Thursday 8 December 2016

Not gay, not straight: Meet the young people who refuse to define their sexuality

New figures show that half of millenials don't feel they fall into any particular sexual category.

Published 27/08/2015 | 02:30

Kasey Day (27) says community used terms don't sum her up.
Kasey Day (27) says community used terms don't sum her up. "It's not an easy experience, not having an explanation for yourself," she says.
Greta Warren (19) refuses to define her sexuality

For19-year-old psychology student Greta Warren, the question of whether she defines herself as gay or straight is a meaningless one.

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Both terms, she believes, are just labels. And who needs labels? "I've tried imposing labels like bisexual and pansexual on myself but I just don't feel comfortable with them," she says.

Greta, from Galway but studying at Trinity College Dublin, has had relationships with both men and women and feels comfortable romantically and sexually with both genders, but sees her sexuality as something fluid, and not something she can easily categorise.

"It's something I found frustrating during the marriage referendum with everyone commenting on and celebrating the gay and lesbian right to marriage, with little to no reference to everyone else on the sexuality spectrum," she says.

It might sound unusual, but in fact Greta's viewpoint is one that more and more of her contemporaries share. A poll published in the UK last week by YouGov showed that just 46pc of 18 to 24-year-olds considered themselves to be exclusively straight, but only 6pc classed themselves as homosexual. Almost half - 48pc - said they wouldn't choose either label.

This week, a study of over 10,000 22 to 28-year-olds conducted by Notre Dame University in the United States showed that women are three times more likely to have sexual experiences with both men and other women than their male peers.

Read more: Bisexuality: Why we do we label those with a same sex ex?

These figures show that increasingly, younger people feel free to experiment with their sexuality in a way that previous generations didn't. No doubt society's more liberal attitude towards same-sex relationships has played a role in this development, as has celebrity culture. Singer Miley Cyrus had had high-profile relationships with both men and women, and is currently believed to be dating Victoria's Secret model Stella Maxwell. But Cyrus has rejected the notion of classifying her love life - or even her gender.

She told Out magazine that she didn't relate to what defines a boy or girl, and that in terms of sexuality she wants to be nothing at all.

When labelled "gender-queer" by the media, she reacted by Instagramming the quote and declaring herself "free to be everything."

Actress Kristen Stewart's relationships are much discussed and analysed in the media and online, but the Twilight actress refuses to even discuss it. "Google me, I'm not hiding," was her response to Nylon magazine when asked about her sexuality.

"If you feel like you really want to define yourself, and you have the ability to articulate those parameters and that in itself defines you, then do it… I live in the f-king ambiguity of this life and I love it. I don't feel like it would be true for me to be like, 'I'm coming out!'".

Just this week, Lily Rose-Depp, the teenage daughter of Johnny and Vanessa Paradis, lent her face to the Self-Evident Truth project, a celebration of the sexuality spectrum that wants to acknowledge those who identify as anything other than 100pc straight.

Read more: 'The day I came out': Members of the Irish LGBT community share their stories

The notion of fluid sexuality isn't new. In 1948, Alfred Kinsey developed his now infamous scale designed to show the spectrum of human sexual desire at a certain point in time. Those who rated a zero were deemed exclusively heterosexual, while the people who rated a six exclusively homosexual.

According to Kinsey, we all fall somewhere in between in terms of experience, desire or both, although he also acknowledged those who are now known as asexual, or not having socio-sexual reactions.

Kinsey believed that this can change across the course of a person's life, leading many to believe that as we get older, we're more likely to go one way or the other. Is it that millenials are more at ease with not defining their sexuality at all, and seeing it as a fluid thing throughout their lives?

However, as Greta points out, it's not as simple as defining themselves as bisexual either.

"It's too narrow for me, and makes me feel like I have to be half one way and half the other," says a 28-year-old man who didn't wish to be named. "I'm neither gay nor straight, not a little of both."

"For me, to date, the commonly used terms haven't quite summed me up," says 27-year-old Dubliner Kasey Daye. "I feel my sexuality is definitely fluid, as things and feelings for people can change. Not everyone is locked into a label or a sexuality, nor should they be.

"I wouldn't say that I'm negatively reluctant to label my sexuality, I just consider 'labelling' another process we use to develop preconceptions of people."

Kasey, an events coordinator, says that growing up, she felt that other people focused more on the phyical aspect of sexuality. "Nobody cared about feelings, self-expression or self-confidence.

"It's not an easy experience, not having an explanation for yourself, let alone other people. I will never forget the depths of depression I faced when I felt like I didn't fit 'gay or straight'. Sexuality does not, and should not totally define anyone."

For Kasey, "bisexual" is just another label. "I don't think there is anything wrong with the term. I know a lot of people don't favour it and I've found people to be less tolerant of it, only factoring in the 'sex' aspect. They forget that it's more about people having the capacity to love or have attraction to different genders."

Kasey says it's all about being happy and confident. "It might be as simple a wearing suit pants and Converse to an event rather than a dress and heels, but I'm empowered by these little things. Rather than labels, it's these little things that make me more comfortable and that little bit closer with myself."

Emma Kelly, a 25-year-old journalist from Dublin, also rejects the bisexual label. "I'm reluctant to label my sexuality because I don't have a clear idea what I identify with. I have always questioned my sexuality, but I don't feel like I'm bisexual in that it's 50/50. I'd just say somewhere on the queer spectrum."

For Emma, the term bisexual is fine if that's how you identify. She just doesn't feel like that's a label that applies to her, even though it relates to attraction to both sexes.

"I may have only had relationships and romantic feelings towards men, but have had sexual feelings towards women. If someone asked, I'd probably say heterosexual, but I have had an experience with a girl recently in a group setting, and want to explore it more."

Emma says she'd be open to relationships with either men or women, "if I developed romantic feelings."

Emma credits celebrities coming out as bisexual in a casual way, or refusing to label their sexuality, as making it easier for young people who feel similarly. "It makes people believe that it's okay to say that about themselves, and with queer nightlife it's easier to meet more likeminded people too."

"Sexuality and identity are absolutely inextricably linked. In my experience, not wanting to see your sexuality in one particular way can be a sign of an internal struggle," says Eithne Bacuzzi, a psychosexual therapist with Relationships Ireland.

"There are a lot of people who don't just experience difficulty with coming out to their family and friends, but also to themselves, because it might mean having a different life than expected."

However she acknowledges that for some people, experimentation is part of the quest for self-discovery. But is it possible perhaps that a lot of young people feel under pressure to experiment sexually these days?

"I don't think there's a pressure to experiment, but I do think there's a pressure to be who you truly are, and for some people that can be incredibly difficult," says Eithne.

"A lot of young people are more comfortable to not identify in any one strict category," says Oisin McKenna of youth website SpunOut.ie. "But it's true that they might also identify a unique kind of discrimination, and even rejection from gay or straight people. There can be an urge among people to want others to identify as strictly one way."

Luke Keating is 25 and a designer. "I refuse to label both my sexuality and gender because I believe that they're fluid and on a spectrum, but also because I don't believe the language and vocabulary we have today accurately describes or allows for the actual diversity that exists within people. I believe it desperately needs to be reexamined and reevaluated."

The UK poll, says Keating, is "one of the first pieces of research I've seen that is honest and brings new ways of looking at things to light - it's quite revolutionary.

"Our brains have been sadly trained into traditional patriarchal ways of thinking, and in order to change this for the better we need to empower ourselves and reject labels, follow our hearts and be honest to ourselves and others."

Perhaps this is nothing new, and young people have always been experimenting, a natural part of growing in to adulthood. It could be that today's youth are just far more open about what was previously kept quiet. Either way, it seems that for the youth of today, not wearing a label is better than wearing the wrong one.

Irish Independent

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