The Origins of Sexuality as a Capital-I “Issue”

Recently, I came across an anonymous message sent to an asexuality blog, inquiring after the reason why individuals’ sexualities are such a big deal, culturally, and where that came from as a social phenomenon, and the moderator didn’t know how to answer.  They attributed it to the assumption that everyone is straight (heteronormativity), but then that begs the question, where did heteronormativity come from?

The ignorance of their answer concerns me.  The reason why I’m responding here, understand, is not to embarrass anyone, but because I think it’s crucially important for everyone to know — especially for White aces to know — and so I’m making this post to offer what I’ve gathered and perhaps prompt others to do the same.

Why is human sexuality “such a big deal”?  The short answer is colonialism.  For the long answer, keep reading.

If gender is a cultural construct, and if colonialism forces cultural assimilation, then colonialism forces assimilation into exclusive recognition of its own culture’s genders, leading to what we now know as “the gender binary.”  Binarism is a tool of colonialism.  [edit: here’s even more links]

Binarism allows outsiders to project and assign genders onto others’ bodies, which begets/requires cisnormativity.

When you have binarism and cisnormativity in place, it allows for the creation of “opposite genders” and “heterosexuality” as a coherent set of ideas, which allows for heteronormativity.  Here’s a study linking the criminalization of same-gender sexual activity to the influence of British colonialism, specifically.

Colonialism requires the control of bodies, and sexuality is an intimate part of the process.

White supremacy and compulsory sexuality are inseparable forces:

In the generations since “liberation” from the system of indenture servitude, marriage still has the connotation of survival, or at least has for my parents’ generation. It is a mode of protection from government, poverty, and colonialism, turned into a mark of piety and respect for the family.

This is a coerced and compulsory sexuality, and one sourced from white supremacy.

And if you haven’t read “What’s R(ace) Got To Do With It?” yet, get busy.

The dilemma of this brown queer body is its inability to see itself through its own eyes.  The mirror becomes a site it which we view what white people have always told us about ourselves. Regardless or not of the status of my libido, I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable identifying as asexual because it seems like I am betraying my people.

So if you want to know why we’re fighting this fight: essentially, it’s because of the long history of White violence.

Look, I’m not the best person to talk about this, and I only have a few pieces of the explanation, but apparently the whole subject is not being talked about enough for educational ace blog moderators to know anything about this — and so to contribute to fixing that, I want to draw attention to the voices who taught me these things and (apparently) are either being ignored or have yet to reach a lot of the community.

White aces, we have a responsibility to know these things and to tell those of us who don’t.

12 responses to “The Origins of Sexuality as a Capital-I “Issue”

  • Calum P Cameron

    It does seem to be the case that, as a general rule, if you don’t actually know the origins of any given societal evil, assuming that it’s ultimately something to do with the British Empire is more often correct than not.

  • TheUnmarkedPage

    In that case, is it harmful for white people to identify as asexual spectrum, because we have the privilege to do so?

    • TheUnmarkedPage

      I’m sorry that was probably making it about me and I shouldn’t do that I’m sorry ignore me.

    • Coyote

      Uh. I haven’t heard any word on that, but I wouldn’t assume so, no. It’s not a case of cultural appropriation, anyway. And I don’t think it’s wrong to ask what you should do with this information. I’ve definitely seen White people act like sexuality is an an aracial issue — all I know is, don’t be like them.

  • queenieofaces

    Okay, so, I’m currently writing a paper on gender and sexuality in early modern (1600-1868) Japan, and there’s this really interesting book called Cartographies of Desire (author is Gregory Pflugfelder) that’s basically about the discourse surrounding male-male sexuality from 1600 to 1950. One of the things I found most interesting about the book is that there was no term for “homosexuality” in Japan until the West introduced it, because “homosexuality” implies an understanding of gender being “the same” or “different.” Previously, male-male sexuality was defined as being about an adult man (called the nenja) being attracted to/desiring a “youth” (called the wakashu), so it was about sexual interaction between two forms of masculinity rather than two people of the “same gender.” And then when Japan started modernizing they were like, “Oh, I guess there’s this thing called ‘sex’ and everyone has either one or the other, and that’s what male-female sexual interaction is defined by, oh, okay.”
    (The only downside of the book is that Pflugfelder completely misses the boat when it comes to trans and non-binary identities and is like, “Yes, here is this person who said they were female and presented as female, but, really, biologically, they were a MAN,” and I’m like, “WHAT, BRO, WHAT, DID YOU READ, LIKE, YOUR LAST FIVE PAGES.”)

    • Coyote

      x) I hate when authors do that.

      Thanks for the additional info!

    • collin237

      This is crazy. Pflugfelder is clearly a white supremacist. This is the same tactic white supremacist philosophers have been using for centuries: claiming there is a well-defined cultural difference between “whites” and some other group, and sidestepping the rightful accusation of racism by claiming it makes “whites” worse.

      White supremacists have managed to convince the world that their goal is to make whites seem the winners in some kind of competition, and that they can be contradicted by claiming that whites are losers. I don’t know if it’s a deliberate lie or just a lack of self-reflection, but either way it’s dead wrong. The real goal of white supremacy is to make whites seem more capable of self-determination than anyone else. And the way to contradict it is to resolve that everyone has the right and ability to speak in terms of self-determination. Not determination of their group, but of themselves, because the group is just a label colonists forced upon them.

      • queenieofaces

        Um, I’m really not sure where you’re getting the idea of Pflugfelder being a white supremacist from. He’s not arguing that white people are somehow better than non-white people; he’s arguing for the culturally constructed nature of understandings of gender and sexuality–that understandings of gender and sexuality are not static across time, space, and culture (which they aren’t). He doesn’t think European understandings of gender and sexuality are any better (or more static or more monolithic) than Japanese understandings, just that they were different and were a product of their societal and historical context.

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