The spectrum model more accurately represents the ways in which an individual’s sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual and romantic orientations do not always exist as opposite endpoints. They can exist in any combination, and a person's placement on one spectrum does not necessarily determine their placement on any of the others.
Yes, even sex is not constrained to a binary!
Intersex people are individuals born with physical sex markers (genitals, hormones, gonads, or chromosomes) that are neither clearly male nor female. The existence of intersex people shows that there are not just two sexes, and the lines between sexes can be blurry.
The sex spectrum is the concept of a continuum of people with sexes ranging from people with typical male physiology to people with typical female physiology.
The gender spectrum visualizes gender as a continuum stretching from men to women and masculine to feminine. Gender identities other than man or woman are considered to be non-binary. The middle range of this spectrum might include:
The spectrum model also creates room for a range of gender expressions that fall between masculine and feminine.
The orientation spectrum places people whose sexual and/or romantic orientation is toward persons of the same gender and/or sex—gay, lesbian and same-gender-loving people—at one end and people whose sexual and/or romantic orientation is toward persons of the other binary gender or sex—straight people—at the other end. In this model, people who are sexually and/or romantically attracted to both men and women and/or those who are attracted to folks with non-binary genders are found in the middle region, which is why they are often collectively known as middle sexualities.
Many of the same terms used to describe sexual orientation apply to romantic orientation as well. But remember, someone's sexual orientation spectrum is not necessarily the same as their romantic orientation.
The spectrum model has been criticized as being limiting in describing the full range of possible sexualities and genders. Critics of this model argue that male/man and female/woman are not truly opposed to each other but comparable.
A single line connecting two points doesn't make space for identities that exist totally or partially outside of those points rather than between them.
Examples of such identities could include:
A more accurate and liberating model would require more dimensions than a linear scale, the possibility of existing on multiple points for each category and the ability to depict change over time. You might imagine an identity sphere that allows room for all expression without weighting any one expression as better or more important than another. In this sphere different experiences of sex, sexuality and gender can exist in ever-changing combinations and locations, thus making an even better representation of real diversity, though of course very difficult to depict graphically.
What about you? The following is a worksheet to help you think about where you fall on a continuum. Where do you see yourself in relation to 1 year ago or 5 years ago? Take a moment to print and complete the worksheet. You do not need to share this with anyone. It is a tool for self-reflection.