We’re pretty lucky, in the grand scheme of things.
Our generation is coming of age in a world where the majority of people have finally adopted the "essentialist" view of sexual orientation: You are born with your sexual and romantic preferences pre-programmed into you, and they’re immutable.
In this path to acceptance, we’ve welcomed realities about sexuality that no past generation has dared to do.
More and more people comfortably acknowledge bisexuality, transsexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, etc. This means people are comfortable exploring their own preferences, too.
With this freedom, more and more people have begun to realize their sexualities don’t fall under the gay-straight-bi delineation.
Instead, they rank somewhere on a scale from homosexual to heterosexual (even though scales, like the Kinsey scale, have existed for over 50 years to classify these rankings).
Has our society’s pressure toward heterosexuality fettered some people’s natural instincts toward more fluid, or flexible, sexual attraction? Is it possible that people rank in their own relatively unique spots on a spectrum of attraction?
Off the bat, I want to caution I can only discuss this from my own perspective. Though I now tend to identify as the reclaimed version of "queer" — which is often defined now as a broad, all-inclusive term for people who identify outside of the traditional heterosexual — I’m a cis-gendered white woman, currently in a heterosexual relationship.
My life is comparatively easy and privileged, and I can’t pretend to be able to tell any stories that aren’t mine. I can only share my own experience, one that I think — and hope — is still relevant
Since the first time I saw Pierce Brosnan play James Bond, I knew I liked (at least) boys. I used to kiss Ringo on my dad’s Beatles poster before I went to sleep. (They're both dicey favorites, I know.) For most of my young life, "straight" was the easy label to conform to.
When I was 15, I participated in a quintessential American rite of passage: I went to summer camp.
Sure, mine was a "nerd camp," and we took philosophy classes and quoted Monty Python. Afternoon activities included GLOW, the gay, lesbian or whatever discussion group.
But, camp is camp. And like so many people at camp, I kissed someone of the same gender for the first time.
It wasn’t some snapshot from a straight male fantasy, or something out of a Katy Perry song. For me at that moment, it wasn’t really much of anything. It wasn't a realization, a sense of shame or an illicit sexual expression; it felt normal.
I didn’t have a crush on the girl, and it felt just about as profound as kissing a boy I didn’t have a crush on.
What my first experience allowed me to do, though, was subconsciously open a door of sexual exploration. When I eventually did develop a crush on a girl, I allowed myself to feel it. When I kissed her, I allowed myself to feel more.
By the time I left college, I felt no qualms about physically pursuing my attractions to women.
Finally, a year out from my graduation (and despite the fact that I’m currently in a heterosexual relationship), I’m ready to admit I could imagine myself being in a relationship with a woman.
I no longer identify as “straight.”
My experience wasn’t that uncommon. There are thousands on thousands of accounts of people who believed themselves to be heterosexual until they met that one special person, or had that one special moment.
It can’t be a coincidence that these realizations or acknowledgements often come when people begin to accept others’ "unconventional" sexualities as normal. They accept themselves when they get more accepting.
Compound heteronormative pressure with the simple question of availability, and it’s unsurprising that the number of people who openly acknowledge these tendencies is only just now starting to rise.
For a long time, I just avoided classifying myself. Even for me, with an unequivocally supportive family, the good luck of having fallen into accepting social circles and a sociopolitical climate that continues to grow more open, it’s been a long process to acknowledging I can be attracted to women.
Outside acceptance of any phenomenon is a long process, too. Despite the speed of the progress that’s been made and legislated in the realm of accepting sexuality, it’s an uphill battle.
We’re not “there” yet. As a society, we’re not comfortable exploring sexuality as a something that exists on a spectrum, or at least as something not so black and white.
While a lot of people probably do fall into the exclusively homosexual or exclusively heterosexual camps, I’m willing to bet that societally, we’ve only scratched the surface of the diversity of sexual orientations.
But, I think our culture's growing acceptance is finally allowing people to express that diversity. There’s courage in that change.
As trite as it sounds — and while I can’t pretend to know the hurdles some must clear to be themselves — we’re better off, as a society, having the courage to express our natural tendencies.