Sexual Orientation

Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others has lead me to delve deep into our sexual make-up, the very essence of sexual orientation and everyday life. Ahmed articulates what it means to be orientated, drawn to and from objects within our world. Through a spacial understanding of orientation, she describes queer orientations existing against the background of normative heterosexuality.

Sara Ahmed

“Sexual Orientation” is a term which has become popular within modern discourse of sexuality and its perceived direction. One generally defines this by the sex of one who we are both emotionally and sexually attracted to, creating a ‘two sex’ model in which we are either attracted to the same or opposite sex. As Ahmed explains, this converts to a model of two orientations: straight and queer; queer being an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities which are not heteronormative. The term however was first used as a broad term of being non-heteronormative, as in having an ‘orientation’ infers a deviation or abnormality to the neutral heterosexual. Ahmed explains this quite poetically,

If orientation is a matter of how we reside in space, then sexual orientation might also be a matter of residence; of how we inhabit spaces as well as “who” or “what” we inhabit spaces with.

Queer Phenomenology pg. 1

The notion of spatial sexuality helps us understand origins of terms such as ‘straight’ and ‘queer’, but also simplifies the complexities of which we all discover our own sexualities and genders. In short, being ‘straight’ is to follow one’s desires in a straight line, that being toward the opposing sex. The ‘queer’ path is thus not to follow a straight path, but to veer off-course and toward the same sex. These ideas are incredibly outdated and were theorised by 19th century English writer and sexologist Havelock Ellis. They can be interpreted however as suggesting that queer sexualities were not only unnatural, but second to that of heterosexual desires. Likewise Sigmund Freud’s case study of a homosexual female longing for hetero-normativity resulted in desire to change her gender in order to satisfy her social desire to satisfy her family and societal expectations. Ahmed explains that the orientational forces her are not only the desire to be with a woman, but also the ‘straightening’ methods employed to become normative.

I find Ahmed’s concept quite confusing to get your head around with her use of metaphors, ‘objects’, lines and forces. I did however find a neat summary of her concept which she refers to as ‘disorientation’.

Despite these ‘straight lines’ dominating society all pointing toward heterosexuality, modern liberal society has embraced homosexuality and supported all queer orientations. I believe it is far more complex in reality however, with far more forces and objects assisting the formation of our sexual orientations and not always forcibly ‘straightening’ us to a heterosexual habitus. For our diversity and nature cannot be all catagorised or described perfectly to understand all queer and hetero-orientations.

Just FYI, this was my exact thoughts reading through Sara Ahmed’s chapter of Queer Phenomenology…

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2 responses to “Sexual Orientation

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