Moving Right Along.

June 6, 2010

I can’t help myself… I’m blogging again.

But — in a recent burst of transparency and (a not-so-recent) burst of interdisciplinarity — I’ve adopted a new, more all-encompassing home.  The current posts have yet to touch on the gender or a/sexuality topics common to this blog, (except for one that deals with issues of ally identification in the LGBTetc community).  But you can expect those topics to appear again before long.  This is still me we’re talking about after all.

Anyway, I’d love to see any of you over in the new digs.  Happy blogging!

Hide and Seek.

June 26, 2009

hideseek

Photo Credit: Hooligantastic.

Lately, the topic of choice over at Asexual Explorations has been sexual repression, one that has been on my mind lately as well, in a slightly different sense.  As Pretzelboy points out, the term “sexual repression” has roughly as many definitions as it does letters.  Thus, when people use the term,

[s]ometimes they mean that a person isn’t willing to acknowledge their own sexual feelings. Sometimes they mean that a person is deep-down really interested in sex despite the plain reality that they aren’t. Sometimes they mean that not having sex somehow in a super-secret way causes neuroses. Sometimes they mean that a culture is sexually restrictive with its negative messages and oppressive rules about sex. Sometimes they mean that a person isn’t able to express their sexuality because of such rules. Sometimes that mean that a person who isn’t interested in sex must be disinterested because of such societal rules, ignoring the fact there might be other reasons for not being interested in sex (like lack of desire, for example.)

I’ve written — rather minimally — in the past about the accusation of sexual repression, particularly the definitions that resemble denial and a reaction to upbringing/ abuse.  It’s a response asexuals who attempt to come out often receive, and I’ve stated before how my own experience of the asexual community defies its characterization (from folks like Joy Davidson) as a place where important explorations of self and sexuality are truncated.  In response, largely, to Davidson’s claim on 20/20 that if you’re going to label yourself asexual, “You may as well label yourself not curious, unadventurous, narrow-minded, blind to possibilities. That’s what happens when you label yourself as…as…sexually neutered,”  I pointed out that — since finding the asexual community — I had learned more about myself and my sexuality, expressed more curiosity, adventured further into the sexual world, and opened my mind up more to what sexuality is, how it works, and what it can be, than I ever had as a person defaulting into sexuality.  Commenters on that post suggested a similar experience, which is mirrored in the livejournal forums, and presumably on AVEN as well, although I don’t frequent the forums there and therefore can’t speak to trends.  For many of us, it seems, an asexual label — or even interaction with the community sans labelling, which seems to be more of my role these days — allows something that assuming sexuality does not.  Introspection, an increase in knowledge/awareness (of sexuality as well as asexuality), and eventually self-actualization seem — at least for some of us — to be outcomes of our interaction with the ase community, even as Davidson and her doppelgangers claim this interaction fundamentally limits us from those experiences.  I have seen more willingness to recognize and support fluidity in the asexual community, for instance, than in any other sexual community, straight or queer.  Individuals bringing “confessions” to the table — of shifts in orientation within the homo-/ hetero-/ bi- scheme or from asexual to sexual, of realizations that trauma/ religion/ identity confusion/ etc did play more of a role in their asexuality than they previously realized — receieve, in my experience, a similar respect and support to those who come to the forums asking for support of their asexuality.  I have yet to see the same for lesbians who come to identify as bi, etc.  For many asexual people, there seems to be a fundamental value, which suggests that figuring out one’s identity, as an individual, matters significantly more than which identity one determines.

As David said on the Montel show a few years back, “here [in the asexual community] is a place you can come to explore yourself.  Here is a place you can talk about yourself.  We’re not saying, come to the asexual community, and then just give up trying to figure out who you are.  It’s a community where we’re very actively asking questions about ourselves.”  For some of us asking those questions, the answers lean — in time — toward sexuality.  A year ago, I was trying to wrap my head around how to come out as asexual or potentially asexual; I felt recognized in what I read on the subject, and supported in the ace community.  Now, although I still respond, act, think, and feel, much more like an asexual person than a sexual one, I recognize that I am — in all likelihood — someone whose sexuality, whatever it looks like, has largely been shut down through negative experiences.  My sister’s statement to me last year, that it was less likely I was asexual and more likely that I’d been “raised by our parents” — (a reference, largely, to their body-phobic/ sex-negative perspectives) — has proven wise in a way I almost hoped, initially, that it would not.  As the therapy I’ve been receiving for years (for reasons unrelated to sexuality) begins to explore this territory, it becomes increasingly clear that I am in many ways just what the Joy Davidsons of the world are seeking: the girl raised in a (bizarre attempt at rejection of) hyper-religiosity, in a culture of abuse and trauma, with medical conditions (and treatments) that can contribute to hyposexuality.  I score at least 3/3 on the trifecta for dismissal.  Davidson claimed on 20/20 that “there may be something, maybe something physiological, intricate, maybe something that has to do with trauma or abuse, or repression or a severe religiosity that has predisposed you to shutting down the possibility of being sexually engaged,” and here I am — the prototype for this explanation.  And yet… I still don’t agree with her, and I don’t agree with her criticisms of asexuality or the community built around that identification. 

For starters, although I can fathom a sexuality I do not yet experience, although I can recognize the multitude of factors that have (most likely) dismantled what might have been a much more “traditional” sexual development, and publicly claim them on this blog, I don’t project my experience onto all members of the community.  Are there others in the community who have ended up there with the help of trauma or bizarre religious teaching?  Certainly.  Are they the only people there?  I doubt it.  And, given the relatively poor understanding the scientific community has about the development of desire, attraction, and orientation, isn’t it equally possible that people end up in other orientations for these same reasons?  Straight girls try on homosexuality for a semester to rebel against their upbringing.  Lesbians are constantly (if decreasingly) accused of responding to trauma inflicted by men through an attraction to women.  Gender (and relationships between people of defined genders) are policed as medical issues.  So, why is asexuality — which, if it is constructed through personal experience and biology, is no more constructed than other forms of sexuality — so unacceptable?

My personal stance, for some time now, has been that I don’t care what I “end up” being — asexual, sexual, or attracted to rutabagas — so long as I can feel that I am genuinely that, and not hiding out in an orientation that keeps me safe from personal realities too frightening to face.  And so I move forward, attempting to understand and heal whatever I have left to understand and heal.  In the meantime, however, I don’t find anything immoral about a temporary identification.  I may have chosen against actually self-describing as asexual, but I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with a person similar to me who chooses to do so.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with choosing to identify a safe space, in which to do the necessary work.

For many, asexuality is not a safe space.  It’s an identity, — and one that sometimes brings misunderstanding, pain, and rejection, even ridicule or betrayal.  For others, it’s the exact security necessary to begin the difficult process of unpacking one’s past.  Winter, one of the asexual people present on the Montel show said that “We [in the asexual community] are not a place you go to hide from your sexuality,” — and she’s right.  That’s not the purpose of the community.  “Asexual” is not intended to mean traumatized or confused.  Yet, it’s unrealistic to suggest that traumatized and confused people will not end up there.  Opponents of asexuality attack the community for providing a place to hide, despite the fact that it’s not the community’s purpose.  It’s my personal opinion that rather than claiming none of us are hiding, or that those who are have no place in the community, we might choose to ask what’s wrong with hiding.  I’ll say again that I value introspection and self-actualization.  However, I know that exploring difficult issues and working to heal them requires the secure environment where one can do so “safely” and with support.  Being badgered into sexuality has done nothing for me.  Being allowed to identify as asexual has allowed me to address the possibility that I am not.  So, while I agree with Winter’s statement that the ace community is not intended for hiding, I disagree with what follows, her idea that, “If you are just looking to hide from a problem, we aren’t the place for you.”  The community, with its refusal to force sexuality, its tendency toward supporting folks, and the surprising willingness of (many) members to gradually educate themselves (and in certain cases, each other) about sexuality, may be just that place.  I don’t advocate hiding forever, but I reject the idea that hiding temporarily can’t help.  Sometimes we need support in what we have been — or feel we have been — to explore what we might become.  Sometimes it’s only in finding a place to hide that we uncover the courage to seek.

Porn: You’re Doing it Wrong!

June 25, 2009

bunny pr0n

Photo ganked from hamsBlog.

Asexuals read Playboy for the articles.  Asexuals watch hotforwords to learn the etymology.  Asexuals… watch PG Porn and analyze it so thoroughly they lose the joke. 

Ok, so actually the last of those blanket statements applies to me, and in spite of how logical the ace identification would be, I still — er– don’t identify as asexual.  (After all, when have I ever been logical?)  I was, however, intrigued by the notion of PG Porn, which I first heard about on an installment of Loveline last month, (listening goes against my prudish tendencies, but I’m a wee bit obsessed with all things Dr. Drew), and which sounded like potentially good material for a post.  After all, I more than owe a blog post at this point, owe a bone thrown to any loyal readers still loitering about after all those months of silence spent bartering my life for a degree. 

PG Porn, the brainchild of filmmaker James Gunn, is described as “non-sexual” pornography.  In fact, at least one of the videos features a “non-sexual content warning” — (“this video contains graphic footage of some really happy guys in a bus […] who are totally awesome and just want to be nice”), — which also happens to predict (and attempt to pre-empt) my over-analysis.  (“If you are still reading this, you may be taking your PG Porn viewing just a little too seriously.  Not that we don’t appreciate the close attention, but it might be just a bit obsessive.  That said, we like you better than the people not reading this.”  Aw, shucks.  Thanks, PG Porn.)  The warning bodes well for the films; likewise, the hilariously off-beat description that first led me to Gunn’s page: “How many times have you been watching a great porn film – you’re really enjoying the story, the acting, the cinematography – when, all of the sudden, they ruin everything with PEOPLE HAVING SEX?”  The seemingly delusional perspective on porn’s filmic merits aside, the blurb reads like a plug ganked directly from the AVEN boards.  I decided that a parody of porn, some ace-approved Bizarro-world version of the stuff, must await.  Right?  A less beastial (technically speaking) version of asexualporn.com must be a click away.  Mustn’t it?

Well… maybe.

The issue, (at least, if you’re hoping PG Porn will represent more than an amusing premise well-executed), lies in the ongoing difficulty of defining what is “sexual.”  After all, any claim of non-sexuality requires an understanding of “sexuality,” in order to decide what it’s rejecting, what it’s rebelling against.  Consider the e-mail conversation I had with a friend last year, in which we discussed my involvement with the asexual community and my own questions about whether or not I identified as asexual.  At one point, he suggested I had “fallen victim to the media’s narrow definition of sexuality as things a person does with her vagina,” an uncharacteristically pointed line that irked me for a few reasons.  Not the least of those reasons is this: if I’ve made that mistake, and one could argue I have, then I am most certainly not the only one.  Perhaps it’s the lack of comprehensive sex education (although my health class film-strips thankfully pre-dated the abstinence-only Bush years ), but an increasing number of people these days seem to equate sexuality and genitalia, from the preteen girl who claims giving oral sex is non-sexual (after all, it doesn’t involve her vagina) to the right-wing fundamentalist whose concept of homosexuality directly resembles the “adult” video rack.

Likewise, what’s been removed from porn to create its PG counterpart, is the physical act of sex, not sexuality as a whole, or even more than that layer of it.  Take casting in the films, which combines mainstream actors with adult film stars, and note that the vast majority (potentially all) of the women involved fall into porn star category.  Why?  Because by cladding these women in the same skin-tight, low-cut tops or short skirts that they wear in their non-PG porn roles, the tittilating sexiness of porn’s premise is preserved, in a new “tv-friendly” form.  (Since the films currently air on Spike, the tv channel that originally marketed as “the first network for [misogynist heterosexual] men,” the inclusion of male porn stars apparently made less sense.)

If I’m starting to sound something like Tipper Gore circa the late ’80s, I apologize.  In many ways, the PG-porn premise requires that the majority of more X-rated porn be left in tact.   Doing so helps the films read as spoofs on the “gutter” minds of viewers, in much the same sense as the card game Dirty Minds:  “If we set up this entirely nonsexual premise,” both game and films argue, “we bet you’ll mistakenly presume sex!”  In truth, however, both entertainments rely, if not on sex, than on sexiness.  As David at Love from the Asexual Underground, pointed out in a post late last night, “sexiness” is defined as

1. concerned predominantly or excessively with sex; risqué: a sexy novel.
2. sexually interesting or exciting; radiating sexuality: the sexiest professor on campus.
3. excitingly appealing; glamorous: a sexy new car.

at least, according to Dictionary.com.  If that’s true, and if Gunn’s joke is any indication, it’s significantly easier to remove the sex from porn than it is to remove the sexiness.  And of course, the more that other layers of sexuality — beyond physical sex acts — were stripped away, the more the films would begin to resemble other forms of cinema: a romantic comedy, maybe, or a Disney film.  Or just a plain old, plot-free box-office flop.

The point that struck me when I first watched the videos, which David’s post has in some ways helped me articulate, is that while PG porn may (or may not) be able to claim a “non-sexual” identifier, it simply cannot qualify as “asexy.”  Because while non-sexual — and in some uses even asexual — can (and increasingly is) defined simply as lacking sex, asexy implies something more.   Paul on urbandictionary.com defines asexy as “an adjective used to describe an asexual person showing intelligence, confidence, style, physical attractiveness, charming personality, baking skills, or any other combination of sufficiently positive and unique characteristics” — an explanation that nicely underlines David’s assertion that “being true to oneself and one’s passions makes you desirable, hands down.”  (Incidentally, this may explain why I’ve never been able to define what I find aesthetically appealing in people, falling back on seemingly vague statements such as, “I like people who look like themselves.”)

Sexiness, even its relatively non-explicit manifestations — like PG Porn, just does not necessarily equal asexiness.  Certainly, there’s a section of the Venn diagram where the two overlap, but increasingly — particularly in media — the asexy elements of desire (and desirability) are ignored.  Like its more graphic predecessor, PG porn lacks something fundamental to asexiness: character.  Without character, without identity, there’s no sense of uniqueness, quirk, self-actualization, passion, or any of the other things that give relationships meaning.  Perhaps the asexual, in particular, needs sex to bear “meaning,” but I doubt the asexual is the only one who feels a loss at the increasingly reductive definitions of sexuality.  After all, I don’t identify as asexual.  Yet, the ace community often comes closer to reflecting me than the cult of sexiness.  Maybe that’s because of the thought some asexuals put into sexuality, into what it could be, how it could develop, what it could include to better meet individual needs.  Or maybe it’s because while I’ve never been able to see myself as sexy, (or particularly wished that I could), I do aspire to asexiness.

After all, if — as David claims –“typeface nerds are hot, drag queens are hot, [and] line-dancing biophysicists are hot” in asexy terms, maybe the overly analytical blogger has some asexy steam as well.   “Asexy people suffer through porn for the blog posts”?  Hawt.

Speaking Up About the Silence.

April 17, 2009

dayofsilence-0218

Photo Credit: George Sakkestad, Los Gatos Weekly Times.

There’s not really any easy way for a queer kid to say this, but nevertheless, I somehow ended up admitting it (repeatedly) today.  So, here we go again.  My name is Willendork, I’m a proud member of the LGBT community, and… well… I basically hate the Day of Silence.

“Hate” may not be the appropriate word.  Maybe something softer, like “disagree with” or “question” would suffice.  I certainly don’t align myself with the actual hate-groups, the ones pressuring school boards to mandate GSAs not participate in the Day of Silence and refusing to acknowledge the bullying and other acts of marginalization with which LGBT students must contend.  I’ve participated, however hesitantly, in the Day of Silence for the past two years, (although my actual silence has not yet lasted past midday).  And I’ll admit that last year, my sense was that this silence, taken up by a community to draw attention to a cause, felt very different than other, less liberating brands of silence to which I’ve been accustomed.  However, this year, my reservations around the Day have returned, and developed further, and as I’ve started voicing them, I’ve come to realize that others — perhaps many others — share my perspective.

Here’s the short version of my problem:  I view silence as the enemy.  Silence is a byproduct of marginalization, an outcome of oppression; it’s a characteristic of the closet, a key tool in sweeping groups of people out of public discourse.  It’s disempowering.  In the context of my ridiculously conservative university, silence is the norm.  Here, if the LGBT-identified persons and their allies fall silent for a day, one of two things happens.  Either no one notices, or they notice only long enough to breathe a collective sigh of relief.  The overall sense, at my school, when students commit to the Day of Silence is not “OMG, crazy radical protest, how can we allow this?!1!!1″ but rather, “Oh, thank heaven, we don’t have to listen to them today.”  Far too many days pass here without anyone challenging heterosexism, homophobia, and LGBT invisibility (or inaudibility).  Given this environment, queers who embrace silence aren’t particularly radical.  We’re simply maintaining the status quo.

Now, I understand the arguments.  I understand that silence a group takes on by choice differs from silence forced, coerced, or created without its conscious consent.  I understand that the Day may “take back” silence in much the same way that the community has worked to take back hate-speech like “dyke,” “queer,” or “fag.”  I know that the Day recognizes the victims of bullying and other hate crimes, and it’s customary to recognize lives lost (and lives negatively impacted) through a moment (or more) of silence.  I understand the vigil-like quality of what we’re doing, the connection to a history of non-violent protests for social justice.  I “get” it, or at least — I think I do.  But I question it, nevertheless.

On the one hand, the actual silence involved in the Day of Silence is increasingly “supplemented” with other tactics to draw attention and raise awareness.  People have begun to sport t-shirts, buttons, and ribbons to identify themselves as participants (or supporters).  Groups have added “Breaking the Silence” events that take place at night, balancing out the silence with discussion, with noise.  I think these ideas are fantastic (and necessary), but I think they’re effective in part because they do what silence cannot.  They speak up.  A visual marker says, “Hey, look at me!  Stop ignoring me.  Take note!”  It doesn’t wait for someone else to initiate conversation.  It doesn’t fall into the background.  It’s actively visible.  Silence is an inaudible protest.  It requires other people to shut up and listen, without in any way pushing them to do so.  It has no inherent means of making itself heard.  And when it’s asked why it exists, or called stupid (or, well, “gay”) it can’t explain itself. 

All of this can (and is) being worked around, but what I keep returning to this year is a sense that the Day of Silence not only re-creates a fundamental tool of LGBT oppression, but it inherently limits itself to a one-day movement.  While people who participate in the Day of Silence may taste the sense of community, and the power involved in taking a stand together, they learn nothing about how to continue fighting for progress.  A march, a rally, a day spent lobbying — all of these things teach individuals to stand up and be visible.  To insist on being noticed.  To, (as Harvey Milk suggested), never take an elevator in city hall.  Silence does not.  It cannot, on any other day of the year, be replicated to support the cause.  An alternate protest, centered on making noise, (verbal or visual), could.  It could jumpstart the kind of vocal participation that needs to take place on a daily basis, to make sure homophobia and heterosexism are challenged, and LGBT people are not invisible.  If the goal of the Day of Silence is really to raise the question on those buttons — “what are you doing to break the silence?” — then why do we begin by participating in it?  Why do we annually pool our energy and contribute to the very thing we’ve decided to fight against?

During the hours I spent silent today, I kept imagining myself making noise.  I imagined attaching bells to my clothing, transforming myself into a walking musical instrument.  I fantasized about the way even my slightest shift in posture, while sitting in class, would suddenly demand attention.  I daydreamed about walking across campus and turning heads.  

Turning heads is difficult for me.  Attention is complicated, and — in an unsupportive environment — often painful.  But it’s also necessary.   We can’t dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools, and we can’t somehow remodel that house into a livable queer space.  (Especially if we’re unwilling to look at how we’re complicit in maintaining it.)  If we’re allowing our activism to be non-apparent, we’re allowing ourselves to be swept out of sight.  If we take ourselves out of the discourse, we lessen our power to change it.  And if we, as a community, are teaching young queers to stay silent, who can we expect to help them find a voice?

Venus on Valentine’s.

February 14, 2009

necco-human-heart

(Crazy-Talented Nathan Sawaya’s Candy Heart, Care of 37 Days.)

Every February 14th, I become a bit (more) of a rare bird, being as I am, one of those few people who — all told — has fairly neutral feelings about Valentine’s Day.  To be fair, it’s more a balance of passions than actual neutrality:  My passionate adoration of Necco hearts balanced out by the irritation I feel when friends in relationships complain of the added expectations placed on them by the day.  Or the thrill of decorating a shoebox restored to balance by the annoyance when single friends whine about their incomplete lives, even though they were equally incomplete (or, cough, — not) last week, and it didn’t seem to matter. 

I made a few decisions this year, which located me more firmly as the Ambassador for an Alternative Valentine’s Day than I necessarily intended.  The first was an arm extended back into my childhood, when those candy hearts and shoeboxes were really all that mattered.  For starters, while running errands the other day, I made sure to pick up some cheap paper Valentine’s.  (The cheesier the better.  Although, I will admit that, unable to bring myself to the High School Musical level, I personally went with My Little Pony.)  Next, of course, is the grade school process of designating who gets which card, and (later today) delivering them.  I’ve decided to throw in some added randomness, by leaving a few in choice places, where I have no clue who will stumble across them, or when… Maybe someone will open a library book next August and discover a smiling pastel pony inviting that (s)he “have a rainbow day” — and maybe (s)he will smile.  Paper valentines, after all, can make remarkably good bookmarks.

Last night, my brother and I had a two-person housewarming for his new apartment, and I made sure to hand him his pink-and-purple “Friends Forever” pony card on the drive over.  He laughed and thanked me.  As it turns out, the woe-is-me single friends (even more so than the schmoopy lovebirds) had been getting to him as well.  What surprised me most was that, while giving props to my child-centered solution, he offered an alternative that can only be described (to his surprise, I’m sure) as thoroughly asexual.  His theory?  Valentine’s Day would not be the bane of our existence, honestly, if it were really about love.  If we could make the decision to really honor love, all love, on Valentine’s Day (if only for that day), it simply wouldn’t suck.  If it were equally about your love for your grandma, your love for your friends, your love for Dr. Drew Pinsky (cough), and your love for rock-climbing, and the point was to focus on, remember, maybe even acknowledge, all that love?  It would no longer suck harder than a vacuum.  So in honor of my bro, I propose this as alternative number two (which, fyi, can completely be integrated with my own inner-child-oriented solution): Think of the nine million different ways you could finish the sentence “I love __.”  And then go do something about that love.  Maybe you’ll finally write that fan-letter to Dr. Drew, or maybe you’ll take your grandmother rockclimbing.  If you refocus on love, and make your own rules, it’s bound to be a good time.  (Not to mention a thoroughly asexy one.)

In fact, NPR seems to be with me on this.  As I was decorating valentines (or was it doing my statistics homework?) the other day, I heard a thoroughly asexual story about a man basically playing The Bachelor, with one relatively simple twist: The twenty-five aspiring actresses who may or may not receive a rose?  … are actually significantly more than twenty-five languages, and this blogger/ bachelor is in search of his perfect linguistic match.  Told almost entirely in dating and romance rhetoric, the story –(which I can’t for the life of me find a link to) — was a well-crafted twist on how the mainstream media — (NPR can almost be thought of as mainstream at this point, right?) — conceives of love and the objects of our affection. 

Personally, I think re-focusing on fun and nonromantic love is likely to be more than enough to resurrect Valentines for us.  However, if you’re neither linguistically or childishly-oriented, and you’ve yet to make much progress on that list of 9 million “blanks” you love, I’ll leave you with three bonus Valentine’s options before I get back to decorating my shoebox.

  • Option #1: Love Your Body.  Care of the National Organization for Women (NOW), this option provides some ways for you to work against the onslaught of hate-your-body messages and act on a love rarely (if ever) included in the Valentine’s Day schema.
  • Option #2: International Quirkyalone Day.  Proof that my bro and I are not the first people to think these things, IQD calls for a “do-it-yourself celebration of romance, friendship, and independent spirit. It’s a celebration of all kinds of love: romantic, platonic, familial, and yes, self-love.”  Good times.
  • Option #3: V-Day.  For the activists out there, Valentine’s provides a great opportunity to reconnect with Eve Ensler’s “global movement to stop violence against women and girls.”  Seriously, do you need a better cause?

Now, I must return to my duties as an admittedly offbeat Goddess of Love.

(Non)sense of Smell.

January 13, 2009

anchor

One of my three brothers has been producing television newscasts for nearly a decade now, and he will be the first to tell you that “news” — perhaps particularly on television — is as much an entertainment field as game shows or nighttime dramas.  Keeping that in mind, it’s always interesting to me, when I do watch the news, to see what’s included and how it’s framed.  The fact that (as my grandma would put it), it’s “all a big dog show” doesn’t change the fact that it’s perceived, a lot of times, as simple fact.  And when the news covers “science” — which we also mis-construe as bias-free — things get doubly shady, meaning (from my perspective, of course) that they get doubly interesting.

Up until almost two weeks ago, when I crossed state lines to spend some time with my niece, I was actually staying with my grandma, watching several newscasts a day from a local station that I probably wouldn’t bother with normally, but which I have no concrete reason to distrust.  When their science beat teased audiences with a story about results from a “new study,” my interest understandably perked.  I have a professor with a feed on her computer set up to alert her of the nine million (or so) new studies that hit the scientific community each day, so I know the news media has a significant amount of material to choose from, and I was curious which story they had chosen and how they would frame it.  I would have been even more interested if I’d known then what I discovered later that night, with the help of some quick Internet searches:  The “new” study, covered by this local news station last week, was actually released over six months ago, in mid-August.   Get with the times, people.  Sheesh.

The study itself focuses on birth control, and its findings — even diluted for the AP feed — are not uninteresting.  According to (other) research, (heterosexual) women (although no one bothers to specify that, annoyingly) are largely attracted to men whose major histocompatibility complex (say that three times fast, or just go with MHC), best complements their own.  Basically, the belief is that genes are encoded in scent and (het’ro) women are attracted to men whose genes are most different from their own.  From an evolutionary perspective, this makes some sense: when men and women with different genetic backgrounds mate, their offspring have stronger immune systems and fewer genetic health problems.  However, with the hormone shift of taking contraceptives, women’s smell-based preferences reportedly shift as well, landing on people whose genes are more similar.

This would largely just strike me as interesting if not for the various conclusions drawn from it, both in that initial broadcast and in the articles I’ve dug up since:  I’ve seen birth control blamed for divorce rates, break-ups, and infidelity, just to name a few of the winners.  The most interesting claim to me, though, is the idea that birth control interferes with the ability to choose one’s ideal partner.  I’m fascinated by the way that ideal is being defined.  Although a few of the articles bother to use terms like “most genetically compatible” or “best reproductive potential,” the majority stick with popular language, making claims about birth control as an obstacle in finding “Mr. Right” etc.  This completely floors me.  Not only have we reduced “relationships” to exclusive heterosexual relationships, but we’ve reduced those exclusive heterosexual relationships to a forum for reproduction.  In the majority of reflections I’ve read on this study, there’s no mention of relational fulfillment outside of procreation, of a Mister or Misses Right whose capacity for babymaking is not priortized.  (God forbid one whose procreative compatibility is irrelevant.)  There are multiple mentions of increased difficulty with infertility for people with similar MHCs and an increased risk of misscarriages, but no discussion of the childfree population.  Arguably, this is not their focus, but even with their focus elsewhere, isn’t it a tricky decision to shift the definition of relationship so far in one direction, to lose track of emotional/ social/ psychological compatibility in favor of the best reproductive odds?  Bizarrely, this leaves only those populations that don’t really need birth control — homosexuals, asexuals, the infertile, etc — “safe” taking it.  Is this really a claim we need to tout on the nightly Healthbeat?

I mean, I’m a big fan of smell myself.  But we have five other senses, not to mention our often stellar cognitive abilities.  How’s about we use them all?

In Which Asexuality Goes Green.

January 5, 2009

colorwheel

I meant to post this, as a much shorter snippet, well over a week ago.  But I didn’t finish babbling before I had to leave that evening, and alas, it hit the back burner until now.  So, um, enjoy?

I’ve been reading some very interesting things lately, upon my long-belated reentry into the blogosphere.  Among them are Pretzelboy’s recent thoughts on the claim that “all people are sexual.”  It’s no secret that I was a fan of Carol Queen’s comments to David about a more inclusive definition of sexuality that could even encompass asexuality, although I maintained reservations along the lines of “I wouldn’t want anyone claiming that my homosexuality could be encompassed in their ‘more inclusive version/ of heterosexuality.”  I said a version of that in response to Cory Silverburg’s article as well, but was largely assured by those asexual-identifying folks who responded that the idea bothered them less, because they didn’t see asexuality as the binarial opposite of sexuality (ala homosexuality and heterosexuality) but rather as a place on the larger spectrum of sexuality. 

However, Pretzelboy has raised some points recently that draw my mind in new directions, although the conclusions are (as usual) pending.  With the exception of his superb satire, perhaps the most compelling point in Pretzelboy’s series (for me personally) occurs when he questions the effect of broadly defining sexuality on asexual sex-ed students:

The people in sexuality education seem to use a “broad” definition of sexuality because that makes sense in their lives. But for asexuals sitting in on their classes, does such a definition make sense of their experiences or does it render them invisible? Does this “broad” definition empower them or does it declare them disordered? Does it validate their experiences? Does it help them think about decisions they have to make regarding relationships, regarding sexulaity, and about their lives more generally?

I have no desire to render anyone invisible.  Based largely on Pretzelboy’s posts, I highly doubt that the clearest understanding of asexuality is rendered through the lens of sexuality.  Imagine the inversion.  Imagine basing our understanding of sexuality entirely — or even largely — on asexuality.   While it’s less likely, given the power of the majority to determine social perspective, it’s hardly less confining.  I’m reminded of a train ride I took recently, and the difficulty I had seeing the minimal landscape through the foggy glass of the train windows.  I’m reminded even more of a series of Through the Viewfinder (TTV) photos a friend of mine has been working on, in which each shot is taken through lenses from two different cameras.  The representation of the image loses certain clarity, and in some ways its realism is compromised as a result.  I would argue, however, that it’s not necessarily the lens on asexuality that’s the true problem, but more precisely, the prioritization of this one perspective, this one representation, this one understanding.

When I first read Pretzelboy’s posts, the metaphor that occurred to me had nothing to do with train windows or photographs.  Rather, it was a metaphor of color.  This is hardly unprecedented in the discussion of a/sexuality, I know.  We’ve had the problematic metaphor of asexuality as equivalent to colorblindness and the general discussion of the a/sexuality spectrum in terms of the color spectrum, but this particular thought had more to do with how we come to understand each individual color.  Take green.  Based only on the color wheel, if someone asked you to explain green, you could answer them in several different ways.  You could say that green was like blue, but with a higher concentration of yellow.  You could say that green was like yellow, but with a higher concentration of blue.  You could direct them to imagine the complementary opposite of red, or a “cool” color more in range with purple than, say, orange.  Each of these explanations would give the person some information about green, likely increasing their understanding of the color.  Ideally, each of the explanations could combine with the others to create a strong foundation for understanding green, so that it was not simply a matter of choosing the best description (is it best to imagine the opposite?  or to describe things that are similar?), but of offering a multitude of descriptions, which — in concert — help highlight the true nature of the hue.

For the purposes of this post, I’m calling asexuality green, and I’m wondering if the obstacle in our gaining (or offering) clarity about the nature of asexuality isn’t so much a problem of looking through the wrong lens (i.e. coming at it from the “complement” perspective of the sexual red, and trying to understand it as the opposite), but rather an issue of too few lenses.   If we could understand asexuality not solely in relationship to sexuality, but also in relationship to its color-wheel neighbors, (the blues and yellows of its world, say celibacy or homosexuality or… well, what might you suggest?) , as well as  in relationship to colors with similar degrees of warmth, and finally — based solely on its own information (viewing green starting with green), we might have a more multi-dimensional grasp on the experience.  The problem I see now is that one perspective — the perspective that starts with the opposite and works its way around the wheel — has been prioritized to the point that it’s difficult to start anywhere else.  And that’s limiting our understanding.

Come to think of it, that’s limiting our understanding of sexuality as well.  Having comprehended it largely on its own grounds, rarely investigating the surrounding and complementary territories, how much can we truly know?

Note to Teeth: Bite Me.

December 22, 2008

 teeth_ver33

One of my best friends is a connesieur of horror films, a fact that’s been something of a twist in my life, given my seriously ingrained adversion to them.  (My brother once commented — some would say rightfully — that the scariest movie in my personal collection is Finding Nemo.  But come on, that first scene with the shark attack is hard-core, don’t you think?)  But anyway, in honor of said friend’s taste and to celebrate her graduation, last weekend we watched Teeth together.  I’ve been initiated, over the past year or so, to enough truly frightening films that I figured I could handle a self-proclaimed horror-comedy.  Indeed, Teeth — the story of a teenage girl embedded in the abstinence movement, who eventually discovers a pair of dentures embedded in her genitalia, — pushes its humor at least as far as its horror or its moments of grindhouse grotesque.  The comedy factor isn’t really what interests me, though.  For starters, I’m a bigger fan of the unintentionally hilarious “horror films” (see either version of The Wicker Man), which somehow give the impression of an honest attempt to terrify that simply miserably, miserably failed.  And on a more complicated note, there’s an assumption underlying Teeth’s premise (and therefore its comedy) which strikes me, frankly, as borderline tragic.

I’ll set the scene as best I can by explaining this film is by no means “understated.”  A baseball bat with the word “symbolism” scrawled across it could basically have been applied directly to my skull, and still created a subtler effect.  “Character development” is equally no-holds-barred.  If, three seconds into encountering our heroine’s stepbrother, you have not firmly gripped that he’s absolutely her foil, I expect there are some remaining social services you might benefit from receiving.  But in the midst of all this obviousness, there are a handful of questions that do go unanswered, most of which are more interesting to me than the film itself.  For instance:  How does Dawn, the protagonist we first glimpse as an apparently run-of-the-mill toddler (minus the second set of chompers, of course), end up so firmly rooted in the abstinence movement by her teenage years?  What motivates this particular young woman to become the poster-child for celibacy, giving speeches and even donning t-shirts in support of her cause?

The closest thing to an explanation offered in the film itself strikes me as pretty problematic:  Dawn’s vagina dentata are framed not simply as a mutation, but as a biological adaptation, a genetic fluke Mother Nature might do well to make note of and keep in mind for future generations.  A scene in a science classroom discusses mutations as an essential component of evolution, implying that Dawn’s condition is somehow beneficial to the survival of the species.  Perhaps it’s intended simply to suggest that the extra pair of teeth would be good insurance against a world where every available male — be he your first love, your stepbrother, or your gynecologist — presents a threat, but that conflation of female protection with male peril is a huge part of what bothers me.  If the vagina dentata myth really does originate, as even the film describes, in men’s fear of castration and their terror over women’s sexuality, how does that narrative transition into anything that can be deemed a “feminist” reclaiming?  I’ve done a handful of quick Google searches on the movie, and the film is definitely framed that way, if not necessarily by feminists themselves.  Rotton Tomatoes not only granted it a (beyond generous) score of 82%, but further claimed the film put “a fresh feminist spin on horror movie tropes.”  Critics and bloggers alike — (sidenote: is there much of a difference anymore?) — suggest that, far from being anti-woman, the film actually reclaims the original myth, landing firmly on women’s “side.”  The notion, then, is that women’s sexuality — or even our survival — is somehow in opposition to male desire.  Male sexuality is equated with male-perpetrated sexual violence, and female sexuality with purity we can only maintain by, quite literally, cutting men off at the pass.

Is anyone else facepalming at this point?  Or are we all so used to these representations that we no longer deem them worth the gesture?  It’s possible I just don’t exhaust easily enough, but this still frustrates me.  Why do we socially maintain this tendency to understand women’s strength — in relation to sexuality — as about either personal “restraint” (in maintaining virginity) or about conquering / controlling / castrating men?  Why do we set up male and female (hetero)sexuality as oppositional, especially considering they all but require the other?   

Is there seriously no healthy sexual encounter that can coexist with strength for women?  What would that look like, in terms of representation?  Who does the myth of the virgin/ whore or — in this case — a sort of virgin/ succubus serve so well that we must continually create and recreate it, until we’re eventually trying to sell it as empowering? 

Because honestly the claim is just that.  According to Urban Cinefile, Teeth is the story of a “a woman who turns her imperfection into empowerment.”  I’ll try not to get started on the notion of vaginal teeth as an “imperfection”  — a simple failure to achieve some feminine ideal — but if I pass on that soapbox, can I point out that the notion of Dawn as sexually empowered should not sit well with any of us?  As a woman, my sexual empowerment should not conflict with the sexual empowerment of any male.  It shouldn’t lead to violence against him any more than his empowered sexuality should lead to violence against me.  No offense to Teeth, but I think I’ll hold out for another story of female sexual empowerment, perhaps nicely situated outside the horror realm.  Maybe even one located in reality.  Now there’s a thought.

Fighting the Right for Rights.

November 9, 2008

lori-shepler-los-angeles-times

Photo Credit: Lori Shepler/ Los Angeles Times

The day before we went to the polls (and elected Obama, — whoo!), I wrote a little something on Facebook, pressing people in California to consider voting against Prop 8 and people with friends in California to consider talking with them about the need to vote no.  When the (overwhelmingly positive) responses to that piece started flooding in, I began to second-guess my decision to share, not (simply) because I’m semi-allergic to compliments (regardless of how much I crave them), but also because I wondered how truly I had represented my feelings on gay marriage. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I obviously believe that everyone has the right to choose how to express their commitments, and that no one should be denied that on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.  That’s basically a no-brainer for me, as it was for everyone else I know who voted in the state of California.  But my relationship to marriage remains more complicated than that.  On a personal level, I witnessed the deterioration of my parents’ marriage, in addition to their endlessly messy divorce (when I was eighteen), and to this day can’t really choose between the marriage and the divorce for the greater tragedy.  On a political level, I don’t really agree that the government has any right to determine which relationships “deserve” civil rights and which do not, since I know many cohabitating couples who are more commited than married folks, and many non-romantic relationships that will outlast marriages.  And while I wouldn’t impose my personal uncertainty about marriage or my political opposition to it on any other person — queer or straight — I feel that, when I wrote that piece, I played up my cookie-cutter-straight-self for the sake of an argument.  I’ve actually mentioned before that I don’t approve of this process, that I dislike the tendency in the lgbt community to try and adapt to heteronormative expectations, in order to convince the mainstream world that we are really just like them, plain American folks desperate for a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever, but I see better now where that tendency comes from.  Reading the likelihood that Prop 8 would pass (or fail, barely) in the days before the election, I felt a little desperate to share why it couldn’t, and the argument I chose to make wasn’t a rational argument of equal rights, but an emotional “allow me to tug at your heartstrings” plea for my own future wedding (because I am, apparently, “just like you” and that is all I want.)  Granted, I’m not against an emotional punch here and there to achieve equal rights, but let me be honest: I have never picked up a bridal magazine.  I have never considered whether mine should be a summer wedding.  I have never considered colors for bridesmaids’ dresses or picked out flowers or conceived of a marriage ceremony as “my day.”  When I consider my future, although I desire relationships, although I daydream more and more about finding a girlfriend or even a partner, marriage isn’t something I picture.  It’s not impossible, but it ends up with status similar to… well… skydiving, for instance:  I won’t write it off entirely, but it doesn’t usually occur to me as an option, and I’m sure as hell not preparing for it.

Of course, the fact that it doesn’t occur to me as an option is part of a problem, the real problem, which is that as queer people, we deserve the same things granted to everyone else.  I don’t mean simply the same civil rights — which “civil unions” grant us, but also the same words, the same ceremonies, and the same social status.  Those of us who want weddings should not find the government standing in the way of that, but I struggle with the fact that I represented myself, in that piece, as one such person.  It’s the easier way to make the argument, but it’s only a partial truth.  Frankly, it bothers me that we have to sacrifice facets of ourselves — or feel we have to sacrifice those facets — in order to make progress.  David has mentioned at Love from the Asexual Underground that he represents himself as more traditionally masculine when speaking about asexuality (on talk shows, etc) than he might do otherwise, and he and I talked this summer about the fact that those places where his asexuality grows gray can be lost in a presentation he gives, because to some extent he becomes a symbol.  It’s hard for me to be comfortable with myself as a symbol, and in the days after I wrote that — I wondered whether it had been worth it.  I started to ask myself, if Prop 8 had failed, and I’d known my piece to play a part in that, would I have been ok with the way that I had fought?

Of course, Prop 8 didn’t fail, and mistakes are supposedly some of our best teachers, so I’m looking now at how I might have done things differently, and how we as a community might consider doing things differently.  Ily asked in her post on the matter if the lgbt community should consider re-focusing for awhile on other issues, perhaps bringing the world (or even the larger queer community) up to speed on trans issues, which —  let’s face it — we’ve thrown under the bus for some time now in favor of that cookie-cutter homosexuality we hope the normies will find easier to stomach.  A friend of mine in Florida — one of the three states that banned gay marriage this election — tells me that’s her sense of what needs to happen there: a sort of “wait and see” approach that gives an adolescent country time to mature.  My first concern with that strategy is that I’ve rarely seen time heal much, or even help it progress.  I don’t think we managed to elect Barack Obama this past Tuesday because over two-hundred years have passed since slavery; I think we elected him because of strong social action that has taken place during that time.  My second concern has to do with my own experience with that kind of social action, which has taught me to harness energy when it comes, and right now there is real energy behind marriage equality.  Gay marriage may not be my number one issue, or even my number one goal for queer rights — it may not be anything close to that — but right now, people across the country (and the world), gay, straight, bi, ace, poly, and beyond are horrified about discrimination over marriage.  People are taking to the streets, to the courts, and to cyberspace trying to change this, and I don’t think that’s something we should quell.  I think we should use it.  Sadly, there’s some truth to the idea that nothing unites people more quickly than a common enemy, and given that, I think the right-wing was stupid to help this pass, simply because they’ve given us such a clear enemy.

At least… I thought it was clear.  I thought it was clear that our fight here was against injustice, that we wanted not revenge but a restoration of our rights.  Instead, I’m finding fingers pointed at people, with a reported mentality that looks something like “let’s find out who was to blame, and let’s punish them.”  I don’t know how accurate this perspective is, how representative the articles really are that say we — as a community — blame people of color or blame the Mormons.  I know that I personally think these arguments are completely ridiculous and seriously flawed (respectively).  Last I checked, the vote cast by a person of color has never counted more in this country than the vote of a white person.  (Less, yes.  But more?)  So, I’m thinking that — regardless of color — the people who voted for Prop 8 are responsible for passing it, with the caveat that some of those people were talked into voting for it by the aggressive Yeson8 campaign, which was funded largely by outside interests, including a large number of Mormons.  I’m not going to claim I have not been pissed at “the Mormons” during the course of this battle.  You don’t supply an anti-lgbt campaign with (reportedly) more than $20 million, without garnering a portion of animosity from this particular ‘dork, and I did spend a day or two walking around asking people how long it’s been since the Mormon community practiced polygamy, and whether that really goes along with this notion of “traditonal” marriage between one man and one woman.  (Don’t get me started on how non-traditional that definition really is.  We’ll save that entry.)  Eventually, though, I realized that anger wasn’t doing anything, and that the best outlet for my frustration is action against its true source.  That source really isn’t Mormons, or any other particular group.  Rather, it’s the denial of rights by a government I expect to protect them. 

It may very well be valuable to look into who supported Prop 8, and in that regard, to whatever extent that religious communities played a part, religion needs to be considered.  But it does not need to be looked into so that we can start flogging Mormons in the streets or force the secession of Utah.  It needs to be considered so that it can be addressed.  I’d rather identify issues than individuals because issues can be discussed and resolved.  Whether it’s religious doctrine or a certain interpretation of religious texts, whether it’s pressure from leaders they have given authority or the reality of never having known an out gay person, information about what happened in California (and Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas) strikes me as significantly more valuable than a list of the people I need to hate.  I understand the desire to hit back with equal energy, and I do think we should launch a campaign to repeal Prop 8 as strong as the Yeson8 campaign was, if not stronger.  But ultimately, I’m not interested in fighting fire with fire.  I’d rather fight fire with water, and actually put out the flame.  I’d rather invest my anger and my energy in action that could secure for us the rights the government refuses to secure on our behalf.

And I want to keep in mind that President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama (I will never grow tired of saying that) spoke of gay people as a part of the American community immediately upon being elected.  Since then, he has stated that hiring for the new administration will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and that said administration will pass a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  I believe that we are making progress.  I want to believe that we will go still further, and that when he said these words on November 4, he wanted us to hear them as our own:

To all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright –tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.  For that is the true genius of America — that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

The hope Obama symbolizes is not something I’m willing to surrender quite so soon.  So, as a community, let’s continue balancing our hope (our disappointment, and our frustration) with a heavy dose of social action.  And let’s orient that action toward our true goals and the issues that stand in the way of them, so that our victory –when it comes — is not further division, but instead the renewed right to love as we love.

Ask Me about My Agenda.

November 2, 2008

Image Ganked with Gratitude from EverydayCitizen.Com

You don’t have to be a California citizen to know that, on top of the presidential election that has most of the nation (and a large portion of the globe) holding its breath, Tuesday has huge stakes for Californians specifically.  As an absentee voter, I’ve already seen the ballot, and as a social policy geek, I found myself defensive when I saw that particular art/ science so misused in the various propositions presented to California voters.  (I address California’s in particular because that’s the ballot I shared this time around, but I hardly expect it’s much better anywhere else.)  Prop 8, which is hardly the only ill-informed measure seeking approval (and which Melissa Etheridge’s son has officially proclaimed lame), seeks to ban same-sex marriage, legally defining marriage as between a man and a woman.  You probably already know that.  And you may remember that, despite California’s largely progressive reputation, same-sex marriage has actually only been legal in California since mid-May, when the state’s Supreme Court declared that sexual orientation was not “a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights.”  Although where I’m currently stationed in America’s “heartland,” California is perceived as something like that radical black-sheep uncle, who — when family functions come around — is conveniently left off the invitation list, the chances that Prop 8 will pass remain strong, stronger actually than my stomach does considering them.  California did elect the Gubernator, remember, and although I’m the same girl often in trouble among her engaged friends for stubbornly insisting she has no desire to marry, I am waiting for Wednesday with an uncomfortable amount of nerves.

I want to talk a little bit about this so-called piece of legislation, not to persuade anyone to vote against it (if I know you, you read this, and you have a vote in CA, you’re already opposing it, to my knowledge), and not because I think people are unaware of this issue, but because the way the debate is being framed speaks to an issue I see surfacing again and again in the queer community — the gay and lesbian community specifically — that really frustrates me, even though I feel I understand the impulse guiding it.  On a surface-level, it has to do with confusion and conflict between essentialist and social constructionist perspectives, but more basically, it remains a simple fundamental fact of fear.

Let me offer a simplified lesson in perspectives for anyone new to these terms.  (I promise you’ll have encountered the ideas behind them, even if the words for those ideas are new.)  An essentialist perspective basically states that people are born with certain personality characteristics, which are hard-wired into their biology and their genetic make-up.  So, if an essentialist is looking at gender, she or he is likely to tell you that boys are born more aggressive, more rowdy, and more active than girls, who are born more nurturing, more polite, and more passive.  A hard-core social constructionist would completely disagree with that notion, saying that at birth we are basically blank slates, and we learn gender (or whatever characteristic we’re discussing) through social rules, imitation, reinforcement, reward systems, et cetera.  The social constructionist would say that most girls prefer to play with dolls because they’re encouraged to do so, while most boys dislike playing with dolls because they experience a negative response from others when they do.  Although a lot of people believe in a middle ground between the two ideas (not entirely negating the role of biology or the fact that it does, in fact, interact with environment), there remains a sense that certain aspects of self are simply hard-wired, and that this hard-wiring somehow makes them more legitimate.  I think of it as similar to physical versus mental illness.  In the States, a physical illness is considered “real” in a way that mental illnesses rarely are, at least by the general population.  Character traits are often the same: in order to be legitimate, they must be proven biological.

The same goes for sexuality.  As a pretty strong social-constructionist, I don’t believe that I was born gay, a fact which often shocks people I’m talking to, partly because it puts me in a minority (within a minority) and partly because the majority of society has only considered two options regarding “alternative” sexualities: Either we were born this way or we chose it.  To suggest that sexuality is a choice, when the reality of it — given the times — can result in anything from divorce to death, is entirely unfair.  I don’t believe that, even slightly.  But I also don’t believe that I was gay as an infant, that I have a gay gene, that straight people don’t have a gay gene, or that they were born straight.  (What about bisexual people?  Do they have a less-active gay gene?  How does this work?  No, wait.  Don’t answer that.)  What I find interesting is that, when we’re inclined to legitimize or de-legitimize certain sexual orientations, we embrace a weirdly conflictual combination of essentialist and social constructionist perspectives.  For instance:

The multi-million dollar “Yes on 8″ campaign has aired a series of ads, one of which suggests that if the proposition fails, California children will be taught about homosexuality in the classroom, from a very young age, which will undermine heterosexuality and marriage as institutions, and — basically — ensure the impending Apocolypse.  Never mind that there is nothing about education in the proposition, never mind that no sex ed starts as young as we’re supposedly planning to target these kids, and never mind that you can’t teach someone a sexual orientation.  One would think the failure of so-called reparative therapy would have proven that by now, but apparently it hasn’t.  The scare tactic they’re employing is the same one employed by opponents to gay parents adopting: if we have access to children, we will replicate our “pathology.” We will somehow “teach” or “convince” kids to be gay.  (Because it’s so much fun.  Ok, actually it is.  But not so much during election season.)  What’s interesting about this is that almost none of the people who believe this believe they learned, were convinced, or chose to be straight.  Since hetero is the “natural” / default sexuality, the homophobic population for the most part presumes that it’s an essential trait, the way they were born, and the right way to be born.  (Unquestionable essentialism, right?)  But in the same breath, they can turn around and say that a minority sexuality was constructed by a certain kind of environment, that we must protect “our kids” against these kinds of environments, and that homos must have their sexualities re-constructed through appropriate therapies.

The only way this makes sense, to whatever extent it does, is to acknowledge that the majority of these lgbtq opponents believe that homosexuality is some sort of pathology, which could develop in a fundamentally different way than a “healthy” heterosexuality develops.  So, that’s their excuse for the hypocrisy, which I can shake my head at it and dismiss.  But… speaking from the queer minority, what’s ours?

Because, let’s be clear here, we do it, too.  We may be more consistent, but as a population we’re not supporting a social constructionist viewpoint.  In fact, we’re terrified to do so because we recognize how dangerous it is for us.  The idea that I wasn’t born gay leaves me vulnerable to a slew of arguments.  “Well, what happened?”  (I don’t know.  What happened to make you straight?)  “Then how is it natural?”  (Who said biology was the only legitimate science?)  “You mean you chose it?”  (No more than you chose to be het’ro.)  “Isn’t that an argument for reparative therapy?  I mean, if you were turned gay, couldn’t you be turned straight?”  (I never said I was “turned” gay… for all I know, we’re born neutral, or perhaps with predispositions in favor of something that can shift in time.  The fact that it wasn’t hard-wired at birth doesn’t mean it isn’t hard-wired now, and I could no more easily turn myself straight than a straight person could turn themselves gay, which most of the homophobes are willing to admit is a toss-up between “not bloody likely” and “frikkin impossible.”)  All of these arguments are arguments I use; they are — to an extent — my arguments, ones I’ve adopted and shaped and written as conversations have replayed (with different people) again and again over the years.  But they’re flawed arguments as well, and from my perspective, the overall argument of the queer community that we were born queer is equally flawed.  Bill Richardson crashed and burned in the HRC/ LOGO forum with the Democratic presidential candidates because he suggested people weren’t born gay.  He wasn’t trying to be radical; he fumbled an easy question and later claimed jet lag — but the fact that it was intended to be an easy question is telling.  The formation of sexuality is not uncomplicated; it’s not something we understand entirely, but the queer community, having been put on the defensive, has simplified it tremendously.  We’ve gone in search of a gay gene, we’ve carved in stone a narrative about having known from childhood that we were different somehow, we’ve decided our queerness is biological to protect its validity, and in doing so, we’ve entirely ignored the real argument we need to be making.

It doesn’t matter why… because it isn’t wrong.

Seriously.  It doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter if I’m gay because of my genes, or my brain chemistry, or the state that I live in, or the way I was raised, or the friends that I have, or the air that I breathe, or the books that I read, or the time I was born, so on and so forth beyond infinity.  It doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t matter how I got to be the way I am (interesting as it can be to speculate and study possibilities) because who I am does not need validation.  My sexuality doesn’t need a biological basis in order to be approved.  An environmental basis doesn’t make it any less real, any less fundamental, or any less an active facet of who I am.  My sexuality is not a pathology.  Not mine, and not anyone else’s.

Look at those earlier questions again.  What if the answer to “What happened?” was “I don’t know, but I’m happy it did!”  What if the answer to “How is it natural?” was “because it feels like a fit”?  What if, when people asked me if I chose this, I could safely admit to them that if I had received a “select your orientation” form growing up, (which I can assure you I did not), I would have chosen the sexuality I have.  Because I like it, it fits for me, it works.  It’s right for me.

As for reparative therapy, we’re making the wrong argument there, too.  We’re arguing, constantly, that sexuality can’t be changed and that it’s psychologically damaging to try.  The part about psychological damage is true; the part arguing against sexual fluidity is more problematic for some people.  But we could just as easily be arguing that it doesn’t matter whether these “therapies” work or how well.  There’s no pathology for them to cure.  Why treat something that isn’t wrong?  It’s a waste of energy.  You might as well treat me for preferring cookie dough ice cream to mint chocolate chip.  Your ability to re-wire my preferences is irrelevant.  It’s the goal itself that’s wrong.

On Tuesday, Californians are voting on Prop 8, and hopefully they’re voting in favor of an individual’s right to love in the way they see fit.  But in the meantime, we’ll continue hearing all these bullshit arguments about the biological basis for marriage.  Having to shake my head at them for that is one thing.  But having to shake my head at us for playing the same essentialist game, without having questioned the rules?  I’ll proclaim that one lame myself.


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