On The Oppressive Nature Of Sexual Orientation
Let me begin this essay with a multiple choice test that everyone has had to take growing up in this society. I assure you this test isn’t hard, and you’ll pass long as you take the test. This test arose from categories and concepts that society created to explain human desire by defining and limiting it. Here is the test: What is your sexual orientation? Your possible answers are A) Straight B) Gay C) Bisexual. See that wasn’t too bad now was it? Unfortunately, while you may not have a problem with this test I do. This test does not reflect the complex nature of sexual orientation and the people that it’s supposed to describe; there are numerous people that would choose option D) “other” if they were asked that question.
What possible alternatives to sexual orientation could exist beyond what I just described? Indeed, this may be a leap into the unknown that from your perspective is nonsensical, so let me build a bridge from what you know to answer D). If you are heterosexual chances are you never even gave your orientation much thought, you thought the opposite sex had cooties and wanted nothing to do with them. Then you hit puberty, changed your mind and decided that getting cooties from the opposite sex seemed like a good idea. At no point did it occur to you that you were straight, it simply was the way things were.
Now, if you are gay as I am, things become more complicated, you grow up in a heterosexual society that attempts to force you to be straight. You grow up in a world in which your sexual and romantic attractions are seen as a perversion by society, you seriously risk death and injury expressing those attractions in public and you are constantly required to justify your orientation to straight society. No one asks a straight person when they realized they were straight, or whether they’ve tried being gay, or accuse them of bringing about the destruction of Western civilization, or suspect them of being pedophiles by virtue of their sexual orientation.
These two narratives comprise the spectrum of sexual orientation as society understands it. In fact, these two narratives are actually each part of a master narrative. The story goes something like this: in the beginning there was man and woman, all those who desired the opposite sex were straight, all those who desired the same sex were gay, and then recently we gave an honorary orientation to those that happen to like both. This master narrative’s existence lies in its power to explain orientation, as such it prohibits any other way of understanding and seeing human desire.
Consequently, this narrative renders invalid all knowledge, understanding and experiencing of alternative orientations. Whenever someone declares that I am not gay, straight or bi, society responds with condescension or dismissal. It takes those people who protest society’s labels, and pigeon holes them into one of the categories of the gay-straight narrative based upon their sexual behavior. Yet this story society tells itself to explain how and why we feel as we do does not in fact tell the full story. Gay or straight you’ve grown up according to this myth. However, once you study the myth you are living, once you become conscious of the ideology that permeates everything around you, you will begin to see the cracks that people have slipped through because this binary narrative can not catch them, can not hold them, can not explain their existence.
There is a basic assumption that this myth makes in order to create and maintain its power in this society. It is sexual identity. Sexual behavior as identification is a new and exceedingly odd development relative to human history. The idea that whom you have sex with defines who you are was an alien concept to anyone until about 200 years ago. Sex was something you did it wasn’t who you were. And ironically enough this was the famous sex researcher Alfred Kinsey’s point. Kinsey wrote the first scientific study of male sexuality in the 1950’s, it is from him that society has the Kinsey scale in which the male population falls along a spectrum of sexuality from heterosexual to homosexual.
Kinsey quantified this spectrum in a numbered system from zero to six. If you were a zero you were completely heterosexual, if you were a six you were completely homosexual and the numbers in between were gradations. For example, if you were a three you would be considered perfectly bisexual and if you were a five you would be considered mostly homosexual with some slight heterosexuality. Kinsey’s work is as famous as it is misunderstood. Kinsey’s spectrum did not study sexual identity, it studied sexual behavior. Kinsey quantified what males did sexually; his work had no bearing on sexual identity. In fact, Kinsey’s work used the labels homosexual and heterosexual as adjectives, never as nouns, which is a subtle but crucial distinction.
I am not arguing that gay and straight people do not exist. I am not arguing that sexual desire does not occur. What I am arguing is that human desire is far more complex and less easily defined and quantified than this gay-straight narrative would have you believe. There is more to this spectrum of sexuality than black and white. Reality has colors that are as diverse as the colors of the rainbow and this diversity is manifested in sexual orientation.
Now it is at this point that some people make the following rebuttal to my charge that society oversimplifies sexual orientation, “Look I understand what you mean by binaries and how they define orientation. I understand how society sees things as black and white. But I assure you I do not engage in this oversimplification. I, unlike some people, see the shades of gray in sexual orientation. That’s why I consider bisexuality a legitimate orientation.” What is missed by this argument is the fact that bisexuality isn’t outside the spectrum it is within it. Notice that gray is a shade of either black or white, black and white in fact define gray., imagine that straight is a pole at one end and gay is at the other, and bisexuality takes an uncomfortable middle ground in between.
By contrast the sexual desire that I am referencing encompass ways of loving and desiring that are far more colorful than black, white or gray. At the risk of killing this color metaphor, think of the gay-straight ideology masks as a lens that renders society color blind to the reality of human desire. Society sees all the other colors of orientation as either black or white. It does this by equating sexual behavior with sexual identity. Consequently, someone who is sexually active with only the opposite sex is straight, someone who is sexually active with both is bi, and someone who is sexually active with only the same sex is gay.
I can not force you to use a different lens; I can only offer you the opportunity to see reality in a new light. Here are just a few orientations that are outside the gay-straight binary: sapiosexual, pansexual, and autosexual. A sapiosexual is an individual who has sexual and romantic desires for an individual’s mind as much as their body. Pansexuals are individuals that possess romantic and sexual desire that is based on the personality of a person. A pansexual is attracted to people not because of their gender and sex but irrespective of it. For a pansexual sex and gender are irrelevant in determining their sexual and romantic attractions. And an autosexual is someone who is sexually attracted only to themselves.
And of course there are the groups that transgress gender and sex categories thereby exploding the gay-straight binary. These groups include but are not limited to intersex people (the modern word for hermaphrodite), transgender and transsexual people. These groups may have gender identities that are neither male nor female, they may have a gender that does not correspond to their sex, and or have no clearly defined sex. For example, there is a genetic mutation that inhibits production of testosterone in a person who is chromosomally male, so they develop the sexual and physical characteristics of female but have the male sex chromosome.
How can this gay-straight narrative possibly classify or explain the existence of people who are neither male nor female? For example, what would you call a person who identifies their gender as female but resides in the body of a male and is in a romantic relationship with a woman? I understand that my arguments may have disturbed. I understand that some of what I have said my have been offensive or threatening to you. But please understand that I am not asking you to stop being straight or gay, I am not attempting to in anyway destroy your identity whatever it maybe. What I am asking is for society to treat people who do not fit the narrow socially constructed categories of orientation as people with legitimate orientations.