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This presentation argues that sexual orientation as we currently understand it is wrong; it is not that we are not so much mistaken with the facts surrounding sexual attraction (although that may be the case), but that conceptualizing sexual attraction as a sort of orientation is itself the mistake. The sexual attraction of a single person is nuanced in ways that conflict with traditional labels of hetero/homo/bisexual. At its face, what complicates things is the difference between gender (or lack thereof) and physical bodies. The label of a person’s sexual attraction either refers to the perceived gender of those to whom they are attracted, or it refers to the body (be that hair, face, genitals, etc.) of said other person(s), but there are numerous circumstances where one’s definition of these labels must flip and, in turn, negate other uses of them. Using Sally Haslanger’s definitions and classification of different forms of social constructions, I argue that sexual orientation is not a mere “weak pragmatic construction” (a label made by humans), but a “strong pragmatic construction” (a label that cannot accurately map onto reality outside of social institutions, and its use actually tracks something else). This understanding deflates implications of using these labels for persons engaged in non-heteronormative sexual activity and/or including non-cis gendered individuals. This is not to claim that nobody is, say, homosexual, but to simply show that the notion of any label of this sort is not describing a particular objective fact. My interpretation thus explains why in certain situations, attraction, sexuality, gender, and appearances may seem to be at odds with one another, while providing a basis for the constructed nature of sexuality labels.

First Advisor

Lisa Ann Robertson

Second Advisor

Zoli Filotas

Research Area

Women's Studies