Who Needs Labels?

Are young people onto something when it comes to sexual fluidity - or is it just a fad?

As more teens “come out” at younger and younger ages, it begs the question about whether sexuality is more fluid than we might think? Ask the average young person today and chances are they know or have known someone who is gay or bisexual (or they themselves identify as such). Bisexuality specifically seems to be a label that a lot of younger people are adopting as a way to describe a certain openness about sex and identity. The same goes for the idea of being “queer,” though that seems to carry a bit more political baggage for many folks that loosens notions of gender identity.

The old joke goes, “I’m a trisexual. I’ll try anything.” But is there truth to that? And has sexuality become more political than personal anymore?

The LGBT label is fairly encompassing. Some might argue it can be a little too encompassing. Transgender people, for example, have at times taken exception to being grouped into a community that is more sexually defined than perhaps gender-identified. And who hasn’t heard criticism cast about both transgender and bisexuality by folks who may be more keenly identified as either gay or lesbian?

Sure, most folks within the LGBT community probably identity with at least one or more of those letters, be it lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. And for purposes of clarity and reference, it’s become a pretty mainstream way to refer to the community. But in creating so many labels, are we failing to embrace the more human, more sexually liberated self? Are we putting living, breathing, thinking people into a neat category that’s safe and, well, easy for the sake of being safe and easy?

By no means is this to suggest that the LGBT label is a negative one. Quite the contrary. There’s a lot of power in those four letters that have come to describe many friends and allies who – when working together – have accomplished much since long before Stonewall, through gay liberation, the AIDS crisis and other issues of the day like same-sex marriage and parenting. And while it’s easy to sometimes feel the hate that is still perpetuated by a lot of talking heads these days (elections bring out some of the worst of it on both sides), a certain satisfaction should be acknowledged in knowing that LGBTs have a come a long way, baby.

But in looking forward to a next generation of young people, it may be interesting to take a card from their deck – and to relax the labels a bit. So what if one guy kisses another? Who cares if two girls are dating? Sometimes the “B” in LGBT is left out of the equation because it makes people uncomfortable. Bisexuals have long been discriminated against by the community, viewed as traitors, some of whom can pass for being straight. But want is a funny word. It almost makes it sound like attraction is a choice. A lot of gays and lesbians would probably argue against that (something many opponents of gay rights argue as a way to give less power to the movement).

If someone can come out as gay, say, later in life, isn’t it realistic to believe that someone can also find out they’re attracted to the opposite sex or both sexes sometime in their lives?

It’s important that a name is given to a community in order for that community to be acknowledged. But let’s be careful with how strict we are about what the name really means. Human beings are more complex than we sometimes give ourselves credit for being. Let’s just hope the new attitude about sex sticks around and lets people be themselves – whomever or whatever that may be. Let’s just hope it’s not a fad. Although nothing would prove that gay rights have come so far than if it suddenly becomes “cool” to be L, G, B or T. We sure think so.