Sexual Identity: Attributions and Meaning-making
Identity forms an integral part of the very human existence. The term is often used in social sciences to refer to an individual’s understanding of himself or herself in relation to other people, ideas and nature.
Of late, the sexual identity of an individual has become an increasingly important concept in the study of human sexuality and sexual behavior. The term “Sexual identity” is used to refer to an individual’s “… self-designation according to one’s biological sex, gender, orientation, behavior and values: it is influenced by both Nature and Nurture and is a complex and multi-faceted construct” (Yarhouse and Tan 2004).
In other words, sexual identity is the degree to which we identify ourselves as man or woman. Interestingly, an important aspect of the sexual identity is sexual orientation referring to the behavior and sexual responses of an individual.
In the recent past, sexual identity conflicts have emerged as a subject of concern for the medical fraternity. These conflicts are an outcome of the clash between the evolving sexual demands and the established value systems and religious beliefs prevailing in our society for generations.
To be honest, my value system was greatly influenced by the existing social norms of classifying sexual identity into well-defined categories like heterosexual, gay, lesbian or bisexual. I was only too happy to confront the existence of these identities unaware that sometimes, these boxes may appear too stifling to accommodate others.
Likewise, I started applying my critical thinking in my sexual decision making which was in sync with my legalistic upbringing. I have always been of the opinion that indulging in premarital –sex is bound to invoke the divine wrath for it is a way of going in opposite direction of the rule established by God. I considered problems like AIDS, VD or marital problems as god’s ways of inflicting punishment on His subjects.
However, after undergoing the course, my value system has undergone a change for the better which has been further intensified by my experience. I have now come to accept the fact that one’s sexual identity does not always remain fixed.
It evolves with time and suppression of those desires leads to further aggravation of the situation. This has even influenced my critical thinking regarding sex, which I now consider as a natural outcome of a long standing and intimate relationship with a higher level of commitment.
My sexual orientation has been greatly influenced by historical perspectives and environmental factors which have come into play in determining my sexual identity. My upbringing in a religious family set the stage for my understanding of the man-woman relationship. Marriages were necessary for procreation and sex was just a means to that end.
Women, in our family have always been an object of subjugation by the male counterparts and were believed to be made only for the man. Ephesians 6: 22-23 says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands… as unto the Lord” (Lloyd-Jones 1998). As early as I can remember, I have always felt a distinction in the behavioral patterns of my father towards me and my brother. There was a feeling of rejection which was easy to comprehend.
Not only that, from my early childhood, I was exposed to the idea of conforming to gender specific activities. I came to relate certain activities as typical of a particular sex distinguishing it from the other sex. With these ideas deeply imbedded in my mind, my adolescence was thus, a period of utter confusion and inner turmoil as I couldn’t relate myself to the things going on around me.
Peer pressure was pretty strong and I often found myself left out. Moreover, my idea of sex, marriage and the role of women in it also received a jolt from the continuous influx of ideas thronging my generation and I became a recluse. However, after undergoing the therapy and from the experiences that I have gathered, I can now consider marriage as an end in itself with men and women playing their parts side-by-side.
Along with sexual orientation, my gender identity also plays an important role in my sexuality. In a broader context, genetic identity is the gender with which a person identifies himself. The development of my female genetic identity started even before my birth with my father’s genetic contribution.
I was born with two X chromosomes. After my birth, my genitals as well as my behavior both indicated my feminine gender. With my gender firmly established, the society was quick to assign me roles specific to the female gender. I was supposed to act, talk, and behave in a way that conforms to my gender identity as a female. Gradually, I was molded into the role that was played by my mother. I became submissive, introvert and less demanding.
At the juxtaposition of my late adolescent years and my early youth, my compartmentalized idea about gender identity was widened by the realization that there exists individuals that have combinations of chromosomes, hormones and genitalia and yet do not conform to the traditional definitions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. Naturally, they fail to comply with the socially recognized roles of a man or a woman.
In the light of my above upbringing and ideas, my ideas of love and attraction can also be defined. I was generally drawn to men who were on agreeable terms with my perspective of things. Similarity in ideas seemed to reinforce whatever I have accumulated over the years. Due to continual domination at home, I looked for partners who could overpower me and guide me through. I wanted to feel protected.
My romantic liaison with my partner can be divided into three stages. The first stage was the stage of romantic feelings or lust. I was physically drawn to the man in my life. I had nurtured some romantic notions of love and somehow felt he would be the right person to fulfill them. My partner appeared to be just the perfect one I had aspired for, the ideal. I felt exhilarated, my happiness knew no limits. The feeling was akin to infatuation.
In the second stage, I could feel strong physical attractions for my partner. This was simply the stage of ‘Eros’ or passionate love. Pleasure was the primary consideration. This was the stage of power struggle for me as I was trying to fit him into my idea of perfection. The initial infatuation gave way to strong emotional feelings.
Gradually, we came to a stage where we became excessively possessive about each other. We became more demanding, more attention-craving. Love, at this stage, could well be described as ‘Mania’ (dependant or possessive love).
We could not agree on something with strong initial disagreement. I could no longer agree with his dominating spirit though I appreciated it initially. It required some professional counseling for us to come to terms with each other.
The earlier two stages gave way to the third and final stage of emotional attachment or unconditioned acceptance. The initial disputes have already been solved and it was time to accept each other the way we were. Finally, we derived pleasure in the unselfishness of our love. Our style of love, at this stage, was ‘Agape’ or altruistic love.
However, every relationship is a unique experience and people come together for different reasons. It is interplay of various factors that decide the future course of action for different individuals. Moreover, couples are beset with different problems at different stages of their relationship that makes things difficult for them.
Lack of proper communication techniques is one of the many such problems. Effective communication skills go a long way in increasing the happiness of the couples and improving the success of the relationships.
The top five communication skills, according to the experts, are as follows:
Listening attentively to the partner and trying to understand what the person wants to convey or feel forms an important communication skill. Speaking unarguably is another important communication skill because in such a mode of communication. There is less room for putting blame on each other.
Appreciating rather than complaining is the third crucial skill. Fourthly, requesting the other one rather than blaming also has a positive impact. Fifthly, self- introspection is also essential in maintaining a healthy relationship.
I have been immensely benefited in my personal life by adopting proper communication techniques. For example, I have always believed in asking for what I want because it often has a positive impact on the relationship. Things become easier and simple.
Most people refrain from doing so because they think they would not get anything by asking for it. Learning to negotiate is also very important which I have learnt over the years. Negotiation between couples regarding division of household chores, for example, improves the strength of the relationship as it has done in my case.
However, if proper communication skills yield no result and the giving to the relationship is one-sided, it is probably time to move out of it. However, there are other identities too.
Levitt & Hiestand (2004) points out that feminine butch gender authenticates themselves to their sense of self by living their own identity. This on a negative side permeates a restricted attitude to many girls who perceives to be boys in their childhood and consider them as ‘a mistake’.
Such an isolated attitude led them to struggle with their own self alone since they had no one with whom they could share their experiences. Even many women preferred to ‘transgender’ themselves in order to feel comfortable and proud of them. Participants of the butch community through transcription of the interviews allowed resources for butch females to help them develop a strong and positive identification.
This was because their lives were full of challenges that were unique from those faced by other lesbians (Levitt & Hiestand, 2004). Analysis suggests the childhood confusion to be responsible about their sexual orientation and conflicting gender, often experienced by butch girls who confront psychological challenges in developing a healthy self-esteem.
On a personal note, I came know such a woman from moderate proximity few years back but never yielded to her as my own sexual identity is well determined. However, though I was not unkind to her, I never felt the desire to experience such incident.
Levitt, M. & Hiestand, R.K. (2004). A Quest for Authenticity: Contemporary Butch Gender. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 50(9-10): 605-621.
Lloyd-Jones, D.M. (1998). Life in the Spirit: In Marriage, Home, and Work–An Exposition of Ephesians 5:18-6:9. London: Baker Books.
Yarhouse, M.A., and Tan, E.S. (2004). Sexual identity synthesis: attributions, meaning-making, and the search for congruence. NY: University Press of America.
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