Between 1945 and 1955, Alfred Kinsey, “the father of the sexual revolution”, conducted widespread research about human sexuality, using a system he called the Kinsey Scale. The Kinsey Scale is meant to measure one’s heterosexual and homosexual tendencies through a series of questions, then places them on the scale at a number between zero and six, zero meaning completely heterosexual, and six meaning completely homosexual. Someone who is a three, therefor, would be sexually attracted to both men and women equally, someone who is a one would be mostly heterosexual with some homosexual tendencies, and so on.
With his scale, Kinsey sought to prove that sexuality was fluid, on a sliding scale, and that most people actually fall somewhere between a zero and a six rather than on the extremes. He tested and measured a multitude of people, mostly men and women between the ages of 18 and 45. He found, unfortunately disproving his hypothesis, that most people did fall on a zero and six, though he did find some who did fall in the middle of his scale, most commonly at a one or two. He also found that one’s attraction seemed to change between early adulthood and later adulthood, with younger men and women (18-29) being more likely to fall in between zero and six. Interesting stuff!
Kinsey’s scale is no longer considered accurate or modern today. For one thing, the scale doesn’t account for attraction to non-binary folks (I use the word non-binary here as an umbrella term for people who don’t identify as men or women [we’ll get into that later in this post]). Kinsey’s scale also doesn’t account for those who are asexual, or those whose sexual preference is more nuanced or fluctuates regularly. One thing Kinsey did get right though is that sexuality is often fluid, subject to change for some people, and it’s true that some people don’t actually fall on the extremes of the scale, though they tend to hug closer to one side or the other.
To simplify our current thinking and understanding about sexuality, gender, and their interactions with each other, we’ll consider it like this: There are four Kinsey-like scales that make up someone’s sexual and gender identity. You can think of each of us as a character in the Sims™, with sliders that change how we perceive sexuality and gender and how others perceive us. These four sliders (simplified for ease of understanding) are Biological Sex, Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Sexuality.
Contrary to popular believe there aren’t just two biological sexes. There are actually a multitude of sexes that are possible for humans (tons more for most animals!), with a plethora of presentations of both genitalia and secondary sex characteristics.
Most commonly, people fall on one of the two extremes: XX chromosomes, a vagina and uterus, breasts and wider hips or XY chromosomes, a penis and testicles, facial hair and slimmer hips. But there are also some people who don’t have the typical chromosomes or the typical primary and secondary sexual characteristics. Some folks can be born with a penis and ovaries, others with an engorged clitoris which completely resembles a penis but without testicles, and so on and so forth. These individuals fall under the umbrella label ‘Intersex’, though it’s important to note that some do not identify with the term. There are also some completely biological males who present with a micropenis which might act more as a clitoris, as well as completely biological females who present with a large clitoris that might act more as a penis. These people might also take up the label ‘Intersex’.
Point being, biological sex isn’t Males vs. Females, and rather a complete spectrum. Some people might even be Intersex without knowing it! Some people could be Intersex and never know it!
Common Intersex Flag
As it is for biological sex, there are not just two genders.
There are TONS of gender identities out there, man and woman, yes, but there are also people who identify as non-binary, meaning that they don’t fit on the gender binary—if it helps you can think of this as binary code. Men are zeroes, women are ones, and non-binary people might be a .5 or a .25 or even a two! This is why I, throughout my posts, tend to use non-binary as an umbrella term rather than a one-size-fits-all label, because there are a lot of ways to be non-binary. One could be genderfluid, meaning their gender slides across the scale regularly. One could be a demi-boy, meaning they identify more on the ‘boy’ side of the scale but not completely, or as a demi-girl, which is the same idea but on the other side of the scale. And so on!
If your Biological Sex slider and your Gender Identity slider don’t match up, you’re probably transgender, another umbrella term which describes transmen, transwomen, and non-binary folks. (Side note: I believe that transmen are men and transwomen are women [you should too!] and so I tend to say men, women, and non-binary people when I’m speaking about everyone, trans or not). You could also be totally off the slider and identify as agender (the root a- meaning without, ergo, without gender)! That would likely make you trans too.
Here’s where I think it gets really fun!
Gender Expression is how one styles themselves, and it has a lot to do with how others perceive you. Gender Expression can be done through clothing, hairstyles, make-up, building muscle, slimming down, surgery or cosmetics, even through tattoos or piercings! But Gender Expression also has a lot to do with personality, how you fit into your community, societal gender roles, and more. Think of this as more of a series of sliders, maybe one for your clothes, another for your hair, another for how you walk, how you talk, etc. The general idea of these sliders is that at one end you have masculinity, the other end femininity, and dead center, androgyny.
But of course, we’re beginning to move towards a view that clothes, make-up, tattoos, societal roles, and other ways of expression aren’t actually feminine or masculine at all, that they are all just clothes, just make-up, just roles, and that they aren’t strapped down to being a ‘man’s thing’ or a ‘woman’s thing’. Unfortunately, that movement is still much under way, and a lot of your expression has more to do with how others in society see you rather than how you see you. But the general rule of thumb for most folks is to wear and do whatever makes you happy, and a lot of people have fun with their styles and zip up and down the sliders all day, every day.
Finally we find ourselves here, back with Kinsey and his scale of human sexuality.
But not so fast! Kinsey’s sliding scale doesn’t quite work here, remember? Let’s dig in a little bit.
The big issue that I take up with the Kinsey scale is that, yes, there are some people whose attraction relies on the gender of people that their attracted to, like a woman who is only attracted to other women. But there are also some people whose attraction relies more on someone’s presentation, a man who is attracted to masculinity: masculine men, masculine women, and masculine non-binary people.
You have to decide for yourself which side you’re on, or if you’re on both—for example, a non-binary person who is attracted to other non-binary people and women, but specifically androgynous non-binary people and masculine women.
This is where it might get a little tricky, because sometimes it might just depend on the person for you! It might depend on if that person who identifies as a man but expresses himself in more feminine attire really loves the same music you’re into and buys you roses on your birthday, even if previously you’d only found men who express themselves as more masculine attractive before. There are some people who only feel sexual attraction after an intense emotional bond has occurred (called demisexuality), and it might matter what the gender of that person is or it might not! There might be people who are off the sliders entirely and identify as asexual (without sexual attraction), or who only hop on the slider for a brief amount of time before jumping off again. Some people might not have any clue what slider they might be on, so they tend to ignore it even if they do feel sexual attraction. We will probably never have enough scales or graphs or sliders to account for all the modes of sexual attraction, and that’s not even counting romantic attraction, aesthetic attraction, intellectual attraction and more! I’m not sure we have a computer with enough space to program all the sliders for that!
Here’s a fun exercise: Pull out a piece of notebook paper and draw up some sliders. Start at Biological Sex (if you’d like to. If biological sex makes you uncomfortable, feel free to skip), then Gender Identity, then Gender Expression, giving yourself a slider for your clothes, your hair, make-up if you wear it, and any other ways you might express yourself. Leave some room for Sexuality at the bottom of the page. Pull out some colors if you’re feeling adventurous. Put yourself on the sliders, see where feels most comfortable for you on each. I’ll do it with you!
Biologically, I have XX chromosomes, so I’ll put myself on that end of the spectrum.
Next, I identify completely as a man, so I’ll scooch that slider all the way to the opposite side that I did my biological sex.
Then, Expression. I think I dress androgynously, but I lean more towards masculine hairstyles and gender roles, so I’ll stay pretty close to the masculine side on most of my sliders. I crossed out make-up because I don’t wear any, but I added a slider for my tattoos, which I think are pretty androgynous.
Now Sexuality. This one is up for your interpretation. For me, I know I’m attracted to men, sexually and romantically, so I’ll write down DUDES!!! To keep it fun. I’m attracted to masculine, androgynous, and feminine men (although there’s a special place in my heart for Harry Styles), so I don’t feel the need to specify more than I have, but maybe you might!
If you’re in a relationship, feel free to draw a sketch of your partner(s) as what you’re attracted to, if you’re on the search for a partner, try narrowing down what it is you like to aide in finding people you like. If you’re not sexually attracted to anyone, feel free to cross that bad boy right out! If you want to try your romantic or aesthetic attractions here too, go for it, but we’ll have to save the specifics on that one for another blog post.
Share your sliders down in the comments below! And I’ll see you soon to lay some groundwork for BDSM and Kink!
Kinsey Scale and Intersex Pride Flag: Courtesy of Wikipedia
Bisexuality Chart: Courtesy of yougov.com
Sex and Gender Slider: Courtesy of Pinterest user BLOG LaFleur Cornstarch
Pink, Blue, and Purple People: Courtesy of tulanehullabaloo.com