The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Sexuality: A term referencing the perceived identities heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, and so forth.

Queer theorists, as well as gender critics and some gay and lesbian critics, take a constructionist view of sexuality, contending that it is the product of prevailing social and cultural discourses, mores, and institutions. Drawing on gender theory, which posits that the characteristics associated with the gender designations masculine / feminine are learned rather than innate, such critics argue that the various characteristics associated with homosexuality and heterosexuality are also culturally determined. Moreover, they tend to reject the simple binary opposition heterosexual / homosexual, instead viewing sexuality as a continuum encompassing degrees of sexual orientation as well as behaviors and practices ranging from fetishes to transvestism.

Other gender, gay, and lesbian critics take an essentialist view, maintaining that sexuality, like sex — the biological designation male / female — is innate (genetically determined). Such critics believe that homosexuals and heterosexuals are different by nature, just as a number of feminist critics believe men and women to be inherently different. They may also contend that there are distinct homosexual and heterosexual ways of reading and writing.

Whether critics have a constructionist or essentialist perspective, most agree that Western culture has privileged heterosexuality while devaluing and marginalizing all other forms of sexuality.