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 “know” 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.”
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.
There is a particular method of epistemology — I believe, one indebted to eastern philosophies which are characteristically more spiritual and more inclined to blend the ethical with the metaphysical than western, “analytic,” philosophies — that conveys the way in which we are able to decipher this particular feeling. It is a method articulated most recently in the west by, and one attributed to, Henri Bergson known as “intuition.”
Intuition is a method of coming to knowledge that does not employ the intellect (logic or intellection). Bergson describes it as a “sympathy with” or a “stepping into the internal rhythm of” a thing, thereby opening access to a thing outside of the intellect. In The Creative Mind, he contends that intuition “isolates what … is unique and consequently inexpressible” in an object; it seeks that which inheres within but which remains inexpressible in terms of intellect or knowledge (aka “language”). In The Nick of Time my favorite feminist philosopher, Liz Grosz, describes intuition as enabling “a finding of oneself in the unknown, an immersion in its specificity, a negotiation with its newness.”
“[A] finding oneself in the unknown” — doesn’t this capture the revelatory quality of “discovering” or intuiting one’s desires (regardless of how those desires come to be defined in culture, “gay,” “straight,” “queer,” and so forth)?
And the method of intuition makes perfect sense as the epistemology used to come to “know” one’s desires. One’s internal desires, which can never be perfectly articulated, can only be felt or intuited by a method of knowing that resists the impulse to render these feelings in finite terms. I think intuition is the only method we can used to achieve this type of “knowing.”
I want to refer to this perception of something we identify as different, or as “gay,” within us simply as a “knowing.” Because what “this” is isn’t definable; “it” is qualitative, not quantifiable (in/as language). At best, we can only touch “this” at its margins, through the use of language, and through, primarily, the method of intuition.
So, we can use intuition to attain this intimate “knowing” of ourselves, including our desires. But, when these forces within us are read as “desires” and, then, are interpreted as “sexualities” or connotative of a sexuality (gay, etc), then they become something else.
I think, while it’s comforting, calming and, even, enlightening to be able to perceive this knowing or knowledge of the self, my real question is what bearing this knowing has on identity, identity politics and political rights. (To reiterate the above, I do not find a direct correlation.)
Then again, writing this column does make me see a relation between this intuitive knowing and one’s ethics — my personal investment. For, if we achieve a type of knowing of ourselves, of what we are and are not in control of, then this knowing inevitably shapes how we fashion our lives and our lifestyles. Of how we respect ourselves and others. And of our outlook on life in general.
Dr. Marcie Bianco is now a resident of Brooklyn but is still gloriously unemployed— as only one with a handful of useless degrees could be. She currently serves as the Editorial Director of VelvetPark.