The title question does have an answer: yes.
That question, or rather it’s first two words ‘sexual identity’, is in every person’s subconscious. It is a foundation of who we are as people and even as a society. It is one of those parts of us as beings that is so important, a significant portion of our lives are devoted to it in one way or another. No, it is NOT the totality of our being nor a majority. It is significant though and important. It contributes to our wholeness, our health, our mental and emotional state and even for many the continuance of our species.
So, why does it matter? Well, it is all around us. I hear comments about sexuality in every place I have ever visited, sometimes subtle, other times blatant. It is so ingrained into society that it isn’t really given much thought outside of academic circles. I am sure, by the way, academics will be able to shred my humble thoughts on this subject. I don’t have a degree in sociology, anthropology, psychology and any of the other relevant social sciences. That doesn’t stop me from observing and sharing my thoughts, educated or not.
“I don’t care what a homosexual does in the privacy of their own home, I just don’t want to know about it or hear it or see it.”
“We don’t have Straight Pride Parades, why do they have to flaunt their business and make a spectacle of themselves where children can see it?”
“Are you a faggot (Dyke, Queer, Faery, Fruit, fill in the blank)?”
“Do you have a wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend?” (With the assumption of opposite gender 99% of the time unless someone is trying to be offensive)
These are samples of the questions and statements people make frequently. Obviously, there are many others and some going the opposite direction from the gay community to its members and those outside it. Go into a gay bar or club and it will be assumed you are gay/bi and available. The venue declares it, your presence must make it so. Never mind that you might be a straight friend having a night out with a gay/lesbian/bi friend. So the sexual identity assumptions can go both directions.
Why does it matter? Everywhere we go, identity is there. Look at a co-workers work space and you will likely see pictures of spouse and probably kids if they have them. That is an affirmation of their relationship and their sexuality. It is not thought out in advance that way, but it is true nonetheless. You can make a reasonable guess that they are straight if the pictured spouse is opposite gender. You could be off if the person is bi. Still, since the majority identify as straight and as it is the dominant sexual identity, your guess isn’t likely to be wrong.
Kids in straight households have that identity around them constantly at home. All the pictures of family (with possible exception of gay Uncle Joe or lesbian Aunt Jane) will usually show that straight identity. Kids in gay households will have a mixture of gay and straight identities in their living environment, their parents’ parents and aunts and uncles, so forth, in addition to the immediate family images. The pictures in your home are not obviously sexual, but they can and do indicate part of the sexual identity. Art and decorating choices also have a part. It has to do with who you fallen in love with, made a life with and those before you. These are the reminders.
Books, magazines, tv, movies, posters, video games, clothes, colors, jewelry, art, attitude and even carriage all point to sexual identity on some level, even if faint. It is all interrelated and combines to support sexual identities. Gender and sexual identity are sometimes blurred to together, even though they are distinct unto themselves. Often one is assumed to influence the other.
We as a species deal better with those that are like us. The more differences that are apparent, the more uneasy it makes us. That unease can easily lead into fear. When it comes to sexual identity, it hits us on a gut level. We are acclimated to sexuality from a very young age. Toddlers notice relationships more than you think. There is also the re-enforcement that happens as they learn to socialize (“Tod, don’t be kissing on Jimmy!”). It is connected to general affection at that age but develops over time and blossoms as puberty hits. Then the subtle takes on a different context for individuals.
Once toddlers start looking beyond their immediate families, things begin changing. From that time until puberty, it is interesting to watch the interactions of kids. Remember like to like? Small children tend to stick to same sex play partners. It is more comfortable. Cooties, that infamous disease of the opposite sex, is one manifestation of that preference for playmates we can relate to. As kids reach puberty, the potent mix of hormones and developing relationships to a new level comes into the front of every teenage mind.
As the hormones begin the transformation of the body, mind and emotions, attraction finally kicks in. We become aware of our attractions as having a purpose. Each individual goes through a similar yet unique experience of discovering what those attractions are. It is the beginning of self-realization about sexuality and sexual identity. For some it is confusing, for others it is an ah-ha moment of clarity.
Acceptance of our sexual identity is influence by a number of factors: family influence, religious influence, societal influence(peers, work, school) and cultural influence(national or regional). How these play off of each other will determine how an individual will react to their attractions and even their sexual identities. If they find support in enough influences, people accept their identity and have a healthy attitude about it. If they find opposition, many will fight their attractions or even deny them out right and seek to have a sexual identity that does not match their attractions.
When we fight our attractions, usually it is because of fear of disapproval. Negative emotions often become associated with particular identities leading to shame, guilt, fear, embarrassment, depression and others. Without a support system to help, people can spiral into unhealthy behaviors, choices and even violence. So far, there is no real way to change attractions. We simply don’t know how they are formed or when. Any claim to having changed an attraction has so far been proven false. Too much effort to the attempt can cause severe harm to a person’s psyche and is not approved by mental health professionals.