Heterosexuality has become the default standard by which all other orientations are expected to govern themselves. This leaves all other orientations subject to oppression and colonization by the standards of heterosexual culture. For example, if it is accepted that there is a heterosexual default in society then there’s no need to talk about sex or sexuality because it is assumed that we are all the same. Sex and sexuality then become something of a private and unnecessary topic for discussion. In fact, we are often not taught about sex at all. However, due to the very oppression that happens in silence, those who are not heterosexual often have the experience that talking about and being open about their sexuality is what helps them to be visible.
Their visibility challenges the default rules that we have learned. In response, they may be met with violence and punishment not only as a function of their difference, but also because that violence maintains the teaching of their colonization. These teachings of the default that promote the colonization of the sexual self are passed down through generations, in the same ways that colonized lands are given from generation to generation along with the rules that go along with them. In the case of sexuality, we are handed down these rules as a way of avoiding violence. It’s not the same type of physical violence that happens with the colonization of land and people.
The Violence Associated With Sexual Colonization
The violence associated with the colonization of the sexual self is harder to detect because we have been taught to justify the outcomes based on what we have been told are our sexual choices. This happens without the societal realization that even the discussion of our sexual self as a “choice” is part of the colonization. For many people, being monogamous or cisgender isn’t a choice that they consciously make. Yet we have been taught that anyone who experiences life differently than the default is making a choice, perhaps even one that deserves punishment. The violence can show up in a variety of ways, ranging from being rejected by those who love them, to the threat of sexual harm and in some cases, murder or suicide.
Some people are told stories of who they are sexually, and how it will automatically lead to sexual illness and disease, even if they follow safe sex practices. It is not the sexual activity that is unsafe. They are told it is their sexual expression or identity that will lead to the illness. Doing this moves the threat of illness away from the sexual act and attaches it to the person as part of their sexual self. It shifts the idea of sexual risk away from “what you do as a person having sex” might be risky and makes “who you are as a sexual person” associated with risk. Others are faced with the violence of isolation and abandonment, forcing them to make a choice between being themselves or being accepted by others.
The violence that fuels the colonization of our sexual selves wages war on our self-esteem, personal value and ability to love ourselves as well as others. While the colonization of territories happens from the outside in, sexual colonization often happens from the inside out. It is in this way that society takes away the right for us to freely explore ourselves as sexual beings long before we even fully understand that it is a right we have as beings. It then bestows upon us a sexual culture so rife with violence that many of us would rather suffer in silence as we quietly internalize our own destruction and thus, reject ourselves.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, those who have come from other cultures where sex, sexuality and our sexual selves were abundant and fully accessible prior to physical colonization know full well that part of our ancestral eradication happened by way of sexual torture. Often the assault was limited to women and children. However, in some cases men were also sexually assaulted. In the more egregious aspects of physical colonization, family members were forced to have sex with other family members. The impacts of that sexual and psychological warfare have been passed down from generation to generation.
In short, one of the most damaging parts of using the colonization of our sexual selves as part of cultural colonization is that violence is not only used to keep us conditioned about the ways we view and experience sex, it has made the ways that we view and experience sex violent. If we have any hope of transforming this experience, we must begin to examine and unpack the impacts of sexual colonization. We must begin to decolonize and reclaim our sexual selves. More importantly, we must help people free themselves from sexual colonization in ways that are healthy and liberating. Otherwise we not only remain trapped by our own colonization, we risk becoming the next generation of sexual colonizers ourselves.