Sexualization in unexpected places has always bothered me, but it was only this year that I figured out why.
Just to be clear, the kinds of interpretations I’m referring to are those which read an ambiguous scene, lyric, or comment as carrying a sexual meaning and come with an adamant conviction in the interpretation’s indisputability, i.e. “This is obviously sexual, and if you disagree, there must be something wrong with you.”
For one thing, they tend to rely on inductive logic.
Every raven in a random sample of 3200 ravens is black. This strongly supports the hypothesis that all ravens are black.
Inductive logic isn’t all bad (statistics often rely heavily on inductive logic, extrapolating from a sample to a population) but it’s not always a good way to argue for definitive conclusions, either, as you could probably guess. In the ravens example, for instance, there might be some exceptions that the sample didn’t capture and that the reasoning doesn’t account for. The same goes for just about any use of inductive logic — the path it takes toward a conclusion relies on assumptions that aren’t necessarily well-supported. And that’s how I tend to regard any adamant sexual interpretations of things that I read as possibly nonsexual. The figuring tends to go, “This past case of X was sexual, and that past case of X was sexual, so therefore, any subsequent case of X must be sexual as well.”
It’s weak logic. It’s annoying. It’s uncreative. More than half the time, interpreting something as sexual is one of the laziest routes of available.
That’s what’s irritating about it, but that’s not what’s harmful about it.
If someone interprets, say, a fictional character’s comments about getting into bed with someone or sleeping together as not just “probably intended as sexual” but also as “inherently sexual and there’s no way that anyone could ever say something like that and not be referring to sex,” then that implies a belief that two people cannot exist on the same piece of furniture (much less sleep there alongside each other) without the two of them having sex.
It’s reasonable to think such phrases seem sexual and to read them as such. It’s another to regard that as the one sole possibility and rule out all others — because, hey, it is possible to lay in bed together and cuddle! Or not touch at all! And even sleep there, simultaneously! Without sex ever entering the equation!
And you know what? Sometimes the nonsexual interpretation is more fun. I get a kick out of nonsexual interpretations because I can relate to them more, because they sometimes take more creativity, and because, most of all, they feel like a drop of water in the desert.
I don’t know about how it is for y’all, but in my media landscape, there’s already more than enough definitive depictions of sex. Narrative and non-narrative instances of it are easy to find — in songs, movies, television, whatever. So when I find something that could be read either way, I treasure the chance to read it the other way.
And when someone says or even implies, “that has to be sexual, no question,” especially when that comes up out of the blue, it feels like I’m carrying something made of glass, minding my own business, and someone comes along and slaps it out of my hands.
Look, when I complain about this, this isn’t just a case of me being fussy over people having different interpretations of media than I do. This isn’t even a case of me saying people shouldn’t be dogmatic about their viewpoints. This is my pain at being told in so many ways that my current way of existence and my desired way of existence are both infeasible. That finding even one flicker of resemblance to myself in others has been ruled out of the question. That I should never be allowed to enjoy anything known to the public without the cold breath on the back of my neck that is the threat of it being taken away.
Because when these kinds of sexual interpretations are reached through this kind of logic, they’re not just expressing what they believe about the text in question, but about the world, too.
That world includes me and people like me.
And you know, I can’t speak for the rest of us, but I’d really like to catch a break from this.