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“way down inside, i’m gonna give you my love”

July 1, 2009

I’d like to plug Freedomgirl’s recent post. She touched on something i think about a lot, but don’t think i’ve written about: sexual choice. The terms she used are “sexual preference” vs. “sexual orientation,” which i think is a really important distinction for all the reasons she said. Basically using the term orientation implicitly makes the “i can’t help it!” argument for why gay (or whatever else) is ok. Even if it’s true, this sucks for two reasons. One, it is blatantly heterosexist by implying that if you could help it, you would. Which is probably true for some people, but is still heterosexist and has a negative long-term impact on the acceptance of different sexualities. Two, it completely erases the aspect of choice from sex.

No matter what my sexual tendencies, i can make choices about what i do and don’t do. I can decide not to have sex that i really want because, say, i know it’s a bad idea. In fact, that is the argument that is used by the anti-gay movement to undermine the orientation model: even if you want to fuck girls, you could choose to fuck boys because it’s “the right thing to do.” And the thing is, yes, i could! But this is where choice comes in: maybe i choose to align my actions with my orientation so i won’t be miserable. That is a choice. And a fucking valid, good, smart one!

That is the argument we need to be responding with: my orientation doesn’t matter, what matters is that i have the right to make my own sexual choices. Fucking valid, good, smart ones.

Also, i think preference and orientation are referring to two different things; they are not just different ways of referring to one thing (who we fuck). For some people, they happen to completely overlap, but for others it may be more complicated.

My emphasis on preference and choice is not meant to invalidate the idea of orientation (only to invalidate its political importance). I think people are very much oriented to be sexually attracted to certain things. I know dykes who have never felt an attraction towards a guy. I’m not that way at all, but i certainly believe them; after all, i’ve never been attracted to a blond in my life. But, whatever your orientation, you can make choices based on your sexual preferences.

I suppose one of the reasons i feel strongly about this, politics aside, is personal validation. The orientation argument feels really invalidating to me. If what it says is “i can’t help it” the implied follow up – to me – is, “but what the fuck are you doing here?” This essentialism has been used in really negative ways by the lesbian (and, surely, gay) community. It seems like the mindset that has spurred such disdain for bisexuality: “greedy” and “indecisive” come to mind. I think it’s this orientation mindset that makes people automatically assume that i was repressed and closeted for years before i came out. But, see, i wasn’t. I understand that that is common, but some people just are not concretely oriented, so “closet” and “coming out” and even “gay” as they relate to orientation don’t apply so well.

And, one more thing. Related to the above, this respecting people’s sexual choices and preferences thing is directed just as much at “us” as at “them”. Obviously, i want people to respect that i am in love with a girl (equally valid whether the choice part came in the “falling in love” or in the “acting on it” part). That’s the “them” part; i want people who don’t accept that to do so. But i also want “us” to accept the other choices that people make; our “alternativeness” does not make our judgement any less ugly than mainstream judgement.

And, it’s been my experience that we have a hell of a lot of judgement (ahem: “she’s too butch to be straight,” “she’s gay, she just doesn’t know it yet.”) And, i’ve been bitching at people about those for a long time, but here’s one that was hard for me to wrap my head around: if i value the examples i’ve given here, if choice is really that important, then it is just as valid for someone to chose to act in a way that opposes their orientation as a way that aligns with it.

Lady Brett

"Whole Lotta Love" - Led Zeppelin
One Comment leave one →
  1. July 4, 2009 1:58 pm

    Hi Lady B,

    I use the term “sexuality”–never “sexual orientation” or “sexual preference.” I do think that “sexual orientation” tends to be used in a way that implies biological essentialism although it doesn’t necessarily have to. I have never understood why so many people are obsessed with the aetiology of homosexuality. I find it to be such a tiresome question.


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