The word itself does no harm, and it has practical use, especially when talking about health research, as in which group is more likely to get certain diseases. But it also has a function, in the popular culture, of forcing people into a self-examination of their own tastes and appetites, and even their values, as if every one of us must consist of a collection of human attributes that “belong” in a particular category of life experience. When we are properly “placed” in our respective categories, we are then said to have an “identity”.
The “sex” category will get the most attention, of course, because…well, because it gets the most attention (and why shouldn’t it?). Each of us has a gender, just one unless we’re hermaphroditic, and we nearly always stick with the one we’re born with. But then we also have a sub-category called “Preference”. Society tells us that the “normal” choice is with our opposite gender, which makes perfect sense. After all, the primary function of sex is to procreate the species; pleasure is just a bonus. But, somehow, those other choices, the ones that are only now openly discussed as being “equal”, in a legal sense, are also being sized up, as it were, as an acceptable “alternative” in the culture at large.
But acceptable to whom? And how much? It’s obvious that “normal” is coin of the realm in the marketplace of popular opinion, but “alternative” has its own, if lesser, market value. If “hetero” is top choice, or the plain vanilla flavor, the simple “same gender” preference is now widely available. But then there are also “exotic” flavors less acceptable to the culture than the top “alternative” choice, some of which cannot be transacted without criminal penalty (as Socrates found out).
There many other categories, and a few, like race, politics and education level, to name a few, that will also get a lot of public attention. In fact, there are so many categories, and so much research into the behaviors and geneology of each of us, that it will take miles of recorded data just to plot the categorical identity of a single person. And then it will take countless numbers of computer-hours to integrate this data into the matrix that fixes the identities of the three hundred million other Americans who share this culture with us. But you can bet on this: every single day, there will be dozens, eventually hundreds and even thousands of media personalities, some of whom will look comfortably “normal”, and a smaller group who are acceptably “alternative”, in their various categories, who will be taking lots and lots of our money to tell us “exactly” who we are!