I have written my proposal for my paper in Queer Theory. Does this seem doable or am I going to make myself crazy going in theoretical circles trying to prove something that is just nuts?
Thesis: Social categories define behaviors and self-concept for individuals who are placed into those categories by social forces, regardless of personal desires or inconsistent components of personality.
Individuals in Western society function with individual identities, compared to more collective identity systems embraced by some Eastern cultures. One of the important characteristics of being an individual is taking on categories in which one fits. Many disciplines utilize categories as a fundamental structure of their discourse. A prime example of this is sociology, which has gone so far as to categorize their categories, into ascribed and achieved categories. The duality is defined with the expectation that every type of category fit into one and exactly one status. Typically race, sex and age are considered to be ascribed characteristics, whereas gender, socioeconomic status and an assortment of other surface-level characteristics are determined to be achieved. Sexual orientation differs in its placement based on which theorist you ask.
These categories define the individual in their social context. There are social expectations that an individual place themselves into a pre-existing category and assimilate fully with the traits of that category. These categories do not allow for a person to exist in multiple roles at the same time in a single category. An individual is restricted from existing simultaneously as male and female. When disparities with the rules of the categories exist, often a new label with be created. A person existing as both male and female would be labeled intersex, which carries a negative connotation in society and is generally regarded as an undesirable role in the system of sex. When there is social adaptation to allow for the inclusion of a previously excluded individual or group of individuals, there is typically a new label created, which is as restrictive as the previous set of labels.
The pathologoization of same-sex desire allowed the heterosexuality and homosexuality binary to be created. When these identity categories were created, they provided a place for individuals who conformed to standards of opposite-sexed desire, and for same-sexed desire. An individual who exhibits desires for both sexes would have initially found themselves in a space between identities due to the binary thought process in Western society. In more recent times this identity space seems to be constructed as heterosexual and the Other in the eyes of dominant cultural groups. Gradually discourse has evolved to be more inclusive to difference, but labels and categories are still an integral part of identity formation.
The confinement of labels inside of categories for traits that are as individual as gender expression and sexuality limit the ability of a person to express individuality or to develop a personality that is not restricted to conforming to an existing set of behaviors. For example, to be a gay male is to exist in a general category that is further defined as top, bottom or versatile. This indicates a refinement of identity based on the role and desired involvement in anal intercourse. In some cases, this is also used to define the gay male’s relationship to masculinity. This categorization does not leave open the possibility of a gay male identity that does not embrace anal intercourse as a standard way of sexual expression. By the social standards that exist clinically as well as in the gay subculture itself, a male who has same-sex attraction, but not a desire for penetrative intercourse does not fit into the category of being homosexual; however, the masculinity role of “fag” (Pascoe) may be met. In the same line of reasoning, the individual in question would also not meet the criteria for a heterosexual identity. Considering the structures in place in Western society, such an individual is only left with the category of asexual, which still does not seem to fit as there is still same-sex attraction.
In my paper I would like to explore from a multitude of social perspectives the impact of categorical labeling on individuals who do not explicitly meet the criteria for inclusion into specific categories. My initial category of exploration is that of biological males that have same-sex attraction, but who do not participate in traditional methods of sexual expression. I would like to explore this type of non-conformity in relation to gender-perception, gender-expression and social involvement. If adequate resources are available I intend to expand my efforts beyond the scope of my initial inquiry and into a more general approach to the experiences of an undefined or in-between social category.