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English 212
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Flexually Speaking

Lauren Friedman

"Flexual." I liked the term as soon as I heard it. The term was coined at Wesleyan University, where a sizable queer population and a remarkably accepting college community both allow and encourage ongoing, open discourse about sexuality. "Flexual" doesn't sound like a name for a ghastly disease, like "bisexual" or "homosexual." It sounds sexy and fun, sensual and quirky - the way sexuality should sound.
Fah-lexual. The first time I said it, it slid easily off my tongue and nudged my lips into a smile. The word has no false implications and allows no hasty assumptions. It rejects the black-and-white, cut-and-dried nature of bisexuality, and instead moves us forward into a newspeak that is not boxed into the language of a binary gender system.
I usually balk at labels of any kind. My attitude is that while people can call themselves whatever they want, we have to be very careful in what we call each other. For me, terms like gay, straight, lesbian, heterosexual, and homosexual are far too conclusive. Living is about accepting that there is an exception to every rule; it's about realizing that "the only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain." I do not ever want to be forced into a labeling crisis because I am surprised by my feelings toward someone. Human attraction is unpredictable and confusing; employing labels that restrict us, or force us into unnatural consistency only further complicate the situation.
Ideally, people would not feel so obliged to label themselves. Labels are misleading and constricting. We cannot assume that everyone speaks a common language; certain words mean different things to different people. Some people have trouble grasping the idea that bisexuality and monogamy are not necessarily exclusive of each other. Others are not used to hearing words like "queer" and "dyke" used as anything other than derogatory taunts. The word flexual seemed to me so new and so fresh that no one could have any false or negative connotations associated with it.
Unfortunately, the term is so brand new that the vast majority of people outside of the Wesleyan bubble have never heard of it. A Google search for "flexual" returns no results related remotely related to sexuality. An informal survey among friends yielded blank stares and shrugged shoulders. In the world of internet newsgroups, there was only a glimmer of recognition. A few people suggested that the idea of someone who is "flexual" is far from new; words such as "omnisexual" and "pansexual" have been in the lexicon of so-called alternative sexualities for years. The terms, which are synonomous, are even defined in the American Heritage Dictionary: "Relating to, having, or open to sexual activity of many kinds."1 Also, it makes sense to question the very validity and subjectivity of the word "flexual:" "People do lots of different things in bed. Even straight people. The notion that liking boys and girls at the same time makes you 'flexible' is ludicrous on its face. It's nothing more than a crypto-bisupremist contortion."2 While this argument is valid, one could counter that people are, in fact, more flexible sexually when they are open to dating both women and men. Still, while we may quibble over sexual jargon for days, the people behind the word itself are paramount.
Who are flexuals, and how do we use language to talk about sex? To the best of my knowledge, there is no palpable flexual community. The bisexual community is still so new as a singular entity, and the term "bisexual" has been part of our vernacular and sexual understanding for decades longer than "flexual." While the flexual community may not stand together in the same sense as the homosexual community, that does not mean such a community does not exist. While the label is new, the concept is not. Certainly a sizeable group of people are living in complete rejection of all labels that have been presented to them, choosing instead to exercise their personal preference, their flexibility, without attaching a label to their sexual slant. The way people who are flexual use language is especially interesting because the language they use may not even include the word "flexual" itself. As the term becomes more widely used, more people may officially identify as flexual, and then perhaps a unique vocabulary and linguistic approach will emerge from this burgeoning community.
Flexuality is a term and an idea that comes closer to rejecting written and spoken language as a valid form of sexual expression and understanding. Conversely, it can also be viewed as a term that brings us closer to accepting spoken and written language as a valid means for sexual expression. In essence, we must decide whether the word helps us or harms us. Two questions remain: Do we use language to identify ourselves or to define ourselves? And does language conform to us, or do we conform to language?
1 "Pansexual." Copyright 2002, Lexico LLC
2 Thomas, Michael. 9/22/02. "Re: 'flexual.'" newsgroup (

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