Materiality, Becoming, and Time: The Existential Phenomenology of Sexuality
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As much of the scholarly literature shows, gender has served as a central organizing force for knowing and theorizing about sexuality. The governmentality of sexuality in Western societies over the last 200 years has led to sex being discursively implicated with reproduction, and this has had a profound effect on the ways sexuality has been theorized and understood in terms of gendered desire. The aim of this dissertation is to theorize an alternative approach to sexuality that decenters gender and gives attention to the materiality of sex and the body. Using existentialism and phenomenology, this dissertation offers a particular challenge to heteronormative conceptions of “sexual orientation” and “sexual identity” for their ostensibly timeless and enduring quality, or being. The research presented herein theorizes sexuality through an ontology of becoming that takes into account the diverse, multi-faceted nature of sexuality as a series of temporal experiences, attractions, desires, sensations, practices, and identities – that is, as a phenomenon. A genealogical methodology is used to trace the discursive history of sexuality and demonstrate how modernist discourses of sexuality have influenced how sexuality is known and experienced. This research emphasizes the discursive constraints on knowledge about sexuality. In considering an alternative framework, the principles of existentialism and phenomenology are critically examined through the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Attention is then turned toward a non-classical paradigm of science to elaborate on an ontology of becoming and its significance for understanding the development of sex and sexuality. In conjunction, contemporary biological research is introduced to expand upon de Beauvoir’s (1996) analysis of “the data of biology” on sexual difference and to help situate the sexed body as dynamic and developmental. An existential phenomenological approach theorizes sexuality as a self-project and the dialectical becoming between the sexed body and the sexual self. Because both the body and the self are contingent becomings that are open to instability and change, so too is sexuality. This alternative approach offers particular attention to the body in sexuality and considers the materialities of sexual desire.