Until people started calling themselves homosexual, it didn’t make much sense for anyone to refer to themselves as heterosexual. Up until that point, it had simply been taken for granted and, as such, escaped scrutiny either by individuals or by society more widely. As adjectives both homosexual and heterosexual were coined in 1892, in an English translation of work by the early sexologist Kraftt-Ebing. However, as a noun heterosexual didn’t enter common usage until the 1960s. The Google Ngram viewer illustrates the relative occurrence of each term within their (enormous) corpus:

To put it bluntly: people write more about homosexuality. The argument I’m making certainly doesn’t entail the view that there weren’t heterosexual people until homosexual people but rather that the visibility of sexual difference (slowly) made heterosexuality an object of deliberate reflection. I included asexuality as well as bisexuality below but the former is pretty meaningless given its prevalence as a biological term. Nonetheless, it seems interesting and arguably inverts a common way of understanding the relationship between sexualities i.e. homosexuality –> heterosexuality –> bisexuality rather than heterosexuality –> homosexuality –> bisexuality. In a sense heterosexuality, as a concept in itself rather than the characteristics of person referred to by that concept, should be understood as derivative from homosexuality, again understood as a concept rather than set of imputed characteristics.

So what effect would a much increased visibility of asexuality have? Following through the line of thought above, it would make being sexual an object of deliberate reflection. This is certainly my own experience in three years of studying asexuality and it’s been a pretty interesting one. It seems likely that a widespread acquaintance with asexuality, even if it is entirely mediated, would bring being sexual into discursive awareness in a way that hasn’t previously been the case. Quite simply: you’re more likely to reflect upon a personal characteristic if you’re aware that there are people who don’t share it. Furthermore, although I think internal conversation is important to this process, there’s also a vast dialogical element to it. Or to put it simply: you’re more likely to talk to others about a personal characteristic you share with them if you are aware that there are other people who don’t share it. 

Within the asexual community, once technology enabled people to conduct dialogues about their shared experience of being asexual in a sexual world, a rich and differentiated language quickly emerged. In spite of this commonality, there were also differences within the asexual community and, as people continued to discuss them, language began to ‘catch up’ to experience. Conversely I wonder whether, once sexual people begin to reflect upon being sexual as something more than a biological characteristic construed in terms of the entirely vacuous notion of a ‘sex drive’, will a rich panoply of sexual difference similarly begin to emerge? So sexual difference might come to be construed not in terms of object choice (i.e. hetero/bi/homo) but in all manner of complex idiosyncrasy which, at present, only very tangentially finds any sort of discursive expression.

About these ads

2 responses »

  1. c.arunima says:

    This is a very interesting online forum, and a very enlightening and empowering too. The observation in this post that complexity of human sexuality cannot be comprehended by merely invoking the concept of ‘sex drive’ is so fascinating and in a way, reassuring. as a woman who has spent 26 scorching summers in India, i never knew what ‘asexuality’ is or that i am asexual myself until early 2012. I was always aware that i am not sexually attracted to men or women-rather, i could never bring myself to fantasize about having sex with anyone-but in a culturally conservative country like India where premarital sex is a taboo and virginity is a much celebrated virtue, i for the long time, was under the impression that it is my socio-cultural conditioning which makes me averse to sex. but as a student of social sciences and of gender studies, i gradually became aware of my lack of sexual ‘urges’. It is not easy living in a globalized world and a consumerist society where sex and sexuality has become a marketing tool and product even in a developing country like India, as an asexual because there are so many social, cultural practices that i cannot relate to. I think it would interesting if under the ‘asexuality studies’ framework, research is carried out on how the asexual community reacts to the market attention to sexuality.

    • Chandan says:

      Hi c.arunima, I belong to the same category as you in terms of sexual orientation. I am male, 28 and asexual. I hail from Kolkata. I wish to be friends with someone like me. My E-mail id is “galluer@yahoo.com”. Please mail me so we may share more. After reading your comment, I really wish to become your friend.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s