So for a recent assignment in AP English, I wrote an essay describing the word orientation, which is so amazingly ironic. Basically our assignment was to explain society's definition for a word, and then explain what the actual definition is, at least from our perspective. I didn't come out in a straightforward way in the essay (I didn't think it would improve the essay in any way and it would be a distraction from the topic), although I really wanted to. So here it is. My definition essay for the word orientation.
Orientation. Small-town Christian families shy away from its implications during quiet Sunday dinners. Conservative politicians condemn the supposedly abnormal and perverse side of it. The negativity society has poured into the word has claimed one teenage life too many. When we consider the definition of orientation, gay pride parades and fashionable, flamboyant men instantly come to mind. Over time society has molded the term orientation to a synonym for sexuality. Although this is technically a correct definition for the word, orientation can be applied to a variety of concepts.
Yes, orientation can correctly be taken in the sexual sense. But what’s with the condemnation, the judgments, the controversy? It seems that society has created a chain of words—orientation equals sexuality which equals homosexuality. Therefore, by societal standards, orientation indirectly equals homosexuality. That’s the equation that people immediately turn to. Fair enough, I suppose. Why is everyone so afraid of the word orientation, though? People seem embarrassed, angered, or even frightened when orientation is thrown into the conversation.
There’s no reason to the widespread disapproval of orientation, even if we’re talking about its insinuation of homosexuality. Being gay is not a mental perversion, and it’s not a crime against humanity. The stigma shrouding the term orientation is completely unnecessary. There should be no shame, no anger, no embarrassment. It doesn’t matter how many biblical scriptures we arm ourselves with, or how unnatural and disgusting we label it. Homosexuality harms no one, and after all, love comes in many forms. I could go into an extensive, deeply personal rant about the injustices of homophobia, but I think I’ll stop there.
Society should learn to pry apart orientation and sexuality, because orientation can pertain to more than sexuality. Orientation is a bit more general than sexuality—it is the groups or ideas that one chooses to associate oneself with. Prime examples of this are religious orientation and cultural orientation. The verb form of orientation is orient, which means to adjust or position. Ultimately, orientation can define who we are as individuals. We orient ourselves religiously, culturally, racially, and personally, usually to conform to a predetermined set of ideas and societal principles. After all, our identities are not formed by self-images or deep self-reflections—they are determined by the way others view us. Thus, we must orient ourselves to the aforementioned principles and ideas of society. And that is what orientation is—the way we choose to be seen by others through the following of groups or ideas.
Society staples orientation to sexuality and has transformed it into a word of controversy, but that’s not the only purpose of the word. Even when applied to sexuality, orientation should not be an origin of hatred or negativity. Orientation ultimately leads to our identities, and it defines who we are. It’s how we position ourselves in society, the things we choose to follow.