others may prefer to say, "I'm skoliosexual, so I'm attracted to genderqueer people."
There can be value in having labels, because it allows people to talk about and name preferences that they've never articulated before. "It's really important to come to terms with your preferences, and then be able to ask for them," Guichet says. "How we go about asking for them is where the gentleness or finesse comes into play."
Gender and sexual orientation are both highly personal and constantly evolving. So, in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, we're talking about the importance of language and raising the voices of the LGBTQIA community. Welcome to Gender Nation, where gender is defined by the people who live it. Want to learn more? Check out our Gender Nation glossary.