Sexuality and Personality

Sexuality is a microcosm of personality. It is a part of the person — I can draw it out from other parts, like rationality — but it also signifies the person. Like a fractal that contains within itself the governing idea of the fractal-pattern, a sanctuary in a temple, or a thesis statement that is both a part and the whole of an essay, sexuality recapitulates the fundamental realities of the person of which it is a part.

This is the reason that sexual issues are controversial. Deconstructions of the meaning of our digestive systems don’t phase us. The new-found “origin of the species” is fairly boring. Anti-Christian potshots are largely humorous. But watch us freak out over sexuality. It’s personal.

Let’s consider one way in which this is true: Sexuality recapitulates the essentially relational nature of the person.

T0 ask which came first, being lonely or related, is worse than the chicken and the egg. From the standpoint of loneliness, the fact seems obvious — only because the person is first alone unto herself can she relate herself to others. Only because I really, internally keep my thought as a secret unto myself do I have the capacity to give that thought to my neighbor. Only because my life is first lonely unto myself can I communicate (from communicare, to share) that life with others. The person is thus an ecstasy, a stepping-out from incredible depths into the light of day.

But from the standpoint of relation, it is only because the person is first related to others that she exists in her incommunicable subjectivity. Only because I first belong to a mother and father can I ever say I belong to myself. The baby is not born as a phenomenon of individuality. She is born as a phenomenon of love. She does not learn to know her mother as some other being than herself. She learns to separate herself from her mother in order to know herself as an individual being. Only because I am given language by a community can I ever fully realize my own consciousness which is a secret to the community. From the standpoint of relation, it is only because I am first given to others that I am ever lonely unto myself.

This paradox will not be undone. It is present in the very etymology of the word “person,” pointed out by Christos Yannaras:

By the word prosopon (“person”) we define a referential reality…The preposition pros (“towards”) together with the noun ops, which means “eye,” “face,” “countenance,” form the composite word pros-opon: I have my face turned towards someone or something. (Person and Eros)

I, yes, but I-towards. I-in-relation.

This is why it is not so simple as having an interior life that we willfully express through an exterior life. We relate ourselves to others when we don’t want to. Our friends know what we are thinking. We burst out from ourselves — and the harder we try to keep the roar of the interior from the “relatability” of the exterior, the more likely the burst. We spill over from loneliness into community by the very structure of our person. We wear our hearts on our face, in the music behind our words and the way we brush our hair from our foreheads (Paul Simon). Our outside is saturated with our inside — we cannot help but express ourselves. We tend towards relation.

Sexuality recapitulates this fact, accentuating the relational aspect of the person by drawing her — by its very structure — from loneliness to relation. From the view of loneliness, we have internal sexual desires and express them outwardly to our beloved. We communicate ourselves. From the view of what is shared, it is precisely the beloved who calls forth our sexuality in us.

From the view of loneliness, I am man, and this is a certain type of thing. From the view of relation, my masculinity is fundamentally a relation to femininity. It is because she is.

I know how the saying goes — “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” This is a social comment, not an ontological one dealing with the deepest reality of things. A woman without a man can do just swimmingly, but woman without man is an absurdity, lacking any relational reference by which her being a woman has any meaning. In an imaginary world of only women, there would be no women. For on what ground would “woman” take on any meaning, any demarcation of identity, besides (perhaps) a being who is not a plant, not a fish, and not a bicycle? So too, a man is only a man in any meaningful sense in his relation to women.

This is not an advocacy for heterosexuality. A gay man, entirely, authentically attracted to men and unattracted to women, is held in identity by an ontological relation to women. It is only because we first understand him as a fundamental relation to women — as a man — that we understand him as a “gay man.” The same fundamental necessity holds true of those experiencing transgenderism. To be a woman (spiritually) in the body of a man (physically) is not to change the founding relation by which the terms man and woman take on meaning, allowing us to be comprehensible when we say something like “I look like a woman, but I am really a man.” In short, man and woman as sexual identities which exist by virtue their relation to each other is the vocabulary which all gender deconstruction, reconstruction, and alteration draw from in order to be comprehensible, in order to gather together their “truth.” Even statements like “there is no such thing as a man” appeal to this fundamental relation by which the word “man” has any meaning at all.

This is often pointed out in terms of our physical bodies. A man’s body makes no sense without a woman’s, a woman’s is incomprehensible without a man’s. It is more proper to speak of one “sexual reproductive system” than two — only in relation are our systems reproductive systems. I merely want to extend what is true of our sexual systems — that it takes one to meaningfully identify the other — to our sexuality as such. We need each other. Even when we don’t want each other, we need each other.

So. Our personal identity requires relation, and our sexuality recapitulates this fact. It requires relation in order to attain meaningful identity. Thus it is no accident that as our culture treats sexuality, so it treats personality — a topic I hope to discuss with you very soon.

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  • RFitz

    “To be a woman (spiritually) in the body of a man (physically) […]”

    Seeing this description of what it means to be transgender on a Catholic blog made me truly happy. Gender is, as the Church teaches, more than just a collection of body parts, but an essential trait of the soul. If someone’s spiritual gender doesn’t match up with the gender they were raised as, doesn’t this corroborate the Church’s teaching against mainstream, societal doctrine that “gender is all a social construct, anyway”?

    Some of the most devout, traditional Catholics I know are trans, and I desperately want to see the Church become a more welcoming place for them. They are wonderful, loving people alienated by society for being born with what is really a medical condition that they never asked for.

    So, seeing it described as this, rather than as “to be a man who identifies as a woman”, or as “to be a man who wants to be a woman”… that makes a difference. Thank you =)

    • Nathaniel

      Don’t get your hopes up. Such people are “intrinsically disordered.” Meaning that their transgenderism is a sign of sickness, one which is healed by pretending that they aren’t actually transgender.

      • Laura

        “pretending that they aren’t actually transgender”? I don’t understand what you mean by that. Please elaborate?

        • Nathaniel

          That the solution isn’t surgery and hormones as desired to make their bodies match their brain make up. Rather, go down to the local church and get prayed for a lot until you repent and give up any notion of ever getting a body that their brain doesn’t have a mismatch with.

          • Mail Artist

            I for one do not label a person’s gender on brain activity. It is hypocritical to the very cause of which you argue.

            Artists with balls.

            Mechanical engineers with boobs.

            I’m cool with both these people as they are. Are you?

          • Nathaniel

            What a great example of a non-sequitur. I’ll make sure to keep it in mind if I ever have to explain the term.

          • Mail Artist

            Pleased to know it made an impact and that you will keep it in mind.
            Ironic, huh!

          • Which is something good, since schizophrenic people also get some treatment and no ones complains about others taking away the right of them to have their brains creating an alternate reality, which only will hurt them.

          • Nathaniel

            Well, given that you have such an obviously high approval for the standard methods of treatment that the psychological community have for schizophrenia, I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that transgenderism isn’t classified as any sort of mental illness, and recommended treatment for any mental distress related to it is a mixture of talk therapy and gender transition.

          • alcoholism wasn’t either classified as a disease before it were classified as such, however, treatments were already there and it were considered as such before such thing happened. And these treatments weren’t about talking and give alcohol to the patient in order to cure him, you know.

          • Nathaniel

            But I thought you trusted how the psychological community classified and treated people. Or is that only true when they agree with you?

          • As it happens with a man that perceives himself as a woman and want to undergo a sex change to match his inner experience with his external appearance, I, in the same basis of subjective experience, also want that these people of the psychological community agree with me in this issue and in others as well, there is nothing wrong on that, because there is no wrong or right, right?

            Leaving rhetoric behind, I trust them, what I don’t trust is the ideological agenda that some psychiatrists may have at hand, because that will make more hard to see reality as such and it will just harm the people they are supposed to heal, such harm is real and independent of what I like/dislike and if they agree with me or not. Or it is right for transgender to undergo a sex-change theraphy only because the psychological community agree with you? I hope no.

          • I also wonder if people with Body Integrity Identity Disorder are treated in the same way that people who are self-identify transgender by the same community of professionals.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            Why? Why is it the goal of making their bodies match their brain make up? Forget transgenderism for a moment. When our brains don’t match up with physical reality, usually our response isn’t to change that reality. It is even so with misperceptions about our bodies. Usually we don’t endeavor to change a person’s body when they think they are a chicken or an apple… or even in cases where change is theoretically possible, such as when a white man thinks he is black or when a short man thinks he is tall. Are we doing that wrong? Should we try to develop surgeries for those cases? If not, what’s different about your mental idea of you gender mismatching with your actual sex? Why does that require us to mold the body with regard to that image while the other cases don’t?

          • Carlos Carrasco

            Don’t the brains of anorexics tell them they are fat when the reality is that they’re not? Don’t they hurt themselves with their attempts (starvation & induced vomiting) to change their bodies to suit their brains’ misperceptions? Isn’t it healthier for the anorexic to ‘fix’ their brains, perceive their bodies correctly and live their lives accordingly? Wouldn’t it also be healthier for the ‘transgender to ‘fix’ their brains and perceive their gender correctly and live accordingly?

          • Giauz Ragnarock

            The goal is to get the patient to a maintainable healthy state. If trans* treated with gender reparative therapy proved healthier than those undergoing sex-change surgery I imagine we would be doing that, still (obviously this was not the case, and many people were left in turmoil).

      • skywalker

        Sorry, but we can all cherry-pick words. Moving beyond that face-value interpretation of “intrinsically disordered” might cause an actual discussion.

        [a ‘disorder’ does not imply sickness, treatment, and healing. that’s Western medicine talk. It’s simply anything that is not in its specific place or function… which the author points out above, that logically, male & female are opposites & a deviation from that role is un-orderly… a difference in the IS-ness of a thing, if you will… so technically, that is an accurate description that is not the most politically correct in Western culture]

        • Nathaniel

          I am quite familiar with Catholic habits of both semantic hair splitting and gussied up Ancient Greek gender essentialism. I feel quite comfortable rejecting both.

          • skywalker

            And I, with buzz-phrases trying to win an argument where there is none.

            So it goes I guess?

          • Nathaniel

            If you’ve read the phrase, “gussied up Ancient Greek gender essentialism” elsewhere, please put up a link. It must be an interesting read.

          • skywalker

            I could only be so lucky! I was referring to your original thought. The ‘Greek essentialism’ courtyard is quite crowded these days though I hear

  • Carmen


  • Oyla Oliva de Spinacho

    Love the one you’re with.