Milagros Lores Torres — Historical Importance of Thinking of Sexuate Difference  

Is the crisis of gender identity—which is experienced by an important part of the West and the globalized world—the symptom of a logic of Sameness and the consequent failing subjectivity in our past culture? Is the proliferation of gender identities the result of a general crisis of Western culture, in which subjectivities are constituted according to an alienating process? If gender is being undone, as Judith Butler sustains (in Undoing Gender), could the conditions for the emergence of a new comprehension of sexuate difference henceforth exist? The thought of Luce Irigaray,  which is mainly concerned with subjectivity, offers an appropriate perspective to address these questions, which were already intuited in her first critical works Speculum. De l’autre femme (1974), Ce sexe qu n’en est pas un (1977) and Éthique de la diffèrence sexuelle (1984). 

This philosopher develops, although in a specific way, the theses of Simone de Beauvoir in Le deuxième sexe (1949). While, for Simone de Beauvoir, sexual difference is already alloted by a patriarchal society and culture, determining the destiny of a part of human beings, assigned to a female destiny from birth, for Irigaray, becoming woman is to be achieved from a natural identity, but it is thwarted by the fact that philosophy, and more generally culture, ignores this fundamental question concerning subjectivity. 

The concept of sexuate difference in Luce Irigaray’s thought  entails that humanity is composed by two human beings irreducible to one another and whose subjectivities are different, constituted from differently sexuate belonging, at both natural and cultural levels. This implies that being a man or being a woman does not depend merely on biology, or on a social or cultural economy, but supposes another way of imagining and living the relationship with oneself — notably as a natural embodied self-consciousness — with the world, and with the other(s). Thus, it is impossible to mistake a woman for a man and to represent them under a single concept, with a single word, not to mention the use of representing them through a neutral and asexuate discourse as Western culture generally did. 

Trained in psychoanalysis, Luce Irigaray has criticized the fundamental texts of this discipline, in particular those of Freud on identity and the formation of the self, which underestimate, as philosophy does, the role of the mother in the western bourgeois Oedipal nuclear family. Furthermore, referring to Freud’s statement that there is only one libido and that it is masculine, Luce Irigaray challenges the affirmation concerning the existence of a single sexuality, which she defines as hommosexuality

From a philosophical viewpoint, Luce Irigaray’s critique focuses on the ignorance of a subjectivity which is different from a masculine subjectivity, a subjectivity in the feminine. Ancient Western philosophy begins with the  non-consideration of woman, nature, and the Goddess, and so inaugurates our past metaphysics, and its logos (cf. Luce Irigaray, In the Beginning, She Was). This has instituted an onto-theological tradition which has substituted itself for the natural constitutive roots of being. Our origin is, then, dependent on a constructed transcendent principle instead of on an union between two naturally different humans. Supra sensitive ideals — such as TruthGood and God – are responsible for having separated man from his maternal origin and from the other, the woman, with whom he no longer shares the world. They also prevent the evolution of sensitive values, decisive for the becoming human and the communication with the other as different. Consequently, the other becomes a neutral, asexuate being, susceptible of being represented symbolically, through a supposedly universal, abstract and neutral language, even if the latter is determined by a masculine subjectivity, and in a phallogocentric way.

According to Luce Irigaray, it is thus important to relinquish the past  way of conceiving of transcendence as a sort ecstasy foreign to the body, as an  exile from oneself towards an inaccessible absolutely Other, beyond sensitivity, beyond earth. Leaving behind and neglecting woman, the goddess and nature in the elaboration of culture, man has constructed a disembodied world from which it is not easy to go out. 

Indeed, in a phallogocentric construction, the distinction between nature and spirit is supported by supra sensitive pseudo-absolutes, arisen in the context of a logical and grammatical framework which prevents us from  a true thinking, and even a true being. Universal concepts — as, for example,“nature” — make it difficult to perceive and to be in relation to the external real nature, but also to the nature of our own body, as well as to the difference of nature between a man and a woman. This dual human nature is not a given with which the subject-object logic can be maintained. It could be said that it is from a sexuate body that the subjectivity of the human being is objectively determined, and not by its relation to object(s). Then, it is no longer possible to speak of a division between body and soul or psyche, as a division between subject and ‘object(s)’, but of a sensitive transcendence of and between man and woman. 

The human dual nature must result in a culture of two subjects, especially in the field of philosophy and language, but also in art, spirituality, or religion and in politics (cf. Luce Irigaray, Key Writings,Prologue). For Luce Irigaray, nature lies in a body which is sexuate. It corresponds to something which has not yet been fabricated by human beings, something which  springs from the earth with the help of its elements as well as from all living beings. Therefore, it cannot be reduced to inanimate entities and approached with neuter and universal terms, as Western culture has too often done. Luce Irigaray shows, throughout her work, how the reduction of living beings to a single and neuter identity ignores their relational potential and neglects the dual belonging, masculine and feminine, of natural beings, but also of their language and their psyche and spirit. 

Human nature is dual, and man and woman are two different beings. I cannot know the other as differently sexuate, but I can perceive him sensitively, in a present, intersubjective encounter. This encounter can happen in a space open between us as different, a space which does not belong to either of us, but which allows our relationship to take place — as it is told in I love to you. An intransitive, non-appropriating love  occurs in the interval open by our difference which indicates the direction towards the other, the one who supports our transcendence as different and on whom it is projected by our desire — rather than on a supreme God.  

We must challenge our traditional horizon and rethink the way of building the world to make possible a way of conceiving of human beings as living, sexuate and different and of cultivating our being as living and of sharing with other living beings.