Defense of Gender Act Goes Down, But We’re All Still Missing the Point!!

Most people believe the current gay marriage debate is about whether gay people can legally marry.  In actuality, nowhere in the US does sexual orientation have any bearing on marriage legality.  A gay man and a lesbian could waltz up to any justice of the peace in this country, in any state, wearing matching rainbow leggings, carrying pride flags instead of flowers, and tie the knot, no questions asked.  Constitution upheld, fabric of society unscathed.

The truth is, Proposition 8, DOMA, state marriage amendments, Chris Christie’s veto in NJ, the Pope, the protests, and the two major Supreme Court opinions received today aren’t about gay or marriage at all.  They’re about gender.  The act struck down by SCOTUS today might more appropriately be called DOGA –  the “Defense of Gender Act.”

If the introduction of “gayness” into marriage was really what folks in California, and elsewhere, wanted to prevent, then why do we allow the many mixed-orientation marriages that occur all over the US, many of them involving children?  If “gay marriage” isn’t about gay people getting married, then what is the “profound redefinition of a bedrock social institution” Mr. Cooper, legal counsel defending Proposition 8 (the  California same-sex marriage ban) was debating with the supreme court justices?  Mr. Cooper’s argument wasn’t about gay people at all.   He repeatedly referred to “redefining marriage as a genderless institution.”  Mr. Cooper was arguing a case for upholding the gender binary.

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Can you be Sexually Gay and Romantically Straight?

Why do we keep expecting limits? There are no limits!

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A few months back it came out that actor John Travolta may have had sex with men.  Whatever the facts of the case, the blogosphere and my sex therapist circles were a-flutter with speculation.  What did this mean?  Was John Travolta gay?  Does sex with men necessarily mean gay?

This fascinating Good Men Project post Mostly Straight Most of the Time talks about men who identify as “mostly straight,” including men who feel politically or personally limited by the heterosexual male role, men who find other men attractive but primarily enjoy sex with women, and men who have romantic feelings or enjoy cuddling or going “beyond platonic” with other men but not having sex.  It also talks about men who have sex with other men but still identify as “mostly straight.”  For example, the article quotes a man named Dillon who explains that “he resides in the ‘Sexual Netherlands,’ a place that exists between heterosexuality and bisexuality.”

So what is going on with these men?  Are they gay, straight, or bisexual?  My answer to that question is that it is the wrong question.  Rather than trying to squeeze people  into existing labels, perhaps we should be making new labels.  Can you be sexually gay and romantically straight, or as some of my colleagues described it, “homo-sexual and hetero-emotional?” Of course!  You can be ANYTHING.  That is what we keep missing.  No matter how many categories we make, people will keep inhabiting “the netherlands in between.”

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In Defense of Labels

Please check out this post on Elephant Journal where your clicks here will help my rating during their “sweeps.”

In my feminist, sex-positive, queer-positive travels, I constantly hear folks complaining about labels.  Let’s just stop with all these labels.  If we could just get away from labels.  It’s the labels that are the problem.  When I hear this, I often wonder how any of the progress that’s been made to expand notions of gender identity beyond the binary and make space for non-heteronormative and queer forms of identity could have been made without labels.  How could we fight for gay marriage without the word “gay?”  How could we raise awareness that not everyone fits neatly into male/female categories without labels like transgender, intersex, and genderqueer?  I can understand the frustration with labels when it feels like they narrow who we can be and pigeon-hole us into existing categories, like male and female, for example.  But ironically, I believe the way to expand notions of identity and free ourselves from those limits is also through more labels.

I recently heard the phrase “Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Minorities” for the first time.  As someone who focuses my career in the mental health field on those very groups, I was so pleased to finally have found a quick and dirty label not only for the folks I work with but for myself, as a queer-identified pansexual.  However, after my initial excitement, I started to feel a bit sad.  Would this mean I would have to stop using the acronym I coined on my blog and have been using for over a year… LGBTQIAPK?

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Texas Representative is First Out Pansexual Politician – Why do I Care?

Pansexual Pride!

This week I had an experience I’ve never had before.  I guess I’ve always taken for granted that folks in political office or in the public eye represented me as a white, feminist, progressive, Italian-American, queer-(ish, before coming out) woman.  I’ve certainly never sat down and thought about the fact that there’s no one out there who really represents my identity, as I’m sure many other folks have.  I live in a privileged space where I can be fairly assured most aspects of my identity will be visible in culture and politics.

Thus, I would never have predicted how visceral and powerful my reaction would be when I saw this.   As reported here on, Mary Gonzalez will be the first out pansexual legistlator in the country.  After her election to the Texas House of Representatives (Texas!  Of all places!), Gonzalez, who had presented herself as a lesbian, explained her choice to wait until after the election to reveal her true identity.

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What Do All Those Letters Stand for Anyway? The Case for LGBTQIAPK.

New York City Pride 2012

People often ask me “what do all those letters stand for, anyway?”  I’m not quite sure why they ask me, since most don’t know I belong in that alphabet soup somewhere.  But they ask, and I’m glad, because I think they should know.  However, there is definitely a part of me that’s annoyed by the question, and thinks, ‘come on people, keep up, it’s not rocket science.’  Of course, there are those who don’t know “what all those letters stand for” because they don’t want to, due to ignorance or hatred.  But there are also well-meaning allies who are having a hard time keeping up.

Hell, there are a whole bunch of folks who fit within that list of letters, or a longer one we haven’t come up with yet, who don’t even know it.  It is confusing.  It should be.  That list of letters keeps growing and growing because the variations in human sexuality and gender identity are infinite.  We probably need the whole alphabet to cover them.  I have this fantasy that one day when there are more of us who fit under the “queer” umbrella than don’t, it will finally be clear that we are all “sexual minorities.”

This is not at all to diminish the experience of people who have to live, openly or not, as sexual minorities in our culture right now.  But perhaps the reason they are in the “minority” is because of how many others are still closeted in various ways.  How many people must be out there who have never spent much time considering their sexual orientations or gender identities due to compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory gender-normativity, and/or compulsory sexual vanilla-ism in our culture?  And how many simply don’t fit labels our culture has yet produced?

I mean, honestly, how many of us have “normal,” monogamous sex, one man, one woman, in missionary position, nothing “dirty,” no bondage-discipline-dominance-submission-sado-masochism-kinky stuff, no outside partners, no shared partners, only clean, run-of-the-mill fantasies, barely any foreplay necessary, easy “normal” orgasms, vaginal for the women, no clitoral stimulation needed, male gets hard easily, cums at just the right moment, no props, no toys, no porn, male in the dominant-but-not-too-aggressive role, woman in the submissive or seductive-but-still-respectable role, only “normal” masturbation in between, like our televisions tell us to?

And how many of us fit neatly and comfortably into one of two biological sexes, as well as the gender identity and gender role identity that our culture would dictate?

Folks in drag at 2012 Pride.

One of the main reasons the acronym that formed around sexual orientations (LGB) has become murky is that the categories those letters cover keeps expanding.  When the gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender movements merged, a gender identity category was added to a list of sexual orientations.  I believe this was a pivotal point at which our society began to wrestle with how gender variance can interplay and overlap with sexual orientation.  This also opened the door for new identities such as “genderqueer” to emerge.  The term “queer” also became the label of choice for those who sought a more inclusive category, in some cases to avoid having to choose either a sexual orientation or gender identity label.  Queer has also been utilized by many who gravitate toward labels that haven’t gained status in the official acronym yet, like genderqueer and pansexual.  Finally, queer can be a political stance for allies or others who don’t necessarily ascribe to specific “queer” identities, but take on a “queer” stance or perspective.

Transgender calls into question the assumed match between biological sex and gender identity.  Intersex, also typically one of the commonly accepted “sexual minorities,” represents the almost 2% of the population who don’t fit neatly into existing biological categories of male and female according to Arlene Lev, author of Transgender Emergence.  If genderqueer and androgynous became part of the sexual minority acronym, it would represent yet another identity category, this time for those whose gender identities do not fit neatly into male/female gender categories.  Transgender, genderqueer, androgynous, and intersex are all identities which call into question the gender binary.

For me, pansexual is a label that defies labels.  It pulls the rug out from under the gender binary as well as earlier concepts of sexual orientation, by separating sexual/affectional orientation from binary notions of gender.  It is essentially a refusal to define sexual orientation based on gender.  For some, it even calls into question the boundaries between sex/love relationships and non-romantic relationships.  To me it is an identity category which expands, rather than narrows who people can be and how.  As someone seeking to choose partners and set up my relationships and lifestyle based on criteria other than gender, I wasn’t sure how I fit into the queer spectrum until I discovered pansexuality.  I think I always identified with being queer, but I never felt entitled to identify as queer until I heard this term.  I am only identified as queer now because our culture was creative enough to produce such a concept.  How many other queer folks are out there for whom we don’t yet have labels?

Despite the relative mainstreaming of gay identity, there was only one Bisexual group in NYC's gigantic Pride Parade, and no one representing Pansexuals, Asexuals, etc.

Asexual, an identity which is often included within the sexual minority acronym, represents yet another identity type, this time regarding one’s level of interest in sex or identification as a sexual being.

“Questioning” doesn’t necessarily imply what one is questioning, further muddying the waters, but potentially drawing in more folks who are either unsure how they fit under the queer umbrella, or again, may ascribe to identities not yet defined.

Other potential categories relate to those sexual minorities who do not structure relationships around monogamy.  Polyamorists are candidates for inclusion in our acronym, in addition those who are “sexual minorities” by virtue of the less common sexual practices and/or sexual roles they take on, particularly those within the kink community.  K would cover those who practice bondage and discipline, dominance-submission and/or sado-masochism, as well as those with an incredibly diverse set of fetishes and preferences.  According to survey data around 15% of adults engage in some form of consensual sexual activity along the “kink” spectrum.  This is a higher percentage than identify as gay or lesbian.

This is my official petition to add the letters P and K to the more widely accepted LGBTQIA acronym, and to emphasize other “A” and “G” identities.  This would make room not only for myself, but for all those who already identify as genderqueer, androgynous, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and those who are part of the kink community.   Perhaps seeing those additional letters will help some of the folks out there who haven’t been exposed to these identities understand themselves a bit better and feel they too have a place in the queer community.

LGGBTQQIAAPPK?  The categories of human sex and gender expression and identities they could represent is likely infinite.  If that acronym looks a bit absurd, it speaks to the absurdity of thinking there are a few isolated “sexual minorities” while the rest of the human race is “normal” and fairly similar.  The truth is the level of diversity in our sexual lives as human beings means we are all sexual minorities.  As accepted and culturally understood identity categories continue to arise, this will become more and more apparent.  Perhaps the “queer” community, is, in fact, becoming more accurately described as the community of people who acknowledge the diversity of human sexual and gender expression and seek to be open to exploring that diversity within themselves and the culture at large.

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“If Only You Were Born Now” – Up-and-Coming Identities

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I frequently find myself thinking ‘If only you were born now,’ while working with middle-aged gender variant people.  The few times I actually say it out loud, it’s painfully clear how unhelpful it is.   A few days ago I found myself trying to explain the concept “genderqueer” to a married, middle-aged natal male who currently identifies as transgender.  He was saying he feels part male and part female, not female enough to start hormones or have re-assignment surgery and transition, but not male enough to continue to pass as male.  I recall saying something along the lines of “all the college kids are doing it.”

To at least a certain subset of 20 year-olds, this man’s problem wouldn’t be perceived as a problem at all.  Identities including ‘both male and female,’ ‘neither male nor female,’ ‘third gender,’ ‘non-gendered,’ and ‘androgynous’ have become increasingly easy for young people to conceptualize.   “Oh, you’re just genderqueer,” I can imagine them saying.   But how does one come out as genderqueer at fifty?  How does one explain to spouses, colleagues, children and other relatives who have never considered identities outside the gender binary?    There would be very real and potentially serious social consequences to coming out for this person.

Even if I could bring him on a fieldtrip down to a local gender studies department or campus LGBT alliance to see first-hand what a genderqueer identity might look like, his peers would still lack any exposure to this concept.  Many adults are still struggling with the idea homosexuality, and most would have a difficult time really understanding transgender identity.  But at least the ‘one-gender-trapped-in-the-body-of-the-other’ idea fits into the gender binary most people are used do, as does attraction to the opposite gender.  Genderqueer is an identity which demands thinking way outside the box, calling into question the very concept of gender as we know it.

Even for those transgender folks who have transitioned, there is sometimes a level of generational envy.  I have often heard transgender individuals fantasizing about how things might have been different if they were born now, with the availability of hormones, surgical advancements, and the increased awareness of transgender children and teens.  Kids now have the option of intervening early enough that puberty never steals their chances of passing as their identified gender.

College is, after all, the perfect time to formulate one’s identity.  Had this middle-aged man experimented with transgender and genderqueer identities in college and chosen/begun his career and long-term partnership already identifying as such, his life would be very different.  College is a safe place and time in which one’s peers are also, in their own ways, testing out different identities.  But, as a wise supervisor of mine frequently says, “one can only choose from among the culturally available identities.”  For most of the middle-aged people I work with, transgender and genderqueer were not a part of the cultural landscape yet when they were adolescents.

A few months ago I attended an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City.  A beautiful, confidant young woman took her place at the “human microphone” in order to speak.  She began by saying, “I am a black, pansexual woman.”  I remember distinctly the pang of envy I felt.  Fifteen years ago I was a gender studies major (back when it was still called women’s studies).  I lived in the gay dorm and hung out with the least gender conforming kids on campus.  But I had never heard of “pansexual” until a few years ago.  It might not have taken me until my 30s to solidify my queer identity if I had.

For me, the labels that existed when I was in college didn’t quite fit.  In retrospect, this was because they all fit into that traditional gender binary.  Lucky for me, dating men and passing as straight fit my identity well enough.  I had the privilege of putting the knowledge I was queer on the back burner until an identity that fit me better was imagined by our culture.

For others, the feelings of being gender variant are so profound and all-encompassing that life simply cannot go on, at least not without suffering and struggle.  I believe this is why so many parents are working to open up space for their children to explore minority sexual and gender identities.  Once that stage in life when our identities are naturally in flux has passed, there is no way to get that time back.

I often wonder what my life would look like right now if I had had pansexual Identity on my radar in college.  It might look exactly the same, but have simply feel more authentic for longer.  Despite my envy, I am deeply encouraged by and utterly respectful of the kids that are coming up now.  They are fundamentally re-thinking gender and opening up space for fuller and richer lives for those who don’t fit easily within the gender binary (and really, for everyone).

That said, we always need to be looking forward, making more space, thinking further outside the box.  There are children growing up right now who will live their whole lives in silent desperation because they fit identity categories the culture has yet to offer.

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Out of Which Closet? (My Husband Does Do That Part 3)

Not my mom.  So who am I then?   Or should I say what am I?  Sometimes my husband and I feel like we are different, gay perhaps, or maybe queer?  Is there more to being gay than the sexual preference part?  Where is the line between gender and sexual orientation?

I love and have sex with a man, but I don’t feel straight.  Women are sexy too.  I think I’d love being with a woman, but I can’t say I’d prefer it to a man.  But I also feel like there’s more to my not feeling straight than that, so calling myself bi doesn’t feel right either.

Perhaps it goes back to not believing in gender as most people see it.  Labels of gay and straight necessarily imply hard lines between male and female.  To define one’s sexuality by “who” or “which” one is attracted to, one must buy into the concept that there are clear males and clear females.

What about those who do not fit neatly into those categories?   Did you know there are roughly as many intersex people as there are Jews?  That’s a sizable portion of the population, and it doesn’t even begin to cover those along the transgender spectrum!

I went to a talk once where I was introduced to the term “omnisexual,” meaning attracted to basically anyone, because you reject the notion of dichotomized gender roles.  Is that what I am?

How does one “come out” as omnisexual, pansexual, genderqueer?  And does one have to look the part?  I surely don’t.  And what about the other aspects of my lifestyle?

My husband and I don’t live as male and female the way most people seem to.  We don’t organize our lives around gender… at all.  None of the daily tasks we do, the way we raise our kids, the way we organize work in and outside the home, the way we relate to each other, the power structure in our relationship, none of it is based on the fact that he’s a man and I’m a woman.

I often feel like this is my dirty little secret.  I don’t know how to talk about it.  There’s no word for it.  I don’t know how to find others like me.  This must be how it feels to be gay before one realizes there’s a concept for “it.”  How amazing would it be to be able to go to a bar or a website where everyone is, well, whatever I am?

It always amazes me that so many people seem to exist on the earth who fit into already existing categories.  There’s another “man” who “has sex with men,” must be a “gay man.”  Hell, there’s even a category for people who like animals!

What about the spaces between the categories?  What about new categories?  Isn’t our desire really way more complicated and varied than the available labels we have?  Where’s my category?  I want to come out, but I can’t figure out which closet I’m in!

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