Activist enlightens about sexual identity

LGBT activist and co-editor of “Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World,” Robyn Ochs, presented “Beyond Binaries: Identity and Sexuality,” discussing sexual orientation identity at PRISM’s event on Thursday, Oct. 18.

“I invite you on a journey of a landscape of identity,” Ochs said, starting off the night. “A landscape of sexual orientation identity.”

Ochs discussed how human beings like to map, organize and classify people into categories. There is a really big difference, Ochs said, between how people identify themselves and how other people read them.

Ochs noted how all people have many different identities.

“Intersectionality: the idea that identity is complicated and identity is a journey,” Ochs said. Everyone has different identities that relate and intertwine with one another, such as race, religion, gender, age and more. Experiences in one of those categories affects experience in another category, Ochs explained.

Each audience member was given a purple sheet of paper, illustrating various charts and scales created by sexology researchers Alfred Kinsey and Fritz Klein. As an introduction to her own experiment later on in the evening, Ochs provided the audience with a brief history lesson about the continuum spectrum of sexual orientation.

Kinsey conducted the first large-scale, all-male sexuality study in the 1940s, interviewing over 6,000 men. Kinsey found through his research that 10 percent of the male population is homosexual. Homosexuality, however, ranged through an entire spectrum of sexuality, Kinsey discovered. Utilizing the numbers zero —  exclusively heterosexual — to six — exclusively homosexual — Kinsey created “The Kinsey Scale,” illustrating the range of sexuality.

Klein approached the sexuality continuum a little differently. Instead of a line scale, Klein created two axes with the variables past, present and ideal in the x-axis, and sexual behaviors such as attraction, lifestyle and emotional preference in the y-axis.

Ochs talks about sexual orientation. (Kyle Bennion / Staff Photographer)

“Kinsey and Klein made the assumption of the gender binary,” Ochs said, criticizing elements of the researchers’ work. “I do not use the words ‘opposite sex.’ It reinforces the binary.” Those words put things in opposition, Ochs said. It exaggerates differences of male and female, when they are actually just a variation of the same theme.

Ochs also stressed the significant difference between the words “gender” and “sex.”

“They are not interchangeable words,” Ochs said, as gender means “man” or “woman,” and sex means “male” or “female.” Ochs noted that gender means the actual understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman. Sex is our physical and biological characteristics that define us as male or female.

The majority of the event was an interactive portion that consisted of each person filling out an anonymous Kinsey-Klein questionnaire. Each member of the audience assigned a number zero to six, using the Kinsey scale, to questions such as emotional, romantic, attraction, fantasies and more before the age of 16, during 2012 and in the past month. These sheets were then shuffled and randomly assigned to different audience members.

Ochs placed the numbers zero to six in a rainbow shape around the room. Question by question, audience members stood by the answered numbers on their sheet. The answers provided by the audience displayed that there is always a spectrum, always a wide range. The audience never solely stood by the numbers zero and six, rather members were constantly scattered across the spectrum.

After the experiment was presented and Ochs shared her own life story, each audience member said what he or she had learned in the presentation.

“I thought this was just going to be on sexuality, but it was about spectrum,” sophomore biology major Hailey Marr said. “It was very eye opening.”

Ochs emphasized that human beings are incredibly complicated on so many levels.

“None of us can be defined by a single word,” Ochs said. “We are all stories.”