Call Me Mostly: The New Sexual Label

I never thought I’d become the kind of person who shakes his head in confusion and mumbles, “Kids today.”


I’ve gotten used to the fact that technology moves too quickly to keep up with—although that phenomenon seems two parts creativity and one part greed, with planned obsolescence built into each new gadget so we’ll all be back in line within a couple of years for the latest must-have replacement.

What I didn’t see coming was the increasing complexity of sexual labeling.  It’s as if the closet door has turned into a revolving door, and it’s spinning off its hinges.

In my day (as the curmudgeon in me would say), we had two kinds of people:  straight and gay.  And, except for a certain weekend in June, the gays were pretty quiet.

Once the closet doors flew open, though, all sorts of things started happening.  Bisexuals, who were once believed to be only homosexuals in disguise (need I say more than “Elton John”?), suddenly began demonstrating their own bona fides.  And before long, transgenders joined the fray.  Not to be confused with the transsexuals of yore, from Christine Jorgensen on.  In fact, I’m not even sure anyone uses the term transsexual anymore, but that’s another story.  As someone who finds a huge difference between sex (a biological phenomenon) and gender (a social construct), I think there’s an argument to be made for keeping both terms in circulation.

Ah, the simple days, when a man’s sexual identity was defined by whether he preferred to give or receive a blowjob.

No sooner do I get introduced to the term gaybro—which, as far as I can tell, is meant to identify gay men who are afraid of being perceived as less than masculine just because of their sexual orientation—than all hell breaks loose with “mostly straight.”

While bisexual used to define the space between hetero and homo, apparently we now need to get (to borrow a term from corporatespeak) more granular.  “Mostly straight” is intended to fill the gap between straight and bisexual, describing those guys who prefer sex with women but are open to, just every once in a while, dabbling in a little male bonding (with or without physical intimacy).

As far as I can tell, gaybro and mostly straight are terms invented by the men who embrace them, most of whom seem to think they’re describing an entirely new phenomenon.  But of course, young people throughout history—and none more so than the millennials—think they’ve invented everything.  If you believe the people in these articles, until around 2010 all male homosexuals were flaming queens, and all bisexuals were interested 50/50 in men and women.

There’s something quite off-putting about both of these so-called movements, which have in common a desire to distance themselves from perceived effeminacy.  Again, that pesky link between gender and sexuality—as if putting your feet in the air or attending the opera makes you less of a man.

The millennials have impressively proved themselves quite accepting of sexual diversity, and they are widely credited with shifting this culture’s attitude toward marriage equality.  In fact, they are often heard to decry the use of sexual labels, which makes this new phenomenon a bit ironic and a bit disturbing.

The truth is that nature loves increasing diversity, and it always has.  That’s what evolution is all about:  each new species spawns a number of new ones, and so on, and so on, like a shampoo commercial.  (And for the record, I find Heather Locklear extremely sexy.)

The sexual diversity we see around us today is nothing new.  But the discussion of it is.  The labeling is.

When you embrace labels to define yourself, you are simultaneously labeling the other—indeed, positing the existence of an other.  “Mostly straight” suggests that someone else is “mostly gay.”  And the need to label suggests to me that the former doesn’t want to be besmirched by being thought the latter.

My old curmudgeon wants to stick his head out the window and scream, “Then get the heck out of my yard!”