Effect of Face Blindness on Sexuality
The Four Identities
Nowhere does the importance of one's four identities become so evident as when he looks at his sexuality. Recall that those four identities were:
- core identity
- personal identity
We will look at them in turn.
One's tribe can be a broad group, but the tribe members who impact your life most are, of course, the ones you actually know. To successfully build a circle of friends, a "community", one must be able to recognize its members. Because face blindness makes recognizing people more difficult, one would expect such groups to be smaller. But another problem arises as well, that has an impact on the tribe one builds.
Faces for males and females are quite a bit alike, enough so that people who use them can use the same mind pathways and developed techniques to tell male and female faces apart. For this reason, people who use the face seldom say that the members of one sex are significantly harder to differentiate than the members of the other sex.
When one must abandon the face to differentiate people, one thing discovered right away is that males and females look very different from each other. Hair styles are different. Men can have facial hair. Clothing is different. Mannerisms are different. And even voices are different.
Confronted with this task, many face blind people discover they need two systems - one for males and one for females - but building even one system is a lot of work. The temptation is often there to skimp on one system, and concentrate one's efforts on the other, hoping by doing so to come up with a system that at least half way works. Since the real groundwork for this is done in childhood, decisions of this nature are not made as part of a logical, thought out procedure. In a struggle to survive, a face blind child deals with all this simply the best way he can.
For a straight person, it is tough to function without having two groups, and most struggle to maintain two. Many gay face blind people, on the other hand, confront this dilemma by concentrating all their efforts only on their own sex, and with that greater firepower, they do much better there. Skills to differentiate the other sex in this case can remain very poor. Among face blind people, we have found that in many ways, it is easier if you are face blind, to be gay. Building a half-way decent recognition system that works on some group of people can greatly improve one's social relationships.
Some face blind straight people have dealt with this dilemma by finding traits that occur with some regularity in both sexes, and then concentrating on them. For example, a straight man may use long hair, and certain clothing styles that both sexes wear.
No matter what their focus, a face blind person is apt to seek out people who are at least possible for him to recognize without great effort. If he primarily uses certain traits to tell people apart, he will seek out people who have those traits and places such people frequent. And he will shun people and places where those traits are unlikely to be found.
When people say, "He's not my type!", they are alluding to the fact that he doesn't meet their requirements as an appropriate mating partner. It is in that sense of the meaning of the word "type", that we speak of here.
One cannot decide which males or which females are suitable without being able to tell them apart. Fortunately, just before puberty a large chunk of neural circuits comes on line to help evaluate people by their appearance for this purpose. For a face blind person these circuits are a mixed blessing, in a way, because they only work on one sex, as a rule, but they can be used to help tell people apart. The face blind child may find one sex suddenly much easier to differentiate than the other sex, and be tempted to build his lifelong systems there. This is a particular temptation for a gay youngster, who is still at an age where most of children's social activities center around members of their own sex.
Whatever "type" system is developed, its borders tend to be a high wall. To a face blind person, whose distinctions between others is often blurred, the "type" boundary wall will often stand starkly out, often as much as the wall between the sexes does. The face blind person may develop concepts of appropriateness of things, such as dress, for type and non-type people, much as he would also develop such things for people of one sex and the other.
Some face blind people report that they believe their sexual feelings are a bit weaker than they perceive others' feelings to be. Telling people apart is a major factor in exercising one's sexuality, so it is not surprising that a person with a problem in that area would find problems carrying over into their sexual feelings too. Also, if face blind people commonly use the circuits usually used for sexuality to help recognize people, it is not unreasonable to assume that those circuits might be distracted to some degree, and sexual feelings diminished because of that. (We have not discovered any major dysfunction here, but rather, a somewhat diminished, but still functional, interest.)
Research has found that people find as "attractive" those folks who look the most ordinary or average, but they also must be distinguishable. A face blind youngster may construct concepts of his "type" based on who is "ordinary" in "his" group - the people he is easiest able to recognize. This may mean that the face blind person's concept of what is attractive will differ from the opinions of most people.
Face blind people often use hair and clothing to tell people apart instead of the face. If these are the ways one identifies others, it is not improbable that he will need these things present to find someone attractive and will want them present during encounters. A temptation will be there to feel perhaps a "fetish" situation is underway, but what is going on is far more than that.
A face blind person who uses such attributes in his recognition system has probably used them in selection of his "tribe", as we discussed above. He probably uses them in sexual encounters. And as we will see below, he will likely use them in his concepts of core identity and personal identity. They are not simply the way he relates to other people sexually. They are how he relates to people across the board. In effect, for him these key traits supplant the face. They are how he recognizes others, and how he conceives of himself.
It should be said that, since visual appearance is a much stronger factor in male sexuality than it is in that of a female, one might expect the effect of one's "type" circuits, as discussed here, would be stronger in males.
Core identity is, as we've discussed, the corner in one's tribe that he has carved out for himself. Most people do not give much thought to core identity, and they naturally drift about in a social space where its specifications are met. About the only time it becomes apparent is if someone else or society in general questions the core identity that one maintains.
People want these things for themselves, when they develop their core identity:
- They must be among their tribe.
- They must be among those of the sex they want to be.
- They must be attractive, as they define it, which will be in terms of their key traits.
- They must feel recognizable as an individual.
Face blind people face two problems concerning their core identity. These things really only crop up if the face blind person has a concept that conflicts with the concepts of the people around him. So some face blind people will be fortunate enough to not have these situations generate conflict:
- The face blind person's concept of attractiveness, or appropriateness for his "type" (both generally based on his key traits), may be different from those of others. Most common, a face blind person will have an identity that is more "blue collar" than some people might want. (Presumably this is because people with that "look" are easier to tell apart for most face blind people.)
- The face blind person may have a core identity that some may consider out of the ordinary for his sex. Most common, particularly among straight face blind people, is that they may in some trait look less strictly male or female than others might like.
Personal identity is a matter of selecting attributes like those found among one's core identity group to make one feel like a member but yet be different enough to give one a sense of being a unique entity. Individuality will particularly be sought in the way one displays his key traits, and otherwise, issues surrounding personal identity and core identity are the same. Here I will elaborate on how I feel about my personal identity. This may help you see parallels and understand issues that concern yourself.
I have always been strongly driven to maintain my identity. I believe this is a deeply ingrained trait for humans, and one can use up a lot of internal energy fighting the forces that draw you to your identity, if you don't just let them have their way. I have since a child wanted to grow up to be a bearded long haired guy who wears blue jeans. As I got older, my mother forced me to wear other clothes, but not a day went by that I didn't think about someday being a person who wears blue jeans again. When my beard first began to grow, I did not want to shave it. It did not matter to me that I would be the only bearded person in my school. I wanted the beard more than I had ever wanted anything. My mother and I had the biggest argument we had ever had over it. The only way she got me to shave was she refused to let me have anything to eat until I shaved. I also wanted to have longer hair. I first expressed this wish in early grade school, and I've wanted to have longer hair ever since. She used that same threat, that I would not be allowed to eat, to make me get my hair cut very short, from then until my senior year of high school. I can remember being told that I could not have dinner on my seventeenth birthday unless I went to the barbershop first!
In retrospect, I do wonder if this was not primarily a pecking order issue. The family had determined that this was a place that I was vulnerable, and they were taking advantage. It was a way to keep the disabled kid in what they thought was "his place." However, whatever the motive, my identity fought back.
By the time I left home, I was so broken by the years of pummeling on this, that it took me many more years to drift back to the identity that deeply inside I wanted all along. For many years I tried to look like what I had been mislead to believe everybody else wanted, rather than what I wanted. It didn't work. For all those years I felt self-conscious everywhere I went. The timidity that this engendered was so great that it greatly impacted my work. When I realized that the inner strength I would gain would far outweigh any benefit to be gained from anyone's impression about my looks, I began to move back toward my identity. Realizing that my face blindness was the explanation for my strong identity drive enabled me to fully complete that journey back. When it comes to my identity, I am home to stay.
Finally, with the realization of why I've felt the way I do, I have at last found peace by accepting and achieving the identity that is ingrained in me. I now realize that hair and jeans are beautiful, because that's how I recognize people, and as a human, people I can recognize are beautiful. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and when I behold myself, I have a very human need to see beauty.
So my advice, to anyone struggling with identity issues, would be to "stick to your guns." In my case I was never able to change my identity, and I never achieved an inner peace until I quit trying.
Integration of Identities
Face blind people do not form their identities in a vacuum, any more than other people do. As is the case for others, our identities are built from input received from other people and the perceived social groups in which they are seen. This will mean that our four identities will work together as a logical system, and they will most likely be related to social groups that actually exist. Face blind people to some extent use mannerisms and such as well as clothing and hair styles to identify people, and we will absorb those as well into our identities.
When we let our identities have our way, the public will immediately peg us for what we are, i.e., the group we have drawn our identities from. I am seen as a "hippie" or a "longhair", and the clothing and hair styles I have always been driven to, fit right into that. So do my mannerisms and social style. Styles that do not fit that image are the ones that feel very inappropriate. I just don't fit in business suits, for example, because one seldom sees hippies or longhairs in them.
Pertti, whom you met in Chapter 8B, similarly has an identity and associated style that fits in very well with androgynous people.
When either of us has tried to adopt another look, besides feeling very out of place, we also have looked very much out of our element, and many people sensed what we really were anyway. It is only in our own groups that we come off as genuine and fit right in.
We surely absorb these identities from people we see over a lifetime. How we differ from others is we may be less flexible, and thus more locked into these identities than the non-face blind people we share them with. For them what they wear is clothing, but for us what we wear is as if it is our faces.
Identities and Sexuality
We have considered identities and sexuality, a major component of human identities, together. The two are for every one of us deeply intertwined. Sexuality is the identity item most strongly held by non-face-blind people, and our identities in other realms are just as deeply held. When face blind people attempt to transgress their identities, they report they feel as if they were cross-dressed. Indeed, groups we break off for our identities are often held by us as distinctly as the sexes are, and some face blind people have said that in doing so, they break humanity into what are, in effect to them, additional genders.
Summary - Face Blindness and Sexuality
Although identities involve far more than just sexuality, they are most closely related to it and must all be taken together to be understood. One's sexuality - both whom you are attracted to and how you perceive yourself - hinges greatly on recognizing people. As one might expect, face blindness can impact it significantly. Some gay face blind people will deal with the undaunting task of recognizing people by dealing only with their own sex, and quite a few face blind people feel it is easier to be gay and face blind than straight and face blind. Some straight face blind people tend toward traits that are not strongly sex-linked in their own identity, or in who attracts them, or both. Meanwhile some face blind people break humanity into unusual gender groups.
These effects are not universal among face blind people but they are significant. Among the Internet face blindness support group, fully half are gay, or straight with sex-ambiguous traits. The frequency of occurrence for both groups far exceeds what one would statistically find in the general population.
Whether face blindness can cause development to proceed in either of those ways is not scientifically proven. But the numbers we've seen should not be let to pass without notice.
We next look at how face blindness can affect one's function in social groups.
"Face Blind!" - Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Introduction Chapter 2 Discovering Face Blindness Chapter 3 Physical Causes of Face Blindness Chapter 4 The Importance of Recognizing Others Chapter 5 How Most People Recognize Others Chapter 6 Ways To Recognize Others Without Using the Face Chapter 7 How Non-Face Recognition Methods Work in Practice Chapter 8A ...Bill: How I Tell People Apart Chapter 8B ...Pertti: Recognition System - The Essence Model Chapter 9 Effect of Face Blindness on Emotions - BACK Chapter 10 Effect of Face Blindness on Sexuality - YOU ARE HERE Chapter 11 Effect of Face Blindness on Your Social Groups - NEXT Chapter 12 Understanding Why People Choose To Look Alike Chapter 13 Ways To Improve Our Lives
Appendix A How To Find Medical Articles on Face Blindness Appendix B Getting Diagnosed (Tested) for Face Blindness Appendix C Links to Other Face Blind People Appendix D Author's Information Page
This document is copyrighted. For information, or to contact the author, go to Appendix D, the Author's Information Page.
Text of this chapter last revised January 1, 2002.