Queer Corner: Categorical Conundrum

Humans love to use boxes. I’m not talking about storage tubs or the ones you get in the mail; I mean the ones we use as categories. We seem to have this innate desire to classify anything and everything we can get our opposable fingers on. From categorizing files and folders on a computer for convenience, to separating colors – “This is a red, but that’s more orange.” Even in science, one of the most basic tenants is categorizing – rocks, species, types of behavior. We put so many other things into categories, why not put ourselves in boxes as well?

Unfortunately, we do this all too often. Think of all the “things” you are; those are your boxes. It’s either one thing or another; there’s no middle ground. Take me for example. I don’t do sports on campus (even though I have done plenty in the past), so I’m “not athletic.” Is that accurate? Not really. Give me a chance at shotput, and you’ll see the throw of a two-time state qualifier. But because people can’t readily see that aspect of me, it’s

assumed I’m just plain unathletic. Few people like being put into such harsh categories, but a majority of us are guilty of doing it to others, including myself. We just assume instead of asking. 

What does this have to do with queer issues? Everything. 

There is so much more than gay and straight orientations in the world. Even using the umbrella designation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ) covers just the basics. Pansexual, asexual, polysexual, demisexual and many more are thrown under the umbrella term “queer,” and that’s not even touching on romantic attractions! The most important thing, though, is that not even a definition means one thing specifically. Take bisexuality for example. The Merriam Webster definition is “a tendency to direct sexual desire toward both sexes.” However, this definition does not capture the variation within this term. Attraction can tend one direction or the other, be totally equal or occur regardless of another’s sex. Robyn Ochs is known for her personal definition of bisexuality:

“I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way and not necessarily to the same degree.”

Being forced into a box based on assumptions is troubling in any aspect, but particularly in those that people may use to define themselves. The answer to this categorical conundrum? A spectrum. A spectrum of terms, able to cross, mix and fade into each other. A person’s label still doesn’t mean much until you know their personal definition. That’s why categories are so obstructing; one word can mean 10 different things to 10 different people. And none of those 10 definitions are wrong!

We’ve tried to appease society by coming up with all these terms for the broad range and fluctuation of human sexuality. In the end, a label is just that – a label. It’s not who you are, who I am or who they are. Every label is just a word, too static to define something so amazing as a human being. So the next time someone mentions they’re gay, or bisexual, or queer, don’t just say, “Oh, that’s cool I guess.” Ask them not only what their definition is, but what that word means to them as a person.