The Pressure to Polarize

By Blaize Stewart

June 13, 2022

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Photo credit: Pexels/Lukas

“Which is your favorite ice cream flavor: chocolate or vanilla?”

Though I was asked this question almost two decades ago on my elementary school playground, I vividly remember the controversy this seemingly innocuous query caused. The pro-chocolate party argued the decadent merits of their top choice while torpedoing the bland traditionalism of their opponents, whose retort on the powers of consistency and subtle flavors were anything but tasteless. Both sides were convinced of the irrefutable superiority of their selection and were eager to sway those of us in the “undecided” category to join their ranks. Sadly, my answer of strawberry earned me no allies among the throngs of ice cream aficionados that day.

Even then, I struggled to understand why, out of all the ice cream flavors available in the world — my current favorite flavor is pistachio, which would have never even made the ballot back then — I was restricted to two choices simply due to their popularity. I wasn’t given the option of a “what” question, as in “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?” Instead, I was specifically asked to choose between two well-established and supported possibilities and expected fall in line accordingly without any room for deviation. Of course, when it comes to ice cream flavor preferences this is not exactly a big deal, but if you take a step back and turn a critical eye to how our society operates today, it is easy to see that the pressure to polarize is everywhere — especially when that gaze turns to sexual orientation.

A man and a woman stand side by side against a plain background contemplating a decision looking up to the side.
Bigstock/Krakenimages.com

As a bi man, I have always felt this pressure to adjust to the preferences of others for the sake of their own comfort. Growing up, I faced both indirect and outright pressure to adhere to certain conventions — like heterosexuality, monogamy, traditional gender roles, and more — which frankly never sat right with me. After coming out as bi and moving to a city with a thriving LGBT community I thought that pressure would lessen; instead, newer, more confusing elements were added to the mix. Despite the novelty of these pressures, they struck a similar cord as those I grew up with: your choices are limited, and you have to commit yourself 100% to one of these specific options or risk being seen as weak, passionless or indecisive.

As I’m sure many bi individuals can attest to, one of the most frequent pressures I face is to commit myself to either a heterosexual or homosexual identity; to polarize myself on whatever scale they are using to measure one’s sexual orientation today. Oddly, this pressure does make me 100% sure of one thing: I am neither, and my sexuality — among other things — is allowed to have subtleties and nuances that pull me off of a fixed point onto an ever-evolving spectrum. Sure, my spot on the spectrum may fluctuate, but I’m certain it will never find a permanent home at either one of its definitive ends.

To be clear, I’m not saying it is impossible for people to land in an absolute and permanent position when it comes to sexual orientation — this is not an attack on monosexuality—but I do think the polarization pressure pushed out by those who do fall into that category needs to be addressed and, hopefully, diminished.

I can see why people find security when it comes to polarization, as it’s comforting to share a clearly defined opinion with countless others. However, if you embrace a polarized position without evaluating it critically, are you truly making a choice? Or are you simply relieving yourself of that responsibility and instead thoughtlessly falling in line with the masses? If you’ve never given your stance a critical or investigative thought, you really have no ground to stand on when it comes to questioning my position in the world, let alone on the spectrum of sexuality.

Instead of giving people these all-or-nothing options, we need to provide them with the opportunity to see beyond these fixed points. I am not saying there aren’t areas in life in which one should take an absolute stance — for example, supporting the rights of LGBT community — but that does not mean we should live in a world where subtle distinctions are not heard, understood and respected when appropriate.

I refuse to restrict myself to a small sampling of options simply because they have been deemed most appropriate by the masses thanks to their conventional ties; not when there is an entire world of possibilities out there that have the potential to enrich my life in new, exciting ways. Sure, you’re not always going to find the flavor you’re looking for when experimenting — I’ve had my fair share of disappointment in the ice cream department, among many others — but your life is going to be much more rewarding if you allow yourself to break with a polarized approach to life and start sampling the many valid and sustainable lifestyles that exist outside of your current worldview.

A young attractive man smiles while holding an ice cream cone and pointing to the other direction with his other hand.
Bigstock/Krakenimages.com

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