I’ve come to think that the word ‘straight’ – when applied to sexuality – unwittingly carries a theologically illegitimate load.
But I’ll unpack that theological critique in a minute. First, listen to historical and queer critiques of the label:
Noted gay historian Ned Katz rails against what he perceives to be the misguided notion of physiologically driven static sexual identity:
the biological determinists have convinced many of us that an individual’s “real” sexual feeling is physiologically and immutably grounded, therefore “natural,” “normal,” and good. Similarly, some sexologists have insisted that an individual’s erotic emotions, though only focused after birth in a process of social interactions, are set at an early age and for life – and, thus, we imagine, are authentic and good. The idea that hetero and homo feelings are legitimated via such biological or social determinisms constitutes a widely held late-twentieth century U.S. folk belief. (Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality, 7)
Hanne Blank, in her Straight: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality, points out that this alleged binary biological classification of sexual orientation did not arise from science at all:
the original creation of “heterosexual” and “homosexual” had nothing to do with scientists or science at all. Nor did it have anything to do with biology or medicine. “Heterosexual” (and “homosexual”) originated in a quasi-legal context, a term of art designed to argue a philosophical point of legislature. (xiv)
there is no scientific data that substantiates a genetic or biologic basis for sexual orientation, period. (34)
Many scientists have claimed to find evidence of homosexuality in the body, in anatomy and genetics and hormones, but none has so far held up to scrutiny: when we look for proof that our “gay” bit of the body is genuinely different from a default “straight” model, the evidence tends to fall apart. In the face of more than a century of failing to find an empirical basis for sexual orientation, the depth of the faith scientists continue to maintain that they will find such a thing is almost touching. It is also very telling: there are a lot of people out there who very badly want the doxa of sexual orientation, in which we all have an enormous social investment, to have a physical, demonstrable existence. (42)
Blank goes on to argue that this phenomenon of binary orientation has been held to be obvious only in the last fifty years or so, and that the conceptualising of sexuality as two static identities has been a gross oversimplification that has served to erase the profoundly dynamic and ambiguous nature of human sexuality from mainstream acknowledgement.
The need to self-identity as ‘straight’ emerged, according to Blank, by the heirs of the Victorian era’s
increasingly common experience of looking in the mirror to see if a deviant or degenerate looked back… It was triggered socially, by fear. Becoming sexually self-aware was a matter of pure old-fashioned self-defense. Western culture acquired sexual self-consciousness on a grand scale because self-assessment offered ways to defend against being marked as a degenerate or deviant. Heterosexuals learned to experience heterosexuality – to think about themselves as “being” and “feeling” heterosexual, to believe that there is a difference between “being heterosexual” and “being homosexual” – because they needed, in newly official ways, to know what they weren’t. (49)
I find myself struck by this: What if this is right? What if the very possibility of self-identifying as statically ‘straight’ arose out of a selfish desire to be considered non-degenerate and pure by default?
Now I don’t doubt that for most people, their experience is that they are consistently attracted to the opposite sex (myself included). I’m not suggesting that that experience is invalid; but I’m open to the critique from the Queer community that questions whether this experience can or should be statically labelled as ‘straight,’ as though it secures people into a lifelong ‘correct’ sexuality.
The very idea that any human could be statically wired in a ‘straight’ shape seems, if we think about it, anathema to Paul’s theology. That becomes obvious if we replace the word ‘straight’ with its Greek counterpart, ‘orthos‘: does Paul think that some humans are ‘wired’ statically orthos, while others are not? For the one who insists that ‘we were by nature objects of wrath,’ the idea doesn’t seem to fit – it carries over-ambitious implications.
This is not making any comment about the shape of embodied calling to which those in Christ are summoned; it’s simply a hesitation about the way we sometimes label our ‘nature.’ So I am happy to never use the term ‘straight’ of myself again. I have become persuaded that it is a theologically inappropriate term.