Is Sex an Identity?
In large part, this question is to be laid at the feet of Sigmund Freud, the late nineteenth to early twentieth century psychoanalyst who argued that who we are at the most fundamental level is our sexual desires. And, of course, once you start arguing that our fundamental identity is our sexual desires, then two things happen.
One thing that happens is that sex ceases to be an activity and moves towards being an identity. If you look at the Bible or at ancient Greece, there's plenty of sex, but it's always an activity. Sometimes that activity is considered legitimate, sometimes illegitimate, but it's an activity, not an identity.
Once you make the move that says the person you really are is determined by your sexual desire, then sex ceases to be an idea or an activity and it becomes an identity such that if I were to say to you, "I'm gay,” I'm not even claiming to have had a sexual experience. I'm defining myself purely in terms of a psychological erotic desire which I experience or have.
Now, think about that. Once identity is sexual, once your sexual desires are your identity, it's inevitable that sex is going to become political, because laws governing sex become not so much rules and laws about behavior as they become about who you are allowed to be.
Once identity is sexual, once your sexual desires are your identity, it's inevitable that sex is going to become political.
A law that forbids a certain kind of sexual activity or the manifestation of a certain kind of sexual desire is a law that forbids that kind of person. And that's why once sex becomes identity, sex must also become politicized, because identities are inevitably political.
So, the identities that society recognizes and the identities that society refuses to recognize define the policies, define what society is, and are, in other words, profoundly political.
Carl Trueman is the author of Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution.
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