The Social Ontology of Sexuality

Andler, Matthew, Philosophy - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Barnes, Elizabeth, Philosophy, University of Virginia

The cornerstone of my dissertation is the sexual orientation/identity distinction. Drawing on an analogy with the sex/gender distinction, in the first chapter, I propose the following slogan: sexual orientation is natural, while sexual identity is the social meaning of sexual orientation. And I argue that we ought to endorse the orientation/identity distinction on account of its indispensability to normative explanations regarding LGBTQ+ resistance and oppression. As a case study, I argue that we need the orientation/identity distinction in order to explain the oppression involved in the gentrification of historic queer neighborhoods.

With the orientation/identity distinction at hand, we’re faced with the following questions. What is sexual orientation? And what is sexual identity? In the second chapter, I develop a cultural analysis of sexual identity. Specifically, I argue that an individual has a queer or straight sexual identity in virtue of standing in certain relations of inclusion and exclusion to queer and straight cultures. These sexuality cultures are differentiated with respect to their characteristic social meanings and practices, especially involving kinship and reproduction. Continuing the thread of normative explanation, I argue that the cultural analysis of sexual identity is especially conducive to explaining the wrongness of forced closeting as well as directives to “stop flaunting it.”

The remaining chapters turn to the other side of the orientation/identity distinction. In the third chapter, I consider the epistemic relation between beliefs about the nature of sexual orientation (e.g., beliefs concerning whether orientation is dispositional) and beliefs about the taxonomy of orientation categories (e.g., beliefs concerning whether polyamorous is an orientation category). Current philosophical research gives epistemic priority to the former class of beliefs, such that beliefs about the taxonomy of orientation categories tend to be jettisoned or revised in cases of conflict with beliefs about the nature of sexual orientation. Yet, considering the influence of ideology on beliefs about socially significant phenomena, I argue for an epistemic reversal.

In the fourth chapter, I provide reason to endorse a certain taxonomy of orientation categories. In particular, I reject the socially dominant taxonomy as well as raise some concerns for proposed taxonomies that exhaustively include categories such as female-oriented and woman-oriented. Instead, I argue that we ought to endorse a taxonomy that (i) exhaustively includes the categories asexual, heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and queer, (ii) distinguishes between sex attractions and gender attractions, and (iii) provides individuals with authority over whether their orientations are determined by their sex attractions and/or gender attractions. In addition to ascribing orientations to individuals with marginalized sexualities, I argue that such a taxonomy is conducive to the normatively important aims of LGBTQ+ social movements.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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