The past few decades have seen not only a significant change to the way the LGBT community is viewed as a whole, but also a proliferation of terms to categorize and describe members of the community. Some are humorous, some are serious, but all are intended to identify patterns of sexual behavior in an increasingly specific manner.
For example, I recently become familiar with the term “heteroflexible,” which urbandictionary.com – a website in which users submit and explain slang from around the world – defines simply as: “I’m straight, but shit happens.”
Similarly, the term “six-pack gay” is sometimes used (semi-humorously) to refer to an individual who is open to encounters with either males or females when intoxicated. The term “omnisexual” (or alternately, “pansexual” or “ambisexual”) is meant to describe a person who is sexually and/or romantically interested in individuals of all divisions and aspects of gender, including not only male and female but transgender, transsexual, intersexed, and anything and everything in between.
The words that we have not only reflect the views of our society but shape and limit the way that we think and speak about things. For example, there was no word for homosexuality in Imperial China, although several male emperors had male harems and concubines. As research scientist Nick Yee explains, the reason for this was “because it was never seen as a defining or integral part of a person’s identity. Male-male sexual and romantic bonds were construed as relationships between two people as opposed to a psychological essence that defined either person.” Therefore, just because there is no word for something does not mean that the actual act does not happen, just that it is understood in a different way. To suddenly create a word for homosexuality in this sense identifies it as an integral aspect of a human rather than simply one way of being.
While there is increasing evidence to show that there is in fact a biological link to sexual preference, it is also true that we do not identify all other biological differences as so significant. As Yee points out, “colorblind people do not get together to talk about how the world of art has marginalized them,” and there are certainly no “colorblind pride” parades.
The fact that there are so many new terms constantly popping up to identify and categorize different forms of sexuality highlights the fact that they are, in the end, grossly insufficient to contain something as diverse and fluid as human sexuality. And in taking such great pains to continually craft new terms that encompass all types of sexuality, we embrace it as an important and defining part of who we are as individuals.
But why has sexuality become of such defining importance to us? Why has the process of “outing” oneself become a nerve-racking rite of passage? Members of the LGBT community generally attach great pride to their sexuality, and many see it as a mark of bravery to be open about it. Gay pride, like African-American pride, is a reaction to past injustices and an embracing of an identity that was formerly – and often continues to be – subject to a great deal of prejudice and social injustice. However, these injustices would never have occurred in the first place if these groups had not been identified as somehow fundamentally different from other human beings based on a single characteristic.
It seems, then, that although there is no shame in embracing oneself and all of one’s attributes, a key factor in eliminating LGBT prejudice is to not continue to create these categories of sexuality and declare that they are all acceptable, but rather to insist that sexuality is not really as definitive of who we are as human beings as we tend to believe.
Why does your sexuality have to define who you are as a person? Why do we have to continually emphasize the differences in sexual preference? To do so seems to only enforce the idea that if non-heterosexuality is different, then heterosexuality is the norm. Consequently, discussions about what is normal or abnormal inevitably lead to discussions about right or wrong, in which the viewpoint of the majority is often accepted as “right” and all other viewpoints as deviance. Gay people shouldn’t have to be “accepted” as people who are somehow fundamentally different – they should viewed as people who really aren’t different at all.
We no longer see skin color as the single characteristic from which all of an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions stem from. In fact, if we were to claim that an individual’s race was what identified them most strongly as a person, we would be guilty of racism. To define sexuality as equally important to a person’s being is to demean them; there is so much more to a human being than sexual preference. What about our passions; what about the things we think and do and feel; what about our worldviews and ambitions? Go ahead, be proud of your sexuality: but don’t let it define you.