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.