The New News (Part Two of Two)

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:

Enter:  Nerdy framework

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).

framework
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,
Meredith

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.

The New News (Part One of Two)

There’s been a lot happening lately, as you might surmise from my recent silence.  Foremost among these is the happy news that, on Saturday, June 14th (Flag Day, for those of you who follow those things), Liz and I got engaged.

 

Liz and I drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

Liz and me drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

While there’s plenty of story-telling to go with the engagement (blanket fort, 5:30AM, videos of ring-making, flowers hidden in the water heater closet), the engagement also serves as a timely prompt for thoughts that have been circling in my head for a while.  While Facebook followers are likely unsurprised, there are many for whom my engagement is the first news that I have dated women at all.  So I’m going to rewind the tapes, share more of the journey, and give more context on everything.  (Note that this will be a two-part installment given the length.)

Choice or determinism?
Though I had inklings prior, I first time I seriously considered women was when I was a senior in college.  I wasn’t displeased with men, but I knew I was attracted to women as well.  I met my first out-and-proud lesbian and spent time quietly observing how she carried herself.  More importantly, under the guises of a project for my graphic design class (which asked us to create a poster for a cause we cared about), I started to think critically about LGBTQ* issues for the first time.  I went to my first march for LGBTQ rights outside of New Haven’s City Hall.  I was nervous and tentative, knowing neither what I wanted as an individual nor how to participate in the broader community.  But I designed my poster for class, walked in the crowd, and took a side on the first political issue I had real clarity on.

Researching that project exposed me to the rhetoric of the LGBTQ dialogue for the first time.  At that point, in 2003, the discussion of sexual orientation – and all the associated civil rights issues – hinged on the question of whether you had a choice about who you were attracted to.  The debate was framed as:  “We don’t have a choice about our sexual orientation, therefore you must accept us as we are.”  The political rhetoric was binary:  you were heterosexual or homosexual – and, either way, you didn’t have a say in it.

While there was still a lot I didn’t know about my feelings, this framing never sat well with me.  I could feel the choice in myself.  I knew that I was attracted to men and to women.  And I had a choice as to what to do with that.  There wasn’t any tension in it.  It was just true.

[Now pause for an interlude of almost a decade of very happily dating a phenomenal handful of men.  And park this thought of the question of determinism versus choice in sexuality.  We’ll come back to it.]

Homosexual or heterosexual?
Jumping forward to 2012, I started dating Liz.  Our first date was on a second obscure holiday (which, like Flag Day, would become personally meaningful):  Cinco de Mayo.  As my relationship with Liz grew, I quickly came out to those I interacted with on a daily basis.  This was easy in certain ways because my relationship with Liz was so happy and I had no reason to be ashamed of it.  My feelings weren’t ‘odd’ or ‘other’ to me.  I didn’t hold a lot of judgment as to whether this was better or worse than dating men.  And as I had been quite happy in my situations before, I hadn’t been hiding or avoiding anything.

When I started telling people, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.  There was still curiosity, however, about how I had arrived here:  “Wait, are you a lesbian?”  “Have you known this all along?”  “But didn’t you date men?”  “Have you been hiding this for years?”  Everyone wanted to support and some people understandably struggled to fit this into their past experiences and previously-held beliefs.

We had an outpouring of love and support.  Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

When we announced our engagement, we had an outpouring of love and support. Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

It’s easiest for a society of many millions of people to define things – and people – very clearly.  Thus, as a way of simplifying, we migrate to binary definitions.  You can be homosexual or heterosexual.  You are attracted to men or to women.  The wide swath of middle ground (the many flavors of ‘bisexual’), the answer that negates the question (‘asexual’), and all other nuances are harder to put our heads around, even while they’re more accurate to our complex world of feelings.

Emotionally, I’m attracted to men and women.  What a wonderful thing.  And how lucky am I that this sincere openness to love made my relationship with Liz possible.

To be continued (in some combination of personal story and nerding out on frameworks) on Thursday.

With love and celebration!
Meredith

Read the next installment (Part Two of Two) here.

Yep, that happened.

Yep, that happened.

*Note:  I use LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) as shorthand throughout this post to refer to the entire ‘non-straight’ community.  That said, I know this label is not as fully inclusive as it could be and there are a million other letters we could append on the end.  With apologies to those who feel their appropriate letter is not included.