The New Free Love
Boys? Girls? Both? CLEO investigates the shift away from ‘coming out’ in favour of label-free relationships.
“Of course I still fancy girls,” said Olympic diver Tom Daley in his YouTube video, “Something I Want To Say”. “But right now I’m dating a guy and couldn’t be happier.” Just weeks before, Hollywood actress Maria Bello shared details of her relationship with a woman – while referencing several past relationships with men.
While ‘coming out’ in Celebville is nothing new, these ‘outings’ weren’t your garden variety LGBT: Neither Daley or Bello identified themselves as gay, or even bi, for that matter. In fact, they appeared to artfully swerve the topic of labelling their relationships altogether. Unsurprisingly, their revelations have reignited public debate about the complications of modern day sexuality. Is it now simply a matter of ‘switching teams’ and ignoring the labels?
Sexologist and relationship expert Dr Nikki Goldstein says we need to consider the disintegration of social taboos to answer this question. “Over the last 40 years, LGBT lifestyles have become more interwoven into the normative fabric of society, so ‘coming out’ is now met with less adversity and is well represented,” she says. “This generation can freely explore their sexual desires and choose the labels that apply to them. Twenty-somethings in same-sex relationships often don’t see the value in ascribing to labels like ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual ’ if they don’t feel like they exclusively fall into these categories. We’re slowly coming to realise sexuality is fluid, we don’t just stay the same sexual beings throughout our lives.”
This idea of sexual fluidity has also gained traction in academic circles, with research from the University of Utah indicating that female sexuality can be open-ended. This may explain why female experimentation is a hot topic in pop culture and why women might be reluctant to put a label on it when it’s a case of ‘just wanna try you on’.
Gia Ravazzotti, sexual health counsellor from the Australasian Institute of Sexual Health Medicine, says it’s the traditional act of ‘coming out’ that can be a deterring factor for some. “In our society there’s an expectation that if we say something about who or what we are, this should never change, so there’s a lot of pressure that comes with having to pick a side.”
Just as we have a tendency to jump from job to job, perhaps this rejection of labels has something to do with Gen Y’s love of mixing it up. After all, attitudes to sexuality have always reflected the mood of the times. So has the notion of sexual preference just been repackaged for 2016?
Ravazzotti thinks so. “Choosing not to disclose your sexuality is a recent phenomenon, but engaging in sexual relationships with people of both genders is bisexuality,” she explains. Bisexual communities like Bisexualindex.org.uk reflect this view, stating, “You’re bisexual as soon as you stop being exclusively attracted to only
one sex.” This shift away from labels, Ravazzotti argues, is perhaps less to do with free love 2.0 and more related to a stigma attached to the term ‘bisexuality’ (“Fickle much?”).
President of Bi-Alliance Victoria, Rebecca Dominguez, agrees. “There’s an assumption that bisexuals are ‘untrustworthy’, ‘confused’ and ‘fickle’,” she says. This ‘biphobia’ doesn’t come exclusively from the straight community, but in many cases emanates from gay circles. “As a bisexual you’re not gay enough for the gay community and not straight enough for the heterosexuals,” says Dominguez.
Even some celebrities distance themselves from this label, only adding to the idea that bisexuality is the pariah of sexual identities. Actress Cynthia Nixon, who married a woman after having children with a man, said, “I don’t pull out the ‘bisexual ’ word because everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.”
As outwardly permitting as this labelfree love model seems at first glance, sexual politics are still, well, political. But Ravazzotti argues the payoff for experimentation is still worth it. “Identity formation continues well into our twenties and thirties. There’s still risk of being judged for our choices but feeling pressure to label your sexual experiences can thwart this important process,” she says. Playing coy with your sexuality may not be without its baggage, but for anyone who feels like they don’t fit neatly into one box, there’s no denying that having the option to tick another one is just a little tempting.