Going “Off-Grid” with Sexual Identity

“Without fluid the world dies.
Liquid is life,
and I don’t know if you heard,
but the fucking ice is melting.
Now watch us dance.” – Nico Tortorella

The popular assumption about sexual identity is that you’re either gay or straight. What about bisexuals, you ask? Well, many say they’re just confused. Or to put it bluntly, in the recent words of an acquaintance of mine, “Bisexuals are greedy fence-sitters who don’t know what they want.”

Little support exists for bisexuality and the ambiguity it signifies, despite its widespread, albeit undercover, occurrence. In our era of “you’re either-gay-or-straight” sexuality, a critical observation must be broached: the rigidity of the homo/ hetero binary tends not to match up with the many dimensions and diversities of human sexual desire, behavior, and attraction. When I used to engage in online dating app “Grindr”, I was surprised that many guys I spoke with identified as “straight”, with a girlfriend or wife. While tantalizing for a time, I ended up deleting the app, as it made me feel uncomfortable to be asked to be part of “downlow” secretive liaisons. With gay men falling for women, lesbians dating men, and straight men having sexual liaisons with other men, one is left to wonder: is anyone 100 per cent anything anymore? Could it be that homosexuality, in the words of Kate Millet, was “invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality”? Perhaps Bjork, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Sigmund Freud are correct in thinking that we’re all innately bisexual and capable, to varying degrees, of being attracted to a person regardless of gender. Moreover, haven’t enough people suffered as a result of being shoehorned into repressive and stigmatizing sexual categories?

I question the necessity (and validity) of sexual identity labels because they are used far too often to execute acts of hatred, division, and oppression. Author Chou Wah-Shan observes that, through labelling, a visible group of “deviants” has been created so that “non-deviants” can project their own insecurities and homoerotic anxieties onto the stigmatized minority. The in-group uses marginalized identities to “butress” their own. This inequitable social structure invokes hostility and falsehood from both parties. Observe, for instance, the parallels between the hypocrisy and elitism of gay establishments that mock heterosexuals and that of anti-gay religious and political leaders who wind up in homosexual sex scandals (think evangelical leader Ted Haggard, Idaho senator Larry Craig, or the myriad cases in the Catholic Church).

Of course we must be proud of who we are, showing gratitude and support for the courageous individuals who fought and continue to stand for equal rights. It seems, however, that as our society approaches sexual and gender equality (thanks largely to radical gay and lesbian activism), people are experiencing even greater emancipation by embracing their uniqueness beyond specific sexualities and genders, and opting for more personalized approaches to identity, attraction, and relationships. I believe that the homo/hetero divide is dissolving. Human Pride is outmoding Gay Pride. After all, it has proven rather difficult to try and slot over six billion unique persons into just two sexual orientations. Like our fingerprints or DNA, sexuality is completely unique from one individual to the next. For many, including actor and poet Nico Tortorella, sexuality and gender exist along a fluid continuum:

A flow ebbs and flows,
liquid gold.
Category 5 tidal waves.
I’m not saying this is the right answer,
but I’m not saying it’s not.
It’s like a dance really,
I don’t always know the music I’m moving to,
but I listen to how it changes.
Snare-drumming beat drops
Way beyond definition,
not this, not that.
Define me
cause sometimes I can’t.
Label me.
Bi, whatever you need.
girls and guys,
and inbetweeners,
chicks with wieners
energetically in sync.
I’m gonna make it work
no matter what you have between your thighs.
I’m not trying to hide, people.
I’m trying.
This is me, this is us, this is we.
We are you
just more evolved and free.
Trust in non-restriction.
no longer parched,
upstream adventure,
This isn’t about sex.
Fluidity doesn’t mean free for all fuck-fest,
at least not for me.
Fluidity means the ability to change your mind.
Spectrum surfers
Cowabunga, dude.
emotional intelligence.
The understanding that sometimes in the morning I like coffee,
but sometimes I like tea.
I can like them both the same,
and there’s nothing quite like a swig of vodka from the freezer to start your day.
It’s like a hug from the inside from the devil himself.
But I broke up with him a long time ago.
This isn’t selfish, it’s free.
This isn’t greedy, it’s free.
I’m not gay,
I’m not straight,
I’m me.
Fluidity and flow,
non-lying sexual
emotional fluidity,
this is the future.
We are liberated,
Without fluid the world dies.
Liquid is life,
and I don’t know if you heard,
but the fucking ice is melting.
Now watch us dance.”

As illustrated in Tortorella’s poem, gender and sexuality can be amorphous, porous, and can become negatory if limited to common western identities and vernacular. In the words of pioneer 1950s sexologist Aldfred Kinsey: “There’s no such thing as a heterosexual or homosexual person.” These categories are no more than social constructs and have only been around since the 19th century, as observed by Michel Foucault, Gore Vidal, David F. Greenberg, and other social critics. In reality, there are only homo and hetero impulses and acts. Most people, according to Kinsey’s famous 1950s study on the sexual behavior of 18,000 Americans, are a mixture of homo and hetero impulses, if not practices. In other words, much of the population is capable of responding erotically to both “genders” even though we’ve seen that gender is a social construct as well, since gender presentation and ideals change over time and culture. Certain cultures embrace up to four genders, for instance.

Kinsey’s findings support the notion that, for many people, sexuality really isn’t cut and dry: nearly half of his male sample opened up about having erotic responses to members of both sexes during their adult lives, with 37 per cent sharing that they had sexual experiences with other males that lead to orgasm. Some academics and conservative groups argue that Kinsey’s data are skewed because his sample was comprised of only those who were willing to discuss taboo topics. Despite this criticism, it is hard to dispute that the findings reveal sexuality as something far more fluid than previously admitted to by societal hegemony. Cross-cultural comparisons also lay stake to this claim. Cultures around the world, both Eastern and Western, have embraced hetero- homo- and bi-sexual relations. A small sampling of cultures with some form of socially endorsed bisexuality include classical Greece, the Sambia of New Guinea, numerous North American First Nations societies (before Western infiltration), pre-Meiji Japan, and late imperial China (see Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton). Bisexuality, interestingly, is the norm for bonobos and chimpanzees, who happen to be our closest primate relatives (sharing 99.4 per cent of our genetic makeup) and is also common throughout the animal kingdom. In his book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality & Natural Diversity, Bruce Bagemihl outlines 450 of over 150,000 species that have been observed engaging in homosexual and bisexual behavior.

The world is dynamic, complex, and in constant flux. Human beings are, too. Thus, it’s time we abandon the overly simplistic and inherently mischaracterizing gay/straight dichotomy so we can look at sexuality, in all its fluidity and unpredictability, as an aspect of a person rather than the defining element of one’s identity. That way we’ll be less apt to stigmatize and stereotype, and start to see people, including ourselves, as we really are. Happy Human Pride!