Whose opportunities ? (Colloque, oct. 2009, National Library of Portugal)

The Political Power of Sexual Preference

vendredi 23 octobre 2009, par Nathaniel Coleman

Thèmes : Inégalités | Egalité des chances | Genre et sexualité

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How should we choose our sexual partners ? To many, perhaps to most, this question will seem out of place. There is no, they will say, right or wrong, about the way in which one chooses the people with whom one will share one’s bed or one’s body. Such questions are personal, and thus beyond the reach of public scrutiny. I argue, however, that our apparently personal choices of sexual partner may be more political than we might otherwise like to think. I argue for three theses. First, I argue that one’s capacity as a sexual being for affirming the sexual attractiveness of another sexual being is, in the hands of a member of some social group that is dominant in society, not merely a personal privilege, but a significant political power. It is significant because it can contribute to ending a trend of social stigmatisation in that society. Stigmatisation, as I shall understand it, is the unwarranted public representation of a particular type of person as being an object worthy of the attitude of aversion. Second, I argue that this same member of the dominant group, when embarking upon his choice of sexual partner, has a moral duty to look inside himself, to identify, and to evaluate any sexual aversions1 he may have to members of a social group subordinate stigmatised in that society. I call this the duty to introspect. I entertain two objections to this duty, namely that either the nature or the origin of sexual preferences renders those preferences the sort of things that do not admit of any justification or condemnation. Third, I argue that it is the moral duty of this same member of the dominant group to divest himself of any sexual aversion he has that is liable to maintain, aggravate or re-kindle stigmatisation in his society. I call this the duty to divest. I entertain three objections to this duty, namely that it requires the cultivation of a sexual attraction, that it merely results in a sexual indifference ; and that it requires the impossible.

This paper is part of my broader inquiry into the concept of wrongful discrimination. This paper’s place within that inquiry is to determine how far into the private sphere the concept of wrongful discrimination is applicable. Since the physical intimacy of sexual intercourse is what many of us think of as the quintessence of the exclusively personal sphere, my focus in this paper is on the choice of sexual partner. If my argument is successful with regard to our choice of sexual partners, I believe it will also be successful with regard to our choice of friends and perhaps to our choice of spouse. However, even if my argument is not successful with regard to our choice of sexual partners, I do not believe that this will impugn the success of any similar argument limited to one’s choice of friends or to one’s choice of spouse.

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par Nathaniel Coleman

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