DiversifYA: Morgan York
|September 14, 2015||Posted by Marieke under DiversifYA, QUILTBAG|
We’re back! And we hope you had an amazing summer!The wonderful Morgan York joins us today! Morgan is a writer of YA and adult, fantasy and contemporary. She recently graduated from the Johnston Center of Integrative Studies, a design-your-own-major program at the University of Redlands, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in “Writing Fiction: Listening, Absorbing, and Creating.” In a past life, she was an actress who appeared in a variety of works, including Cheaper by the Dozen and The Pacifier. She’s a feminist, a gamer, a traveler, and a reader of everything from old Russian novels to modern YA to adult lit. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and GoodReads.
1. How do you identify yourself?
Like most people, I identify in a lot of ways. Writer of novels, first and foremost. Former actress, only because that’s how most of the world knows me (otherwise that wouldn’t take much priority). A reader, a gamer, a college graduate, a twenty-something with an anxiety disorder. I haven’t been officially diagnosed, but I’ve had symptoms of anxiety since I was a kid.
The identities I wanna focus on here, though, are pansexual and demisexual. I identify as pansexual rather than bisexual because I feel like it’s more inclusive of non-gender-conforming individuals (though I know many bisexuals include non-gender-conforming people in their definitions of bisexuality, and they prefer that word).
Demisexuality is the one I feel like fewer people know about. For those who haven’t heard of it, a demisexual person is someone who cannot develop sexual feelings for someone unless they have a strong emotional connection to that person (e.g., the person must be a close friend before an attraction can happen).
2. What did it feel like growing up demisexual and pansexual?
It was confusing, especially since I didn’t know there was a word for demisexuality until I was 21. When my friends and peers seemed to fall for people overnight–sometimes without even talking to the person, imagine that–I legitimately thought they were either kidding themselves or faking it. I couldn’t conceive of being attracted to someone without being emotionally intimate with them first. When people asked me if a celebrity was cute and my response was, “I don’t know, I don’t know them,” they gave me weird looks. At some point, I pretended to have celebrity crushes because everybody else seemed to have them and I was sick of being badgered about it.
I think it also resulted in me missing out on some awesome YA lit as a teen, which makes me sad now that I love and regularly read YA. I mistakenly thought all YA books were like Twilight–that their appeal depended on what I saw as a completely unbelievable romance between people who didn’t have much in common. So I steered clear of it, despite the fact that I was writing a YA novel at the time (big surprise–it included no romance). I didn’t see myself represented in these love-at-first-sight types of stories, and I chalked it up to bad writing because I didn’t understand that my attractions to people work differently.
As for pansexuality, I can’t really say. In part because of the demisexuality, I didn’t even know I was pansexual until the later years of college. In fact, I wasn’t sexually attracted to anyone until I was 17. If I had known asexuality existed, I probably would have identified that way for the majority of my teen years. I just assumed I was straight, even though I didn’t want to have sex with guys as much as I didn’t want to have sex with girls.
3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?
Most of the demisexual challenges springing to mind relate to me not knowing there was a word for the way I felt attraction. My most horrifying misconception was thanks to how our sexist society operates. Whenever teenage me was in a sexual situation and didn’t personally want to partake in sexual activities (which, before I was 17, was every time), I thought, “This must be because I’m a girl, and girls don’t like sex. So I guess sex is a gift you give to a guy when you love him.” UH, NO. I hope everyone reading this knows that, no matter what gender you are, you should not take part in sexual activities if you are uncomfortable. You do not owe anyone sexual favors and it’s not a “sacrifice” you should be pressured to make to show someone you love them.
Another challenge is being a single demisexual who wants to find love. Last year, I found myself newly single after several years of being in a relationship, meaning it was my first time being single as an adult. I didn’t know the word “demisexual” yet, but I did know I couldn’t fall for someone unless I was good friends with them first. Which meant I could only fall in love by accident, and things like matchmaking websites and getting some cute person’s number wouldn’t work. I was scared I wouldn’t be able to find someone. I feel ridiculously lucky that I found the person I’m with now.
One nice perk is that because of how demisexuality works, I’m a lot less likely to get physically involved with someone and regret it. I have to build a lot of trust with someone before I so much as kiss them, let alone take part in sexual activities with them. I’ve never kissed someone who I’ve known for less than a year.
And a perk to pansexuality is that I’m not gonna be uncomfortable with my partner’s gender or gender expression no matter what. If my partner starts identifying in a different way or experimenting with different aspects of masculinity/femininity, cool! Do whatever you want!
4. What do you wish people knew about being demisexual/pansexual?
It would help if more people knew demisexuality existed. A lot of people don’t know that asexuality, like gender attraction orientation, is a spectrum. On one end is asexual, and on the other is allosexual. In between those is gray-asexuality, which means you experience sexual attraction, but not often. Demisexuality is a type of gray-asexuality.
I wish more people knew that being on the asexual spectrum doesn’t mean you dislike sex. The first time someone suggested I might be demisexual, I said, “No, I enjoy sex when I have it.” But the asexual spectrum doesn’t measure how strong your sex drive is; it measures how much it takes for you to be sexually attracted to someone, or how often your sexual attractions occur.
Also, it is possible to find someone aesthetically attractive without being attracted to them. For instance, I stare at pictures of Audrey Hepburn or Emma Watson the way I stare at a beautiful sunset, but I wouldn’t wanna kiss them or date them based on that.
As for pansexuality, I wish more people realized that your sexual orientation doesn’t disappear once you’re in a relationship. I may be dating someone of one gender, but that doesn’t mean the attractions I’ve had to other genders suddenly don’t count. To me, that sounds as ridiculous as, “Oh, your wife has brown eyes? So you really like brown-eyed people. I guess you were just pretending to be into that blue-eyed girl you dated in high school.”
5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?
It’s pretty hard to find cliches or stereotypes about demisexuals, since we’re not really represented! But one response I’m used to hearing is, “Most people don’t have sex with someone until they’ve established an emotional connection. That’s normal!” Demisexuality isn’t the choice to abstain from sexual activity unless you know someone well. The difference with demisexuality is that if an emotional connection isn’t there, the sexual attraction can’t exist. Not at all. There are plenty of people who will wait until they know someone well before getting physical with them but who will also see an attractive person and comment on how “bangable” they are. I’ve never been able to relate to that.
Also, just because I have an emotional connection with someone doesn’t mean I will for sure be attracted to them. It’s just the only thing that makes attraction possible for me.
As for pansexuality, there is, again, a tendency for people to think you can only be gay or straight, and that eventually you’ll “pick a side.” I used to think this way, assuming people who identified as bisexual or pansexual were either straight people experimenting or gay people stalling before they came out “completely.” I hope people stop perpetuating this idea, because it’s harmful, and probably contributed to me not realizing I was pansexual until my early twenties.
BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?
Before you write any character, it’s really important to explore as many aspects of your identity as possible. One of the first pieces of writing advice I ever heard was that it’s easier to write characters who are different from you once you have a good idea about who you are. I’d encourage everyone to think about their own sexuality, even if they assume they’re a straight allosexual. Once you know where you stand, you can figure out what your biases are and be more intentional about crafting the sexualities of your characters. Otherwise, you might end up writing about a whole bunch of demisexuals without realizing (whoops!).