Critical Thinking and Sexual Orientation
October 1, 2013
I've been thinking a lot lately about my identity and my orientation. This is something that a lot of us think about round about our late teens and early twenties, and so it seemed highly pertinent to this blog to talk about the critical thinking that I've been doing around these topics.
It's important to think about orientation and identity critically because we often only think of them in terms of the categories that are already available: are you straight? Gay? Bi? Oftentimes that's as far as it goes, and yet people are far more complex and individual than that. Using skeptical thinking around your orientation may help you be more honest with yourself about what your experiences are, and help you be open to a variety of other sexualities and identities.
Now you're all probably young social justice minded people, and so you may have heard terms like ace or demisexual thrown around. You may even have wondered whether you're one of those people who fits into these newer categories. But what I've been wondering about is those of us who are un-categorizable, as well as those identities that are so stigmatized that we often forget they even exist.
I myself have started to identify as a part time ace, or a gray-a. I find this incredibly interesting, because for a long time I didn't even consider asexuality as a possible identity for myself. I knew it existed, but it didn't cross my radar as something I could be. This is where it's important for us to really engage our curiosity. I don't fit the exact definition of asexual. That's fine. However it seems to be the most accurate identity and community for me to see myself as a part of. I feel I can relate to many of the stigmas and difficulties that ace people do, as I go through periods of no sexual attraction.
So what does that mean? It means that you have to be willing to critically think about how you relate to different identities. It means you have to be willing to cobble together your own identity out of your own real experiences and emotions, because no one identity is one size fits all, and we are unique creatures. You don't necessarily need a category to fit into, simply a conception of yourself. It's absolutely easier to think in terms of concrete categories, black and white, or clear boundaries, but it's not necessarily accurate. You may want to use these terms to make your life easier, but make sure you think critically about those identities and be willing to state where you truly differ from the general conception of those terms.
It's also important to understand that you may want a community to help you feel more supported or to talk about the questions you have surrounding your sexuality. That's great! But it's important to balance the evidence of your own life with the needs of the community. You don't have to conform to the expectations of the gay community or the ace community or the poly community in order to ask for support. And communities need to learn to be flexible in understanding that not everyone is 100% one identity. Policing boundaries can be helpful when you want to create safe spaces, but if someone is confused it's generally just not helpful.
Overall, this is another area that I'd encourage people to use their emotions as a source of information. You can ask yourself some questions about whether finding an identity is important to you, or whether acting simply in accordance with your desires is most important. You can also create your own identity: how do you think we got the words asexual and demisexual? Talk to people! Many times we don't apply our creative, scientific minds to our own identities, but it's a great idea to use the same curiosity we have in other realms to understand ourselves.
About the Author: Olivia James
Olivia James is a recent graduate from St. Olaf College who is now navigating the post-college pre-grad school waters. She was a philosophy and religion major and was a member of St. Olaf's SSA. She is also an avid swing dancer, voracious reader, and all around nutjob.
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