I may have mentioned this before, but given that I’m perpetually indecisive so multifaceted, I’m currently double-majoring, pursuing degrees in social work and English (while minoring in gender studies). This translates into a projected graduation date some time around my eightieth birthday, but I still like to daydream sometimes about what I might choose to do with my degrees, should I ever successfully finish earning them. My most recent thought, resurrected from a daydream I had roughly a decade ago, is to pursue a hybrid of writing and therapy, something that resembles art therapy, basically, with creative writing (my first rather passionate, asexual love) in the place of visual art. Not long ago, I discussed this possibility with a (new!) friend, and he suggested I work with the LGBTetc population. I filed it in the “not a crazy thought” drawer of my mental desk, since I’ve learned through the LGBT-related activism I’ve helped spearhead on my campus that this is actually a population I rather enjoy working for and with, despite my early resistence to allowing my orientation — (which is, not surprisingly, what sparked my interest in the population to begin with) — such a defining role in my life. However, as a week or two has pushed itself between this moment and that initial conversation, I find myself more and more drawn to the possibilities of story therapy with the LGBTetc community, and I can’t help myself; I want to share why.
There’s a thoroughly unsubstantiated theory budding in my brain at the moment about marginalized populations, such as the gay and lesbian population or the asexual population. It links, in some ways, to the point identified in that Peggy McIntosh article I mentioned in an earlier post, about the fact that only dominant groups see themselves consistently represented in media and mainstream art. Because only dominant groups are allowed to tell their stories (or have their stories told), I suspect that the experiences of non-dominant communities are doubly collapsed. First, of course, they’re collapsed by the dominant population; the stories that are told about them are only told about them (as opposed to by them) and have their basis in stereotypes. Perhaps more disturbingly to me, the individual stories are squashed a second time by the individuals of the population itself, as they attempt to secure their own rights. In an effort to create a unified front, I think marginalized populations start to minimize diversity within their groups; we pretend that we’re all the same (or closer to the same) than we actually are because we think it makes it easier for us to work together. As a result of both of these pressures for uniformity, only one story of what it means to be lesbian (or gay, or trans) seems to get told consistently.
I find this easiest to explain in terms of lesbianism, because that’s the area where I can start to identify key points of the story. (The U-Haul comes to mind.) But I know it’s applicable in other portions of the group as well. Let’s start with this example, though. When members of the gay and lesbian population are interviewed about their story, one of the questions asked so consistently it appears mandated is “when did you know?” “Mr. or Ms. Gay Person, when did you first realize you were gay?” The answers vary, obviously, but there’s an aspect of them that I notice so frequently, it seems unrealistically, disproportionately uniform. Regardless of when Mr. or Ms. “Gay Person” knew he/she was gay, they speak of the sense, from a very young age, that they were different, different in a way that perhaps they didn’t understand, but markedly and noticeably different from their (presumably straight) peers.
This… strikes me as inconsistent. On the one hand, it seems like an odd story for the LBGT community to offer if it’s not consistently the case, given that one of their — (I’m compelled to distance myself from this particular claim; hence the third-person pronoun) — claims is that we’re exactly the same as the non-queer folks, except for this minor issue of orientation. Still, I really cannot wrap my head around the idea that the majority of queer folks knew they were different somehow, in relation to their queer identity, from the time that they were very young children. To begin with, I’m a queer person who can’t do this. Did I feel different in childhood? Certainly. But not for any reason I can logically connect with my (a)sexuality and orientation. I felt different for economic reasons, religious reasons, and so forth, but as far as sexuality, well, as I recall it was perfectly normal to have no interest in boys until I was ten, and perfectly acceptable until I was twelve or so. (As a sidenote, I can see this being very different for trans folks, as people start socializing you into your gender before you’re even born.) Still, I don’t remember sexuality, even a child’s version of it, being clear enough for any of my friends before the sixth grade or so for anyone (including me) to recognize mine as potentially deviant from the mainstream. I also can’t see any statistically significant tendency to bond more with other folks who would later identify as LGBT in some way. And while this is one only one girl’s story, it’s still one girl’s story, and that … is kind of my point.
When the culture — and even the “subculture,” the non-dominant population itself — insists that something like this is a common-to-the-point-it’s-uniform component of a gay or lesbian individual’s identity, it’s completely reasonable that gay and lesbian individuals begin to look for that aspect of their own story. We internalize what we’re taught to expect, after all. Right? The more that one story is touted, the more that we lose the diversity of the population itself, and we lose track of individual voices, and speaking as someone who was borderline mute for a few years — (heh, “speaking as someone who was borderline mute”… now there’s a noteworthy phrase) — I consider that a seriously dangerous possibility. I consider it extremely important to my mental health to keep track of my own voice, and I don’t think that’s entirely due to the fact that one of my primary identifications is as a writer. One of the reasons I’m compelled to write this now, and here, is that I think the asexual community, specifically, has a somewhat unprecedented opportunity. In contrast with several other queer populations, asexuals — largely because of their “newness” on the social radar — don’t seem to have a consistent story that’s being touted. That’s one of things I’ve found most striking about the asexual communities I participate in, actually. Given the various subcategories of “aromantic,” “biromantic,” “heteroromantic,” and “homoromantic,” and more surprisingly even within those categories, there’s an unbelievable sense of diversity among people who identify as asexual. At least, there is for now. I wonder, though, how long it will last as asexuals fight for acknowledgement and representation (particularly in media). One of the reasons I think the community of asexual blogs that is sprouting across the web is so powerful is because people are telling their own stories and giving their own perspectives. Plural. I don’t doubt that it will be more difficult for this community to affect change while maintaining that sense of pluralism, but it’s something I would really love to see. Asexuality is revolutionary partly because it offers people a chance to define their story outside of the “we are all fundamentally sexual beings” template, challenging the very definition of “sexuality.” It gives people the opportunity to define for themselves who they fundamentally are. I would really hate to see that compromised, to see it transition to the point that it offers only one alternative story, the collapsed Asexual Person’s Narrative, instead of a space where people can explore themselves and define their “character” in their own terms.
The job security that such a move would potentially grant me aside, I would very much like to see us prevent that.