Intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, to describe how race, class, gender, and other characteristics interact and produce unique experiences based on the different interactions one has. Race, class, and gender all impact how and if one is able to express their sexuality. Sexuality is a broad term that encompasses one’s sexual orientation, or who they are attracted to as well as their beliefs and values relating to sex. The interactions outlined by intersectionality directly impact how one’s sexuality is expressed or repressed. This topic is important because it allows for experiences across the sexual spectrum to be shared and validated and also further analyzed by understanding the way one’s identities affect their sexual expression. 

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This encyclopedia article aims to make clear the significance of intersectionality in the study of sexuality. 

History of Intersectionality

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Intersectionality was originally coined to be used in legal scholarship. Creator Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term in an article written for The University of Chicago Legal Forum in 1989. In the article, Crenshaw writes, “because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated,” (Perlman). Crenshaw addresses that scholars have acknowledged the disadvantages created by racism and sexism independently but have yet to identify how the interaction between race and gender further disadvantage groups. Examples of intersectionality include, how one’s class and gender shape their experience in the workplace or even educational opportunities. For example, a woman from a lower economic class might experience financial difficulties which make higher education inaccessible and because she is a woman that can limit the kinds of jobs employers consider her for due to her gender. Her class background and gender impact the way she navigates the world. 

Interactions with Sexuality

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Sexuality is more than just who you are attracted to, it includes the beliefs and values you hold about sex and how you choose to express those. BetterHealth Channel defines sexuality as “your sexual feelings, thoughts, attractions and behaviours towards other people” (BetterHealth Channel). Different sexualities include but are not limited to: Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Bisexual, Pansexual, and Asexual. Sexuality also includes your experiences, beliefs, and values which intersect with other parts of your identity. Examples include one’s gender and sexuality or even their race and sexuality. For example, a person’s gender can be male and because of social expectations, people assume he is straight, or attracted to women. In reality, the man is bisexual, or attracted to both men and women. His gender identity intersects with his sexuality and because of that assumptions are about his choice in partners. Such assumptions, especially negative ones can hinder him from openly expressing his sexuality with others and cause internal shame. Intersectionality is key in this circumstance because it validates his unique experience and challenges of being both a man and bisexual. 

Significance

The joining of intersectionality and sexuality has been very important in field of gender studies because it has allowed for the creation of an entirely new dialogue within the study. Intersectionality is fundamental in allowing all the different elements included in defining one’s sexuality to be analyzed even further by introduction other key pieces of their identity, including race, class, and gender. Sexuality can already be a difficult term to fully comprehend because it encompasses so many different elements including who one is attracted to, their beliefs and values, who they have relationships with, and even body image. Intersectionality highlights the complexity of the term by allowing it to be examined from a deep and unique perspective. Intersectionality is significant because many times important parts of one’s identity are erased which limits the understanding of how an issue can positively or negative impact one based on key elements of their identity, such as race, class, and gender. Intersectionality aims to expand the number of perspectives and experiences written and talked about and that is particularly important when it comes sexuality. 

Suggested Reading

Citations

Coaston, Jane. “The Intersectionality Wars.” Vox, 28 May 2019, www.vox.com/the-

highlight/2019/5/20/18542843/intersectionality-conservatism-law-race-gender-discrimination.

Perlman, Merrill. “The Origin of the Term ‘intersectionality’.” Columbia Journalism Review, 23 Oct. 2018, www.cjr.org/language_corner/intersectionality.php.

“What is Sexuality and Sexual Orientation?” Center for Young Women’s Health, 26 Oct. 2018, youngwomenshealth.org/2018/10/26/what-is-sexuality-and-sexual-orientation/.


Alexis Hoggard is a senior at Old Dominion University studying Political Science and Geography. When she’s not driving the boat, she’s hitting the books!