All the available evidence shows that at the very least, sexual orientation is not something we choose, and may even be inborn genetically. So, is it possible that our sexual orientation and our sexual preferences may reveal some hidden bias or prejudice that even we may not be aware of?
I got an interesting email from a listener of my podcast asking this very question not too long ago. He was worried that his own sexual preferences may show some hidden bigotry, a vestige of a religious upbringing that had very conservative notions of sex and sexuality. Its an interesting question, I think. On the one hand we have the idea that no one chooses their own sexual orientation or sexual preferences, and on the other hand we know that cultural programming is strong. It’s so strong that sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between our own desires and the desires of our culture.
A Not-So-Hypothetical Scenario
The proposed situation was this: A man meets a woman in a bar, thinks to himself how gorgeous she is, and decides to chat her up. He buys her a drink, and the flirting turns sexual. Before things get physical, the woman stops to let him know that she is, in fact, a transgender woman and still has her penis.
Now at this point there are several things that can happen. There are transgender women who have been murdered in this situation, before things had even gotten physical. But if we think through this situation, what is the reasonable response? Regardless of your own gender identity, put yourself in this situation. Hypothetically speaking, put yourself in the position of chatting up someone you found attractive to later find out they were transgender and didn’t have the anatomy you assumed they did.
Obviously there are going to be some who have zero problems with this, and things would progress as any normal intimate encounter may. There will be some who are simply not sexually into one arrangement of genitalia or another. If you’re a person who doesn’t like penis, you’re not likely to suddenly talk yourself into enjoying penis (though there is, I think more of a sliding scale there than many people think).
On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with having your own sexual preferences. Maybe you don’t like penis, maybe you don’t like vagina, maybe you don’t like large or small breasts, maybe you do or don’t like kink, etc. The entire point of this blog is sex positivity right? The entire idea is that it’s okay to be sexual in whatever way makes the most sense to you.
There is however, another common reaction to this situation. When I described the above situation, some may have had a response of visceral disgust. Maybe there was a reaction of anger, or of being tricked into liking someone who in your mind is not who they appear to be. Some otherwise progressive and forward-thinking folks may even, after thinking about it, see this as a reasonable reaction. The question we then have to ask is “how do we react when we find something about a prospective partner that makes them suddenly undesirable?”
A Darker Thing Lurking Beneath the Surface
The answer, in the opinion of this humble blogger, is internalized homophobia. Despite our many progressive advances, our culture is still one that is deeply homophobic. The problem exists across our culture as a whole, but it’s particularly hard on young men, who are taught from birth that being gay makes you less of a man. It’s why so many young gay men struggle with their identities from the time they realize who they are.
But internalized homophobia isn’t just a problem for folks who actually are gay, and this, in my opinion, explains the above scenario. If we have internalized the messages of our culture surrounding sexuality, we have bought into the notion that being gay is bad, and that anything that might make us gay, is by extension, also very bad. When a man finds out that he’s attracted to a woman who has a penis, it can engage his cultural programming that being gay is bad, and that anything that means we MIGHT be gay is also bad. Of course, falling for a trans woman does NOT make a man gay, but our cultural programming does suggest that.
The result of all this is that yes, believe it or not, our own sexual preferences, and our reactions to certain situations may actually reveal some hidden bias or prejudice that’s left over as a result of our cultural programming. I want to be clear that I’m not at all suggesting that everyone should be attracted to trans people regardless of their genitalia. I’m not suggesting that your sexual preferences are necessarily an outgrowth of problematic ideas about sex and sexuality. What I’m suggesting here is that in some situations, they most certainly can be. And like most other messages our culture teaches us, these are parts of ourselves we are always better off questioning and re-evaluating.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
Callie Wright is an activist, public speaker, blogger, and host of The Gaytheist Manifesto podcast which explores the intersection of atheist and LGBT activism