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sexual spectrum2

In a relatively recent book called The Sexual Spectrum, Olive Skene Johnson argued that human sexuality should be not understood in polarized categories, i.e. heterosexuality vs. homosexuality. Drawing on scientific findings and personal observation (her son was gay) she suggested that there is a whole spectrum through which human sexuality is manifested. Genes and hormones according to her, primarily determine these ‘shades of sexuality’. Similarly, she suggests that hormones and genes affect human gender as well. In other words, as categories for defining sex and gender, ‘male’ and ‘female’ might be too rigid. We are male or female only to a certain degree – which determines our primary sexual/gender identification – but there is always a bit of the other sex within us.

I will not deal with the scientific plausibility of this thesis. However, I find it very interesting to reflect upon the notion that both male/female and heterosexual/homosexual are rigid categorical constructs that do not necessarily reflect the biological and psychological constitution of humans. As a big fan of critical thinking that challenges the dominant forms of social categorization, I think it is beneficial to rethink the way sex and gender are framed in everyday life.

Different dimensions of gender and queer studies have already challenged such notions and offered a progressive criticism aimed to topple down the heterosexual and male hegemony of culture, in favor of a more performative understanding of sex and gender. However, what I’m interested in are the potential normative consequences of such a lax (performative) understanding of sexuality and gender identity. In other words, how should such shifts in perceiving and engaging the world of sexuality alter the sphere of law and what would that mean?

The first obvious answer would point towards the need to amend all gender and sexual categories of the law in such a way to provide for more nuances in gender and sexual identification. For example, sex/gender categorization in legal documents should not be fixed but open to a variety of degrees of ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness’. Similarly, norms protecting human rights should accommodate the variety of sexual/gender subjective positions as legitimate expressions of human identity and agency.

This type of discussion is very often joined by remarks that normative (legal) change in such sensitive areas should await for a broader societal consensus if it doesn’t want to be disruptive of social stability and gradual moral evolution. But, this assumption is wrong. Some parts of the western world have already come to the conclusion that law must precede – or even more radically, drive – cultural change.  In many cases, progressive social change does not come from culture, but is being imposed on it by a decisive political agency. Recent trends in the United States in terms of legalizing homosexual marriage are welcome signs towards a more robust political agency aimed at relaxing a hitherto rigid understanding and categorization of human sexual and gender experience. Hopefully, the rest of (the US and) the globe will follow suit.

The photo was taken during the Annual Pride Parade in Chicago, one of my favorite public celebrations of the diversity of human life.