In this installment of Our Two Sense, Wes and Kyra explain just how quickly things are changing when it comes to sexual identity and teenagers.
In June 2013, shortly after Proposition 8 was overturned in California, I wrote in my newspaper column: “There’s a growing movement among teens and young adults that leans away from labels of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ and toward attraction to a given person, regardless of gender… This is the shape of things to come. Whether you see this as a cause for hope and joy or fear and loathing, these distinctions will become much less prominent in my lifetime.”
I guess I won’t need to live very long to see that change.
Support for gay marriage now stands at 55 percent. For those 18 to 29, it’s 81 percent. “Gay rights” is no longer a wedge issue, leaving a wake of confusion among conservatives. So much in fact, that political insiders say many Republican lawmakers are quietly rooting for the Supreme Court to sanction gay marriage across America later this year. They don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.
The real change, however, is not in our cultural acceptance of more diverse sexual and gender identities. It’s in our abandonment of labels, and make no mistake about it, that trend is being led by teens. Though still a minority, greater and greater numbers now choose whom they love and fit their sexuality into that relationship. It’s happening so quickly that today’s GBLTQ teens have almost nothing in common with GBLTQ adults just five to seven years older.
A world without labels will create discomfort among both straight and gay adults. Despite what we claim, most of us like labels a great deal. They give us a (false) sense of security and predictability. Labels tell us who we are.
We forget sometimes that they also tend to keep us there.
I recently found out that one of my good friends is bisexual. She mentioned it in passing, and I didn’t think much about it until Wes assigned me to write this blog. That’s how common it’s become to have friends coming out. There’s not as much to it as there used to be. More and more, the mainstream attitude toward coming out is one where one person says, “Hey, I’m gay,” and the other says, “Okay, cool beans. Let’s watch a movie.”
Of course many people aren’t quite at the point Wes describes where labels are obsolete, but others—especially young adults—don’t isolate or discriminate against the GBLTQ population.
But even as society moves past labels, a harmful minority continues to try and keep them firmly in place. When talking about the movie Selma at this year’s Golden Globes, Tina Fey joked that the movie was about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, “which totally worked and now everything’s fine.” This is, unfortunately, a pretty accurate satire of more than one type of minority rights movement. To dissolve labels is to dissolve prejudice, and I differ slightly with Wes’ opinion in that I do not believe prejudice can be eradicated, even if we give society another couple of centuries.
However, as the old anti-bullying campaign slogan encourages, “It gets better.” The LGBTQ community is becoming prominent in the media, and more fun is poked at the new minority of intolerant, than those whom they don’t tolerate.
Recently Ellen DeGeneres responded to an anti-gay article about GBLTQ figures on TV pushing “a gay agenda” onto young people. She defended her message as one that simply encouraged people to be more compassionate and kind to others, not to become something they aren’t.
Then, in typical Ellen fashion, she picked up a spinning vortex like a hypnotist might use and spoke directly into the camera: “Attention, youth of the world,” she said. “I want you to live your lives being exactly who you are. Be true to yourself — the most important thing is to be true to yourself.”
The more society allows people to be authentic and true to themselves, the closer we will be to the label-less world Wes imagines.
Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., is board certified in couples and family psychology (ABPP). He’s the author I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not: Successful Living with ADHD/ADD and is now working on a new book, Consent-Based Sex Education: Parenting Teens in an Internet Age. Kyra Haas is a senior at Free State High School and production manager for the book.