Ayn Rand, Fairy Godmother of Sexual Orientation

Ayn Rand, Fairy Godmother of Sexual Orientation July 9, 2015

When I first purchased Atlas Shrugged with money I begged from a street corner, it was with no other intention than to delight in a world where every problem is the fault of poor people, Communists, and poor Communists. But Ayn Rand gave me so much more than the economic ideology one expects of motorcycle-riding men in Viagra commercials, thinly disguised as John Grisham novel from hell — though, sweet baby Moses, did she give me that. She also gave me an explanation of human sexuality to rival the hippest of queer theorists.

Atlas Shrugged has been rightly criticized as rape-y. Sex is described as bruising, angry, and loveless. As the faceless, billionaire industrialist Whatsit says to the cool, sexy industrialist Whosit after having cool, faceless, industrial relations: “I don’t love you. I’ve never loved anyone. I wanted you from the first moment I saw you. I wanted you as one wants a whore – for the same reason and purpose.” This, I am assured by Atlas fans, is hot. Love (which Rand confuses with altruism) is nothing more than a weak (probably Communistic) “gift of self” which only those weak, miserable creatures who don’t have the balls to follow their own self-interest would indulge. “Real love,” to quote one of many Objectivist websites dedicated to puzzling out their founder’s quasi-Satanic doctrines, is as follows: “In giving love, we are responding to our own values realized and made beautiful by another person. In receiving love, we receive a kind of reward for the virtues, habits, and qualities we have cultivated in our own characters.” We do not give our selves to another, we see our own values embodied in them, and we respond to our values — with heavy panting.

Now let’s just shut the front door and think about this for a moment. The Randian reversal is ingenious as it is simple. Traditionally, sexual desire has been characterized as being called forth by the other, a motion of love and desire that wells up in us as a response to a value perceived in another human being. Sexual attraction, in this view, is other-orientated. Rand reverses this order, arguing that “sex is an expression of self-esteem” and “the most profoundly selfish of all acts.” A man “will always be attracted to the woman who reflects the deepest vision of himself.” Man — considered as an individual, without any reference to another person — has a set of values. The woman he is attracted to is not attractive insofar as she presents something “new” or “other.” Rather she presents something “old” and “the same” — the embodiment of a value-set he already has. For Rand, all sex is masturbation, sex with oneself. The other becomes a mirror for our values, and we — Narcissus, all — are aroused by the sight.

I cannot reject Ayn Rand as easily as I’d like, for the simple reason that our current logic of “sexual orientation” is Randian to the core. That I am a “heterosexual” means precisely this, that I have a pre-set “orientation” towards the other sex, an already-operating valuation of “women” as such. A particular woman, far from presenting some “new” value, calling forth attraction from me, is attractive insofar as she “clicks” with my orientation. She is a fulfillment of my values, my already-established desire, which is not for her — for then it could only be called forth from a personal encounter with her — but for “the other  sex.”

When a young boy finds himself attracted to another boy, we admonish him to “come out of the closet,” to recognize himself as being a homosexual — or at least bisexual. But what does this mean, except that his sexual attraction to another, particular person is nothing more than evidence of his pre-existing orientation? Our boy had, unbeknownst to himself, an identity, a set of values and desires and a mode of being in the world. His attraction was not called forth by another, it was only revealed as having always been a part — and a fixed, identity-determining part, no less — of his ego. The ego, and not the other, becomes the reference point for human sexuality.

A sapiosexual sees his valuation of intelligence embodied in a particular person, and desires. The particular person is a secondary object of attraction. That is, he does not desire her and subsequently value her sapio, no, he is a sapiosexual, a type of being sexually orientated towards intelligence, and only subsequently does he desire her — a fulfillment of the kind of being he is. An androsexual does not desire a particular person. He is orientated towards “masculinity”, and is only attracted to a particular man insofar as that man serves as an embodiment of “masculinity”, that general, impersonal object that serves as the guiding principle of modern sexuality alongside homo, hetero, gyno, pan, poly, skolio — values of the ego, held as an identity long before any contact with another person, so that our attraction to an actual, living, breathing human being can only be masturbatory, a relation that affirms the values we already hold, stroking our ego, clicking with our pre-set view towards the world (which is thought to be good and meaningful and worthy of affirmation for the mere fact of being ours). Is this not how we speak? Do we not all have a right to seek “self-fulfilling” relations?

An ontology of sexuality that roots attraction in the self and its identity may wear the garb of lefty, millennial hipsterdom, but its equally fit with a pathological, righty, uber-capitalistic vision of the Cosmos. This seem to be why, despite the obvious leftward shuffle, and the equally obvious and earnest attempts to eradicate it from existence, we still speak a language of rape. Rape is a reasonable conclusion of the perverse premises of a sexology of self-fulfillment. Indeed, no one is more self-fulfilled, in the most horrible sense possible, than the rapist, who takes Randian rhetoric to its logical ends, and see in the other person no life outside of the values and desires which he already holds. That no one would actually advocate or desire this vision of human sexuality is obvious, but we have grown far too timid to check the growing academic behemoth that is our discourse on sexuality with what people actually want — to be loved, cherished, to give of ourselves, and to be called forth into love, rather than to eternally project our idiotic values onto the Cosmos, until every other being is made in our image and likeness.

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