Amidst news of their respective breakups with their husbands, musician Miley Cyrus and blogger Kaitlynn Carter “fell in love” during their late-summer jaunt around Europe this year. While Miley came out as pansexual in 2015, Carter has only referenced being in relationships with cisgender men in the past. (She hasn’t publicly addressed her sexuality until now, which is her choice.) Their whirlwind romance has since dimmed (and Cyrus started dating singer Cody Simpson), and Carter has opened up about her first relationship with a woman, as well as her own sexual identity.
In her piece for Elle titled, “Kaitlynn Carter on Her Summer of Self-Discovery,” Carter asks, “Why are we so hellbent on defining each variation of sexuality, anyway?”
And she has a point — one that many young people have been expressing lately: Why does sexuality have to be defined at all?
As reported in an an article from Vice titled, “Teens These Days Are Queer AF, New Study Says” a study done by the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group found that “only 48 percent of Gen Zs identify as exclusively heterosexual, compared to 65 percent of millennials aged 21 to 34.” These sentiments mirror the growing understanding that sexuality, like gender, is both fluid and exists on a scale, rather than as a binary.
Some young people are even choosing to identify as “queer” rather than gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. According to them. editor Tyler Ford in a video by the publication, “A wide range of LGBTQ people and other sexual minorities call themselves ‘queer’ as a more expansive and expressive umbrella term for their sexualities and genders.” But Ford also points out that not everyone in the queer community agrees with this trend. “There are plenty of trans folx and older gays and lesbians who just don’t jive with the term,” Ford says. “But, as our movement evolves beyond just the L and the G in our ever-growing acronym, proliferation of the term has been seen by some as an overwhelming positive, reflecting a more inclusive approach to our politics and our community.”
Sexologist and relationship therapist Dr. Logan Levkoff told Teen Vogue that "there is no doubt that young adults are more accepting of sexuality and all of its forms in general.” He also went on to say that the increase in celebrities opening up about their sexual experiences and gender identities “certainly helps young people who are navigating their own non-heterosexual or non-cisgender lives."
Carter goes on to write, “I still don’t feel like I’m in a place to label my sexuality one way or another, but I’m okay with that. It’s something I’m still exploring and figuring out.” Carter’s experience is representative of many folx exploring their sexual preferences for the first time, and while it must be difficult to be doing so in the spotlight, it’s encouraging to see the representation of this significant experience in “mainstream” media.
Sexuality isn’t about “phases,” either. It’s a spectrum.
The blogger’s piece also addresses the classic “it’s just a phase” critique that many queer people hear from friends, family, and even strangers when coming out. “It’s been interesting to watch friends and strangers alike assume I’ll automatically revert to being attracted to men as if they’re more familiar with my sexuality than I am,” she says. Carter makes an important point that no one should assume they understand someone else’s sexuality better than the person themselves. Sexuality is not an easily defined, monolithic entity that fits neatly into a box.
Interestingly, Carter also writes “in an era when Mark Ronson is lampooned for momentarily labeling himself ‘sapiosexual,’ publicly defining one’s identity is not for the faint of heart.” But it’s important to note that “sapiosexual” is not a queer identity, but rather a label that defines a characteristic that a person is attracted to. Sapiosexuals do not experience discrimination in the same way that people who identify as LGBTQ+ do, which is important to consider when discussing one’s sexual identity and exploring what it means to be queer in the first place.
Carter concludes her piece by encouraging readers to “remain curious” — wise advice for generations who continue to queer the notion that sexuality is easily labeled and that relationships, and even gender identities, have to be categorically defined.