On “circlusion”

‘I wish to propose to you a new term, one that has been missing for a long time: β€œcirclusion.” It denotes the antonym of penetration. It refers to the same physical process, but from the opposite perspective. Penetration means pushing something – a shaft or a nipple – into something else – a ring or a tube. Circlusion means pushing something – a ring or a tube – onto something else – a nipple or a shaft. The ring and the tube are rendered active. That’s all there is to it.’

– Bini Adamczak, On “circlusion”

Agential identity

What does it mean to be “out” as queer, when in a gay bar you express your queerness loud and proud but reel it in with homophobic family? What does it mean to have your sexuality or gender invalidated?

These are example phenomena analysed by Robin Dembroff and Cat Saint-Croix’s paper, “Yep, I’m Gay”: Understanding Agential Identity.

Their basic idea is to bridge how we understand ourselves to be (self-identity) and what others take us to be (social position) using the concept of agential identity.

Agential identification with a particular social group follows this recipe:

  1. You self-identify as a member of the social group, for instance lesbian or genderqueer.
  2. You make that self-identity externally available
    (a) consciously or unconsciously;
    (b) by behaving a particular way and/or displaying perceivable features; and
    (c) those behaviours/features manifest or are intended to manifest social properties associated with the group.
  3. You accept or allow that others take you as belonging to the group.

Self-identity isn’t necessarily established effortlessly and it depends on the people around you. Dembroff and Saint-Croix draw on Katharine Jenkins’ norm-relevancy approach in which we decode which groups we belong to by tuning into the norms which seem relevant to us – even if we disagree with those norms. The extent to which this process is deliberate – for instance, how much research someone does on a particular social group and its history – can lead to stronger or weaker self-identity.

Agential identity involves some attempt to broadcast self-identity. Dembroff and Saint-Croix explore the different ways this can be done and emphasise that the social processes involved are often complex. For instance, agential identity can be more or less salient depending on who we are with (pp. 583-584):

“consider a gay teenager who comes out to his parents, but otherwise acts conservatively at home in order to minimize the salience of his gay identity. This same teenager might, in other contexts, deliberately talk and behave in ways that persistently signal and emphasize his gay identity.”

A strong self-identity and salient attempts to establish a matching agential identity may not be taken up in a particular context. Someone could persistently signal their trans identity in all contexts but it is only accepted in LGBTQ+ spaces and ignored or ridiculed by transphobic colleagues. Agential identity depends on self-identity and consent to belong to a particular social group – these are key conditions – and expresses preferred social group membership. However, that preference may not be accepted.

That’s a brief overview – venture over here to read the full article: “Yep, I’m Gay”: Understanding Agential Identity.

Bisexuality – a short note on the number two

The term bisexual is frequently misunderstood as meaning sexual attraction to men and women; see, for example, the dictionary definition Google provides (at the time of writing in 2019).

This definition includes cis men and women as the potential focus of attraction. It includes trans men and women too; however, it excludes non-binary people.


One response is to define bisexual as attraction to two or more genders. This is the approach taken by the Bisexual Index. But this can be confusing since the “bi” means two, e.g., as in binocular, biennial, biweekly. So where does the “or more” come in?

There is a simple non-binary inclusive definition, which builds on definitions of heterosexual and homosexual:

  • Homosexual means attraction to people who are the same gender as you.
  • Heterosexual means attraction to people who are a different gender to you.
  • Bisexual means attraction to people who are the same gender as you and to people who are a different gender to you.

Bi refers to same and different – that’s the two. So acknowledging that there are more than two genders, this is compatible with the definition that “bi” means two or more. Additionally, it spells out what the “bi” (two) refers to.

Nagel on arousal and meaning

“Suppose a man and a woman, whom we may call Romeo and Juliet, are at opposite ends of a cocktail lounge, with many mirrors on the walls which permit unobserved observation, and even mutual unobserved observation. Each of them is sipping a martini and studying other people in the mirrors. At some point Romeo notices Juliet. He is moved, somehow, by the softness of her hair and the diffidence with which she sips her martini, and this arouses him sexually. […] Romeo senses Juliet, rather than merely noticing her. At this stage he is aroused by an unaroused object, so he is more in the sexual grip of his body than she of hers.

“Let us suppose, however, that Juliet now senses Romeo in another mirror on the opposite wall, though neither of them yet knows that he is seen by the other (the mirror angles provide three-quarter views). Romeo then begins to notice in Juliet the subtle signs of sexual arousal: heavy-lidded stare, dilating pupils, faint flush, et cetera. This of course renders her much more bodily, and he not only notices but senses this as well. His arousal is nevertheless still solitary. But now, cleverly calculating the line of her stare without actually looking her in the eyes, he realizes that it is directed at him through the mirror on the opposite wall. That is, he notices, and moreover senses, Juliet sensing him. This is definitely a new development, for it gives him a sense of embodiment not only through his own reactions but through the eyes and reactions of another. Moreover, it is separable from the initial sensing of Juliet; for sexual arousal might begin with a person’s sensing that he is sensed and being assailed by the perception of the other person’s desire rather than merely by the perception of the person.

“But there is a further step. Let us suppose that Juliet, who is a little slower than Romeo, now senses that he senses her. This puts Romeo in a position to notice, and be aroused by, her arousal at being sensed by him. He senses that she senses that he senses her. This is still another level of arousal, for he becomes conscious of his sexuality through his awareness of its effect on her and of her awareness that this effect is due to him. […]”

“Another example of such reflexive mutual recognition is to be found in the phenomenon of meaning, which appears to involve an intention to produce a belief or other effect in another by bringing about his recognition of one’s intention to produce that effect. (That result is due to H. P. Grice, whose position I shall not attempt to reproduce in detail.) Sex has a related structure: it involves a desire that one’s partner be aroused by the recognition of one’s desire that he or she be aroused.”

– Nagel, T. (1969, pp. 10-11) [Sexual Perversion. The Journal of Philosophy, 66, 5-17].