In Search of the Other Half.

In the course of my sister’s wedding festivities, I ended up having lunch at a semi-tasty Mexican restaurant with my sister-in-law, who mentioned a conference she recently attended that talked about the Myers-Briggs personality test, in relationship to one’s professional and personal personas. I think most people are familiar with the test, but sufficeth to say that it categorizes an individual in terms of where they fall on four dichotomies (introversion/ extroversion, intuiting/ sensing, thinking/ feeling, and judging/ perceiving). When you take the test, you end up with a four letter descriptor (perhaps you’re an INFJ like Albus Dumbledore, or an ESTJ like Percy Weasley), which supposedly is unchanging. (Unless you’re me, and vascillate constantly between the J/P poles.) Regardless, what interested me about Sister-in-Law’s experience was a suggestion on the part of the speaker that the 20s and 30s are a time when people often explore the “other” aspect of their personality. So, in Myers-Briggs’s terms, our pal Albus would — as a twenty-something — have been likely to explore extraversion, sensing, thinking, and perceiving, while Percy might have explored intraversion — (would have served him to do a bit more reflecting, sans the narcissism, in my humble opinion!) — intuiting, feeling, and perceiving. (At least, this is true assuming that piratemonkey really has their Myers-Briggs evaluation of the HP characters in order. But for the sake of this explanation, let’s assume they contacted Rowling beforehand, shall we?)

The Myers-Briggs aspect of the discussion interested me less than the notion that in our twenties and thirties we explore the “other” side of our personality (perhaps more consistently than we do in later years). Obviously, there’s a sense that the college years (to some extent, whether one attends college or not) are a time for self-exploration and -definition to the point that “what happens in college stays in college” (e.g. the increased heteroflexibility straight people tend to display, or admit to having displayed, at least “that one time in college“), but the idea that we potentially explore specifically the aspects of our personality that are not as dominant or instinctual in our twenties strikes me as interesting.  Especially when you consider that the twenties and thirties are often considered prime dating years, and thus a time for exploring the relational aspect of self in particular.  Case and point, another personality lens: Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development, which suggest that the main struggle for 18- to 35-year-olds is “intimacy versus isolation.”  Because one too many sociology classes has forever destroyed my ability to think solely in terms of the individual, I immediately jumped (upon hearing  about Erikson’s claims in an intro psych class) to social pressure to explore the dating scene and seek out a marriage partner between the time one reaches legal adulthood (18, in the States at least) and the time one turns 35.  I argued that this was not necessarily our main struggle, so much as it was the struggle we were encouraged by our society to be having during this stage, a point I still consider valid and possibly valid in relation to other of Erikson’s stages as well.  My point in this entry, however, was that if, as twenty- and thirty-somethings, we are — for whatever reason — inclined to explore our relational selves, and we are also inclined to explore our “other” selves, then it seems to follow logically that we would consider our “other” relational selves. 

Such a possibility seems increasingly likely in our current culture, which manages a sort of fair-weather queer identity, one that allows a certain (limited) amount of freedom for straight people to experiment with queer experience, even as it remains queer-negative in terms of social policy, religious propaganda, the definition of marriage (even in federally-funded sex “education”), et cetera.  I wonder to what extent this privilege of “flexibility” extends to out queers.  (“Queers” in this case excluding bisexuals, as I’m presuming people who are even rather “rigidly” bisexual manage at least as much sexual flexibility as the most heteroflexible folks among us.)  I know that, linguistically at least, gays have been offered a parallel term in “homoflexible”… and yet, I suspect there’s a great deal more at stake (or at least something very different at stake) for gay people than for straight folks.

For multiple reasons (the ongoing animosity many gays and lesbians feel toward bisexuals, the continued insistence of homophobic people that one’s homosexuality may be “just a phase,” etc) experimentation by queers with ostensibly non-queer relationships is tricky, and I think any bisexual who lands in a committed relationship with a partner of the “opposite” gender can begin to attest to why.  While socially gays and lesbians stand firmly in the realm of the other, an exploration of our personal shadow-side can land us in unfamiliar/ traditional territory.  While self-described “heteroflexible” individuals experiment with a social-other that is also a personal-other, the “homoflexible” individual risks a queer identity rooted in the social-other to explore zir personal one.  If I, as a lesbian, follow an impulse in my twenties to date a boy, the consequences are different than if I, as a straight woman, follow an impulse in my twenties to date a girl.  Similarly, while asexuality — given the resounding message of “fuck you” (or rather, “no thank you”) it sends to the hypersexual culture, which insists sexuality (and sexual activity in particular) are defining aspects of the 20-something existence — lands squarely in the “other” category, the out-asexual exploring their other/shadow self risks increased questioning (by the outside world) of their asexual identification.  Claiming the “asexual” label is a difficult enough move for a celibate person to navigate, but what happens to an asexual experimenting with sexual behavior?  Impressively, from the limited number of conversations I’ve witnessed amongs aces, there seems to be a tendency to support sexual exploration, even when such experimentation isn’t all that understandable to the people doing the supporting.  Whether this is just another reason aces are inherently cool, a glimpse of what the queer community looks like sans politics and phobias, or some combination of the two, I can’t really guess.  But as a not-exactly-asexual person who recently started a blog on sex and has thus ended up “exploring” it quite a bit more than ever before, I can say I appreciate the openness.

I’m a huge fan of queer culture (shocking, I know), so I find it unbelievably lame that — as a result of our persistent biphobia, our fear of having our own identification de-legitimized, or some other need I’m not recognizing at the moment — we continue to try and limit other people’s explorations of their a/sexuality.  Labels, in my view, are ultimately words.  They are seriously fantastic tools for communicating our experiences and attempting to explain the lens through which we most often interpret the world, but when we spend our time polishing (and limiting) the definition of those labels instead of using the labels to define ourselves, we end up unnecessarily constraining not only our own experience but that of other people whom we have no right to hold back.  What’s with the queer-on-queer oppression, seriously?  I honestly think it’s past time that we as a community explored our “other” side.  Do you know the one I’m talking about?  It’s the one where we manage to relate to one another without imposing our own experience onto each other or insisting that this person’s lesbianism look like our lesbianism instead of a third person’s bisexuality.  Words are shorthand for understanding people, after all, and as a community, when we continually sacrifice people (ourselves included) for the sake of protecting those words, we have a serious problem.

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6 Responses to “In Search of the Other Half.”

  1. pretzelboy Says:

    Within asexual identity politics, we’re in sort of an odd position. It’s not a sort of “we like this, rather than that” which, in making things an either/or, has difficulty acknowledging those who like both. Rather, it’s a matter of “we don’t really like either,” and this is deeply challenging to people from a wide spectrum of views. Within sex-normative culture, there is an assumption–among queer-identified people, among lots of sex-positive people, among those much more conservative views of sexuality who have anti-queer sexual politics–that sex is supposed to be an important part of a person’s socially most important relationship. There is all sorts of disagreement about when sex should be included, if it’s okay to include it in other relationships as well, what sorts of people these relationships these can be with, etc. But the assumption remains across the board (except among those who accept asexuality and those view celibacy as a legitimate option) that sex should enter the relationship at some point.

    Because of this, one big criticism asexuals face is that self-identifying as asexual is a self-fulfilling prophecy, it’s a matter of giving up in trying to understand yourself, it’s being closed to the possibilities, blah, blah, blah. To avoid this, we have to allow people to explore the possibilities of sexual behavior as a part of out self-legitimation politics. It’s a peculiar consequence of our negative definition.

  2. willendork Says:

    Pretzelboy: Hmm… that’s a really interesting point. The only part I’m not sure I agree with is your first statement — that asexuals are people who aren’t interested in “either” gender — given the hetero-, homo-, and bi-romantic identifications within the community. I understand that you’re probably talking about an interest in sex specifically, but it seems to me that there’s a definite opportunity (unfortunately) for the same kind of political bullshit in the asexual community (with the added difficulty of… um… aphobia? romance-ism? — prejudice against aromantics, basically) as there is in the sexual queer community, based on those distinctions. Only at the moment, perhaps because of the newness of asexuality on the social radar, the asexual identifier seems to carry more weight than the orientation of an asexual’s affection. As the community strengthens, I doubt that will automatically remain the case; I think it would take work to remain those ties.

    Still, your theory — that to avoid proving right the naysayers who doubt asexuality’s legitimacy, we’re basically required to allow people to explore the possibility of sexual behavior — seems quite logical to me, and I think there’s truth in that.

  3. Aviva Says:

    the idea that we potentially explore specifically the aspects of our personality that are not as dominant or instinctual in our twenties strikes me as interesting.

    Maybe the old adage that we become more ourselves as we age is true, after all.

    It also says something interesting about relationships we form in our twenties – when, if this is true, we are as unlike ourselves as we will ever be. What happens when one comes back from exploring other aspects of her personality, if she married someone during that time period who fell in love with those non-dominant aspects?

    And I think you have a great point about the risks one takes exploring the “other” from an oppositional queer identity. What’s at stake is totally different, though perhaps ‘more” or “less” depends on your perspective (how easy, after all, for a straight person to say “I’m risking all of my standing in society, while you’re just risking coming in out of the cold!” But pfffft on that straight person anyway.)

  4. pretzelboy Says:

    I see what you mean about the danger of future divisions among asexuals based of romantic orientation. Right now, we’re so small, we’re glad to have pretty much anybody. Also, I think a large part of the openness is due to having a few strong personalities largely shaping the general contours of asexual discourse. Ten or twenty years from now, when asexuality is much larger and more visible there’s a good chance that might not be the case.

    It seems that asexuals, regardless of romantic orientation, face a lot of the same difficulties (why am I not feeling what everyone else seems to be feeling?) and I think that helps keep us together. Also, it doesn’t seem uncommon for asexuals who aren’t aromantic to go through aromantic phases (sometimes for several years), and it doesn’t seem to uncommon for us to date a lot less than our sexual peers.

  5. theimpossiblek Says:

    The point you make about future divisions does seem logical, but the idealist in me would prefer not to think of that…
    Still, I wonder- part of the “taboo” that creates such divisions comes from the ultra-religious conservatives who fault any alternative sexuality as “immoral” or “deviant” – and it would be naive to think that sex (the act) didn’t play a part in their rationalization… Asexuality, by definition, takes sex out of the equation- if not the act, then the desire- and doesn’t that stunt, in some way, the crutch that so many have to justify their bigotry?
    When I read “Surpassing the Love of Men” (which, I believe, Ily also mentioned in her blog), the affectionate behavior that today would be viewed as “homosexual” was totally acceptable. Women were assumed asexuals, so lesbian behaviors were often condoned.
    Prejudice, in many forms, does exist. I suppose we could even find some trace amounts of divisiveness among asexuals today. But I don’t think we’ll ever grow to a place of privilege where this “danger of division” will exist among romantic orientations.

  6. willendork Says:

    Aviva: Yeah, I would take back that “more” or “less” comment at this point. 🙂 I think I’m a little biased when it comes to what’s at stake for a queer person, but I suppose we’re allowed to be a little biased in our own blogs, at least if we recognize it. …Your comment about marriage is *really* interesting, and not one I had thought of before. Given the constant updates on my Facebook mini-feed informing me that yet another high school classmate is already married, it seems like — if there’s any legitimacy to this statement that we seek out our “other” self in our twenties — there would be a lot of people struggling in the marriages you’re talking about. Sad.

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