Thursday, February 9, 2012

why sexuality?

Have you ever thought about why we pay so much attention to people’s sexuality? Here is a thought experiment: you are sitting in a large lecture class and make small talk with your neighbor before the class begins. This person has a picture of a chicken on her shirt and mentions that she’s not a huge fan of meat. You also spot a PETA folder sticking out of her backpack. Then the realization hits you. You are sitting next to a…GASP!...vegetarian. You are proud of yourself for putting the clues together and feel a sense of hyper-awareness, curiosity, perhaps even unease or disgust. This person is no longer the friendly New Yorker who lives in Welsh Family Hall who would like to be a pediatrician. She is a vegetarian, and this trumps all the rest…
Now this example may seem silly, but I would venture to say that it is not that uncommon—not for vegetarians, per se, but for gay students. As I initially asked, why is so much attention given to the sexuality of others? Why aren’t we defined, instead, by our preference for meat or the color of our hair? You probably counter that to define ourselves according to these things is ridiculous. I don’t disagree. But why is the fact that we place so much attention on sexuality any less ridiculous? And I am not just talking about homosexuality. Our culture seems to be hyper aware of whether a person defines him or herself as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. But why? Certainly society has conditioned us to pay extra attention to these things, and as a result our sexuality often does play a large role in who we are. But how did society get to be this way in the first place? There is so much more to a person than the gender of those he or she is attracted to. Now I’m not saying that we should just forget about all our differences and blow bubbles and eat cotton candy and slide down rainbows. People do consider their sexuality, among other divisive traits, as part of their identities. But what if society was constructed in such a way that these “issues” never divided people in the first place, and people didn’t have to constantly reassert their pride and capabilities? We can consider this in light of our discussion of “othering.” Why is it that heterosexuality is the insignificant “norm” and gay individuals are socially marked, othered, in the first place? What if everyone was assumed to be gay or lesbian and you had to come out and declare that you are, in fact, a heterosexual? One can only wonder so much in lieu of actually looking at reality and saying, “Well, this is how things are. And this is what I’m going to do to try to make a change.”  This came to mind when I was reading today’s Observer and saw that the student senate has tabled the gay-straight alliance debate for next week. It is important to add that a Notre Dame GSA has been denied 15 times. Despite the reason why LGBTQ individuals are othered in the first place, the fact is that they are. It’s important to look at the reasons in order to change people’s conceptions, but it’s also important to deal with the facts that shouldn’t have to be dealt with in the first place. Society has chosen to other those who are not heterosexual, so it is society’s responsibility to make sure that they still have the same rights and protections as all people, because, essentially, we are all people. As a Catholic institution, or any institution for that matter, Notre Dame bears the responsibility to acknowledge equality in protection and consideration. Allowing the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance and passing the all-inclusive anti-discrimination clause voices such support. Let’s hope the 16th time is a charm.

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