Does My Sexual Identity Define Me?
By Kelly Warren
“Your sexual identity ‘defines’ you!” Numerous times, I’ve heard this statement pronounced proudly from the lips of well meaning advocates, allies, and members of the lgbt community at large. I disagree, at least in terms of the meaning of the statement as it stands, by itself. It oversimplifies a highly complex subject. It is far too generalized to contain any degree of significant, applicable meaning for the straight community, and it invites the lgbt community to place an unhealthy, inordinate amount of importance on their sexuality. On both an individual and societal scale, it is a deceptive notion that is actually counter productive to the progression of sexual freedom. At the risk of being too pedantic, I suggest that we strive to expand this statement to something like, “Your sexual identity/orientation represents a valuable, dynamic, and vital part of your unique, evolving personality!”
To say that one’s sexual identity alone defines them is similar to saying that one’s blindness or sight alone defines them. To claim that anyone’s physiological, mental, or emotional attributes, or even the combination thereof defines them is exclusive and incomplete, and therefore, ends up being a gross misrepresentation. If I desire to truly “get to know” you, my interests wont be concerned with your societal sexual tag(s) or your classification based upon psychological pseudoscience, but rather will be invested in exploring the wealth of intricate aspects, sexual and non-sexual, which, when combined, produce your “wholeness.” A rainbow is not a rainbow unless it has “all” the colors of the rainbow.
Both words “identity” and “define” in this commonly spoken statement create concepts that can inhibit personal growth. Identity is not an object or a condition, but rather a “process.” It’s easier to think of it as a condition because then we can remain safe inside the shell of our protected, easily identifiable state, categorized and filed away on the shelf of some sort of sexual identity museum. But we didn’t come out of the closet to be placed on the shelf. The “process” of identity is one that involves personal transformation, a continually changing state in which we are exposed to both the positive and negative impact of varying circumstances that produce an assortment of consequences. It requires management, fine tuning, and readjustment. That sexual identity is a continually evolving process on a collective scale is evidenced by the ever changing lgbt acronym, in which we first added the “q” for “questioning,” followed by letters that refer to straight allies. And, by the way, have you ever heard a straight person claim that their sexual
identity defines them?
Honestly, I almost feel demeaned when someone suggests that my sexual identity defines me. As if that which sexually arouses me somehow defines the whole of my personality. “Sexuality” is about “sex,” largely the act of sex itself, which is something that today is misunderstood, disrespected, feared, shunned, and shamed – even among some members of the lgbt community – due to centuries of horrific, fear mongering suppression by political and religious regimes. Saying that one’s sexual identity defines them is a glorified, vague generalization that clouds the minds of the general public by sweeping the ill conceived perception of the messiness of the sex act under the rug. Even in the land of the free, sexual freedom is still a starving child.
Finally, considering the word “define” here again, our error is in wanting our identity neatly packaged into a simple, precise, unchangeable “definition.” After all, behavioral science can succinctly define any behavior or pattern of behavioral tendencies, right? No, it cannot, especially since, in relation to lgbt people, its history has proceeded from being the submissive bed partner to the aforementioned political and religious entities that have championed terms like “immoral” and “reprobate” from which the psychological designations of “aberrant” and “dysfunctional” were coined to describe some of the sexual activities in which we engage, saving us from execution only by bleakly categorizing us as “mentally ill.” Science, through reductionism, is bent on defining. That’s not a criticism. That’s what it’s supposed to do. But in this modern age in which science is king, to say that science can adequately define sexuality is to squash individuality like a dirty cockroach.
To transpose this procedure and say that sexual identity, based upon a supposedly empirical understanding, somehow defines us, is an absurd insinuation. Gays, lesbians, and the straight community would do well to discuss the subject with their bisexual and transgender friends who often appreciate and understand, to a greater degree, the transitional nature of sexual identity and its complex, fluctuating contribution to the wholeness of one’s personality. And unfortunately, because I’m trying to limit the length of this essay, I can’t even begin to share anything about our precious friends who might be pansexual or asexual, who presently aren’t included in the alphabet soup of our modern acronym. I currently claim the “g” but have also dabbled with the “b” of our acronym, because my own sexuality is fraught with a wide variety of likes and dislikes, specific fetishes, thoughts, feelings, and desires that often intensify, level off, and fade in response to pulsations of sensual fulfillment and deprivation. So, go ahead, put me into a box and define my sexual identity, or explain to me how it defines me. Write the story of my sexuality, and pretend as though you’ve come to fully understand it. I hope you have pounds of coffee, undying patience, infinite wisdom, and a computer with an immeasurable memory.