To divide, to rejoin
Our word ‘sex’ most likely comes from the Latin Secare, which means “to cut or divide.”
If we reverse engineer it, how could that root lead to the associations we have today; on the one hand, sex as an act, and sex as an old fashioned way of thinking about gender?
Let’s tackle the second definition first. In a world of binary gender, the idea of cutting or dividing is an easy way to maintain sameness and difference simultaneously between women and men. To be cut or divided means to be originally made of a common substance and only secondarily to deviate. Eve comes from Adam’s rib--she is of him, but different. If you remember our post on longing, we talked about Aristophanes’ conjoined beings, who were split apart by the Gods on account of their hubris, doomed to search for their other half eternally. Here we see the same idea.
It’s a convenient framework with plenty of gray area. What is universal and what is separated can change--and it has, and does--based on what cultures or thought paradigms dominate at different time periods. Certain cultures have revered the difference between male and female, built religious or ceremonial ritual around it, reserved specific roles for different sexes. Other cultures and epochs have thought of women as simply the un-perfected version of men.
Let’s begin again. A brutally simple way of thinking about the word sex is that it first divides the world into male and female, and then becomes the act of sex because the most important consequence of the difference between men and women is the ability to procreate.
Creation is predicated on the conjoining of difference.
But to divide doesn’t necessarily mean to divide in two, and the word sex isn’t the word reproduction. There is a way of thinking about the word ‘sex’ and its roots that offers an elegant and inclusive way of understanding a fundamental human experience.
Sex is the space in which we most obviously confront the ‘Other,’ both in ourselves and in our partner. It doesn’t matter what genitalia we have: in the act of sex we become painfully aware, precisely because we are striving to be one, that we are unavoidably two. At even the furthest limit of intimacy our selves do not ever actually fuse. I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way, but more as a reason behind the power of sexual intimacy--we fail, vulnerably and gloriously, together.
So perhaps we can understand the ‘division’ at the root of sex as a recognition of the sacred Other and our relationship to it. Maybe we can see how we are all cut from the same cloth--but cut nonetheless--into our individual selfhood, and how there is ultimately something very noble in our Sisyphean quest to make a one out of two.
In other words, maybe we can see that this quest for rejoinder necessarily has to fail, but that we also have to continue believing in some part of ourselves that we will eventually achieve it.
Words - Finnegan Shepard www.finneganshepard.com
Photography - Mischa de Stroumillo www.mischadestroumillo.com