6B WdnsdyDcebe 21
The language of sexuality
by Sean Czarnecki
statement on the survey: Everyone has sex questions. We asked you what your latest sex search on Google entailed.
lat on the table lies the survey. An
array of sexual orientations are
., listed down its leftmost column.
In this column, both the well-known
sexualities inhabit the same space as
the lesser-known: "Heterosexual"
and "homosexual" are listed next to
"pansexual" and "questioning." There
are two sub-categories among this
assortment that may prove the most
thought provoking: "other identity" and
The survey is the work of Michael
Woodford, an assistant professor of
the School of Social Work. He studies
people's experiences and interactions
with institutional climates, like students
on the University's campus.
Woodford said society wants to fit
people in boxes. "And sexuality is not
something that we can easily put people
in boxes, and they don't necessarily want
to stay in those boxes."
As we talk, he reads the list through
aqua-rimmed glasses. He takes the paper
and underlines one of the terms a student
used to describe themself, classified-by
the survey under "Other."
"For example, somebody wrote in
"Whatever' (as their sexual identity).
Well, what do you mean by that? OK,
is sexuality not important to you, how
Another respondent calls themself
"Men Sexual." The concept of how
individuals coin their sexual identities
partly forms the core of Woodford's work
on campus. He hopes to understand
and validate the experiences of sexual
"We need to give space for people to
identify those other categories," he said.
Woodford is out to break the "master
narratives." In the scientific'community
and mainstream at large, he believes
a biphobia - or aversion towards
bisexuality - lingers. It's a factor that
skews the conclusions of research in
order to create linear narratives of
sexuality, classifying people as strictly
heterosexual or homosexual. These
terms thoroughly fail, Woodford
believes, to capture the nuances of lived
experiences that exist outside sexual and
. "Even theories of sexual minority
development say that people go through
these processes, where they may say,
'I think I might be gay, but really I'm
bisexual,' " Woodford said. "Then
eventually they come to a gay identity.
Well, those sort of master narratives are
Woodford cites Dan Savage's "It Gets
Better" campaign - a movement to
improve the self-esteem of lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender individuals
- as an example where spaces for more
unique sexual identities are not provided.
Gay identity still remains its focal issue.
In his own surveys, Woodford gives
students the option to write in their own
classification of their sexual orientation
if they do not identify with the list of
predetermined categories given.
"Topics of sexuality, like sexuality
itself, are so fluid and how people get
exposed to different identities - I think
that's evolving so quickly that we're not
exactly keeping on top of it," Woodford
Despite the social pressure individuals
feel to fitnicely into place, Woodford said
sexual self-realization never crystallizes
for many people. Categories can provide
a useful way for people to locate their
sexuality, yet for othersthe terms narrow
the vastness of an experience.
LSA senior Taylor Portela, the
community engagement student lead of
the Spectrum Center - the University's
Office of LGBT affairs - faces such hard-
lined, sharp-edged social boxes each day.
Like Woodford, he fights a day-to-day
battle against social norms, only outside
the academic sphere. Sometimes, he even
wears his social protest visibly.
"I'll have my nails painted some days,
or I have this weird neon '90s coat, so
I get stares or cat-called on campus,"
Portela said. "I think part of my queer
identity makes me want to mess with the
categories and confuse people."
Such anxiety around gendered
categories runs common, according
to Mical DeGraaff, the professional
development coordinator at the
"I think that's why people invent
words all the time," DeGraaff said. "I've
heard omnisexual, trisexual, question
mark - they just identify as question
mark - gender defiant, gender queer,
gender fluid. Because when you place a
label on something, it puts it into a box."
Portela fought through a slow, arduous
process in coming to his now-conceived
identity. For much of his youth, he never
devoted the time for self-discovery,
instead honing his academic skills or
participating in band and orchestra.
It wasn't until his senior year in high
school, after the death of a family friend
and the marriages of both his sisters,
that he forced himselfto think about his
identity. Today, he identifies as gay and
To be able to put an experience in
a word - to see it and to know its full
meaning - brings comfort to Portela. He
can now communicate his experience to
others and form a community. But his
journey forward in this overlap of two
different identities continues.
"There's comfort in what people are
discovering is the fluidity of (sexuality).
You don't have to be exclusively gay,
if you are, great, but you don't have to
be," Portela said. "It's like you're never
fully out, because sexuality really isn't a
visible thing. You perform it some days
and not others. It's always just more
conversations, more discussing and
talking about my identities to (other
Portela stands outside the political
scope ofwhatmaybe calledthe"majority"
agenda of the LGBTQ community. The
ways people would categorize him
concerns him, the use of the word "queer"
beinga particularly contentious issue.
"'Queer' is used now as this umbrella
term for everyone inthe LGBT spectrum,"
he said. "I think it kind of depoliticizes it,
like there's no meaning to it. 'Queer' is
supposed to have a destabilizing effect in
Like those students in Woodford's
survey, DeGraaff formed her own
personal definition of the term queer. She
also acknowledges that queer is a loaded
term that many still haven't reclaimed,
but it's simply the best she has right now.
"(Queer) doesn't assume anything
about me," she said. "It doesn't assume
anything about my partners. It doesn't
assume anything about their identities
or my identities or the fluidity I see in
identities. It allows me a lot more space to
be the way that I feel that day."
Before arriving at that identity, she
came out as bisexual in high school. Her
experiences in college, however, invoked
certain connotations that made her
"There's a certain level of expectation
that goes with identifying as bisexual as
a White, fairly attractive female co-ed
college student that I wasn't comfortable
with," she said. "Specifically from men,-
it was like, 'Make out with this chick so
I can watch you. It was just a word; it was
just the best I had at the time."
Then, she identified as pansexual -
which came with constantly explaining
"At some point I kind of gave up and
just landed on 'queer' because it was just
the easiest thing for me to use."
The connotations inherently bound
to words are irksome for those coming
into their sexual identity. DeGraaff used
the term 'gynosexual' as an example,
which describes someone with sexual
feelings towards women. Where some
heterosexuals identify as gynosexual
to stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ
community, she believes others use it to
escape their privilege as heterosexual.
Portela also remains wary of the
creation of more categories to describe
people's sexual experience. It worries
him that we're "pathologizing" sexuality.
Still, he relents that people can
identify as they will. He notes his own
experiences when he first started work
at the Spectrum Center and encountered
sexual identities unknown to him.
"I thought it was awesome that there
were words to describe people's lived
experiences," Portela said. "But then it's
also strange still just because you don't
really know what they mean or how
Anxiety over labeling may cause
people facing the traditional, rigid
binaries of gender and sexuality to carve
out new spaces ontthe sexual spectrum
more to their fitting. Though helpful
in understanding experience, Portela
believes labels can "restrict and constrict
This is evident in the individualized
categories seen in Woodford's survey.
Another respondent's write-in, "Men
Sexual," made him wonder whether
the category "gay" feels foreign or
problematic to that person.
"One of the problems we sometimes
have is that people identify as some
unique category," Woodford said. "And
there's just not enough people identifying
as that category to be able to do any kind
of analysis. It becomes a struggle."
By continuing his research, Woodford
hopes to advance the conversation
further into the sexual unknown.
As for Portela, he's still figuring out
what it means exactly to be gay or queer.
Not everyone is fluid in their sexuality,
but he is. People always change,
he believes, so too will the ways he
"These are questions about ourselves
that can't really be answered. The
answer is life itself and continuing to
live," Portela said, beginning to laugh.
"And so I'll know what everything means
as it comes at me, I guess."
Woodford looks at his list. He points
at different sexual orientations listed
by respondents. He underlines those
he does not yet know, but endeavors to
understand. The list grows, it seems, with
each new question, each untold story in
the form of a moniker - an identity.
what students last googled about sex:
the secret behind the female orgasm
how to stop a pepper burn on a penis (It was after we made and ate salsa
with jalapenos. The answer is yogurt. You have to dip it in yogurt)
how to make out dirty
how do you work with an uncircumcised penis
am I pregnant?
U of M STD testing
how to keep the passion during sex
what does it mean to be asexual
how to get a three way
what a turtle penis looks like
how to last longer
Wisconsin isn't for
snugglers. City officials
in Madison stopped the
opening of "The Snuggle
House," a store where
customers could pay to
cozy up to a "professional
snuggler," like Lonnie
on the left, in aj"non-
sexual way," according to
Gawker. Officials worried
the store could involve
THE SNUGGLE HOUSE prositution.
The porn industry halted production for
the third time this year after a performer
tested positive for HIV, ABC News reported.
Policy makers tried to pass laws to require
performers to wear condoms, but porn execs
say rubbers are "bad for business."
Kids hoping to spend
time with Frosty the
Snowman got a surprise
when a movie theater in
Florida accidentally ran
a sexually explicit scene
before the animated
film "Frozen," Gawker
the theater ran a clip
from the move trailer
which shows a blow job.
Time for that awkward
A new study proved that sex is a workout.
Couples were monitored via an armband when
working out and when doing the deed, and sex
measured as "moderate exercise," The New
York Times reported. Gettin' it on compares to
playing doubles tennis or walking uphill.