The End of Sexual Identity – A Review

Jenell Williams Paris’ “The End of Sexual Identity” joins a number of other books recently published which ask Christians and others to take another look at how our Western society has created a social construct called “homosexuality” and how this has invaded the thinking of both the church and the wider culture.

As a cultural anthropologist, Paris takes a fresh opportunity to explore how we use language to explain the social constructions that our society has created. In particular, this book explores the Western phenomena of “homosexuality” and, in the midst of comparing the Western views of sex, gender and sexual identity with other societies’ understandings, argues that what for many in our culture is seen to be a given (the “gay/straight” dichotomy of sexuality identity) is in fact merely one way that human beings have configured their societies to deal with the many varied forms of sexual attraction and behaviour that humans experience and undertake. From here Paris asks us to return again to the Bible in an effort to clarify what the call on a Christian is in regard not only to his/her sexual life, but more deeper in respect of his/her very (sexual) identity.

Regarding neither heterosexual nor homosexual as valid Christian identifiers of sexual identity, Paris calls instead for a view of sexual holiness that has far more to do with Christ then culture. Identity should not be in either sexual desire nor in sexual activity, but rather in the person of Christ and a deeper understanding of the nature of sex as outlined in the Bible. The modern notions of sexual identity rooted around desire for a particular sex are rejected (correctly) not as scientific insights but as manufactured truths which didn’t exist a century ago and speak only of and to a small sub-section of the whole diverse human cultural sexual experience. The book closes with a challenge to find a re-definition of the human sexual experience that better fits the actual truth of the myriad of individual stories.

The invitation for us is to assign new meaning to the direction of sexual feelings. If wanting to have a sex with a particular person, or a particular type of person, isn’t an indicator of identity, then what do those feelings mean? Like Paul’s redefinition of foreskin, we could redefine sexual desire as simply a part – not the whole – of who we are. Neither foreskin nor sexual desire should be used as a public marker of identity and a criterion around which to establish groups of insiders and outsiders. Moreover, sexual desire could, like the uterus, become a lens  through which we see greater spiritual insight, instead of being an element of life that circumscribes a person’s worth and social role.

If Paris is right, and I think she is, it is not even acceptable to speak of oneself as “post-gay”. Post-sexualityism is the new paradigm.

For other good reviews of Paris’ book read here and here. You can join in the conversation on Facebook.

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