03: Sexuality cont’d

with 12 comments

With these three things in mind, how do we think more usefully about masculinity and sexuality? The most important part of the solution is to recognize that the idea of polarity is one of the biggest cons pulled in the history of humanity. We’ll come back to this again in other chapters. But in our current context, this has a number of ramifications. In the above section, I outlined one of these as allocating specific values and words to the masculine and feminine, and how we needed to unhook these, opening up access for all people to all values.

The second fundamental ramification of polar thinking is the assumed gay/straight binary, which suggests that most people are either gay or straight (and that straight is the norm). Again, this appears to fit with all the anecdotal “evidence” on the table, but is it really true? One famous example that challenges this binary thinking is the Kinsey Scale. Alfred Kinsey was a sexologist who caused a lot of controversy in the 1940s and 50s with his work on human sexuality. Kinsey unearthed a surprising amount of what many at the time considered to be “unorthodox” sexual behaviour in which people who were seen as either “gay” or “straight” often had a fair streak of the other. The Kinsey Scale put people into seven categories:

0             Exclusively heterosexual

1             Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual

2             Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual

3             Equally heterosexual and homosexual; bisexual

4             Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual

5             Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual

6             Exclusively homosexual

While most people imagined the numbers would be heavily weighted towards 0 and 6, Kinsey discovered that at some point in their lives a surprising amount of people had sexual experiences (albeit often of a mild nature) that result in there being a broad spread across the seven categories. (There’s also an eighth point, “X” for asexual or non-sexual). Certainly there are problems with the Kinsey Scale (it’s considered quite simplistic by contemporary sexologists), but it still gives an indication that polar opposites—gay/straight, masculine/feminine—are not the obvious descriptors of realty that many claim.

This is not some “gay crusade” which suggests that lots of people are unconsciously living a lie about their sexual orientation. It simply means that things are more complicated than they initially appear, and that binary thinking does not do a very good job of representing the truth. For example, I’m happily settled in a heterosexual marriage; outside of this, like most men, it is women who generally catch my attention on the street. However, while I have never had sex with a man, I often find myself falling into flirtatious patterns with gay men, and now I’m a bit older, if I were single I wouldn’t rule out some further experimentation on this front. I would hazard a guess that in the right circumstances most “straight” men would entertain the thought of sexually penetrating another man (albeit resisting being penetrated themselves, and there are complex reasons for this). I’m probably a 1 or a 2 on the Kinsey Scale, which I suspect is the case for most men if they had enough self-awareness and honesty to articulate it.


Written by Joseph Gelfer

August 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

12 Responses

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  1. I am posting after having an argument with Dear Hubby about the abandonment of polarity, or now that i think of it, that dream of Zen: release from the hell of dualism. I refined for him upon his cry of, “even a line (like the gay-straight continuum) is a 2 dimensional and therefore polar assertion”: that ionstead it is a circumference, a circle or even better a sphere, infinite points equi-(distant, values) from a locus of focus! He seems invested in maintaining a concept of Masculinity where I am ready to do the infinity of poles…..


    July 11, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    • Yes, the sphere is good. I use this imagine in my book Numen, Old Men: “Irigaray’s appeal to holism is also evident with her further employment of the sphere image: she refers to sexual intercourse where, ‘bodies also face the issue of fitting one inside the other, without thereby altering the other dimensions. Can this be understood as the constitution, together, of a spherical or almost spherical form?’. But again Irigaray’s sphere is a false totality, as it is made up of binary opposites, rather than one or two people (three, four or more?) who are total (spherical) in and among themselves. Irigaray’s sphere is a yin-yang made flesh, one body forever light, the other dark, genitalia tessellating in some mythic symmetry. A true sphere would move beyond the two into the many, a twilight (or rainbow) experience.” That quote’s a bit context-free, but I table it simply to agree with you.

      I also like the spatial image of the rhizome rather than a liner spectrum (which as you hubby notes, has poles).


      July 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm

      • Thank you for this, i will have to spend time contemplating the quote and what you’ve added. Especially looking up the structure of a rhizome. What could be more naturalistic? 😉


        July 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    • I think part of my solution to the 2-dimensional, and thus polar, trap of the line-shaped continuum is to put X in there, and reframe it in terms of “sexual flexibility”. Pure straight, asexual, and gay would be neighbors on my circular spectrum, with flexibility increasing as one ventures round the equater line. It’s important to use equator instead of longitude since th planet still has identifiable poles. This line of thinking instigated a sub-debate Re the arbitrary and ethnocentric assignment of “the West” vs. “The East” and that distinctions’ similar perjorative rankings of “oriental”/”feminine”. He then posed the uestion of whether or not Everything, including temperature for example, gets erased by this relativism. I think temperature is different because you can measure the excitement of particles when temp goes up, whereas any dot you mark “Homebase” on the equator of the globe is totally arbitrary and enforced by your social power alone.


      July 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm

  2. I read this and said to myself ‘he’s right, I remember when I was a teenager…’.
    Then I thought of the words ‘shame’ and repression.
    Then I thought of Monty Python with ‘come see the violence inherent in the system’!

    ….and on I continue….


    March 26, 2012 at 1:49 pm

  3. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “polar thinking” Joseph. As I said in an earlier comment, I think that (my version of) the “male/female” dichotomy makes a fair bit of sense. However, I don’t really see much difference between a dichotomy and a spectrum. To me, a spectrum is just a more nuanced way of seeing a dichotomy. For example, the movies and pictures that we call “black & white” are really composed of numerous shades of grey. Similarly, just because someone views people as falling along a spectrum of sexuality that ranges from gay to straight, doesn’t mean that person isn’t still thinking in terms of the dichotomy of gay/straight. And finally, just because someone (like me) chooses to think in terms of the dichotomy of “male/female” doesn’t mean they cannot also conceive of this dichotomy as a spectrum of many possible intermediate points.

    I’m not sure if the “polar thinking” that you’re criticizing is the inability to see the spectrum, or if if it is just the particular dichotomy of male/female (whether viewed as a spectrum or not). Perhaps subsequent sections of your book will clear this up for me.


    October 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    • It’s the inability to see the spectrum. In polar thinking there is no nuance/shades of grey, just the poles/black and white.


      October 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm

  4. Now listen, I’m not a homophobe, butt…


    January 25, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    • I would have thought you would have been all over these diverse experiences with your schooling 😉


      January 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm

      • Well… there seems nothing wrong with your arguments and evidence in this chapter. I take your point about the validity of the ‘polar’ form of traditional masculinity, although it has a certain understandable appeal IMO.


        January 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm

  5. The Kinsey Scale put people into six categories:

    Looks like 7 categories to me, labeled 0-6 (plus the 8th asexual category).


    August 2, 2010 at 6:40 am

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