Your identity is a complicated and multilayered thing. Some people place importance on things like nationality, while for others their identity might be wrapped up in a sport they play, or a genre of music that means the world to them. And for many of us, sexuality is a really important aspect of what makes us feel most comfortably ourselves – but the way we’re talking about it is changing in an amazing way.
For lots of young people, the rigid and restrictive conditions around sexuality are looking more and more old-fashioned. You might be a cisgender girl who’s always dated boys but suddenly you catch yourself with feelings for another girl at school. In previous generations this would have caused far much more anxiety and confusion, whereas now it’s something most young people have no real qualms about. With a wealth of knowledge and thousands of different perspectives to absorb online, we’re less likely to define ourselves in such strict terms – officially.
A recent study of over 1000 people aged 13-26 from the UK and US found that a massive 57% of participants don’t identify as strictly heterosexual. As a society, we’re going beyond those black and white binary definitions.
Representation is a really important factor here. It’s so important to see people who reflect who you are in the media, because seeing people like you makes you feel less alone. As a young teen struggling with my own sexuality, to have had something like the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, or the wonderfully queer Steven Universe, would have meant the world to me (it still does tbh).
Online communities are another way this generation is dismantling sex and gender stereotypes. Back 20 years ago, someone grappling with new and confusing feelings might not have had someone to confide in – but these days, tight-knit groups of online friends and kindred spirits from every corner of the globe can be a total lifeline. The value and legitimacy of online relationships was emphasised by the study results, with 55% of respondents having been in a virtual relationship with someone they had never met before, particularly trans or nonbinary people and those with disabilities.
The study, which was commissioned by anti-bullying organisation Ditch The Label, showed that 34% of people feel as though the label-based definition of sexuality is obsolete. Now more than ever, young people feel like they can be themselves and navigate their sexuality at their own pace, without fear of negative repercussions. A whopping 93% of participants said they saw nothing wrong with exploring your sexuality, and I think they’re totally right. As long as you’re not hurting others and taking care of yourself, just… live your life.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that if you do end up identifying exclusively under a certain label, that’s totally ok too. So many people find community and kinship in embracing a label, and it helps them make sense of their place in the world. On the other hand, it’s not cool to be disparaging of someone if they don’t fit in one category or another. The beauty of us lies in our difference and diversity, and that kind of attitude can leave someone feeling ostracised and inauthentic (speaking from personal experience on this one).
As young people create a more accepting and open-minded view of human sexuality and gender, here’s hoping the progress continues. And if you’re struggling with your sexuality, that there are so many supports out there for you to help navigate through what can be an intense time.
If you remember one thing, it’s that your feelings are always valid regardless of whether you fit into any box or stereotype. You’re never on your own.
Image: Hailey Hamilton