Pop Theory: When Coming to Terms with Your Sexuality is a Matter of “Knowing”

Editor’s Note: This article by Marcie Bianco was first published in 2012 as part of her Pop Theory column. 

In this column I want to address a point about sexuality that many of you, my thoughtful commentators, broached in your responses to my assertion that sexuality is a choice. In this column, I want to address the notion of “knowing”; in regard to sexuality, oftentimes people acknowledge and formulate the coming to terms with their sexuality as something that they just “know,” as something that is inexpressible, or as a metaphysical something that can only be expressed in vague terms, something internal, inherent and quintessential to the self.

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time now, not only because of your astute comments but also because, as a very special ladyfriend of mine has so often reiterated throughout our many discussions about sexuality, while sexual identity is in fact an ethical decision, I’ve yet to satisfactorily explain that “feeling,” that perception of something internal within us that catalyzes the whole process of self-knowledge in regard to sexuality. Or, as she so finely states it, “You have to define ‘that thing’ that people point to as the origin(s) of their homosexuality, whether genetic or not.”

(Yes, readers, this ladyfriend is indeed special, if only because she continuously challenges me. So, this column is for you.)

This “knowing,” this perception of something internal to the self, has been on my mind especially after seeing Pariah this past week — a film, like so many gay bildungsromans, which emphasizes the denouement of “coming out” as anti-climatic. (On a tangential note, I think the film that most fantastically parodies, through deferral and hyperbole, among other dramatic devices, the entire coming out process is But I’m A Cheerleader.) Why? Because it’s something that everyone already “knows” or “feels” to be “true,” even though it’s not been verbalized or confirmed by the person coming out. In literature and film, the moment of realization is portrayed as a type of intimate self-knowledge, a mature, self-understanding or an awareness of something once unknown or unrecognized within the self that is now “known.”

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To refresh your memory, here’s what I wrote in a past Pop Theory column:

I want to argue that there is no inherent, absolute correlation between our (internal/libidinal) desires and our (external/cultural) identity….

Desires are pre-personal forces (or impersonal, meaning they have no “identity”) that are continuously proliferating and continuously moving within and through (human) bodies. Desires can be harnessed (for action) and can be pshychologized (as we commonly understand them; as articulated thought). What I want to emphasize is the difference between desire and action in terms of the body: desires are internal, actions are external to a body. Desires are uncontrollable forces; actions are controllable acts or movements (verbal or physical).

I still hold that there is no direct correlation between our internal desires and our external identity; the connection that is made is one that is consciously created and established by the person (i.e. I perceive myself to feel [x] desires, so I will identify [x1] way).

I want to think about these “uncontrollable forces” that I observed in the aforementioned column and which many of you alluded to in your responses a bit more. Because these forces, while pre-personal and beyond our control, are still perceptible — these forces are still felt by us, even though it’s impossible to articulate these (fluid, amorphous, boundless) feelings into (spatialized, static, fixed) language. Even though vague, we do have a certain, subtle consciousness about these forces swirling within us. Yet, any attempt to translate these feelings into language automatically renders them different from what they are.

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