Archive for September, 2008

At Least Let Me Call it By Name.

September 28, 2008

Q: What’s one good piece of evidence that I am overly-busy with school?
A: It takes me a month to realize I’ve been referenced and linked by the ever-awesome Cory Silverberg.

There are a couple of points I want to make in response, the most important of which is just an acknowledgment of his spot-on statement about certain people in the asexual community dismissing the issues of people with disabilities. Looking back at the post he linked, I’m smacking myself upside the head a little because it really does ignore — however unintentionally — the issues of disabled persons. I’ve never been a fan of forced asexuality — on teens, on the elderly, on people with disabilities, etc — but I’ve been so focused recently on the asexual perspective, that I think I lost track of the notion that there are other perspectives out there.  And honestly, I think it’s really important that communities in general (and the asexual community specifically) not lose track of those other perspectives, even when they seem conflictual. I think we’re strongest when we recognize the distinct populations within our community, and — in addition, — ally ourselves with other communities.  The disabled community strikes me as a population of potential allies, because in a sense (as Silverberg points out), members of both communities are looking for greater freedom to express their orientations.  Whatever combination of sexual, asexual, able, or disabled we are as individuals, I think we’re all looking for ways to express that and to have it acknowledged or affirmed by others. I think it makes complete sense that we would work together for that kind of freedom, and I would honestly welcome ideas about how to go about it.

There was one other piece of Cory Silverberg’s article that I wanted to address.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s his line, “It still feels right for me to say say that all humans are sexual.”  In all honesty, it’s a difficult point for me to comment on because, although I see it being painful for certain members of the asexual community, including people I consider friends, it’s not particularly problematic for me on a personal level.  Since I’m not all that attached to the “asexual” label, since it’s not one I use to identify myself, and since a broader definition of sexuality (that encompasses a good deal more than sexual relations) really would satisfy my own needs, I don’t feel entirely “qualified” to comment here.  And yet, my gut reacton to the statement “everyone is sexual” — given that a significant number of people are attesting they’re not, remains one of (at best) unease.

I think I understand what Silverberg intends by this comment.  At the very least, I know what I mean when I’m compelled to say such things.  The desire not to separate, to instead remain unified, is a strong one, and one I think the asexual community benefits from acting on.  A healthy alliance is a fabulous tool, after all, and I understand being concerned about polarization.  My unwillingness to embrace a sexual/ asexual binary was (you may remember) the main reason I stopped considering “asexual” as a potential self-descriptor.  It’s been more helpful for me personally to view asexuality as one area on a continuum (a continuum which stretches into sexuality as well.)  Maybe this has to do with my general dislike of binaries; maybe I simply don’t feel compelled to handle another minority identification; maybe I am internalizing some “a-phobia” or clinging to some sexual privilege — I honestly can’t say for sure.  What I do know is that I gained acceptance of myself and my orientation first by exploring the asexual community and later by shelving that identifier.  Although technically my participation in the asexual community (sans identifier) continues to shape my orientation and increase my ability to accept who I am, for me personally both statements are true.  Silverberg’s desire to see everyone as sexual — albeit with a broader definition of “sexual” than many people I know (more on that in a later entry) — is one I often share.  That’s hard for me to admit, and yet, it’s true.

However.

Before I left California,  I had a really marvelous conversation with David about how much I dislike the binary and how it concerns me to see asexual people distancing themselves so much from sexual folks (and vice-versa, although I think it happens less in the other direction, if only because relatively few “sexuals” are aware of asexuality — even now — and those who are don’t always validate it enough to identify in opposition.  If you’re going to use something as an Other, I think you’re required to accept it as a reality first.)  David’s responsee was really interesting, and suggested to me a reason for constructing those much-detested binaries that I’d honestly never considered before.  His point — as best I can remember it — was basically this:

When he was “questioning” what made him different from his friends who were so interested in sex, there was no binary.  The term “asexual,” the asexual/ sexual binary, and the potential continuum of asexuality/ sexuality essentially (i.e. for practical purposes) did not exist.  All that existed was sexuality, in its very limited “sexual relations” sense.  And given that he did not feel such a sexuality fit him, he had to go outside of it, create another term, and establish a meaning for that term in order to communicae his experience.  If, in the years since then, the “non-sexual” identified space has begun to grow into sometehing as clearly (or rigidly) defined as sexuality was in David’s (although honestly I don’t know that it has; my experience of the ase community is that it’s very open to fluidity and exploration), then things have shifted from the days when he founded AVEN.  In a sense, I think this represents a victory for the asexual community, but I can also see why some people are inclined to say the next step should be expanding “sexuality” to include the “asexual” space.  A more fluid definition of sexuality allows all of us to be part of the “healthy” “normal” group, without challenging the notion of what is healthy and normal. It allows all of us to be “the same” without questioning why we have to be. Difficult as expanding the definition of a term can be, in a sense, this is still the simpler path, and it’s hard, at times, for me not to be one of the people advocating that we take it.

And yet, when I stop to think about it, when I try and imagine how I’d feel if “asexual” were an identifier I used and valued using, the suggestion that asexuality is “just” another sexuality starts to strike me as a hurtful move.  I identify as lesbian, and I can basically guarantee for you that no matter how broad, inclusive, and accepting “heterosexuality” grows, I will never feel quite comfortable or truthful or right identifying as straight.  Even if heterosexuality evolved to a point where other straight people could conceive of my identity and experience using that label, I think the terms I use now — lesbian, queer, etc — would remain important to me.  I think those of us who don’t identify this way need to remember that the term “asexual” has functioned — and functioned importantly — for people whose experience of sexuality was not one like Silverberg describes, of an aspect or filter of experience that exists in all of us, regardless of whether we desire sexual relations, but rather one that was much more limited, often to sexual relationships or the desire for sexual relationships.  In my opinion, we need to include in our effort to advocate for sexual expression the absolute right to self-identify.  We need to be able to adopt the term (and the definition of the term) that suits us best — because protecting our idea of the universal human truth has to be less important than allowing each other to fully communicate our individual experiences.  I suspect that Cory Silverberg (to continue semi-unintentionally singling him out) recognizes that, because he recognizes the problem of one group of people telling another group of people it doesn’t exist, but given that some asexual people don’t view their asexuality as a sexuality at all, I worry that his earlier statement might be taken as just that.  My sense of the situation remains that, if we’re going to really listen to each other, which is something I feel we need to do more of, — (it’s a fundamental part of intimacy, isn’t it?) — we have to allow each other the right to our own words and the right to defining our own words, even as antonyms of those chosen by another, and even when we, personally, don’t necessarily see them as oppositional.

ETA: Since I wrote this, Cory Silverberg posted the following comment clarifying his statement about everyone being sexual: “I’d be interested in what you think […] about the way I describe people as sexual. Essentially what I’m saying is that people who are asexual are sexual, and their sexuality is expressed in a way that’s different than someone who isn’t asexual. I think if we started with the premise that we’re all sexual, but that doesn’t have to mean we all want or do the same things, it would address both people who are asexual and people with disabilities.”  I’ve already offered my own thoughts on that here, but I’d love to hear from other people (however they identify).  What are your thoughts?

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The Mother Revolution My Catholic School Didn’t Count On.

September 13, 2008

Photo Credit: AllOverAlbany.com

Is there such a thing as an unintentional revolutionary?  Because, if so, I think I may qualify as an example.

I’m fairly certain I’ve mentioned here that I’m president of my university’s GSA; I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that I attend a private, religious institution (despite the fact that I’m neither private — as evidenced by the fact that I blog — nor religious, as evidenced by… many things.)  I’ve held that position for over a year now, and I’ve taken significant, rainbow-colored pride in the fact that despite the not-so-gay-friendly stance of this school’s religious affiliation, the GSA has managed (in the way we conduct ourselves) to actually receive quite a bit of faculty, staff, and even administrative support.  That’s part of what made it so painful, my first weeks back this semester, when our group came up against significant (unidentified) resistance from the higher-ups about a specific event we had planned (starting last spring) to host in October.

The event is pretty simple:  You may have heard of Erin Davies, the woman from Albany, New York whose VW Beetle was vandalized with homophobic (and only borderline literate) slurs — “U R gAy” and “fAg” — on the Day of Silence last year, presumably because she had a rainbow sticker on her bumper.  Afterward, she went on a lengthy road trip (graffiti and all), documenting the responses to the car (which one of her friends christened the “Fagbug.”)  She’s now created a documentary, submitted it to Sundance, and continues to travel the country, in the car, (which has been repainted rainbow) speaking about homophobia and her own experience of taking something ugly and turning it into something positive.  She was profiled on NPR awhile back, which is how my suitemate (who I’m hoping will be vice-president of the GSA this year, if we ever get elections underway) heard of her, and how we ended up contacting Erin about speaking here.  She’s been fantastic about working with our lack of budget, et cetera, and we had basically reached a point where all we had to do was fund-raise.  Then all of a sudden, when we returned this fall, we began to hear about “concerns” the administration had.  Was this event right for our school?  Was it against the university’s Catholic mission statement?  Did it — gasp — promote homosexuality?

They literally insisted Erin answer whether her presentation “advocated/ condoned sexual activity between members of the same sex” — much to the dismay of our sponsor, who felt that without an answer to that (and other equally horrifying) questions, we didn’t stand a chance of persuading them, but who was understandably hesitant to ask something so blatantly offensive.  After my friends, my family, and my therapist — [fight the stigma; acknowledge therapy!]  — pushed me to do so, I stayed in the fight, and managed to play it (mostly) cool while doing so, but I’ll admit the first time I heard of that question, I literally burst into tears.  There’s nothing quite like having a school where you really do feel you belong (in some odd way) question the legitimacy and the morality of the way you love.  It’s further complicated by the fact that I haven’t had sex and don’t presently desire to have sex, so that I’m facing prejudice that’s not actually founded by Catholic teaching.  (To clarify:  Catholic doctrine — which I know in this instance despite not being Catholic myself — does not actually teach that homosexuality is a sin, but rather that homosexual action is a sin.  It’s a split hair in my opinion, and I still recommend people, especially Christians and people who talk to Christians, see For the Bible Tells Me So to help them realize even homosexual acts are not condemned by Christian Scripture, but in spite of the fact that our GSA held a screening of it last semester, too few people have seen it.  Note:  I have a few issues with this movie, but this entry will never get posted if I go into them, so ask me some time, if you’re curious.)  Still, as a not-so-sexual lesbian, there are times when I want to point out to people that their immediate assumption that I identify as lesbian because I have sex with women (i.e. their tendency to collapse my sexuality/ orientation to my sexual habits) is actually prejudice, and they have no right (even based in their religion) to condemn me.  I rarely do, however, — partly because I hate discussing my personal (non-)sex life, and partly because I think it’s something of a cop-out.  I think LGB people need to be accepted regardless of whether they’re actively sexual.  But there are times, like this one, when it’s hard to keep my mouth shut about the fact that I’m not.

There are also times when it is unbelievably hard not to internalize the homophobia.  I’ll be straight-up here; I care a lot about what people, particularly those I identify as adults, think of me.  I care a lot about the connections I have with faculty and staff here, and when I heard that we were coming up against such strong opposition (for reasons that struck me as so fundamentally stupid misguided, I was incredibly hurt.)  My immediate thought (fight or flight?  fight or flight?  FLIGHT!) was to transfer.  I found the insistence of others, along the lines of “nothing will change if you leave” unfair.  I did not come here to change anything.  I did not come here to challenge anyone or to drag my university kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  I came here because after five or six years without attending school — (I left for medical reasons as a sophomore in high school, and spent two or three years after graduation working past the anxiety that was keeping me homebound), — I was desperate to be a part of a community again.  I really did feel that I had that here, and I don’t think many non-queer (or non-minority) people realize that when you accept people conditionally, when you accept them in an “all but this one aspect” / “love the sinner, hate the sin” fashion, you steal that sense of acceptance.  As much time as I spend questioning my orientation, its morality is not something I question.  But I started to as this unfolded.  For the first time I can think of, including when I was questioning my orientation before coming out as a lesbian, I really did start to wish for the “easy option” of a straight identity.  I did not want to lead a revolution.  I wanted to go to class, goof around with friends, and host events with the organizations I’m a part of.  I did not want to break the mold.

One problem I have with prejudice is this:  Its ability to collapse people works both ways.  People hear that I’m a lesbian and they judge what that means.  I hear that I’m being judged, and I forget that it’s not by everyone.  In those first weeks of fighting, I forgot that not everyone at this school hates me, that we have quite a bit of support from people on-campus, and that the people who really matter to me were the same ones primed to go to the board, to write letters on our behalf, and to seriously raise some hell if the school made the wrong decision.  I forgot that just as we never learned who was against us — or who, to put it as they did, had “concerns” about the event — we also didn’t (in all cases) know who our friends were.  Even now, when the event has been approved in its entirety, — (whoo!) — making this university the first Catholic institution ever to host Erin and her Fagbug, no one can tell us who made it go away, or why.  One professor, who also happens to advise the school newspaper and is pushing that a piece I’m working on (for class) on this topic, be published in an upcoming issue, says it went away because we were right.  Others say that we were “professional,” that we kept our cool and made our point well, which is what made the difference.  (I told the director of Student Activities early on that I don’t have a problem playing by the rules.  I said, with a smile, that I’m “just as capable of winning by the rules,” and I think we proved that well.)  My personal favorite explanation is that no administration, no matter how powerful, should ever take on English majors with tattoos.  (I’m one of a few in this group.)  Hard-core people who can write will take you down.  It’s just a given.

In the end, I received an uncharacteristic hug from the belovedly snarky Assistant Director of Student Development, along with a “thank you for educating the administration.”  The head of Student Life told me that, with a double major in English and Human Services (read: pre-social work), I am “well-placed.”  We have more people planning to attend Fagbug this October than we probably would have had, without the battle.  This doesn’t make what happened less unacceptable, and it doesn’t make the hoops we were asked to jump through less discriminatory, but it reminds me of the importance of sticking together in order to stick it out.  I’m able to be the unintentional revolutionary because I don’t have to do it alone, because in reality our school (for the most part) is not “kicking and screaming” about coming into the present century.  They just need an invitation, written in a way that makes sense to them.  They need their beliefs recognized, validated, and expanded, rather than simply kicked to the curb.  They need their legitimate fears (such as the bishop’s ability to come in and raise some hell if they step too far out of line) considered, in a way that (as a product of public school not used to giving a shit what the bishop thinks) I’m not always compelled to do.  They need to change; I don’t doubt that, but they need to be shown why.  Part of what’s most challenging, for me, is to create change in a way that is less hurtful for others than the need for that change is for me.  It’s hard, when my right to exist as I am is questioned, not to question their right to be who and how they are. 

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible, and it’s a hell of a thing when you hang in there long enough to make it happen.

ETA:  Look forward to our rather detailed answers (which are also rather brilliant, in my humble and thoroughly unbiased opinion) to their questions in a future post.  I want to share them in hopes that other GSAs and queer-friendly organizations dealing with religious resistance can benefit from the work we put into this.  Not to mention an entry more than once a month strikes me as a bonus at the moment (even if I managed two — or at least 1+ — today).

Apparently, I Am Secretly a 10-Year-Old Boy.

September 13, 2008

I desperately want to post something resembling a real entry for (myself and) all of you, but — well —  have I mentioned my life during the school year is insane?  It is.  Until I get a real entry together, allow me to try and compensate with this rather hilarious (and borderline relevant) paragraph from one of the only decent readings offered (care of Susan Orlean) as part of my creative nonfiction class:

If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks. We would wear shorts, big sneakers, and long, baggy T-shirts depicting famous athletes every single day, even in the winter. We would sleep in our clothes. We would both be good at Nintendo Street Fighter II, but Colin would be better than me. We would have some homework, but it would not be too hard and we would always have just finished it. We would eat pizza and candy for all of our meals. We wouldn’t have sex, but we would have crushes on each other and, magically, babies would appear in our home. We would win the lottery and then buy land in Wyoming, where we would have one of every kind of cute animal. All the while, Colin would be working in law enforcement – probably the FBI. Our favorite movie star, Morgan Freeman, would visit us occasionally. We would listen to the same Eurythmics song (“Here Comes the Rain Again”) over and over again and watch two hours of television every Friday night. We would both be good at football, have best friends, and know how to drive; we would cure AIDS and the garbage problem and everything that hurts animals. We would hang out a lot with Colin’s dad. For fun, we would load a slingshot with dog food and shoot it at my butt. We would have a very good life.

Did you catch that?  “We wouldn’t have sex, but we would have crushes on each other and, magically, babies would appear in our home.”  Holy wow, that’s awesome.  I mean, maybe I’d replace Street Fighter II with Super Mario Brothers and the Eurythmics with Sleater-Kinney.  Maybe I’d nix my butt as the target for dog food and just use said kibble to feed an actual dog, and maybe Colin Duffy would be more-or-less female… but all in all, I’ve got to agree: It sounds like a very good life.

It’s not arrested development; it’s just to each her own.

(Read the entirety of Susan Orlean’s essay “The American Male at Age Ten” by clicking the link.)