Lesbihonest: Kinsey Scale, give me some detail

Alfred Kinsey, the man behind the numbers

At 3:00 am on a weekday winter morning I found myself prostrate on the floor in a nondescript basement room, my books strewn about, pages open, unread and forgotten about.  Next to me there was a boy.  Not just any boy, but a boy who wanted to be my boyfriend.

Our early morning meeting resembled boarding school sunrise sexcapades in the laundry room, moments when students tried to satisfy overflowing sexual urges while evading the authorities.  This time was different.  We were both fully clothed and were in no danger of being expelled for meeting “after hours” and unsupervised.  Nevertheless on this morning my veins seemed to be funneling extra blood to various locations in my body, my head, my heart, my groin.  I was nervous.  If this guy, the most formulaic embodiment of masculinity I had been attracted to in a long time (and I really was attracted to him) did not walk out of the room within the next thirty seconds, I knew I had a chance.   After all, how many guys agree to stay up late with a lady of interest only to hear her yammer on about sexology and a scale that rates one’s sexuality?  I had been doing this for an hour.

He knew I had a girlfriend the semester before and therefore he persisted in asking about my sexuality.  What do I identify as? What an easy question to answer… It seems that anyone who has done anything more that “innocently” hook up with a friend of the same sex at a party is expected to affix some sort of a label onto his or herself.  We are uncomfortable with obscurity.  We seek out epithets to resolve the ambiguity. I am attracted to this guy, so I guess you could call me straight, right?

The process of labeling is generally confusing and misleading—I could call myself bisexual, but does that mean 50 percent of me has to like male genitalia and the other 50 percent must yearn for a partner who also has two X chromosomes?

Fortunately for me, and countless others who are frustrated with living labeled lives (lies?), there is the Kinsey Scale, a sexuality scale ranging from 0 to 6, or exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual.  While the Kinsey Scale is not the greatest invention, it does provide a step away from the binary scale that was formerly, and even in many places currently, accepted so widely—that one could only be gay or straight.

Explaining my distaste for defining sexuality to my new crush, I simply stated, oh I’m a two; predominately heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual.  To me this value is still equivocal because it does not inform the nature of the number; I prefer sexual relations with women, but emotional connections with men or is it the other way around?  Do I have to know?

For those who seek answers, the Kinsey Scale sure delivers, by providing a shade of gray to an issue that has historically been defined in black and white.

I still view the Kinsey Scale as a bit silly.  Is it not enough that we (gays/lesbians/fresbians/bisexuals/queer/transgender/other people grouped based upon their sexuality) must attach one of these words onto our lives?  Must we also categorize ourselves numerically?  One could draw my sexual life on a scatter plot graph, plotting the points of sexual interactions—how could you assign just one number to make sense of all this?

That was the first conversation of many that this boy and I have had about sexuality.  It made it easier therefore when, after we started dating, friends would approach us and ask some version of, “Wait, I thought that you were/she was a lesbian/into girls.” Ultimately even the Kinsey scale doesn’t provide an answer to this question.

Maybe I just should have made shirts saying “predominately prefers men while suggestively seeking women.”

Let’s be honest: It doesn’t matter if you’re a zero a six or a two—who’s counting anyway? Not me, and not you.


2 thoughts on “Lesbihonest: Kinsey Scale, give me some detail

  1. Trans people aren’t grouped together based on their sexuality. Nor, necessarily, are queer people.

    And what do you mean when you say “male genitalia”? And why do you set this in opposition to people who have “two X chromosomes”? I know lots of people who have two X chromosomes and who also have male genitalia—oftentimes they’ll even refer to their male genitals with words like “vagina,” “clit,” etc.! And likewise, I know lots of folks with XY chromosomes who are sexy and gorgeous women and/or transfeminine people. There are even folks out there with, for example, XXY chromosomes!

    By which I mean to say, to quote Dean Spade, your language “asserts a belief in constructions of ‘biological gender.’ From my understanding, a central endeavor of feminist, queer, and trans activists has been to dismantle the cultural ideologies, social and legal norms that say that certain body parts determine gender identity and gendered social characteristics and roles. We’ve fought against the idea that the presence of uteruses or ovaries or penises should be understood to determine such things as people’s intelligence, proper parental roles, proper physical appearance, proper gender identity, proper labor roles, proper sexual partners and activities, and capacity to make decisions. We’ve opposed medical and scientific assertions that affirm the purported health of traditional gender roles and activities and pathologize bodies that defy those norms.”

    I think you might advance in your understanding of and delight in gender theory if you were to read Spade’s entire (very short) piece on this topic, “About Purportedly Gendered Body Parts”: http://www.deanspade.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Purportedly-Gendered-Body-Parts.pdf

    You might also be interested in taking Sociology of Heterosexuality this spring with Laurie Essig, where you’ll do some reading and critical thinking around sexology itself, and explore the ways in which heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, and certainly the entirety of the Kinsey scale are constructed in ways that benefit capitalism: their role in the creation of the color line, the division of labor, institutions of hegemonic masculinity, etc.

    Oh, and don’t mistake any of the above for dislike of the column—I’m enjoying reading your work, and thank you much for sharing your experiences with your boyfriend; that takes courage and lends itself to great sociological insights!

  2. Thank you very much for your response. Your comment really made me think (and continues to do so) about how I can appeal to, as well as be accessible to, my general audience while keeping in mind that certain members of my audience may be very informed about the subject I am covering.

    To quote Dean Spade’s article that you shared with me, “many people will benefit from our efforts to dismantle gendered language about bodies that enforces harmful norms.” In an ironic way, while I discussed my disdain for labels in my piece “Kinsey Scale: give me more detail,” I ended up using descriptions, which excluded certain people.

    The paradoxical situation I constantly find myself in and have to question, is how to use vocabulary and phrasing that will appeal to my general audience and yet not offend or alienate others. An example of this is my choice of words in describing how I enjoy being intimate with members of all gender types. In my post when I posed the question regarding my sexual preferences, I wrote, “[Does] 50 percent of me [have] to like male genitalia and the other 50 percent must yearn for a partner who also has two X chromosomes?”

    This choice of phrasing was done from a stylistic standpoint; I was not trying to assert that people who possess male genitalia are always male or that those who have two X chromosomes are always female, thereby suggesting that they don’t in fact have male genitalia themselves. In my article I intentionally used the word partner rather than boy or girlfriend in order to encompass all different genders. In fact the point I wanted to convey was that I do not have a specific preference concerning the gender of my partner, but rather that I enjoy having varied experiences with different people; how they define their sexuality or gender is less important to me.

    I plan to write my next piece discussing this aforementioned paradox: how do I connect to my average reader while remaining sensitive to the complexities of gender and sexuality? I hope that by writing about my own experiences I can show the process by which I come to understand gender and sexuality. Thank you for your feedback and questions. I very much appreciate your comments and am happy (and hopeful) that these articles can serve as an outlet for continued conversation.

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