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Post-Label Sexuality: The Time Has Come

Human sexuality is neither simple nor static. Is it not finally time to consider doing away with labels that squeeze people and their sexuality into boxes rather than support their journey?
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My friends Drew and Bob are "two dads", parenting a family in a marriage that formalized a long-term committed relationship. My colleague Steve, tired of the gay singles scene, finally found a partner to marry as well -- Maureen -- and loves being a stepdad. Sergio has three biological children with his beloved wife of twenty years, Felicia, but admits to sneaking out once in a while to enjoy some dominating activity with male strangers. After 3 divorces, Samantha has found the partner of her dreams as well -- Cindy. And Pat has decided to go ahead with hormone treatments to launch her transition to becoming a man, after she finishes nursing the baby she's raising with her lover Sue.

Human sexuality is neither simple nor static. Our chromosomes may portend a particular path for us, but our prenatal and postnatal environments and experiences have a profound impact on who we are and who we love. As with other human behaviors, sexuality manifests on a spectrum that includes interest in men, women, and even asexuality. Some people are exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, some to the same sex, and some to both -- or neither. And some people move up, down, and sideways on the sexual spectrum depending on their emotional, physical, and psychological state.

Same sex relationships in the past few centuries have been fraught with social strictures. Some Ancient Greek warrior cultures, for example, had social constructs that allowed and encouraged young soldiers to partner with "older" men as mentors -- sexualization of the relationship was not stigmatized and often admired. Once the "fighting years" had passed, however, men were expected to take a wife and reproduce, again for the benefit of society. Some subsequent Mediterranean and Latin cultures described a different social construct that included same sex interactions. Marriage and traditional family leadership was promoted to maintain social stability, but men often gained some "macho" cred by engaging, on the side, in dominant sexual activity with submissive men.

The tragic, and in many cases, life-threatening, discrimination experienced by men and women with same sex partners in recent years in Western cultures, may certainly have informed the political trend of the last half-century in the US, i.e. to identify same sex activity as "gay". However, research reports have identified exclusive same sex attraction as encompassing 5% or less of sexuality -- add occasional same sex or multi-gender attraction or activity to the mix, and the numbers rise to 10-20%. Identifying everyone who expresses same sex attraction or activity as "gay" rather than bisexual, omnisexual, or variable, builds a larger coalition that can achieve positive political impact. Unfortunately, for those who don't specifically identify with the modern "gay" construct, like my heterosexually married friend Kevin who occasionally has sex with men, the "closet" he's found himself in isn't built by his supportive wife, but by his activist male peers.

In my opinion, all human sexuality in today's society should be respected. Loving another human, of any gender, should be supported. Equal rights, including gay marriage, should be law, not debate. There is no question that the efforts of advocacy groups in the LGBTI communities and their allies have resulted in significant progress in reducing discrimination and abuse. But, each individual's "GPS location" on the sexuality spectrum truly only reflects "where they are" today, and needn't automatically invalidate previous relationships as being less than honest or heartfelt.

I may be prematurely optimistic, but is it not finally time to consider doing away with labels that squeeze people and their sexuality into boxes and silos rather than support their journey on a spectral rainbow? Would not viewing an individual's sexual orientation and behaviors as unique to that individual, rather than typical of a group identity, get rid of the sense of rigidity and exclusion that labels bestow? And, wouldn't then the idea of human sexuality as a variable and broad spectrum make it more urgent that we legislate and codify equal rights, not just for "ten percent", but for all of us complex humans?

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