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Colonization:It’s a word we hear a lot these days. Some hear it and think about invasion, destruction and cultural violence. Others hear it and think of new worlds, societies and advancement. Overall, we think about it as a historical event, something that happened a long time ago. We don’t talk about colonization that much because it is often attached to pain for the descendants of those who have been colonized and guilt for those who are descendants of colonizers. Although the topic is being heard more often, for many people the topic of colonization is best left alone.
As a sexuality educator, when I hear the word colonization I don’t think of it in a past context of lands, resources or even cultures. For me, colonization is deeply tied to the areas of sex, sexuality, pleasure and the erasure of our sexual selves. It is something that is actively happening. More than that, it’s perhaps one of the most dangerous, insidious and unchecked aspects of colonization I have come across.
Colonization of the sexual self is the process by which gender roles, culture rules, religion and societal expectation silently govern and oppress our sexual expression and experiences. This specific type of colonization has overtaken the very domain of our sexual orientation, gender variance, relationship expression and the identification of our sexuality overall. It shapes how we think about and interact with every aspect of these experiences.
Even as babies, the messages about our sexual selves are made clear through colors, language and expectations that society gives to us without our knowledge and thus without our consent. These ideas literally determine and decide who we will be and how we will exist before we even have a full awareness of what it means to exist. It is a type of colonization so deeply ingrained in our society that as people read this, some will surely think I am making a big deal out of nothing. After all, these things are what help us all know our place. They help us to know what’s expected and what’s rejected. As long as everyone has the same rules then it seems like we are all working from the same level of equality and thus the idea that there’s an aspect of colonization which promotes any type of superiority might seem odd.
Again, on the surface, this seems like much to do about nothing. That is, until you consider the lengths that society goes to in order to ensure that the freedom of sexual identity and expression is limited to those who are: male, heterosexual, married, cisgender, monogamous and who believe that sex is a divine obligation solely designed for the procreation of children and not the simple desire of ourselves as beings designed for pleasure.
If we only think of colonization as physical destruction and not the unseen, unjust and unfair acquisition of nonphysical domains, it can be difficult to believe that the colonization of our sexual selves has been happening since before we were born. After all, do babies really have a “sexual identity”? If we answer the question with “Yes, they do” we run the risk of being seen as a pedophile. Societal rules have taught us to dismiss babies as beings with a sexual self. Those rules are the foundation of sexual colonization.
Colonization is fueled by imposing a default standard on to EVERYONE even if these standards are not natural for them as a culture or expression. Sexuality in and of itself is a type of culture. It has all the parts that "cultures" have: ritual, music, clothing, language, and so on. Consider that even the ways we are taught to talk about sex (or rather taught not to talk about it) are a part of our colonization. Oppression is the inability to make a choice and it is often caused by the systemic ignorance of available choices.
The colonization of our sexual selves involves presenting sex and sexuality in a way that limits information. These limits shape our ability to choose understanding and acceptance of anything that falls outside of the ascribed default. The result is that most of us do not see the colonization of the sexual self as something tangible or concrete. Colonization of the sexual self happens on a less visible and yet more impactful systemic level. This is a key factor in sexual oppression, one that supported by a lack of sexuality education. In short, our ignorance keeps us enslaved and then we voluntarily visit this on others and ourselves.
Examples of such impacts are easily seen in our society’s interactions with the LGBTQ community. The culture of sexuality has different subcultures. One of these cultures is expressed through sexual orientation. There are many variations of sexual orientation that occur naturally in people. However, due to colonization of the sexual self, societies often only give validity and acceptance to heterosexuality.
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