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People like labels, boxes, neat categories.
People like to be able to place others somewhere, to have them all figured out.
Knowing how old someone is, where they grew up, where they went to college, what their religion is, what political party they vote for, and things like that, can represent a kind of social gel — an easy way to begin to assess where they stand in relation to us.
They can also make for some awkwardness. How is someone whose four biological grandparents all hailed from different countries, but they were born in a fifth place and then adopted by people from yet another ethnic group, only to grow up in a sixth place, supposed to answer that quintessential small-talk question, the one that seems to come up above all else and the only one that appears to be universally socially acceptable — "Where are you from?"
Categorizing people is a process often engaged in subconsciously, but it doesn't take much thinking to come to the conclusion that asking what turns out to be rather narrow-minded questions can easily contribute to another person's existential crisis.
Have You Found Your Label Yet?
In a fascinating paper titled "The Magical Age of 10", two people named Gilbert Herdt PhD and Martha McClintock PhD wrote, in 2000: "Accumulating studies from the United States over the past decade suggest that the development of sexual attraction may commence in middle childhood and achieve individual subjective recognition sometime around the age of 10. As these studies have shown, first same-sex attraction for males and females typically occur at the mean age of 9.6 for boys and between the ages of 10 and 10.5 for girls."
Further research reveals that over 10 percent of males and females respectively begin self-identifying as gay or bisexual in grade school, with 48 percent of gay and bisexual students having figured out their sexual orientation during their high school years. "Finding your label", scientific consensus suggests, requires no sexual experience and generally happens on its own in adolescence.
What if you don't have it all figured out though? What if you aren't sure whether you are gay, bisexual, straight, none of the above, or something else? What if your sense of sexual identity was quite clear-cut, thanksverymuch, only for you to become romantically attracted to or fall in love with someone who diverged from your previous pattern of attractions so much that you are now questioning your sexual orientation? What if you do have a deep sense of falling into one particular category but deeply wished you could change, or are, on the contrary, pressured by those in your social circle to try to change? Could you?
The Kinsey Scale Of Sexual Orientation
Back in 1948, that is, quite a while back, a guy called Alfred Kinsey and some of his colleagues introduced the Kinsey Scale, with a rather revolutionary commentary for the time. "Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories," they wrote, adding: "An individual may be assigned a position on this scale, for each period in his life."
Holding that "a seven-point scale comes nearer to showing the many gradations that actually exist", they proposed one. It looks like this:
- 0: Exclusively homosexual
- 1: Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual
- 2: Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual
- 3: Equally homosexual and heterosexual
- 4: Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual
- 5: Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual
- 6: Exclusively heterosexual
- X: No socio-sexual contacts or relationships
The Kinsey Scale, which the Huffington Post quite accurately labeled "so 1948", has received a stream of criticism since it first came out. Among the things that must be mentioned if you are currently trying to figure out your own sexuality are these. The Kinsey Scale makes no distinction between internal sexual preference and sexual behavior. The Kinsey Scale does not acknowledge the presence of more than two genders. The Kinsey Scale's sliding tendency seems to suggest that the more you are attracted to one gender, the less you are attracted to another; something that isn't necessarily true at all.
What the Kinsey Scale did do, however, was acknowledge that sexual orientation might be a whole lot more fluid than our current world seems to want to be. It indicates that a person might fall somewhere on this scale at one point in their life, while ending up somewhere else at another point. This is a concept many people find difficult to grasp nowadays. There is a good reason for that — more about this on the next page. However, this more rigid interpretation of the nature of human sexuality won't be doing you any favors if you feel limited by it.