FSG: Faith, Sexuality and Gender

On the margins of orthodoxy

Bisexuality: The Desire Of the Other 27 March 2008

Of course, another reason why bisexuality makes people feel uncomfortable (following on from my previous blog entry) is that it calls into question their own sexual orientation – more than homosexuality presents a challenge to heterosexuals, and vice-versa. This is because it confronts people with the idea that sexuality does not consist of polar opposites but is more of a continuum, and moreover one which people can move along at different stages in their life, or from one relationship to the next. This means that their own straight or gay orientation might not be as stable or unambiguous as they would like to think.

The idea of a continuum of sexuality is not new. All the same, my experience has been that straight or gay people will often accept the idea in principle but then always feel the need to specify that they’ve never felt an attraction to anyone of the same or opposite sex respectively! I’m not sure I believe them, but then again, I would say that, wouldn’t I? It all depends what you mean by ‘attraction’, I suppose. Attraction can take place at many different levels, including those of consciousness and the unconscious. Equally, while not all attraction is sexual – in the sense of seeking some form of physical sexual release – it always involves some element of desire.

The disconnect between desire and the physical sexual urge or need (bound up with reproduction) has been well explored by psychoanalysts of the school of Lacan and critical theorists of various hues. And this disconnect can involve a separation and re-combination of the psychological and physical ‘objects’ of desire. For example, a man such as myself can be attracted to other men who combine psychological (personality) and even physical characteristics that I think of as feminine with physical features that I recognise ‘objectively’ as male and masculine. You could call this homosexual desire; but you could also say that the desire as such – the psychological component, at least – is dependent on the object being ‘like a woman’, and that therefore it is also heterosexual. And if homosexuality can be (a little) heterosexual, cannot apparently ordinary heterosexuality not also have a tinge of homosexuality about it? For instance, the need that some men have for women to be exaggeratedly, indeed artificially, feminine (concealing, perhaps, a hidden dread or excitement at the idea that women may be more like men than heterosexual convention accepts)? Or the definite attraction of some men for women with pronounced ‘masculine’ traits of character or physique?

Other-sex and same-sex attraction possibly always expresses the paradox that the other is fantasised as the embodiment of ‘my other’: the other part of myself that is beyond my conscious self-image as a man or woman, as gay or straight – my other half; the one I desire because I do not yet fully possess him or her. Do we perhaps always in this way love in the other an Other self?

We never recapture this unity of the self and the other in this life; our desire is never satisfied; attraction can always surprise us and draw us out. But in Christ I know an Other who both knows me, loves me and is me more deeply, fully and truly than I know and love and am myself. And in him, my desire finds its end.

(Originally posted on http://btcp.wordpress.com on 18 July 2007.)

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