I frequently describe sexual identity as a layer cake or a combo platter. There's who you wanna do (desire), who you're actually doing (behavior), and who you tell people you're doing (identity). Like I said in Savage Love a few years back...
Sexual identity is a combo platter. There's who you wanna do, who you are doing, and who you tell people you are. You can't control who you wanna do—sexual orientation is not a choice—but you get to choose who you wind up doing and who you tell people you are. Don't wanna have a miserable sex life? Do who you wanna do. Don't wanna be a messy closet case à la Haggard, Craig, and Rekers? Tell the truth about who you're doing.
In an extremely flattering piece at Medium—a piece that I'm almost too embarrassed to link to (almost)—the Irish writer Davin O'Dwyer does a better job unpacking this analogy and exploring its nuances than I ever have:
The struggle they experienced brought to mind something we might call Savage’s Hierarchy, a sort of Maslow’s Hierarchy, but for desire and sexual identity.... His hierarchy consists of three layers of desire, in ascending order: “What you want to do, what you are doing, and what you tell the world you’re doing.”
The closer the alignment of those layers, the happier and more content we are, the more ourselves we feel, basically. The further apart those layers are, the greater the mental and emotional dissonance, and the greater the toll it takes trying to reconcile them, or worse, enduring the impossibility of reconciling them.
The textbook example is of the gay or lesbian teen, struggling with every layer of the hierarchy: ashamed of their innermost desires; unable to act on them safely or at all; and finally unable to tell the world what they want or who they really are. That’s a recipe for stress, emotional breakdown, self-reproach, depression.
The great thing about Savage’s Hierarchy is its flexibility — it applies to everyone’s desires, so illuminates the struggles of shy people who struggle to date, say, or straight people with unusual kinks, or married couples in sexless marriages, or any configuration you can imagine. Striving for alignment of the layers of our sexual identity is something we all do, whether we realise it or not.
O'Dwyer is writing about the vote today in Ireland for marriage equality. He argues that my layer cake analogy—which he has dubbed "Savage's Hierarchy"—applies not just to individuals but to societies:
What does a society truly want to be, how does it function in practice, what image does it project to the world?
For too long Ireland has behaved like a messy closet case—like a Haggard or a Craig or a Rekers—wanting or doing one thing but saying another, says O'Dwyer. By voting "YES" today the Irish have a chance to bring what the Irish want, what the Irish do, and what the Irish tell the world about themselves into better alignment—and put an end to the Catholic theocracy that has for too long warped Ireland's politics and Irish lives. It's a fascinating think piece and you should read the whole thing. But be forewarned: You will have to slog through some very over-the-top praise for me before you get to the meat of his argument.