January 25, 2011

The Language of Sexuality

This is a little thought about the language we use to describe sexuality and how there might be better ways to use our language to be more socially inclusive and to make things less "scary". Please note that I'm well aware that it would be mostly foolhardy to attempt to believe we can affect a change in today's language use; this is merely a reflection on a potentially better method. (Note: similarly, I read a great little essay on how people were using the wrong number for Pi (1), and the author similarly knew no one would ever change the way they used Pi). Hat-tip to Rebecca (2) who actually formulated the new terms used below.

So here's my thinking. The terms, 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' are unnecessarily segregative  They've been used over the years to create an 'us and them' mentality in society that has brainwashed (for want, perhaps, of a lighter word) a good number of people into thinking about their fellow men and women in an imperfect light. Even paid-up members of the so called leftist, liberal elite have confessed a reactionary 'ick factor' when considering different sexualities, though whether this is a result of memetic language use is a matter for debate.

It all begins with a need to break things down into categories for descriptive ease. Anyone who's explored evolution a little will know that even the divide between species is not a black-and-white one, but a sliding scale at which point we have (somewhat) arbitrarily put a fence, with one side labeled as homo erectus, and the other homo sapiens. And that's fine. Labelling is a necessity for communication.

A lot of segragation is born of catergorisation and classification. Black people and white people; thin people and fat people; glasses-wearers and non-glasses wearers - these are some natural and obvious differences between us that are readily identifiable and immediately useful, if only for pointing at a crowd of people across the room to focus in on a particular person. The correctness of these terms to pick people out of a crowd will not be discussed here, but one can hardly disagree with its simplicity and usefulness.

With sexuality, however, there is no immediate need to start separating people out in this way (3). And, in fact, as sexuality operates in a two-dimensional array (the dimensions being 'your own gender' and 'the gender(s) you're attracted to'), dividing people into 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' is not, in my opinion, the best and most elegant solution.

Firstly, from the literary and social research I have studied it is quite clear that the heterosexual/homosexual divide is not a binary one. It exists on a sliding scale, much the same as there aren't just skinny people and obese people. Generally, it seems that the segregation exists between the heterosexual side and anyone who shows inklings of bisexuality onwards.

So, to the actual point of this post: the language. I think it would be far simpler and more useful to use classifications based on 'who you are attracted to', not 'how the gender of your attraction relates to your own gender'. When asking for labels, Rebecca came up with the superbly elegant Androsexual (attracted to men) and Gynosexual (attracted to women).

So what is the benefit of this re-classification? For starters, it's not really a classification at all anymore, it's more of an adjective. It describes what you like and it bleeds across the genders and other classifications. And let's face it, we are all familiar with androsexual and gynosexual people anyway, and comfortable (for the most part) with those different from us within this description. If you are a straight man, you don't (I assume) find it disgusting and unpalatable that your straight female friend is attracted to men, even though you are not. You probably never batted an eyelid about it. If you ever thought a little deeper you'd probably think: yeah she's probably done [sexual acts x,y,z] with men and though you may not like to think too much about close friends in sexual situations, you won't consider such things heinous, offensive or wrong. Androsexuals and gynosexuals get along; they understand each other. In this sense, you (a straight man in this example, still) can approach the idea of a gay man as no different in sexual appetite to your straight female friend. You are perfectly familiar with the concept of androsexuality.

Secondly, we start to move away from the sliding-scale sexuality to a more attributable sexuality. Let me explain: in the hetero/homo system, as you move from one extreme to the other you pass through a middle zone of bisexuality. As humans, we find this trickier to pin down that actua attributes. In the andro/gyno system, you can simultaneously hold both attributes at the same time, and not necessarily equally. This is similar to how I can like both apples and bananas, but prefer bananas. If you take a moment and reverse the fruit analogy back into the hetero/homo world you'd live in a world where, as a man, I would be expected to be a banana eater - a fruitnormian, maybe? The hetero/homo language is loaded with expectation.

I feel I've rattled off enough on this. It's a speculative and hypothetical idea, though I don't think I'm completely off the wall.

(1) http://unnaturalhistorymuseum.tumblr.com
(2) http://tauday.com/
(3) though I will admit, it certainly becomes useful in the singles dating pool.

1 comment:

  1. I think this is a good idea. Facebook and most dating websites already get people to answer "Who are you interested in?" rather than "What ARE you?"

    These also illustrate how some of the time it matters what sex people are more attracted to (e.g. on a dating website), and some/most of the time it doesn't.


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