Saturday, December 27, 2008

Standing in Relation to the Behemoth

I had initially wanted to end this series with proposing the only way of understanding “sexuality” that I could think of for which it might be appropriate to call all people sexual. Roughly the idea goes like this. While claiming that all people are sexual at all ages makes absolutely no logical sense and is almost completely indefensible, there is a way to reinterpret it that does make sense. All people stand in relationship to this complex of feelings, desires, activities, social structures, power systems, beliefs, practices, and taboos called sexuality. Regardless of what we know or don’t know, regardless of what we feel or don’t feel, no matter what we do or don’t do, we all stand in relationship to the behemoth "sexuality."

From this perspective, I think it makes sense to consider children sexual. The social structures organizing sexuality relate to children. They sometimes possess sexual knowledge. Even if they don’t, messages given to them by adults assume certain behaviors appropriate or inappropriate with regard to sexuality. They sometimes engage in various forms of “sexual” play with other children. Any kind of education given to them to protect them from sexual abuse assumes that they stand in some kind of relationship to ‘sexuality.’

When I had planned on writing this post, this is what I wanted to write about. I had planned to give it a fair defense, and then raise some criticisms. However, as I tried to write about it, I found myself unable to even give it a reasonable defense. First, there is the problem that even if it is appropriate to say that all people are sexual beings in this sense, almost no one will interpret it this way. However, there is bigger problem. Being an outsider is one way of standing in relationship to something. Consequently, even this reanalysis of the claim that everyone is sexual fails miserably. (Everyone in the culture where I live stands in relation to heterosexuality, but this does not, despite Mr. Walter T. Foster's best attempts to argue otherwise, mean that everyone is heterosexual.)

Towards the beginning of this post, I called the assertion that all people are sexual "almost completely indefensible." I wrote "almost" for a reason. Having spent considerable time thinking about, reading about and writing about the claim that all humans are sexual at all stages of life, I have come to the conclusion that in the end there is one, and only one, argument to be made in its defense.

If enough people say it enough times, it must be true.


snoutsparkle said...

"Being an outsider is one way of standing in relationship to something."

This formulation reminds me of Judith Butler on gender norms -- she says (in Undoing Gender) that even people who don't fit into or reject binary gender, or people who perform their assigned or chosen gender "incorrectly" are still situated in relation to the gender norms they are trying to reject or change.

I think sexuality *is* analogous to gender in this case -- everyone is expected to have a gender (the normative form of binary gender assigned to them at birth), everyone is expected to have a sexuality (usually heterosexuality, which is the norm). But there's a difference between saying that all people have a sexuality (or "are sexual") and saying that all people are sexualized (or sexualitized?), emerging in relation to social norms of sexuality which they are expected to fulfill. In the case of gender and Butler, though she says that all people emerge in relation to social gender norms whether they fit into them or not, she does not say that everyone "has" a gender, in fact she argues that gender is not something that one is or has, but something that one does. Maybe your conclusion about sexuality -- that it is something that everyone emerges in relation to -- does not have to result in a claim that all people are sexual after all.

Though asexual people may live outside the heterosexual norms they are expected or assumed to fulfill (for example aromantic asexuals who don't date at all) or may fail to fulfill them "correctly" (for example a hetero-romantic asexual couple who appear to be a typical heterosexual couple but who are discovered time and again to be vocally happy about the fact that they are not having sex and don't need to and don't want to) are understood in relation to (normative hetero-) sexuality and indeed experience themselves in relation to the norms of sexuality, as rejecting them or not understanding them or being different from them.

(I don't know if you have read Butler and I don't know if that made sense, but this post of yours has really got me thinking, and I hope you enjoyed this comment that was essentially me thinking out loud in the form of frantic typing.)

pretzelboy said...

Gender Trouble is on my "to read at some point" list, though I've only made it through about 15 pages. I think in many way highlights the ways to "sexualnormativity" is similar to heteronormativity and yet in other ways so very dissimilar. Often the people emphasizing that all people are sexual are the same ones insisting on accepting sexual diversity (and doing to by making invisible asexuals.)

Sometimes people coming out as asexual find people refusing to believe them, assuming instead that they're really gay/lesbian and just in denial.

Carsonspire said...

Having read Butler, your comment makes a lot of sense. I would further suggest that a/sexuality is not only analogous to gender, but also analogous to any scale or other form of measurement that is too often misinterpreted as a simple binary.

The crux of your argument lies in the concept of standing in *relation* to an entity as opposed to having to find one's place *within* the concept of that entity.

Imagine sexuality being an empty space: asexuals would simply exist in that space, while the most "sexualized" sexuals may approach filling that space.
Does that make sense?

pretzelboy said...

Yes, it makes sense. That is why I think that the argument that I attempted to make at the beginning of the post fails miserably, which is what I had intended to express in the antepenultimate paragraph.