The invention of sexuality

Melanie Jayne explores the delicious (and scalding) alphabet soup of sexuality

From the L to the B to the P to the A, I have spent many, many years of my adolescence and young adulthood swinging to-and-fro almost every single letter of the queer alphabet.

“Lord, she is so beautiful. Yup, I’m definitely a lesbian. Oh, no. Ryan Gosling is someone that exists. Bisexual! But… I don’t want to be confined to this! Fuck it, just EVERYBODY STOP BEING SO HOT. I am pansexual. Um, actually, I don’t really feel like having sex with anyone right now. Asexual? Naaah…”

The LGTBQIA alphabet expands at a rate almost as fast as the universe and has proven to be the most mind-numbing bowl of alphabet soup I’ve ever eaten out. Albeit the most delicious!

Everything and everyone must fit into nice, neat, little categories. And when they don’t? People freak out.

The invention of sexuality is an oppressive cultural product. By creating sexual categories we have developed sexual difference, creating an avenue to separate what is normal from what is abnormal, as well as reducing something as complex as sexuality to simplistic categories.

The groupings of ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’ are modern inventions. The terminology was coined by Austrian-born journalist Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1869 and only came into popular usage in the twentieth century. In his defence, he was trying to do us a favour by negating the time’s more fashionable term of ‘sodomite’ and uphold the idea that homosexuality is a natural condition.

That’s not to claim contemporary sexual terminology is solely at fault for marking queer behaviour as deviant, but these terms have provided a clear and understandable divide between two different types of sexual behaviour. And where there’s a division, that opens an opportunity to elevate one category above the other as being superior. Thankfully, as our alphabet indicates, we have progressed far beyond the hetero-homo dichotomy, but it is still the most popular and acceptable way of interpreting the sexual world.

If you forget about all the problems it has created for those who identify only as homosexual, these distinctions have created just as many, if not more, difficulties for those that fall somewhere inside or out of the binary. It’s why bisexuals are apparently ‘gay, straight or lying.’ It’s why people assume that asexuals ‘just haven’t met the right person yet.’ Separating the world into black and white, male and female, good and bad, straight and gay is the easiest, but most unsophisticated, way of coming to understand the human experience and ignores everything that comes in between.
While the ever-expanding queer alphabet accommodates for those who exist outside of our conventional understandings of sexuality, it will never be wholly inclusive of those who just cannot decide where exactly they fit. And that is because you need to fit somewhere under the rainbow. The first commandment of the unwritten Bible of Sexuality is that you must be a match with one letter of the alphabet. We don’t get to pick who we’re attracted to, but what we do decide is how we classify ourselves.

Choose wisely. Once you have made your selection, you need to commit to it.

Whenever someone who is understood to be straight begins experiencing same-sex attraction, it’s too often identified as being some form of sexual identity crisis (emphasis on the absurdity of crisis). Perhaps an even greater scandal is the inverted closet scenario: an exclusively homosexual identifying person engages in a legitimate heterosexual experience (meaning, not just hooking up with your straight friends for fun), something that’s considered the greatest taboo to certain members of the gay and lesbian communities.

To discover, understand and accept a particular sexual identity and then come to the realisation that it actually doesn’t completely fit you can be a horribly unsettling experience. And I wish it wasn’t. Trust me, I’ve experienced it far too many times in my queer alphabet-hopping escapades. Sexual identification can be an important part of profound self-understanding and actualisation, but I can’t help but wonder if these categories have created far more problems than they’ve solved.

What if sexuality didn’t exist?

What if, in the immortal words of Nicki Minaj, you could just ‘fuck who you want and fuck who you like,’ (or don’t!) and dance all night because there’s no sexual orientations in sight?

What if we dispensed with sexual identities, there was no straight, there was no gay, there was no bisexual, there was no pansexual and there was no asexual?

What if there were just people, who existed and enjoyed one or more of the following with or without gendered preferences: a) sex, b) romance, c) none of the above?

There wouldn’t be gay marriage; there would just be marriage. There wouldn’t be same-sex adoption; there would just be adoption. There wouldn’t be homosexual relationships; there would just be love.

‘But… without sexual classifications, there would also be no queer culture!’ That’s right, fictitious feature article persona. The list of things we would lose includes, but is not limited to: Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, gay clubs (NOOOO!!!!), our community and yes, even Queer Honi (uh-oh).
The products of the queer community have primarily developed as a response to our community’s extensive history of prejudice and discrimination. Under the Naïve Sexual Utopia I’ve proposed, there would simply be no need for queer culture. (Bonus Bigot Tip! That’s why there’s no ‘Straight Pride Month.’ That’s on every month.)

The  resilience of our community means, however, that queer culture has developed beyond merely harvesting a safe space for its members from the big, bad world, but to say: ‘Fuck you. We’re going to have some fun.’ If we’re not invited to your party, we’ll throw our own and it will be fucking fabulous.

The invention of sexuality has more than likely caused the majority of us a fair amount of grief at some stage in our lives, although I’m thankful we’ve used these sexual categories to create some nice things for us queer folk.

No matter. The fixation on classifying sexual identity is a trivial pursuit. To complicate the matter of identification even more, it’s worthwhile nothing that although sexual and romantic attractions are mostly discussed interchangeably, they often do operate separately from one another. I’ve wasted far too much energy on trying to make sense of something that I just can’t. Now, I’m beyond the point of giving a fuck.

Sexuality cannot be calculated. It cannot be quantified. And it very rarely can be accurately defined. It simply is what it is. Please stop caring so much.

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