Pink or Blue? Labels, Sex & Sexuality

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Chalice Lighting

We are each of us unique
Different from every other in myriad ways
As beautiful and varied as the colours of the rainbow
And the world takes this beauty and compresses it into categories
Boxes and compartmentalises us within a limited set of labels
Simplifies and stifles the wonder that is us
By the light of this flame, let us escape society’s labels
Let us expand once again into the beautiful diversity we are
Knowing that here, our true selves are welcome

Reading By Paul Rudnick. Adapted by Qaisar Siddiqui

Alfred Kinsey believed that human sexuality could be charted on a scale of 0 to 6, with 0 being “Exclusively heterosexual” and 6 being “Exclusively homosexual.” Owing to changing cultural boundaries and advanced research, Kinsey’s scale has recently been expanded:

  1. So heterosexual that you think all other heterosexuals should be shot because they seem a little gay.

  2. So heterosexual that when a tax return or a loan application asks your gender you reply, “Straight.”

  3. So heterosexual that the thought of two people of the same sex having intercourse doesn’t disgust you; it confuses you — “Wait a minute if they’re both girls, which one falls asleep immediately afterwards while the other one keeps babbling about her day?”

  4. So heterosexual that when you see Tom Hardy reading a bedtime story on CBeebies you can’t understand why he doesn't just threaten to fight they kids if they don't go to sleep.

  5. Heterosexual, yet still able to watch Newsnight Review without asking, “Who are Ian McKellen and Julie Andrews? School Governors from Hounslow?”

  6. Heterosexual, but still willing to understand, at least theoretically, why two women having sex aren’t just practising until their husbands get back from the pub.

  7. Heterosexual, yet still able to wear colours other than brown, olive green, and navy blue (but never pink or yellow, because you’re not some goddam circus clown).

  8. Heterosexual, but sometimes fantasizes about bathing.

  9. Heterosexual, but once, at college, glimpsed a roommate naked and thought, If everyone else in the world were dead, I would have sex with that person, as long as we both kept saying, “But everyone else is still dead, right?”

  10. Heterosexual, but once, while serving in the military, made love with a same-sex partner, and afterwards said either “I was so drunk,” “Wait—does that count as sex?,” or “Whoa. At least now I can check that off my bucket list, along with hot-air ballooning.”

  11. Heterosexual, but during sex with one’s spouse often pictures the spouse with different genitalia sprouting from his or her forehead. This is not to be confused with imagining your spouse’s forehead as a place to hold keys or to hang up your coat.

  12. Heterosexual, but while on business trips will frequently have intercourse with same-sex partners, primarily because they know the best local restaurants.

  13. You identify as bisexual because you think it will double your chances of getting a date for Saturday night.

  14. You identify as bisexual because you think it sounds French.

  15. So bisexual that you fantasize not only about both Brad and Angelina but also about Victoria and Albert.

  16. So bisexual that you get Ian McKellan and Julie Andrews confused.

  17. Almost too bisexual, because you keep approaching straight married couples on the Central Line and murmuring, “The answer is yes.”

  18. Homosexual, but occasionally attracted to the opposite gender, just to get your mum’s hopes up.

  19. Homosexual, but willing to look at a member of the opposite sex without howling, “Dear God in Heaven, what is that?”

  20. Homosexual, but sometimes still fantasizes about kissing someone of the opposite sex, as an item on a scavenger hunt.

  21. Homosexual, but willing to speak to heterosexuals without muttering, under your breath, “Have you ever even been to a museum?”

  22. So homosexual that both partners can achieve orgasm just by debating dream casting for the West End production of "Hamilton".

  23. So exclusively homosexual that you took a break from editing your coming-out Youtube video to finish brunch.

  24. So overwhelmingly homosexual that you dream that Ian McKellan and Julie Andrews are your birth parents

Reading
By R. Gay from First Person Queer: Who We Are (So Far)

I've had more difficulty accepting myself as bisexual than I ever did accepting that I was a lesbian. It felt traitorous. A few years ago, I admitted to myself that I was still interested in men in more than a "Brad Pitt is slick hot sexy" kind of way. But I worried what my friends, exes, and the Community would think. I never even broached the subject with my parents. Because what bothered me the most was that people would think that being a lesbian had been a phase for me, when that was so very not the case. What I feared was that I would no longer be part of a community, that I might be seen with my boyfriend and not be recognized as something not the same.

Message by Rev Andy Pakula

Today, we’re continuing our theme of labels - those categories we put others in and others put us in. Labels simplify our lives so we can call something red rather than saying the wavelength of the light it reflects is exactly 683 nm because, as we all know, we generally refer to any light with a wavelength between 620 nm 750 nm as red.

Imagine what it would be like if we couldn’t slap a label on that range of the visible spectrum. ‘Oh, what a nice shirt you’re wearing today that reflects light somewhere in the 620 to 750 nm range!’ Or we could try to come up with the most precise name for that particular wavelength. There are currently at least 445 different named variations of red, and that doesn’t include the pink or purple families! Just saying ‘red’ is terribly imprecise but it makes life a whole lot easier.

And we do the same thing for almost everything in life. It’s hot or cold - So much easier than pulling out a thermometer or a phone to check. It’s dark or light, windy or calm, early or late, night or day… And people are tall or short, black or white, British or not, rich or poor, good or bad, amusing or tedious, male or female, young or old… Sometimes these labels are innocuous. Often they are not. Often, they force people into particular categories that don’t quite fit. All reds are not alike! One such set of labels is sexuality.

Among the many things I had to learn about upon arriving in Britain was Marmite. I was immediately made to try it and decide whether I loved or hated it. ‘Erm… it’s OK, I said.’ And ‘NO’, they shouted - ‘you have to either love it or hate it!’ ‘That’s absurd’ I said. I can see liking it in small quantities - maybe on bread with some butter or on a bagel with some Philadelphia, but love it or hate it makes no sense to me.’ At which point, I was labelled, male, short, not British, tedious…

Sexuality is labelled as love it or hate it. That is, you have to be homosexual, heterosexual or - somewhat more flexible than the case for Marmite - you can be right in the middle of the scale - being equally attracted to men and women. In 1948, Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues published 'Sexual Behavior in the Human Male' and then, five years later, published 'Sexual Behavior in the Human Female'. There was immediate shock and outrage. Kinsey suggested rather than three categories of sexual orientation, there are six. You make like the extended version from our reading this morning better. That’s fine.

What seemed particularly shocking, I think, is that Kinsey suggested that a whole lot of people are neither in category 1 or 6 - exclusively heterosexual or homosexual. In Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, he wrote: "Males do not represent two discrete populations; heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats, and not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behaviour, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex."

When I was a youth group adult advisor back in the US, the young people spent a lot of their time playing what might be called deep games - games that help build community and connections and help individuals realise that they are not alone. In one of these games - called Power Shuffle - Yes/No questions were asked and you then had to go to either the ‘yes’ end of the room or the ‘no’ end. The question was asked ‘do you think anyone is either 100% straight or gay.’ Now, even Kinsey would say that - yes - some people are. But the young people - in various groups - almost all went to the ‘no’ wall. From their own experience, they were convinced that everyone can have sexual feelings for people of any sexual identity. But, when the very next question was ‘Are YOU 100% gay or straight, most of them went to the ‘yes’ wall’. So no one is 100% gay or straight except me!

As Kinsey said, ‘...the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes.’ These young people knew the truth they felt inside but also knew the pressure that labels apply. When you don’t conform to your label, you no longer belong to the community identified by that label. And we human beings need community - we needed to be accepted and included.

Our second reading provides quite an insight into the tyranny of labels and the communities identified by them. The writer - who identifies as a lesbian - said that accepting herself as bisexual felt traitorous. She worried what her friends, her exes, and the Community would think. She capitalises the word community indicating that - at least to her - the community of people like her - people defined as lesbian - was specific, important, and could be judgemental.

In this way, the labels we make to simplify our interactions in life actually affect that life. The labels squeeze real human beings into tight categories that affect not only sexual relations but the loving connections that are so closely tied to them. And this means that - as a person labelled a heterosexual male - I can’t love or even be suspected of loving another male. If I were a gay male, I might feel similar pressure to deny any feelings I might have for a female person.

Kinsey said the truth about human sexuality is that we all fall on a continuum. It has been a controversial assertion. His methods and his results have been challenged. Other researchers have confirmed his finding while still others have challenged them. A continuum is a very beautiful thing. Were we to accept this, life might be a bit more confusing but we would all be so much freer. The possibility for relationships and for love would become unencumbered by the pressure of categories and communities. We could be more ourselves - we could be more vulnerable with one another - we could open our hearts.

We could let our true colours come shining through. May it be so.

Closing Words

The world is more complicated than we might like it to be
Our desire for control cries out for simplicity
But all light varies along a continuous spectrum
Natural sound ignores the order of the key signature
We live on a continuum of diverse reality
The extreme points of which are empty
Everything exciting and beautiful lives in between
Live into life’s complexity
There, we can find beauty
There, we can find truth
There, we can find freedom