Sexuality is a dynamic and lived experience like age, career identity or political party. But if I'm truly committed to Sonia, does it make sense for my sexual identity to reference a bunch of hypothetical lovers I'll never pursue?This question merits a little more explanation. In particular, the difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity.
While looking up definitions for clarity, I found out that the Kinsey Institute is still going strong, and it had a baby!
The mission of Kinsey Confidential is "to disseminate accurate, research-based information geared towards college students."
I subscribed to their podcast. One place this blog could lead me is to a future career in sex education curriculum or advocacy. We need to start educating about sex and sexuality a lot sooner than college, and better navigate difficult conversations with the religious right on the topic. But I digress.
Kinsey Confidential defines sexual orientation as both sexual attraction and sexual behavior (where you land on the Kinsey scale between heterosexuality and homosexuality) "as well as sexual identity, romantic attractions and behaviors, membership in sexual communities (e.g., lesbian, bisexual, gay, kink, BDSM), sexual fantasies."
In other words, the big picture. Many things are contained within sexual orientation. As far as I can tell, sexual orientation has limitless labels. I can be a "woman-loving-woman submissive" or "a bisexual sex worker who works with men but only has romantic relationships with women" or "a gay man looking only for a couple of bears (exactly two) for a monogamous relationship."
Sexual orientation resists simple definitions. I wanted to offer mine here, but the best I can come up with is "queer cis woman in a relationship with a woman, with broad tastes in fantasyland."
When I think about listing each aspect of my sexual orientation, it's overwhelming in the same way writing a resume is overwhelming. It's difficult to remember and qualify each line item.
Sexual identity is simpler. According to Kinsey Confidential, sexual identity is "the label that people adopt to signify to others who they are as a sexual being."
Simply, I am queer. Sonia is bisexual (as she reminded me yesterday, mostly because of Ryan Gosling).
Sexual identity is the one that makes me feel like a grumpy, emo teen. A few reasons for this.
First, I resist the implied authority in the definitions. The terms themselves, especially lesbian, gay and bisexual, were defined in another time, probably by white men in power. The definitions haven't changed much.
Second, I resist the simplicity and historical weight in the words. The terms were coined when society had a different view of the fluidity of sexuality. These identities are perceived as static, and humans are not.
To call myself "lesbian" now would create a false narrative in which I was a lesbian when I had relationships with men and that I was being untrue to myself in those relationships. There is also an implied discovery that I'm lesbian, which suggests a lack of self-awareness.
This was not my experience, nor do I think it's the experience of the majority of broadly-defined queer people today. We know what sexual identities and orientations exist, and we try them on for size earlier and earlier. Then, we love who we love, with increasing impunity.
I choose "queer" for two reasons. First, in that it reappropriates a word that had a negative connotation in the past, it is pushing our language forward. Second, it is broad enough to encompass the fluidity of sexuality as it unfolds over a lifetime.