I read Hannon’s piece over a week ago and had a number of concerns about it when I did so. While I share Hannon’s reservations about much orientation discourse, I was surprised to see so many people loudly praising his article, as it seemed to me that there were a number of serious flaws in it. For instance, even though Hannon observes the manner in which ‘orientation’ conversations shift ‘attention from objective purposes to subjective passions,’ it seemed to me that the article invited the notion of a sort of natural ‘queerness’, an ambivalence to our sexuality that is only settled as our sexual behaviours are related to some appropriate extrinsic end.
Identities and orientations are increasingly subjectivized, rooted solely in our passions and private self-understandings. The fact that, for instance, possession of a male body makes one a man and orients you to the other sex, irrespective of the—potentially disordered—orientation of one’s subjective desires and sense of one’s gender, is forgotten. The fact that being subjectively ordered in such a manner is normal and not merely common is also forgotten.
Hannon’s claim emphasizes those who take ownership of the “heterosexual” label: his polemic is against those who are “self-proclaimed” as or people who are “identifying as” heterosexuals. But few heterosexuals think of their own sexual identity the way those with same-sex attraction tend to think of themselves *as* gay or lesbian. Their majority sexuality is simply the tacit backdrop on which people live out their lives rather than that-by-which they are differentiated.
My friend John Corvino will sometimes talk about heterosexual folks who take a line akin to “it’s fine if gay folks do their think, so long as they don’t flaunt it in public.” Only “flaunt it” happens to mean holding hands, or kissing, or doing what opposite-sex couples do in public all the time. Many heterosexual folks don’t feel the asymmetry, as we are unaware of the extent to which sexuality structures our lives outside the bedroom. But that also means the emergence of heterosexual desires in a person lacks the same kind of formative power that the emergence of opposite-sex desires often has. I doubt most “heterosexuals” would ever recognize themselves in the term, at least not without: they don’t need to, precisely because being a part of the “normal group” frees them from the burden of self-ascription.
In certain respects, these points tie in with my previous post about personal stories. The difference between orientation for a ‘heterosexual’ and a ‘homosexual’ could be described as the difference between two different types of stories. As Matt astutely observes, the cisgender ‘heterosexual’ doesn’t experience this identity as a self-ascription, as this identity is narrated for him from without and he merely enters into it. By contrast, the LGBT person locates their identity primarily in a story that they tell themselves about themselves. And that, as I suggested, can be problematic in a number of different ways. The inviolability of a person’s ‘orientation’ and ‘identity’ is not unrelated to a peculiarly contemporary approach to the status of the personal narrative, something which excludes any form of determination or challenge to our autonomy, including that of our very bodies.
While it is essential to recognize the pain and difficulty that can be involved in holding one’s identity in its most intimate dimensions exposed to judgment and questioning, and that this pain will be felt more keenly by some, this is a path that we are all called to take. We will best be equipped to bear the heavier burdens of others with them if we are walking the same way ourselves. One of the dangers in prevailing identity discourse is that Christians with different gender or sexual ‘identities’ or ‘orientations’, while appreciating the unique character of others’ struggles, may through an overemphasis upon this lose contact with those who would otherwise be known as examples, fellow-travellers, supporters, and friends in the common path of holiness.