Orientation theory and the fallacy of the consequent

The default American theory of sexuality is that we reason from our desires or attractions to our identity, e.g. if a six-year-old boy wants to put on women’s dresses and so his identity must be trans. Once one has laid out all the identities, it’s just a matter of inspecting one’s inclinations and seeing where one falls.

We are therefore reasoning from effect to cause: obviously the identity is supposed to be the cause of the attraction. The problem is that the whole theory rests on whatever argument we use to lay out all the possible identities. So what is it? It can’t be a catalogue of attractions since all this would give us is the fallacy of the consequent, but it’s very difficult to see even what the theory gives us the three orientations that existed from the 1970s to the 2000s (straight, gay, bi,) to say nothing of the all but infinite menu of options that are supposed to exist now. There are interesting attempts to give what look like (new) natural-law arguments for the existence of gay male desire (like James O’Keefe’s here) but even his account isn’t an account of sexual activity.*

The problem is that we need to start with a menu of given identities and then explain desire as manifesting one of them, but we have no plausible theory of how to write the menu except by polling people on their desires. What looks like a justification or explanation of desire by orientation or sexual identity is thus unmasked as both a fallacious justification of some desires and an unprincipled rejection of others (like identifying some trans persons as having BPD in 2010, or our nowadays disapproval of teacher-teen student liaisons.) One can’t, for example, identify as a pedophile or a male who likes hard-selling sex and accepts grudging consent from women since the first is a perversion and the second is rape; but there is no doubt that there are plenty of persons with strong desires for both.

Our fundamental problem is that we want to reason from the sincerely felt-goodness a desire to the goodness of the power or habit giving rise to it, but even our own theory belies our ability to do this. The only rational way to approach this question is to articulate a theory of just what sex is for and to judge the goodness of the desire relative to that. Catholicism has just such a theory, even if one thinks it’s false. At the moment it looks like the worst theory, except for all the others that don’t exist.

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*It’s fun to see just how plausible teleological accounts of sexuality become when they support the zeitgeist. Playing O’Keefe’s talk, I laughed when I thought do you really want to let teleology be normative for sex? Okay then…

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