This article was last updated on April 16, 2022
Miley Cyrus' cover story in Paper this week is many things — colorful, revealing (emotionally and otherwise), quirky. It's also reflective of an approach to sexuality that is gathering momentum among Cyrus' fellow millennials. In her interview, the 22-year-old discusses the fluidity of both her sexuality and her gender identification. "I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn't involve an animal and everyone is of age," she tells Paper. "Everything that's legal, I'm down with. Yo, I'm down with any adult — anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me."
What's refreshing here is that Cyrus is not "coming out" as anything in particular. She doesn't have to. Traditionally, revelations of sexual or gender identity that don't fit in a heterosexual-cisgender box lead to people being placed in other boxes, whether trans or lesbian or bi or what-have-you. But here, Cyrus shrugs off the need for definers.
In fact, millennials' defining label may be "label-averse." A 2014 Pew study revealed that millennials "recorded one of the highest levels of institutional disaffiliation" of any generation Pew has surveyed over the past quarter-century, meaning that more young people avoid identifying with specific religious and political groups than ever before. This mentality is becoming evident in how we conceive and perform sexuality and gender, too. Earlier this year, Fusion's Massive Millennial Poll indicated that some 57% of female millennials "believe that gender falls on a spectrum…compared with 44% of men." (Those same millennials might take issue with the gender binary in that sentence's construction, too.)
Research indicates that "women apply sexual identity meanings to themselves to best fit their experiences" — in other words, they love whom they love and come up with words for themselves later, rather than starting with labels. Medical professional organizations such as the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, meanwhile, recommend that care providers ask patients the question "Do you have sex with men, women, or both?" rather than inquiring about "sexual orientation."
Cyrus, for her part, states that she has had sexual and romantic same-sex relationships that "people never really looked at" and to which she never called attention — but which were as meaningful as her high-profile romances with such celebrities as Patrick Schwarzenegger, Liam Hemsworth, and Nick Jonas. Her statements constitute an encouraging non-coming-out that underscores that sexual and romantic experiences needn't confine a person to any one category. And, her example may encourage others who are uncomfortable being slotted into a binary to leave that binary behind.
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