Spring of Hope: ‘Alternative Sexualities’

Published in: March-April 2020 issue.


THIS ISSUE’S THEME refers to sexual orientations that are not generally covered in this magazine, whose style manual recommends the use of “LGBT,” but the phrase could also extend to any sexual orientation that isn’t covered in the pileup of letters that appear in many other publications, with “LGBTTQQIAAP” a popular standard. Doubtless more letters are waiting in the wings, as some of the articles in this issue would suggest. How have we left out solosexuality, for example? And what about polyamory (group relationships)? Both appear to be growing subcultures on the Internet, but neither is represented in the current LGBT+ lineups.

            While the articles here do indeed suggest a number of new sexual identities, I also detect an exhaustion with this endless splintering and a desire for synthesis, possibly even a grand unification of some kind. Denise Noe ends her piece on women who watch gay porn by imagining a “leaning in toward a notion of our common ground as sexual beings.” A thought piece by Rayyan Dabbous addresses this very possibility, using the Freudian term “autosexual” to convey the idea that human sexuality begins as a unity that everyone shares irrespective of external stimuli, which are the objects of desire that eventually divide people into separate camps.

            The term autosexuality comes up again in a piece by Jason Armstrong, who contrasts it with solosexuality, the latter referring to those who prefer masturbation to other sexual activities, the former to the more interesting case of people who are primarily or exclusively turned on by themselves or their own image. While these sexualities are widely derided, Armstrong ends by noting the universality of masturbation and its potential to guide people “to the deepest recesses of the self.” In a somewhat similar vein, in researching my piece on polyamory I was struck by how irrelevant sexual orientation seems to be to its practitioners, as if the human potential for bi- or pansexuality is merely taken for granted.

            To be sure, the splitting of sexualities into ever more granular categories is not over yet, and that’s fine too. A piece by medical researcher Carl Streed describes his efforts to develop research tools that will lead his team to sexual identities that are not captured by the current labels. An article on neopronouns by Sebastian McGaughey identifies the new coinages that are designed to replace “he” and “she” for those who identify as nonbinary or post-gender. The large number of pronoun sets, each with its own adherents, adds to the sense that this fissuring process could go on forever—until every individual constitutes their own private sexual orientation, which is the point at which (or long before) the distinctions become meaningless and sexuality returns to Freud’s original oneness.