James Blakely explores what it means when the typical labels about sexuality don’t fit.
Where do you fall on the spectrum of sexuality?
A couple of weeks ago, singer/songwriter, Ryan Amador released the music video for his latest single “Spectrum.” It is a beautiful, catchy pop-soul song that brings to light that human sexuality is complex and exists on a spectrum – that humans are not necessarily just straight or gay or even bi.
My sexuality has never really fit inside a nice conventional shiny box and for many years it was confusing as I sought to figure it out. Most of the common mainstream labels such as gay, straight, or bi just never quite seem to fit. If you happen to be attracted to a person of the same sex as you, you are labeled gay. Opposite sex, straight. Attracted to both sexes, bisexual. But what if none of those labels fit? Then what?
For a time, I considered myself bisexual, but even that label didn’t seem right. A few years ago I came across an article on The Good Men Project about a college hockey player named Dillon who described himself as “[residing] in the ‘Sexual Netherlands,’ a place that exists between heterosexuality and bisexuality.” The eye-opening article challenged my preconceived notion on labels and got me thinking outside of the traditional sexual binary of gay and straight. I could easily relate to Dillon, feeling like I too existed in the sexual Netherlands that he describes, however, on the other end of the spectrum.
In the mid-20th century, sexologist Dr. Alfred Kinsey developed a seven-point numerical rating scale, simply known as the Kinsey scale, which attempts to describe a person’s sexuality. He discovered through interviews that most people are not exclusively straight or exclusively gay or lesbian and that they fall somewhere on this spectrum. On one end of the scale you have those who identify as exclusively heterosexual, given a 0. On the other end, those that identify as exclusively homosexual are given a 6. In the middle, number 3, are people who are more or less equally attracted to males and females (bisexuality). For those numbers in-between, 1-2 (predominately more heterosexual) and 4-5 (predominately more homosexual), or to use Dillon’s terminology the “sexual Netherlands,” it gets a bit more complicated and can be more confusing for a person trying to figure out their own sexual identity.
The Kinsey scale as well as other similar scales aren’t exactly perfect as Kinsey himself pointed out: “Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories.”
There is a part of me that doesn’t like to get hung up on labels. Who I love and what I do in the bedroom is my business so why does it matter if my sexuality gets defined? I think its human nature to know who we are and how we relate to others. We want to define ourselves, including our sexuality so we know where we fit in within our community or society as a whole. We want to know if there are others like us that think and feel the same way. It seems like we can only find those people by placing a label on ourselves and finding others that identify with the same label.
While my sexuality doesn’t necessarily define who I am as a person, it is still something I have tried to label and define over the years; but I don’t think there is singular definition that fully describes my sexuality. The older I get, the less I worry about placing a label on it. I’ve tried to adopt a line from Andrea Gibson’s poem, “Andrew” as my mantra, “No I’m not gay. No I’m not straight. And I’m sure as hell not bisexual damn it! I am whatever I am when I am it.”
These days, for the sake of picking a label I like the term queer. For me personally, it seems to encompass the in-between numbers on the spectrum. Sure, it’s a little ambiguous and for some folks within the LGBT+ community it has a negative connotation, but it’s what I feel fits me best. Others will make assumptions about how the term queer defines my sexuality but if they ask me directly I’m usually happy to discuss it. At the end of the day what a person calls themself is up to them. The important thing is that they choose what feels right and not what society says they are.
Unfortunately, our culture doesn’t do a good job at openly discussing the spectrum of sexuality which is why I am grateful for artists such as Ryan and for The Good Men Project for their contributions in having these conversations. I hope that we are reaching a period where mainstream society can begin to have deeper discussions on the complexity of human sexuality, and that we can begin to break out of these boxed-in labels of straight, gay or bi. Its time that we free ourselves from these general labels and the only way we can do that is to be more open and talk about it.
Photo: Bi Visible/Flickr