All posts edited by Madeline Ricchiuto.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Is The Purple-Red Scale A Better Way To Come Out?

In honor of National Coming Out Day I thought I'd write about a new method thats been surging around the internet for identifying your sexual orientation. For anyone who is even remotely familiar with the study of sexuality, the name "Kinsey" should ring a bell. For anyone unfamiliar with it, Alfred Kinsey is credited with being one of the first people to study human sexuality and create a scale to measure it. After conducting countless interviews, he came up with what is now called the Kinsey scale. Although, originally the scale only applied to sexual experiences and not desires, it was easily adapted to allow people to plot their orientation on a number scale going from 0 to 6 with 0 being exclusively heterosexual and 6 being exclusively homosexual.

This is an example though asexual wasn't really used in Kinsey's original scale
On first glance, this might seem to be a good measurement system. However there are some concerns when dealing with it. For one, there is always the criticism that the Kinsey scale was supposed to measure sexual behavior and not desire. Secondly, it places sexuality on this hetero/homo binary - making it seem as if these are the only options and anything else is just another version of those categories. Third, it doesn't address what counts as homo- or heterosexual in the first place. It doesn't deal with the complexities that arise from the inclusion of those who don't necessarily fit within a binary conception of sexual orientation and gender. Nor does it any notion of asexuality. And these are only just a few of the flaws in the Kinsey scale.

A new scale has been making the rounds on the internet lately with many claiming it to be a solution to the Kinsey problem. The scale, seemingly originating on reddit, is called the purple-red scale and looks as follows:

Right away you can notice this scale is more complex than the Kinsey scale above. It sheds more light on the diversity that exists within asexuality - particularly showing that there are aromantic aces and romantic aces. On top of that, it also gives attention to those who are hypersexual - a group often either considered ill (similar to asexuals) or at the very least deviant.

There's certainly value in this type of scale. It shows some real growth in how people have come to understand sexuality. The mere fact that its getting attention is quite exciting! Not too long ago asexuals were still struggling to be recognized as an actual sexual orientation (not that they aren't still fighting for this recognition).

That being said, its not enough to just praise and focus on some improvements. As a feminist, a queer activist, and someone who understands what it is like to be disadvantaged; I can't just sit by when things are still leaving out or misrepresenting entire groups of people and sadly this scale is almost as inadequate as the Kinsey scale. It's always important to remain vigilant and critical.

The new purple-red scale has added in level of sexual attraction. In more colloquial terms it basically just added how big your sex drive is into the scale (though again, it isn't really that simple). Again, a great improvement, but not at all enough. The distinction between romantic and aromantic asexuals is important but the scale misrepresents others in the asexual community - demisexuals.

Demisexual people are those who often experience sexual attraction, but only after developing a strong emotional connection of some sort to their partner(s). In the purple-red scale this is somewhat encompassed by 'D' but not entirely in the best way. Though often the case, demisexuals are not limited to being sexually attracted to only romantic partners, and so, while attempting to be inclusive this scale kind of misses the mark.

This is of course not the only flaw in the scale. Let's be honest, the 'sexual attraction' side is the only new bit - it's really just a Kinsey Scale 2.0. Nothing else has really been changed.

That instantly raises a big red flag to me. Just like with everything else we have had to deal with, we seem to still be trying to stuff and limit our identities into teeny tiny boxes. Guys, it didn't work for gender and it's not gonna work for sexuality. We really should get over this whole need to box everything up. We've already started recognizing that humans are not simple creatures. Rather than just trying to make bigger boxes; why even bother to confine ourselves?

Speaking of gender - look at that Kinsey scale on the right. In most modern discourses sexual orientation is described as what gender a person is attracted to. Not sex. I've talked about the distinction a little bit in my intro post to sexuality and while not a huge certainly is a bit odd. Particularly, this chart fails to account for how sexuality is affected by the gender of our partners. It ignores trans experiences, completely erasing them from the picture. It erases all nonconforming gender identies. Agender, genderfluid, genderqueer, there are innumerable genders out there and their experiences of sexuality are not reflected here.

Even accepting sex as their basis of attraction the scale is still erasing identities and experiences. What about people who don't fit in our narrow definitions of 'male' and 'female'? Intersex people are often left out of LGBTQ+ discourse and this is just another example of that. Seriously, if you can make the effort to get an understanding about an often-erased group such as asexual people, is it really so much to ask that you learn about other erased groups?

And what about the nonsense of saying 'of the opposite sex'? That reeks of heteronormativity and sexism. Why are male and female considered opposites? Accepting another binary is completely ridiculous. They aren't opposite, just different. Saying they are opposite implies (or at least plays into) a whole plethora of assumptions that we make not just about sex but also gender and we can really just do without all that. Its not something I need to be reminded of when trying to illustrate my sexual identity.

Another problem with using the Kinsey scale as presented above as part of this chart is that it doesn't accurately represent bisexuals (and following from my point above about the infinite gender variations, it also inaccurately represents pansexuality). An important criticism pointed out by the bisexual community is that this scale makes them out to not be their own sexual orientation, but rather a mixture of two absolutes. Bisexual people are not half-heterosexual and half-homosexual. This idea that bisexual people need to quantify how attracted, or how often, they are to each gender (or sex) is ridiculous. It isn't about how much, because for bisexuals the people they enter relationships with are those they are attracted to. Period. They are fully attracted to the people they have relationships with. Measurements like this tend to give the idea that they are less attracted to someone because of their gender/sex.

Really, criticisms of the Kinsey scale are wide and varying. Thats why many academics, scientists, and even the person who created the purple-red scale (whoever they may be) have tried creating new scales. This is just another step in the process, but the purple-red scale - while a a step in the right direction in some aspects - just isn't very revolutionary or even that exciting for me.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Mental Health Awareness Day

Today is mental health awareness day. Having struggled all day to find what to say I'd like to share some thoughts as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, activist, and student representative.

Mental health is often something that is ignored most of the time. We only really talk about mental health when tragedy happens - like mass shootings or the recent shootings in the US (though this is disproportionately applied to white attackers). Even then this is only done to stigmatize mental health, leaving the impression that those with mental health problems are shameful and dangerous.

This is extremely harmful for us all. It makes people not want to talk about their mental problems. Oftentimes it stops many from seeking help and acknowledging that there is a problem at all. I know from experience how harmful this culture is. Having gone through a period of extreme depression, and having lasting social anxiety I know what it is like to think that you are broken, that your mind is working against you and feeling like you have nobody to talk to. I have watched others who feel like they can't talk to anybody suffer in silence.

Mental health is a huge issue for marginalized groups. In general 1 in 6 people in the UK experience mental health issues, but LGBT+ people are 3x more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders and 6x more likely to suffer from depression than heterosexuals? This is especially true for LGBT+ youth (including those in University) and even more so for trans people in particular.

This is a problem that effects everybody though. Everyone has their ups and downs. Especially when dealing with our complex societies stress and anxieties come and go. Some may experience more than others but what is wrong with having support dealing with these changes in mental states? We already have it for physical health.

Physical health is central to how we view the world. From a young age physical health is drilled into us. We are taught about brushing our teeth, washing our hands, watching our step, what we can and can't eat or touch. Really the list goes on and on.  We require physical checks to go to school, university, do sports, all sorts of things. This centrality and exposure lends itself to thinking that talking about and dealing with physical health is 'normal' and acceptable. We need to extend this thinking to mental health for all our sakes.

This mental health awareness day I encourage everyone to try to be just a little bit more open about mental health issues. Remind friends that you are there to talk to, make sure you all know about the support options that are available (at most universities there are counselors of all sorts to help). Stop yourself and others when using ableist language (like "crazy", and "retard(ed)").

Let's work toward building a society where taking care of our minds is viewed just as normal as taking care of our bodies. If we can do that we will all benefit and be better for it.