Sexual normalcy — or lack thereof —

When discussing sexuality, heterosexuality is commonly perceived as the norm. Historically, this has roots that have transcended from generation to generation; what once was plain biology turned into a religious issue that has now evolved to become the center of our societal dynamics. The relationship between men and women is understood by most as the “normal,” categorizing anything that is not exactly that as “abnormal.” In this sense, Georg Lukács understands normality as a ‘phantom objectivity,’ meaning “an autonomy that seems so strictly rational and all-embracing as to conceal every trace of its fundamental nature” (McGowan, 122). People do not usually question the things that it perceives as normal, as they are believed to be rationally at the core of their system for an undoubtedly natural and necessary reason. However, the moment someone falls some what through the cracks, he or she is instantly considered an outsider, “abnormal”, and therefore not recognized as a dignified member of society. In this regard, “normality becomes the tool that surpasses otherness and thereby perpetuates the status quo,” as it is the force that keeps a society stable and unchanging, constantly repressing anything that might seem “abnormal” (McGowan, 121). Hence, “to become a normal subject is to sacrifice one’s differences for the sake of the capitalist society,” as we often tend to put societal norms on top of our own wants and needs. (McGowan, 122).

This is subsequently the case of those who do not fall under the common denomination of heterosexuality. Although homosexuality and bisexuality have been common practices since the ancient times, it was not considered a way of life or an over-encompassing adjective until the 19th century, but rather a particular event or sin, as was understood by the Church at the time. Nonetheless, many of the world’s most recognized leaders — Socrates, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, among many others — have been known to have had homosexual encounters throughout their lives.

This has brought into question when exactly a person in fact becomes a homosexual versus just participating in a homosexual act; it questions both where does one draw the line and who decides where to draw it. According to Foucault, sexuality is in fact nothing more than a social construct and not something that is decided by our sex organs or acts of sexual intercourse. Because we consider sex as taboo, society today usually catalogues anyone who has been involved in same-sex sexual activity as a homosexual, when the reality is that the people in fact doing these acts do not necessarily see themselves as such. In this regard, we become our own social authority when we decide for ourselves what we are and are not, rather than leaving the decision to the social normative. By doing this however, we are disinvesting from the “normal” system in place by breaking away from common behaviors and pursuing one’s own enjoyment through the process of normality. This, McGowan understands, is the constant repetition of one’s fantasy without taking into account others’ expectations or opinions of the social authority, which is what ultimately allows us to become authentic; “to become a normal subject is to recognize that there is no authorized social authority, [and hence] no guarantee for normality” (McGowan, 125).

However, people are often afraid of embracing their fantasy because of the expectations set upon by society of our gender. “Fantasy becomes unavoidable because the experience of social reality cannot be perfectly satisfying,” leading us to fantasize about a better reality in private that we are often too scared to show publicly, as “the subject with an exposed fantasy becomes visible as a pathetic would-be outsider. Realizing one’s fantasy involves the ultimate shame” (McGowan, 133). In this regard, biology is the number one opposer of same-sex relationships, as it understands a man’s organs to go perfectly with a woman’s, insinuating homosexuality is out of the physical, even “fantasizable” norm. And although same-sex couples have found a way around that by showing evidence of homosexuality in other species, religion would argue that this is still wrong because sex is properly for reproduction purposes, and not for pleasure, which is a biological contradiction because of the indisputable physical pleasure brought on by the act itself. As Foucault argues, society tries to reinforce a position that not only prohibits extra-marital sex, but even seeks to make it unspeakable and unthinkable, becoming object of constant disapproval and hence an unproductive waste of energy.

In that regard, “gender theory”, as is understood today, has brought upon an explosion of discourse about sex unlike ever before, making it the topic of conversation in a substantial amount of fields, breaking paradigms as to what we understand as normal today. As people are irrefutably born with a particular biological gender, we have stereotyped them into “inherent” identity categories depending on their gender, something that is hard to dismantle become of how engrained they are in our social dynamics. Ever since we are kids, we are taught that girls like Barbies and guys sports, without ever really giving us the chance to figure out what we like for ourselves. As a woman, there is an unassailable pressure, much more present in the past but still existing today, to get married and take care of the family while the man works and makes money to successfully maintain it. This comes as a consequence of the gender roles that have been instilled upon us since we are children, making it hard for the subject to break away from such an overwhelmingly present social authority. Because “no subject can perfectly inhabit its symbolic identity,” there does not really exist any individual who perfectly exemplifies their gender roles, making the goal, hence, unattainable (McGowan, 123). In this regard, “normal subjectivity appears to be a stable and already achieved identity, not a process requiring constant reconstruction” (McGowan 122).

Physchoanalysis then, argues that “to become a normal subject is to recognize that there is no authorized social authority and no guarantee for normality… The social authority that would define the normal is itself groundless and thus incapable of providing a genuine norm” (McGowan 125). The “normal” is understood differently by every subject, as every person is its own entity with likes and dislikes that might be perceived as inconceivable by another. People’s private fantasies and how they are expressed — if at all — publicly, makes people’s understanding of what is “normal” distinct, even though it tends to be similar at its core. Because we are social animals, human beings feel an incontestable need to fit into society, which is what makes them willing to sacrifice a piece of their identity, if it means being part of a larger community by following the social norm established.

It is my conclusion, then, that the concept of “normal” as we understand it today is in fact in extinction. As the world is ever-changing and more interconnected than every before, our perceptions of what is “normal” are constantly changing, oftentimes several times during the same day. The “abnormal” is just a constant reaction to whatever we define as “normal”, as the term is inherently exclusionary and only understands itself in relation to the “normal”. In this sense, the “abnormal” and the “normal” come into being together, as the “abnormal” only proves and reinforces the existence of the “normal”. As our conception of “normal” changes then, so does the things that are and are not acceptable in society and the social authority inherently bends. Unlike previous times, where perceptual changes took centuries to occur, technology has enabled a world where changes in mentality occur increasingly faster, sometimes occurring within days. Mainly because of this, I believe the concepts of what we understand as being “normal” or “abnormal” will soon become obsolete and ultimately irrelevant as we adapt to this ever-changing world, including global sexuality.


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Juliette Chevalier

software engineer 👩🏻‍💻 programming teacher 👩🏻‍🏫 weekly newsletter: