In our culture, sex, gender, and sexuality are wrongly conflated. The genital make up of a newborn baby classifies them as male or female. Along with this sex assignment comes an obvious gender of boy or girl, and form this still comes the crux of the newborn babies sexuality. Baby boys will grow up to sexually desire women and baby girl will grow up and sexually desire men.

Through this system, referred to by Butler as the “Heterosexual Matrix”, feminine, heterosexual females and masculine heterosexual males are normalized. Like in any sort of distinction there is a corollary creation: the creation of the abnormal. These abnormalities can be defined by a simple step outside of one’s given gendered role or a step into a sexual interaction that is not deemed “good sex”, as Gayle Rubin would put it. Because a specific gender and a specific sexuality are thought to be natural and normal attributes of the sexed body, any difference has become stigmatized.

In her article, “Thinking Sex”, Rubin explores some of the ways that the “Heterosexual Matrix” has influenced and effected sexuality throughout history. One thought challenged by Rubin is sexual essentialism, the idea that human sexuality is natural, innate, and constant throughout history. Working in a framework like essentialism makes challenging sexuality pointless, seeing that it is unchangeable.  Through this mindset individuals see their sexuality as being exactly the same as the sexuality experienced by cavemen, Victorian women, and ancient Greek philosophers. More and more evidence keeps piling up, and the results show that this is not the case. One doesn’t even need to look back into human history to see that the differences among human sexualities are bounteous; one only needs to look around. One such example of sexual diversity comes from observations of Lesotho women in Africa made by Jane Kendall. Kendall’s work uncovered a practice, common in Lesotho, in which women of all ages partook in physical relations with other women. These instances would without a doubt be viewed as sexual from the cultural stand point of the United States; however, these relationships where not thought of as sexual in any way due to the cultural understanding of sexual as requiring a penis. These women had husbands and families who were well aware and supportive of their relationship with another woman, and these relationships in no way challenged their heterosexual identities.

This example and many others are certainly enough to make me question the origins of my sexual desires and the ways that I think about and understand them. Rubin presents the idea of a “sex hierarchy” in the form of a “Charmed Circle” and “The Outer Limits” to explain further the effects of essentialism on sexuality. ( rubin_charmed_circle_841.gif ) The “Charmed Circle” represents sexual acts that are accepted and privileged while the “Outer Limits” represent bad sex that is viewed as abnormal and is often times pathologized. The most interesting thing about this image; however, is the permeable boundary that separates the god sex from the bad sex. As many of us would like to equate our desires with those of people from the past (maybe to make ourselves feel more normal/comfortable with our sexualities), the ever changing hierarchy of sexuality reminds us that this is not the case.  If you only consider the differences in sexual appropriateness between two generations, it is easy to see that changes in acceptability occur very quickly. Recently homosexuality has again become more normalized and accepted as good sex, especially in monogamous situations.

This progress toward acceptance from homosexuals is encouraging, but it should not be mistaken for something it is not. This progress still exists in a model that values some things while devaluing others. In any system where acceptability exists, unacceptable will also exist. Even as “break throughs” are being made in the battle for homosexual rights and visibility, the overall politics of sexuality has not changed. People will only have the freedom to fully explore and enjoy their sexualities when they exist in a realm without distinctions between normal and abnormal, and when sexuality is no longer viewed as a natural, innate aspect of a sexed body.


“Most people find it difficult to grasp that whatever they like to do sexually will be thoroughly repulsive to someone else, and that whatever repels them sexually will be the most treasured delight of someone, somewhere.” –Gayle S. Rubin, Thinking Sex

People will only have the freedom to get their freak on, without judgements, when we find a way to get rid of the “freak”

-Jennifer Peper