LGBT identity: why picking a side isn't healthy
In the wake of the supreme court decision approving marriage equality, homosexuality has, in most places, reached a sense of normalcy. No longer are gay couples identified awkwardly as "partners." Now they can just be your average Joe's on Maple Street with two kids and a golden retriever, just like the rest of them.
From since I was in grade school, I've been hearing about gay rights. My friends and I would pick up on it one way or another—from the picket signs sporting support for prop 8 to little snips here and there on the radio.
That being said, all I heard about was the gay community. There were people who were straight and people who were gay and to be bisexual was to be confused.
When I reached junior high, bisexuals weren't confused, they were sluts.
There was a new level of sophistication in high school where a consensus was reached that they were "seeking attention" or "going through a phase”. Its never been a culturally acceptable thing to be bisexual or sexually fluid.
According to sociology professor Elizabeth Ziff, “Those people are still marginalized in both the gay and straight community because as much as there is the intimidation from the straight community, there is some in the gay community. Its just as unfathomable that you wouldn't be one hundred percent gay.”
That being said, there is a consensus within researchers of sexuality that most people do fall somewhere along the spectrum. There have always been bisexual people in society and to some extent bisexual practices.
According to Ziff, in ancient Greece, one would marry and have a family but they primarily look to same sex lovers for sexual pleasure. Homosexuality’s history in America has evolved with our institutions and the way we look at genders role in society.
“[Homosexuality] was greatly constructed when private property, paternal lineage, [and] all of that great capitalist stuff really got put into place. I think we used to have more fluidity before a few significant social shifts in the sense that it was kind of just not talked about. Until the industrial revolution and society as we know it, sexuality just wasn't the way we think of it now," Ziff said, "It wasn't associated with moral goodness the same way that is has come to be associated... It wasn't a part of what made a person who they were.”
Granted, homosexuality was never seen as normal or “preferable” but in a way, the lack of conversation allowed for more freedom. Because there wasn’t explicit dialogue on the subject, there was less context behind experimentation. While today, experimenting can cause one to be incorrectly labeled, back then it was just doing what you wanted to do.
A big part of the issue is the labels themselves. As I said before, most of us exist on a spectrum. There are various levels of attraction and different ways you can be attracted to someone. The words "gay" and "straight" don’t take into account that you may be willing to kiss someone of a certain gender, but not have sex. Or you may be willing to have sex, but not be romantic. You may have romantic feelings, but no sexual attraction. The words "gay" and "straight" and even "bisexual" don’t take these things into account.
“I can distinctly remember the shift a few years ago when I would have students come to me and say these boxes don't exist for us. Like this isn't the way you should talk about it anymore,” Ziff said, “This isn't what it means for us. So I think people are getting more and more wary of labels and maybe the power of them and what it means for them.”
Labels mean limits. For women who identify as lesbians, to breach outside of that and be intimate with a male is understood to be looked down upon. For straight males, who have it worst of all in terms of judgment, experimenting is simply unheard of.
There is an immense pressure to pick a team and stick with it. A lot of this stems from personal insecurity or uneasiness around people who's sexuality they're unsure of. With a strictly defined sexual identification, people know what to expect. There’s no confusion or mixed signals.
However, we as a population have learned in recent years, as we have established laws protecting LGBT people, one person's comfort should not override the freedom of another.
There have been tears, marches and riots for this. There have been laws tossed from congress to the president to the courts and back again so people could love who they love and sleep with who they want to sleep with.
Im not arguing that anyone should attempt intimacy with a gender they're not inclined to be with, but it does break my heart knowing the statistics surrounding spectrum sexuality and that I've known only one man to be bisexual my entire life.
I'm calling on society to take a step back, relax, and let people do what they want to do.
Homophobes need to relax. People who associate masculinity with being attracted to females need to relax. People who think straight people experimenting with members of the same sex makes them gay need to relax. People who think gay people experimenting with the opposite sex makes them straight need to relax.
None of this is black and white and while its extremely easy and convenient to try to classify people's sexual orientation with a slim number of labels, its detrimental to the individual in the sense that it causes one to put arbitrary limitations on themselves. The pressure to pick a side isn’t healthy and, quite frankly, unrealistic.