Half of 18-24 Year Olds Not Completely Straight: Continuing the Conversation

By Hannah Bacon

The recent news that almost half of young people in Britain today identify as something other than completely heterosexual, goes some way in representing a welcome shift in the way society views sexuality and its complexities. It is, however, important to extend the conversation and think critically about the ground we still have to cover.

Whereas many will never have heard of the Kinsey scale before learning of the new research by YouGov, suggesting  that — among other things — more and more people are accepting the idea that sexuality is more complex than simply “heterosexual or homosexual”, this is old news to many, and to many more it was never news in the first place.

Kinsey’s work was undoubtedly a key step in deepening understanding surrounding sexuality in 1948, but in 2015, we can go further. Bisexuality in particular is often treated (when it is not being condemned or outright erased) as something new — as some sort of intangible futuristic entity that only exists in sci-fi (think: Captain Jack Harkness in Doctor Who/Torchwood). We often fail to recognise that bisexuality has always existed, and also that there are real, actual people with a lived bisexual experience right now. Here, it is vital to be aware that bisexuality can be a legitimate, separate identity all by itself, and that it’s not always as simple as defining a bisexual person as “a bit gay and a bit straight.”

To an extent, this is what the research and the subsequent reporting on it is trying to point out — that more than just “gay or straight” exists in the world. The implication by recent headlines that this is somehow a new thing is bizarre. It is clear, however, that an aim of all this is to show that more and more people now accept that sexuality is more complex than “gay or straight”, which is obviously a good thing. For example, according to the research, 60% of heterosexuals and 73% of homosexuals now agree that there is some sort of middle ground between “heterosexual” and “homosexual” — is it not curious though that we still don’t seem to recognise bisexuality as an identity on its own, in many cases neglecting to even use the word, instead favouring “open-minded” or “fluid”?

Despite rhetoric about making too much of a “fuss”, it is essential, too, to think a little more deeply when it comes to sexuality. If you want to conduct progressive research in this area, focusing on Kinsey’s work just isn’t sufficient to get a well-rounded view on today’s population. An alternative to the Kinsey scale is the Klein grid. Here, past, present and future orientations are explored, as well as seven different facets of sexuality: sexual attraction, sexual behaviour, sexual fantasies, emotional preference, social preference, lifestyle, and self-identification. A problem with only using the Kinsey scale is that it encourages us to put one single number on what could be a whole range of life experiences.

For example, if I were to say that I’m a 5, what assumptions would you make about me? How are we defining a number 5? Am I commenting on past sexual encounters? Potential attraction? Self-identity? The Klein grid gives us a much better tool to help answer these questions and understand ourselves. The ability to potentially place ourselves at different points for behaviour, attraction, and identity, for example, speaks so much more accurately to many people’s experiences, and allows much more space for individuals to define their own sense of self. This helps to fight against a common tendency for folks to try and determine which of these facets is most important when defining or labelling someone else. For example, one could place oneself at a number 4 on Klein’s 1 to 7 scale for attraction, behaviour, and fantasy, but feel personally that their identity as a number 7 is the most important.

The fact that Klein acknowledges the existence of different kinds of attraction, and different ways to describe oneself makes the grid significantly friendlier to asexual and/or aromantic people too. While Kinsey did denote an ‘X’ in his research for people who he couldn’t place on the scale, this leaves no room for asexual people experiencing no sexual attraction to instead measure themselves by romantic attraction, or by sexual behaviour (as sexual attraction is not a necessary requirement for sexual behaviour). It is true that Klein’s grid does not as explicitly include the options to state “none of the above” or similar, but by virtue of recognising the complexity of sexuality, it lends itself better to someone deciding to just leave one section blank if they don’t experience it, and crucially, that person still has six other facets to consider and is not completely left out.

Of course, nothing is perfect; both the Kinsey scale and the Klein grid reinforce ideas about gender binaries — placing men and women at opposite ends of the same scale is becoming an antiquated way of mapping gender, due to ideas being listened to more about gender as more of a mishmash of different factors than a biologically-determined reality. Placing “heterosexual” and “homosexual” at opposite ends of a scale amounts to much the same thing. Traditionally, the use of these terms relies on the belief that there are only two genders, and on rhetoric about one being “opposite” to the other.

Where Kinsey’s and Klein’s efforts are both over-simplified is that not all subjects will identify as solely male or solely female in the first place. People to whom this applies also have an (a)sexuality, and should therefore be counted and encouraged to participate. If you add all the men and all the women together, it will not make 100% of the population. This is significant not only because it is the right thing to do to recognise difference and be inclusive, but because if you alienate a group of potential respondents, your data will not be properly representative, either because such people may answer non-authentically out of necessity, or due to deciding not to take the survey at all because of non-binary erasure.

As with many LGBT+ issues at the moment, the news that sexuality can be viewed on a spectrum is, while promising, not a new and exciting revelation to many — mainly people who are bisexual and have identified as such for a long time. Delving even deeper into the complexities of sexuality, whether that is acknowledging asexuality, or allowing room for people with non-binary gender identities, is imperative for a fully-inclusive and informed society.

Fight, Flight…or Freeze: Rethinking Reactions to Sexual Assault

By Lindsay Riddoch

September is my least favourite month of the year. I figure I’m not the only one who hates it — Green Day at least seem to be on my side. My hatred for it — aside from the obvious end-of-summer reasons — comes from September 9th 2011. I’d just been staying with a good friend in Cardiff. It was the summer between my slightly unusual sixth form and university. I had 3 weeks until I started my new life in London. I was booked on a Megabus from Cardiff to London, and then from London to Edinburgh. It was a hellish journey, but one I had done before. My iPlayer was fully loaded with documentaries and it was all going to be fine.

At Victoria Coach Station, a man sat next to me on the bus. I don’t have a visual memory, and probably couldn’t even describe what my best friends look like, but I could draw you a picture of this man. After about an hour (judging by the fact that I had watched one documentary on iPlayer) he started to assault me. Four long — though simultaneously incredibly short — hours later, he got off the bus in Manchester.

I didn’t scream, I didn’t even say the word ‘no’. I moved my legs, moved them again, and then my brain disappeared. In the last few seconds before my brain and body went into shut-down, I was more scared of causing a scene than I was of losing my autonomy over my own body. I had flashes of a video we watched in year six about ‘feeling yes, feeling no’. I considered, as instructed on this video, shouting no. But as I was considering this option my brain went into survival mode and decided that taking me out of that situation was the safest option. Without an option to physically escape, it let me mentally escape.

Those 4 hours changed my life forever. As I tried to process the trauma in my mind and body, I was told by a psychiatrist that I needed to ‘get counselling to learn how to say no’. My lack of assertiveness was seen as the problem that needed treating. Even as more empathetic people explained trauma theory to me, they kept talking about ‘fight or flight’. Common parlance and psycho-babble alike kept explaining to me that when in danger, my body goes into fight or flight mode. Yet I didn’t do either of those things — did that mean I wanted it, that my body betrayed me? I didn’t punch him, regardless of the fact he wasn’t that big. I didn’t get up and demand to be let off the bus. After attempting to move within my seat I sat completely still. I froze. In terms of evolutionary survival, I played dead.

Running and fighting are not the only two options when faced with a threat. There is a third option — often touted in response to grizzly bears. Play dead. Stop fighting. Wait for the attacker to get bored whilst inflicting as little violence as possible. As children, girls are told not to fight: they are taught not to raise their head too far above the parapet. They are taught to wait, to ignore. Meanwhile their subconscious mind quickly picks up on the strength of boys around them. Their subconscious makes a snap judgement — that on the balance of probabilities, this man is stronger than they are. Back then, as an 18 year old, I was faced with a situation that my rational mind had no map for — no learnt or taught reactions to — my evolutionary brain took over. It used all the information available to it and froze.

In an email I wrote a few weeks after my Megabus journey I said the following: “I know you’re going to be sitting there thinking this is some kind of super big deal. But this isn’t sexual assault. Honestly. It’s not as bad as it sounds. I just wish I could know why my mind shut down; and how to stop it doing that to me again, because it seems like whatever kicks in after the brain leaves makes incredibly unsound decisions.” Reading that now breaks my heart. I’d heard of ‘fight or flight’. It made sense to me, and as far as I could tell my evolutionary mind had let me down. It hadn’t fought and it hadn’t run. From there came the victim-blaming; from there came my guilt. Yes, the media is part of that problem, and so is all that advice about how not to get raped. But, in my opinion, the single biggest contributor is every single time we miss out the freeze when we discuss ‘fight or flight’.

The freeze response is, I believe, something less common in men, who are more likely to have been raised to fight, or to weigh-up that they are able to flee. In a world dominated by male ideas, we are given a male understanding of traumatic reactions. Yet actually, across the board, freeze is the most common of the three reactions. Last time a car almost hit you in the road, did you run? Or did you actually, to the mockery of those around you, stand dead still in front of it as it honked its horn? If we’re going to curb the misunderstanding and slander of rape and sexual assault victims, we need to start with a basic psychological education. We need to give people an understanding of how their brains react that is bigger than the basic ‘fight or flight’ idea. Preventing people from raping in the first place would obviously be the ideal, and lessons about consent are vital, but we also need to help people understand their own reactions. Boys especially need to understand the evolutionary reactions when one’s mind assumes a physical strength deficiency. Girls need to learn about freeze when they’re young, not only after — heaven forbid — they fall victim to a terrible crime.
In a sexual assault or rape scenario, freeze is by far the most common reaction. We need to remember that for ourselves, for our loved ones and for everyone who is sitting blaming themselves for something that happened to them. Even more importantly, however, we need to understand why our bodies do it. We need to not hate them for their attempts to protect us. We need to realise that, whatever the after-effect, in those minutes both our mind and our body were doing their absolute best to keep us as safe as possible. We need to remember that whatever happened to our body was not a sign of us enjoying ourselves, but instead of our evolutionary protection of ourselves. And every single time we say ‘fight or flight’ we must say ‘fight, flight or freeze’. We must raise a generation of young people who know that freeze is an evolutionary reaction. We must make judges, psychologists and police officers understand that playing dead works. We must forgive our own bodies for doing their best.