Whether you view sex as a mutual act of love, a word you giggled at as a snotty-nosed child, or something you chase relentlessly as a college kid, there’s no debating who you choose to share it with is an important part of your identity—just ask any of the many Eastern Michigan University students who identify as LGBT. Can your sexuality be as fluid throughout your life as your taste in music or food?
Real Talk: The Sexual Spectrum, put on by EMU’s Student Government with the help of professor Kathryn Ziegler, who teaches women and gender studies, sought to find the answer. The event, which happened Wednesday in the Student Center’s Kiva Room, drew participants from every increment on the spectrum of sexual preferences, from straight to gay and every color in between.
Alyssa Jones, director of student relations in the Student Government, was one of the masterminds behind the event.
“It’s something that’s really needed,” Jones said. “It’s a community that isn’t really reached out [to]. Sexual orientation isn’t really spoken about. It’s something that goes unspoken, but people want to speak about it; they just don’t. It’s like a taboo topic, almost … People aren’t comfortable speaking on things they don’t necessarily understand.”
The participants were given a short questionnaire to fill out, asking them to rank themselves on a scale developed by Robin Ochs, one of the researchers at the forefront of gender and bisexuality studies. Entirely straight is given a rating of zero and entirely homosexual is given a rating of six, leaving one through five for varying degrees of bisexuality.
The questions included how participants viewed their own sexuality currently, as well as a year ago and before the age of 16. Other questions involved how they viewed their own strictly romantic and emotional attachments, how other people viewed their sexual orientation and how their family viewed their orientation.
From there, the questionnaires were collected and, to maintain anonymity, passed out to other participants at random. Ziegler read the questions one by one and people scrambled to the designated places in the room for each number, following the numbers on the questionnaire they’d been given. The end result was that for each question, participants could view a rough representation of where their peers’ answers fell for each category.
“It’s a good visual tool for people who haven’t really dug into the issue before,” Laurie Stevens, a grad student in the women and gender studies program, said. “I did this once maybe three years ago and my answers are different now, so it’s really cool.”
The program, which ended with a debriefing session, aimed to show students how a person’s sexuality is not necessarily set in stone, with the activity providing a concrete illustration of the phenomenon. The talk created a forum for participants to openly and honestly talk about their own experiences and feelings on sexual orientation.
“People are energized,” Ziegler said. “Students love to talk about their sexual identity once we close the doors and give them permission, and they learn a lot about themselves, but they also learn about how sexuality is diverse.”“Gender and sexuality can be fluid, it doesn’t necessarily have to be, but that’s the cool thing,” Stevens said. “You can’t do it wrong. People try to tell other people that you’re doing it wrong, but you can’t and that’s something that we’re starting to learn to be able to express. You’re not hurting anyone, so do whatever you want. You do you.”
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