©2017 Q* Anthology of Queer Culture

An independent student publication in the Charlottesville and U.Va. community

Sexuality and Intimacy: Sedgwick’s Axioms Told Through Personal Experience

June 24, 2017

 

 

I HAVE OFTEN WONDERED about the evolution of my own sexuality. I never suddenly knew I was gay; I slowly began to realize it, and it was a gradual process. I don’t believe that I have always been gay. Although at this point in my life I am only attracted to men, I do have memories of feeling attracted to women. I think these memories are products of my own sexuality, not what traditional Western culture led me to believe I should feel. Another aspect of sexuality that intrigues me is the interplay between sex and intimacy: sometimes the smallest platonic experiences that may seem trivial, can carry significant meaning, and throughout my life, some of my most emotionally charged experiences have been non-sexual. Conversely, some of the most sensual experiences I’ve had have lacked a strong pre-established emotional connection. In order to further my own understanding of sexual development and intimacy, I will explore two of Eve Sedgwick’s Axioms referring to sexuality that she explains in her book, Epistemology of the Closet. [1] Through a comparison of Axioms 1 and 4 with recollections of pertinent experiences in my own life, I will demonstrate how aspects of Sedgwick’s theory become applicable in my own life, while also expanding my thought processes pertaining to my own experience.

 

Axiom 1: People are different from each other. [2] 

Axiom 4: The immemorial, seemingly ritualized debates on nature versus nurture take place against a very unstable background of tacit assumptions and fantasies about both nurture and nature. [3] 

 

          Ever since I was little, I have been exceedingly curious about people. Sexual feelings didn’t start to develop until I entered puberty, but I believe that social interaction, even at a young age, starts as a platonic affinity and eventually sexualizes us. Although I am quite rm in this belief, I don’t believe that socialization was the sole cause of my homosexual identity. Sedgwick later asserts after covering Axiom 4, “My fear is that there currently exists no framework in which to ask about the origins or development of individual gay identity that is not already structured by an implicit, trans-individual western project or fantasy of eradicating that identity.” [4] With this second quote she is defining the aforementioned “fantasies about both nature and nurture.”

          In the context of nature and nurture, the social aspect of my sexual development would be considered nurture. This half of the debate pertaining to the sexual development of those who identify as gay is often used to label this identity as illegitimate. Homophobic individuals and groups often frame this identity as the result, solely, of socialization. Since homosexual identity is simply a social construct, in the eyes of these proponents of homophobia, it can easily be “cured” or reversed. This type of anti-gay rhetoric is very problematic because it can be used to justify the assertion that being gay is a choice. This can lead to the assumption that choice, the decision to be gay, is a mistake that your average “vanilla” individual should avoid making.

          My sexuality is not a choice, and I think my childhood proves that. Although my sexual development was undeniably influenced by many years of interactions and experiences, I have a memory from when I was just four years old that demonstrates the presence of the foundations of my sexual identity before I was heavily socialized. It was the first day of the father-son basketball camp, and I was quite nervous. I was clumsy, awkward, and bereft of the motor skills most other kids my age had because of a mismatch with my height and coordination. Despite my fears, I was passing the ball back and forth with my dad pretty well until I noticed the boy next to me. I became distracted and the ball hit my stomach, and thudded to the ground. However, I didn’t notice any of that — I was staring at the boy whom noticed I missed the pass. He laughed, not maliciously though. It was as if he found my clumsiness endearing. I remember smiling back at him, his searing cobalt eyes meeting mine. He set his ball down and said, “I’m Aaron.” I remember in that moment feeling immense curiosity and excitement towards Aaron and wanting nothing more than to play basketball with him.

          This experience illustrates a platonic attraction to males, but I also have memories of feeling a similar attraction to my female childhood best friend, Jessie. We met in preschool when she bumped into me on the slide. She was too eager to slide down, and didn’t wait long enough after I had taken the plunge. We eventually became the type of juvenile best friends who did everything together — bathing included. I remember once right before we got in the bathtub she said bluntly, “You can look at mine if I can look at yours.” In this moment, I felt a fervent sense of wonder towards Jessie that was similar to what I felt towards Aaron.

          One could argue that I was born with an attraction to both men and women and that my life experience and socialization led me to choose to embrace my attraction solely to men. To my knowledge, though, I have never made a conscious decision about my sexuality. My sexuality developed unconsciously, and I have reacted to the feelings that evolution has produced. At this time, those feelings are attraction to only men, but I cannot be sure my sexuality will never come to favor women. Sedgwick concludes her explanation of her fourth axiom by saying, “We have all the more reason, then, to keep our understanding of gay origin, of gay cultural and material reproduction, plural, multi-capillaried, argus-eyed, respectful, and endlessly cherished.” [5] Instead of debating between nature and nurture models of sexual development, it would behoove us all to understand that sometimes the two both shine through, as they have in my own development. I have, in childhood, demonstrated attractions to both men and women, and now at the cusp of my adult life I find my attraction to men has been prevalent for about four years.

          Intimacy in modern society is mistakenly assumed to mean sex. I have experienced platonic yet intense intimacy, and I believe I am not the only one. Axiom 1 simply states, “People are different from each other.” Continuing this thought, I believe that sexual experience and intimacy are not necessarily always intertwined nor are they representative of one’s entire identity. Sedgwick states, “In this century, in which sexuality has been made expressive of the essence of both identity and knowledge, it may represent the most intimate violence possible.” [6] To make sexuality synonymous with knowledge and identity is to assume that the individual differences in these three concepts are negligible. These assumptions define someone else’s experience for them, and that is a fundamental injustice.

          Consider another memorable experience straddling the intimacy-sex divide: It was between me and a member of the all-male acapella group I was a member of in high school. We were called “The Testostetones.” His name was Jason, and he was a functioning alcoholic ever since his brother died suddenly the summer before his senior year of high school. It was three o’clock in the morning after my junior prom — his senior prom — and Jason and I sat exhilaratingly close to each other in the grass on the edge of his garden. The world was asleep, but I couldn’t have been more alert. We had been talking about his recently deceased brother, and his eyes were red and glassy. His uttering eyelids betrayed hidden emotion. His tuxedo hung casually from his slouched frame, and his starched shirt was unbuttoned so low that all formality was lost.

          He lay back, breathed in, and his body shivered. His feelings battled against stoicism. I wanted him to know that he could let go with me, that I would never judge him. He rolled away over dead leaves, and I tried to touch his cheek, but he roughly pushed me away. Looking at me, he struggled to retain the comfort of emotionless. I whispered, “It’s all right.”

          He accepted my embrace between tears and whispered back, “I just miss him so much.” Jason didn’t cry for long. He broke away from me after a minute or two, chuckled, retreated back into stoicism. This experience was the closest I’ve felt to someone emotionally. The connection was real, although it was completely platonic, and for me it de ned intimacy. Wondering if that intimacy was somehow false because it didn’t involve sex would be calling into question my own experience and truth.

          The flips side to wondering whether intimacy has to be sexual is wondering whether sex must stem from intimacy, not just physical attraction. In Sedgwick’s explanation of her first axiom, she asserts, “For some people, it is important that sex be embedded in contexts resonant with meaning, narrative, and connectedness with other aspects of their life; for other people, it is important that they not be; to others it doesn’t occur that they might be.” [7] For some people, it is important that the person, or persons, they are engaging in sexual acts with have meaning and connection. However, some wish to have no connection to their sexual partner(s) outside the very sexual acts that they engage in together. For others, it simply doesn’t matter either way.

          The first time I had a truly amazing sex was with my first serious boyfriend, Brice. We both had auditions for a theater production after school, but there were 2 hours between the end of school and the beginning of auditions. On that particular day, his parents happened to be working late, and his house was only 5 minutes from school. The situation begged for debauchery. Although we knew his parents were working late, we didn’t know exactly when they would get home, so each moment felt valuable. The urgency with which we made love made each moment passionate.

          The second time I had truly enjoyable sex was with a dance team coordinator named Vance. We chatted on Grindr and then met up for drinks. Once we made it back to my room, he asked to hear me sing because I had been talking about my acapella group. I sang a Frank Ocean song, and he danced to the beat of my voice. There was something so erotic about that moment — my voice and his body moving as one. Suddenly he was on top of me, and my body replaced my voice.

          I was in love with the first boy and hardly knew the second, but both experiences were enjoyable. As Sedgwick assert in her first axiom, people should not let the enjoyment of sexual experiences rely on their adherence to sexual societal norms.

          Overall, my experiences reflect the importance of the individual when discussing sexuality and sexual experiences. In the final paragraph of her explanation of her first Axiom, Sedgwick reminds readers, “While there are certainly rhetorical and political grounds on which it may make sense to choose at a given moment between articulating, for instance, essentialist and constructivist (or minoritizing and universalizing) accounts of gay identity, there are, with equal certainty, rhetorical and political grounds for underwriting continuously the legitimacy of both accounts.” [8] Theories of nature and nurture (essentialism of socialization) are not universal, and keeping that at the forefront of one’s mind is crucial when theorizing about sexual development.

 

 

 

 

Notes:

 

1. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (California: University of                  California Press, 1990), 1-253.

2. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 22.
3. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 40.
4. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 41.
5. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 43-44.

6. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 26.

7. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 25.

8. Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet, 27.

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