Posts Tagged ‘gay’

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?

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.

Is It Worth It?

October 26, 2008

(A helpful reminder — care of teachushistory.org — that this ain’t the first revolution.)

For anyone out there wondering: Fagbug was a huge success.  We had nearly 50 people attend (significantly trumping our previous record attendance of seven), our academic dean apparently teared up talking with Erin, and Erin herself blogged that it was “one of the most powerful days” she’s had in awhile.  It was pretty powerful from my perspective, too.  The weeks leading up to last week’s two events haven’t been easy ones, as readers of this blog well know, and I’ve found myself asking the “Is it worth it?” question more often lately than I would like.  The sponsor for the GSA has apparently been asking a similar question (about whether she hurt me, in encouraging me to resurrect this group from the dead).  I don’t think either of us realized what we were taking on when we first set out to do this, and now that we have a better sense of the battle, we struggle trying to weight that against the tiny revolutions we’re seeing on campus, to determine which wins out: the progress or the pain.  And actually, more than the notion of taking something hurtful and turning it into something good, and more than the specific issues of hate crimes and homophobia, that question — “is it worth it?” — is what struck me, spending that Thursday with Erin.

One of the hardest things to grasp about Erin’s story is that its outcome (to the extent that it has one, yet), is so complicated.  Her own community, back in Albany, has largely turned against her.  Even as she gained support internationally, she was losing it back home.  The majority of the people leading the “boycott” against Fagbug were at one time friends of Erin, and if I remember correctly, 99% of the negative response has come from within the gay community, not the rest of society.  Watching the bits of her film that she shared with us, listening to her speak, and talking with her more personally throughout the day, I found myself wondering more and more whether she felt it had been worth it.  It was clear, despite her commitment to the cause, that what she’s done and continues to do has taken a toll on her, has worn her down in some regards, and it was hard for me to see that.  Although I hesitate to think I’ve been through anything close to what she’s experienced, I feel I can relate to some extent.  My choice to restart the GSA, like her choice to continue driving the Fagbug, has had some fairly serious and “uncomfortable” consequences, and as many reasons as I have to love my university, I often consider transferring almost solely because, as a queer person, I feel so out of place.  Each time, people push me to remember the positive changes I’m helping to enact here, but it’s difficult — sometimes — to believe that social progress is worth such personal loss.  Is it worth being tokenized, ostracized, misunderstood, or simply mis-fitted?  Is it worth having my college experience transformed, even partially, into a battle to drag my school kicking and screaming into the 21st century?  More often than not, when professors or staff here attempt to suggest I have a responsibility to stay and help the community progress, I shake my head and struggle to explain that isn’t what I set out to do.  I came to school for the same reasons anyone else would: to go to class, to learn, to meet people, to have a social network, to further challenge and become myself.  Revolution, with all its casualties and mess, was not on my to-do list.  So, is it worth it?  Is this revolution worth my loss?  Is Erin’s?  Or anyone’s?

More and more, what I realize — at least for myself — is that there’s no existant answer to that question.  The initial choice — to start the GSA, in my case — was a relatively long time ago, and many other choices (and unexpected consequences) have sprung out of it.  There’s no way to look back now and wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t done that, because so many “thats” have taken place.  I would have to break it down to every meeting, every person we’ve involved, every event we’ve held, every argument we’ve made about why to hold them, and further even than that, further than I can conceive here to dissect things.  Even if it were possible to imagine, clearly, what my life would be if I had done things differently — gone to a different school, re-closeted myself for college, been less vocal than I am — there’s no weighing the gains against the losses, life after against life before, or the university’s progress against my own sense of angst.

The more I think about it, the more I think my desire (or any “radical’s” desire) to second-guess such choices is a critique of the wrong issue.  I think what we’re experiencing, actually, is not the result of poor decisions, but a problem of poor alternatives.  As I told Erin after she left, as grateful as I am for what she’s doing, and as much as I admire her for keeping at it, it makes me sad that she’s been presented with a situation that calls for it.  It bothers me that there’s any reason for us to keep fighting this battle, to keep sacrificing our personal needs in favor of public ones, or ignoring public ones to take care of our individual selves (as we have every right to do.)  It’s not that the battle isn’t worth it; it’s that the issue isn’t worth being an issue.  Fighting homopobia is a valid cause, but continuing homophobia (for instance) is a mantle that should long since have been given up.  Until it is, the individual suffering that corresponds with a battle for change, has to continue.  The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s the problem, not our attempted solutions, that are really wrong.  For me, that’s reason to continue the fight, but it’s also reason to be vocal that this is a choice no one should have to make.  We should not live in a society that’s so divided, that presents us with choices like “college or social acceptance,” “community or increased awareness.”  Like any good multiple-choice test, we need that final option, that additional alternative marked “all of the above.”

Now The Story is Different.

July 7, 2008

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.

Envying the Soup Cans Their Labels.

June 19, 2008

I find it interesting (and a little sad) how much weight I apparently believe labels carry.  Given the  circumstances under which I (for the moment at least) decided to shelve the asexual label – as a self-identifier – (specifically the level of choice involved and the fact that I didn’t feel the term was somehow “taken” from me by someone else) I only really felt sad at the loss of community.  If I don’t identify this way, how can I continue to be on the same page with people whom I relate to so strongly?  I still don’t know the answer to that, exactly, but on top of it, I’m finding myself confounded by other questions, including, how do I wrap my head around the fact that I have more in common with people who call themselves asexual, which I’m choosing not to do, than people who call themselves sexual, which – although I’m not exactly *calling* myself, I’m “defaulting” to – given the current social assumptions – by not stating I am asexual…?  I think I somehow expected myself to become more sexual by relinquishing the asexual label.  I mean, if others are going to see me as sexual now, shouldn’t I actually *be* sexual?  But of course, no major transformations have occurred in the past few days.  I haven’t suddenly taking an interest in jumping into bed with anyone.  I still find sex all kinds of strange.  I am, in all honesty, the exact same person who couldn’t think of a better self-descriptor than “asexual” … and felt unbelievably relieved to discover that term.   Which leaves me at kind of a loss.  After all, one of the things that keeps me from believing labels are truly only good for soup cans is their ability to connect people.  I’ve met some of my best friends over the years through the help of shared labels – gay, writer… It matters less what the label is, and more that it’s shared.  I think in some ways it weirds me out to just be myself – even though obviously “myself” is the label I most need to accept – because it’s such a lonely one to claim.  Obviously, everyone is unique, even if they carry an asexual or a sexual banner, but if I just stand here and say, “well, I’m not really willing to say either because while I feel more asexual, I don’t consider myself asexual, I’d like to believe sexuality is expansive enough to include me, but while I’d like to believe in a sexuality that expansive, I can’t wrap my head around it well enough to actually consider myself sexual” I end up in a pretty lonely camp.  And even if I can, at some point, wrap my head around a definition of sexuality so platonic that I’d feel comfortable claiming it, there’s something strange about knowing that other people who feel as you do choose a different (and antithetical) term.  Why am I striving to carve myself a niche in a group with whom I feel I have less in common, when there’s a perfectly lovely group of people with whom I have quite a bit in common, that I could simply associate myself with and be done?

Maybe it’s as simple as that sense of “having less in common” with sexuals, and not wanting to let them stand.  It is extremely important to me, as an “ally” of the asexual community (which I suppose is where I stand now) to continue respecting and working to understand why individuals choose to identify that way, and at the same time, I recognize that part of the reason I choose not to is because the dichotomoy of sexuality/ asexuality really bothers me.  For me, self-describing as asexual means buying into that sexy/ asexy binary, and I’ve never really met a binary I didn’t feel the need to dismantle.  That said, I’ve clung to the term “gray-a” since I first found it; I never thought of asexuality as something strictly separate from sexuality, so I don’t know how well that holds as an explanation of my feelings here.  Maybe I just worry that other people will see it asexuality and sexuality as mutually exclusive.  Because as much as I want a term that I’m comfortable with, a term that describes me well, I also don’t want to feed into any more social division.  Us-and-them so easily becomes us-versus-them, you know?  That dark side of diversity has crawled under my skin of late, I think.

In other news, wish me luck in convincing the people in my life that really, it is necessary that we attend Pride next weekend.  (My second summer in the San Fran area, and for the second summer, people are flaking.)  Last year, my not going was practically headline news when I returned to the Midwest (“Lesbian Spends Summer in San Francisco and Does Not Attend Pride”), and could easily have led to my impeachment in the GSA over which I preside on-campus.   Ok, in truth, that’s a slight exaggeration.  Maybe “I want to go, damnit” is substantial?  I’m leaning hard on people, so cross your fingers for me, if you would.

Asexual Authorship.

June 11, 2008

So, if there was any question that I’m the Venus of Willendork, specifically, (which for me at least, there wasn’t), I suspect the short story I’m currently working on puts it to rest.  I also suspect it’s a short story only an asexual would write, which intrigues me.  I know I’m not one to include multiple, drawn-out sex scenes in my fiction (and certainly, there’s no call for them in my non-fiction), but I feel like the asexuality of this particular story is evident in something beyond the absence of sex, something that has more to do with the lack of celibacy as a problem and the willingness to sacrifice a sex life for the sake of maintaining a nonsexual relationship.  The plot, which begins with a lesbian proposing to her gayboi roommate using a Ring Pop, – (did I mention it was dorky?) – and unfolds after the roommate accepts, strikes me as silly and fun and interesting, but it doesn’t strike me as illogical.  At the same time, a specific creative writing professor of mine, who constantly perches on my shoulder and who – in certain situations, including every time I write a spoken-word poem – I often tell to shut up and let me write my work, would insist that there’s a rather large elephant in this room that neither of the main characters seems willing to discuss.  I can just imagine the increasingly uncomfortable shift in atmosphere, as he pushes me in one of our workshops to explain why on earth these people do not care about sex.  This is the man who told me last semester, after reading another “relationship” story – (when, when, when did I start writing things so frightfully romance-oriented?  especially given that the closest I’ve ever come to reading such nonsense is the classics – Jane Eyre, Jane Austen, etc?) – that I needed to further “eroticize” the piece, a direct quote mind you.  That was the first time I flat-out rejected one of his suggestions to his face.  I may struggle at times to know what my voice is, but I know “erotic” isn’t it.

The irritating thing is that, when writing something vaguely realistic, most people expect sex.  This is probably further exaggerated by the fact that sex is the story told over and over again in the popular and mainstream genres, one of the many reasons I prefer indie music, indie movies, and basically indie everything.  Trying to convince someone that a person – asexual or otherwise – would willingly prioritize other things over sex, would “sacrifice” sex – to whatever extent – for the sake of something they find more important, feels like a losing battle to me, which just seems sad.  Given, for instance, the way I fall asleep smiling like a blasted schoolgirl after hearing from Elephant, it seems perfectly logical to me that two people like these characters would want to become each other’s legal family, even if they aren’t planning on having sex, and yet I know, folks like  my professor would insist that the characters are either bisexual, repressed/ insane, or simply poorly drawn.  Presuming they’d be willing to give up sex strikes that kind of person as presuming they would be willing to give up food, a comparison that irritates me beyond words.  I have no desire to take up sex, but speaking as someone who did attempt to give up food once (nearly seven years’ recovery from bulimia and anorexia, thank you very much), that ends with a hospital if you’re lucky and a coffin if you’re not.  So, please… explain to me how it’s the same?

I recognize that these characters are more celibate than asexual, but I love them nevertheless, just for being so thoroughly dorky (ring pop?  seriously?) – and queer.  I think starting to identify as asexual has intensifed the extent to which I identify as queer (as in, not the norm), which is interesting as people in the LGBT community seem so much more willing to adopt that term than many (straight) asexuals.   Whatever it is, I’m having fun writing stories like this one, and hopefully, they’ll mean that eventually people won’t have to scour bookshelves looking for characters who maybe, possibly, from one perspective could be interpreted as asexual.  (One of my fantasies, which will probably never come to fruition, as this is – in several ways – not the type of writing I do, is to concoct a piece of “fluff” fiction, similar to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books, in which the norm is to be gay.  I’ve been thinking lately that it would be fun to throw asexuality into the mix as well, but like I said, barring an advance from Scholastic, I’ll probably stick to the projects more suitably my style.  I just like that I’m seeing that style evolve into something noticeably queer, and that the asexuality, gray as it might be, is a part of that.)

Oh, and given that I’ve just written nearly an entire post on a lesbian who loves a gayboi, let me update you with the following news:  As far as I can tell, Elephant isn’t going anywhere; he still appears to love me, thankfully.  I heard back from him, and his response was largely focused on how my mom’s response could have been at all negative, given how liberal he knows my mom to be.  I don’t think it occurred to him that he had the option of being negative himself.  Lovely man, that “Elephant.”  So, yes.  I think I’ll rest a little easier from now on, knowing that.

The Days Are Much Too Bright: Thoughts on Coming Out.

June 1, 2008

I’ve been thinking a lot about coming out.  (Not about actually doing it, mind you… just intellectually considering the subject of coming out.)  Having successfully outed myself as a lesbian (over and over and over again), the “questioning” and “coming out” stages are not things I anticipated experiencing ever again.  Now, as a “potential asexual,” I find myself returned to them, and while I don’t believe I’m enduring the same hell I suffered trying, years ago, to sort out my orientation, I’m hardly enjoying myself.  I’m hardly enjoying the fact that, in this particular journal, I probably come across as not-all-that-together, as an understandable result of the fact that this is one facet of my life in which I am pretty consistently a mess.  What irritates me, – or at least, part of what irritates me – is that I’m actually relatively well-adjusted at this point.  I’m just using this particular space to sort out an area of my life that I have nowhere near accepted or integrated into my identity, a part of my life that I have pretty consistently – for good and not-so-good reasons – needed to keep in the closet.

I keep thinking about myself at 18, as I was struggling to sort through my confusion about my orientation, and myself at 19, as I was taking the plunge to tell my family.  I clearly remember the night (not surprising, it wasn’t that long ago) when I first told my mom I was questioning.  I was curled up on the living room couch in the apartment she and I used to share, and she was asking me – every so often – variations on the theme of what she could do for me and what was wrong.  Part of me really wanted to answer her, but of course, part of me really wanted to do anything but answer her, and so I was living inside of myself, trying desperately to push the words out of a mouth that no longer felt like my own.  I remember at one point it occurred to me to write it down and pass her a note, ala grade school, but I was afraid that if I couldn’t actually say the words, I must not be ready for her to hear them, and as a result, I waited until I could literally tell her.  When I did, in the vaguest “I’ve been talking with people” – (my therapist, mainly, because, having entered therapy for a thousand other reasons, I had lucked into the perfect confidante for my much healthier confusions around sexuality and orientation) – “about the possibility that I might be… gay” kind of way, she was predictably receptive, comforting me with words I almost could have scripted beforehand, had I been able to subtract my (largely irrational) fear from the equation. 

With my lesbian-coming-out story (even in this earliest stage, when I was only coming out as a “potential lesbian,” so to speak), I never had to worry about how my family would respond.  Of course, I am a prime worrier – it’s one of my best skills – and so I worried anyway, but I knew, deep down, that my fears had no rational basis.  I was not the first-generation classmate of mine, who (I later learned) was told by her Chinese mother that she must choose between her girlfriend and her family.  (A situation since resolved somewhat, thankfully.)  I was not the kid who was going to be kicked out on the street by her parents or sent into some terrifying “rehabilitation” program straight out of But I’m a Cheerleader.  I was, in actuality, the kid whose mom would watch But I’m a Cheerleader with her, all the time pretending that she didn’t know damn well why we were watching so many movies (and why I was reading so many books) about lesbians.  By a grace I can hardly imagine, I lucked into an exceedingly liberal, exceedingly open family where I knew my orientation would not be an issue.  At least, I knew that when the orientation was simply “lesbian.”

But now, as I start to articulate the complication that lesbianism, is – strictly speaking – a sexual orientation, and I have never (to my own knowledge) been a sexual person, I find myself wondering if that support will still hold when/ if I come out a second time.  I know my family.  I know they will love me to infinity and beyond (to quote my beloved Pixar), because that is one pretty kickass piece of luck I can lay claim to, regardless of the rest of my life.  I do not, however, know that they will understand.  I do not know that they will accept what I tell them as the truth.  I do not, to be perfectly honest, know that I want to tell them at all… which is why I haven’t.  Closets, for all they have going against them – (a lot, mind you) – are at the very least, places of privacy, and that’s a privacy I’m not yet willing – or ready – to sacrifice.

I’m thinking a lot about my mom.  (Another time, we can discuss my brother, and the various reasons he thinks I’m a “bad lesbian” and the various reasons I suspect that my asexuality, while helping to understand why I don’t fit his idea of lesbianism, might contribute to my “failure” in his estimation.  But for now: My Mom.)  I’m thinking about my mom mainly because I am once again living with her, if only until school resumes in the fall, and I’m once again playing the games of telling her only so much, twisting certain pieces of information so that I don’t have to hide everything, and pretending that – even if I talk about asexuality more and more, she won’t eventually put 2 and 2 together.  At times, I wonder why I am doing this.  After all, my mom has loved me through much messier and much more painful realities than this one.  My mom has always accepted who I am and she’s always stood behind what makes me happy.  On top of that, she loves to learn.  The vast amount of education she (like most people) would require, were I to tell her that I am asexual, would probably fascinate her.  It’s a win from every angle… isn’t it?

I mentioned, I think, that I’m a prime worrier, that this is one of my best skills, (and I am not – entirely – without other talents, in case that had occured to you).  So, of course, I have come up with reasons for worrying.  My main fear, in terms of my mom, is that she is so liberal and such a feminist, it makes me worry that her positivity around sex – (healthy, consensual sex, obviously) – will keep her from realizing that this is not a pathology.  (Perhaps obviously, this is further complicated by my own inability to recongize, consistently, that my asexuality is not pathological.)  I’m afraid that she’ll feel she failed me somehow, that she’ll blame herself for my disinterest in (having) sex or my unwillingness to partake in it.  I don’t feel like my asexuality is something she (or anyone else) is responsible for, (although I am a firm social constructionist, in this and other regards), and I don’t think that it’s anything wrong with me.  And why feel guilty if there’s nothing that is wrong?  It’s just how I am, and I want her to be good with it, the way that I want to be good with it, but I worry she’ll think it’s a failing.  I didn’t have that concern with the homosexuality because I know she doesn’t look at it as anything but healthy, but asexuality is so under-understood, and therefore so misunderstood; I worry that she (and other people) will assume it’s yet another problem.

Yes, I have problems.  But this – beyond my anxiety about it, beyond my struggle to accept it – this in its pure, inherent form – just isn’t one of them.  I hope my family will know that.

But for now at least, I don’t want to take the risk.  I know that in time, I’ll sort this out and my family will sort out a response that suits us.  We’re good at that, and they have practice, honestly.  It’s more that – in one very important regard – coming out as an asexual is very, very different than coming out as a lesbian.  Put plainly, when I came out as a lesbian, no one had to ask me what that meant.  There was no clarifying, there was no intense delving into my relational history (or what I wanted out of my future relationships).  Maybe, with people whose families are less comfortable with the concept, these kinds of questions get asked, but there certainly isn’t the basic need for a vocabulary lesson that comes with opening up about one’s asexuality.  And I think that, to some extent, it’s the lack of education on the part of the people I’d be coming out to  that keeps me from coming out.  I don’t want to have to explain myself to other people before I understand myself.  I don’t want to have to be Exhibit A.  (Oh god, the unintended pun.  Apologies.)  I don’t want all of the idiotic questions, and the non-idiotic questions, when I still have questions of my own.  So even if I know myself well enough to trust that I will evetually open my mouth, that the extent to which I’m being honest about who I am here is a sign of that, as is the openness I am cultivating with certain friends about the possibility that I’m an asexual lesbian… for now, I want the chance to ask (and answer) my own questions, without having to field them from my family.

I wonder if this is what it was like to tell people you were gay before gay was a term.  If it is, well… those poor, poor gay people back in the day.  And – (I suppose) – those lucky, lucky asexuals of future generations.  Here’s to being part of the education that may ease things for the kids to come…