Making sense of it all
[Continued from The New News (Part One of Two) here. Here’s where we re-start the very personal discussion with a particularly nerdy spin.]
Putting my story together and applying my consultant lens yields one way of looking at the world: a framework of sexual orientation and degree of influence. This is not the end-all, be-all way of understanding sexual orientation and the question of determinism versus choice (every lens highlights something and obscures other things), but it makes sense to my analytical brain and rings true with my experience:
The x-axis maps to the second question I tackle here: the question of sexual orientation. This spectrum of sexual orientation is visualized in the well-known Kinsey scale, which dates back to the 1940s. Near the origin is ‘Exclusively heterosexual’ (denoted by 0). Towards the end of the axis is ‘Exclusively homosexual’ (denoted by 6).** Between these extremes, Kinsey proposed a spectrum of attraction.
As you would know from the above, my feelings are neither entirely homosexual nor entirely heterosexual. I fall somewhere in the middle.
For the y-axis, let’s track back to my first question – of choice versus determinism. Note that this is not a biological choice of who you’re attracted to (the nature part), but instead a choice of whether you decide to open yourself to those feelings, to give them space, and to see where they go (conceivably, the nurture part). Our biological impulses – not only in the realm of sexuality but in all areas of our lives – are tempered, colored and interpreted through the lens of our experiences. Some people, like me, feel they have a large degree of choice in how they live their sexual orientation. Others – homosexual, heterosexual, and everything in between – see themselves as having no choice at all; this was the way it was. But just like sexual orientation is on a continuum, so is it important to accommodate this continuum of ‘degree of influence’ from ‘Completely determined’ (near the origin) to ‘Completely chosen’ (towards the end).
To upend the rhetoric of 2003, you can have full choice in how you live out your sexual orientation – and still be legitimate.
You can, in short, fall anywhere on the framework and be worthy of acceptance and (indeed) celebration.
And what of the labels?
This whole framework is one way of thinking about how people experience the world internally. It addresses neither how people describe themselves to others nor how others classify them. So, beyond this, there is a third question of identification. And just as labels don’t fit neatly on people, neither do they fit neatly on a framework. Instead, people at any point in the framework could identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, queer, straight, pansexual, bi-curious, hetero, questioning, same gender loving, multiple of the above, all-of-the-above, or none-of-the-above (you know, just ‘human’). (Note that I have left out transgender here as it’s actually quite a different discussion; see this fantastic resource on discussing gender identify separate from sexual orientation).
For me, none of the labels fit very comfortably. I don’t have formative experiences of frustration or judgment that are more normative for some who feel their queer identity is pre-determined. Similarly, I don’t have the shared experience of complete homosexual feeling that would let me fully identify as a lesbian. Sitting in the nebulous spots means that I don’t resonate with any labels. Not lesbian. Not bi-sexual. Not queer. Not really, umm, anything.
Except Meredith Whipple.
And maybe, in about a year, if she can convince me, Meredith Whipple Callahan.
With love and celebration,
Read the unexpected sequel (Part Three of Two) here.
**Note: Since the Kinsey scale was invented, it has been updated to include X, meaning “No socio-sexual contacts or relations” to include asexuality.