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Sexuality Is Unquantifiable - Bringing Down Kinsey

I was having a drink with a friend of mine the other day when the topic turned toward our sexualities. Going by the standard Kinsey Scale model of sexuality, my friend is a Kinsey 3. My friend's spouse is a Kinsey 1. We all know the Kinsey Scale. It looks like this:

If you're a Kinsey 0 you're 100% heterosexual, not a homosexual bone in your body. Likewise if you're a six - 100% homosexual, not a heterosexual bone in your body. A 3 is completely bisexual, and 1/5 represent being predominantly het/homo (respectively) with only incidental homo/het attraction (again, respectively). 2/4 represent the same thing, but the incidental attraction is not so incidental.


Everything's all nice and simple that way. You're straight, gay, or somewhere in between. But sexuality isn't that simple. Hell, sex and gender sure aren't simple to begin with . We've got cis people and trans people and people who are agender and people who are gender fluid and more types of gender identities than there are colors of the rainbow. There are people who are off the binary and on the binary, and all places in between.

Talking with my friend got me thinking, because I tend to first look to charts and graphs as my starting point, about how we could do a sexuality graph that doesn't assume cisgender people exclusively, that allows for pansexuality, that takes into account not just the sex of the people you're attracted to, but also the gender.

The Storms Scale attempts to remedy the Kinsey Scale's failings, but still falls short.


It's an improvement, sure. But it's not enough. And it's not enough because it still buys into cissexist terminology. Because look at the words we use. Homosexual. Heterosexual. They all have that in common. The hetero and homo parts are easy - different and same. But different and same what? Sex. The Kinsey Scale and Storms Scale operate on the assumption that attraction is based on sex. And only sex. Gender is irrelevant, because it's assumed by the terminology to match the sex.

But that's not how it works for everyone. For my friend, who self-describes as a Kinsey 3, attraction is based on sex. For my friend's spouse, though, it's about gender. I'm attracted to people based on their gender identity. Sex doesn't enter into it. You can be trans, and that's perfectly lovely. You can be cis as well. Your sex doesn't matter, only your gender.


On these scales and axes, it's all about sex. And if you fall on the het side of things as a cis person, you're not queer. But sexuality is a lot queerer than we think. It's not as binary as we like to think. As nice and easy as the Kinsey Scale is to understand, it paints an oversimplified picture. We need to get messy. We need to get up in the business of sexuality. And we need to do that in order to change society.

Society conditions us to think of sexuality across a scale from straight to gay, where we're only meant to be attracted to cis people along that axis. Trans people aren't helped by the dominant view of sexuality. Think about one of the most popular internet memes:


Hurtful, no? If you don't know this meme, it's aimed at trans people, particularly trans women. It engages in the narrative that trans people are pretending to be the gender they identify as to get in your pants. "It's a Trap" paints trans women undercover gays, ready to spring their penises on you at the last second. Many straight men are fully into trans women, up until the moment they learn that they're speaking to a trans woman. At which point "I'm not gay" or worse comes out of their mouths. Sometimes these men get violent, attacking trans women for "tricking" them in some way, or trying to make them gay, or some other nonsense.

Now, it's a perfectly legitimate view of one's own sexuality to say that you aren't into trans people. That's fine, nobody is asking that everyone be into trans people sexually. My friend, the Kinsey 3, is totally oriented only toward cis people. Perfectly legitimate.


But the dominant terminology isn't adequate if you're not attracted to people based on sex, but based on their gender. And, being the charts and graphs person I am, I started a thought experiment to see what the limits of charting and graphing sexuality even were.

Let me tell you, sexuality is unquantifiable.

The Thought Experiment

I had it in my head to try and fix the Kinsey Scale by creating something that was not a scale or an axis, but a field. A four-dimensional field of sexuality. It was supposed to give us a field which accounts for asexuality while also recognizing the differences in sex and gender, allowing us to have a trans-inclusive view of sexuality.


It isn't that easy. I realized very quickly that four dimensions wasn't enough to cover human sexuality. Sure, we could fit some things, but we'd never be able to account for everything.

This was the last step I was able to get to before realizing how impossible a project it really is.


At three dimensions things are already difficult to conceptualize all together. And there are so many variables to consider with sexuality. You'd need an n-dimensional graph to do it, and even then it wouldn't be possible.


On the graph above, pansexuality would have been the locus of (0,0) on the x and y axes and a positive number on the z axis.

But the thing about pansexuality is that it lies outside easy binaries. But here it's inscribed as existing within a system of binaries, bound and constrained (dare I say gagged and introduce an axis of vanilla-kink) by them, and the more binary systems, the more dimensions are added, the smaller and less expansive pansexuality becomes.


And the more dimensions you add in, the worse the problem becomes. You need a romantic attraction axis, because sexual attraction and romantic attraction do not necessarily correlate. Every race and ethnicity would need to be represented with an axis as well - some people are legitimately attracted to people of certain races and ethnicities more than others (even if this might be seen as fetishistic and creepy by people of those races and ethnicities).

How would you even represent race or ethnicity as an axis? You'd have to scale it from something like "Not at all Latin@" to "Latin@" - but how the hell does somebody qualify as more or less Latin@? Am I more Latin@ than my brother because I speak Spanish? Or is it our melanin content? Is it based on silly and racist notions of blood purity?


That's one reason the whole project of creating a scale or a graph or a field for the plotting of sexuality just doesn't work. The more you try to nail things down and become fully inclusive, the more new variances have to be introduced. And graphs and charts will never really be able to properly accommodate non-binary people, because graphs and charts are fundamentally binary creatures.

You could chart me and say that I'm 3/4 white and 1/4 Latin@, but you know what? That doesn't help anything. I was raised in white culture but resist identifying as white. I identify as Latin@ when I feel like subscribing to the binary relationship between being white and Latin@ at all, but that's not my primary identification. Above everything else, I'm mixed. And I don't mean that I'm in between. I'm something else entirely, neither white nor Latin@, but a new thing, unique in my own experience of being mixed. And if you take someone else who is mixed, we won't chart the same. There are too many variables at play, too - our positions are entirely beyond the binary. I don't belong to the binary at all - my identity is unchartable. But if you try and chart things, you only get an incomplete picture. A chart won't let you actually know me.


That's the thing about charts. An n-dimensional chart can account for everything, right up until you throw something truly non-binary at it. At that point you can try to force the non-binary into a binary system, inventing new axes until you've circumscribed the non-binary within a system of binary relationships. But that subsumes and limits the non-binary as part of the binary. It makes the non-binary binary.

So I had to abandon that thought experiment. It wasn't productive of anything except showing the limits of binary thinking, of trying to chart something as variable and fluid as sexuality. Which is valuable and productive in its own way, but in the way I was expecting. Sexuality doesn't look like a scale or a chart or even a field - Kinsey is completely useless to me. I'm not on his scale. My sexuality doesn't fit his schema, or even Storms's. And you know what? That's okay.


Free From Kinsey's Chains

Sexuality looks more like this (ignore the title part):


It's not pretty or neat, but that's because human sexuality isn't pretty or neat. It's expansive, and twisted up upon itself. It's recursive, and far-flung, and wide-ranging, and yet unique, and intimate, and close by.

Thinking about this has made me realize how inadequate our language for sexuality is. The Identity Project is wonderful, and it's inclusive of sexuality, but the range of identities it shows us is inspirational. And if we could get such a range for sexuality alone, that would be great.


I think, ultimately, what we need to do as people is be honest with ourselves and (when we're ready) with each other about our sexuality as best we can. If it means making up words or describing it in a roundabout fashion, so be it. We'll all benefit from a more open way of speaking to each other about sexuality, more than we already have.

If we do, if we expand our language for describing our sexualities, we might be able to break the power of memes like "It's a Trap" and move into a more trans inclusive language. And making our language more inclusive of trans people seems to me like an end in and of itself. If that's not enough, though, it might help us achieve an incrementally more friendly society for our trans brothers and sisters out there. It won't make things perfect, but a start is always good.

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