Posts Tagged ‘homosexuality’

Ask Me about My Agenda.

November 2, 2008

Image Ganked with Gratitude from EverydayCitizen.Com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

Unearned Privilege.

July 1, 2008

A new post, in honor of the cool folks who were sweet enough to hang with me at Pride Sunday, and then on top of it to say they like the blog. It’s only fair, as I’ve admittedly not posted in far too long.

I started thinking about this (again) partly as a result of Pride, actually. I can’t pretend it wasn’t awesome to stand in a crowd of (far too many) people (for my taste), and watch the parade of queer-friendly non-profits, queer-parented families, queer couples (in many cases, newly-married), and other random folks down Market Street. I wouldn’t want to pretend that, obviously. And of course, it got even more awesome, after I managed to find my way to the proper corner and meet up with the fun asexy folk, and wander around with them. We chatted with a few of the nonprofits about collaborations and meetups and whatnot and discussed the possibility of AVEN members participating in the parade next year, instead of simply spectating, and I realized this whole “casting off of the asexual label” hasn’t given me the freedom that I hoped it would. Perhaps, it’s facilitating that freedom, but if so, it’s doing so more slowly than I would have wished; it’s making it possible for me to accept “myself” as my main label instead of simply, inherently pushing me to have accepted “myself” in that regard. This irritates me, and it’s a little disappointing.

I think my main issue with the lack of a label now is that I feel like a bit of a fraud no matter where I’m grouped. In a “sexual” grouping, I can’t escape the sense that I don’t fit, and that I don’t particularly want to fit. I have this need to explain all of the ways that I’m in keeping with many people who identify as asexual, — that I still don’t particularly want sex, that it still creeps me out to imagine wanting sex, that I don’t know how I’ll ever reach a point where I do want it, if indeed I ever do. Yet, with asexual people, I have this sudden sense that I’m misrepresenting, that I’m some sort of two-timer, who has all the perks of asexual community without the struggles involved in coming out as asexual, which leaves me feeling lousy as well. I don’t like the idea that my decision not to identify as asexual is actually just a way of avoiding coming out, and the potential fallout. Honestly, I don’t think that’s the case, but given my prime worrying skillz — (have I mentioned those lately?) — I can’t help considering it.

I hadn’t really thought about privilege (and lack of privilege) in terms of (a)sexuality, until Ily posted a comment on this post at Musings on an Asexy Theme mentioning it. Largely, I think I missed that particular thought because I still personally view asexuality less as a sexual orientation and more as a secondary spectrum that defines how orientation (homo/ bi/ hetero/ etc) is expressed. For whatever reason, though, it didn’t occur to me that — obviously — the lack of privilege that comes with other minority sexual orientations would basically be a given with asexuality as well. In some ways, because I am strange, I am more compelled to identify as asexual because of this lack of privilege. It’s not that I’m a masochist — (heh, wouldn’t that require sexual pleasure?) — seeking to be oppressed in as many ways as possible; it’s simply that it’s incredibly uncomfortable to admit to having privilege. I learned this in a Race and Ethnic Relations course I took a year or two ago, in which I constantly found my (privileged white) -self biting my tongue to keep from saying, “But I’m female, and I’m gay, so I really do understand oppression. I am so much closer to you oppressed folks than I am to these oppressors, I promise.” Obviously, my insistence on bringing the conversation back to the ways in which I was oppressed did little to help further my understanding of the ways in which I contributed to the oppression, which was a barrier against dialogue and by extension, change. I learned this eventually, after reading many a Peggy McIntosh article, and did a better job of recognizing my privilege so I could take part in the change.

The thing about privilege that strikes me in relation to asexuality is that I don’t have to actually be “sexual,” or any specific mainstream definition of “sexual,” in order to have it. I have the privilege ascribed to “sexuals” by default, as long as I don’t come out as asexual. It’s the loophole of the closet, I suppose. After all, as long as you don’t come out as homosexual, a heterosexist society will assume that you are straight and ascribe you the corresponding privilege. There’s no need for you to actually be straight. Granted, the lack of self-knowledge, or the constant secrecy, or whatever else your closet experience is, will – in all likelihood – eat you alive. But your privilege will stay in tact.

It weirds me out that my sexual privilege, in this regard, (if not in regard to its same-gender orientation), remains in tact. The only constructive thing I know to do with that information is to seek further insight into how privilege manifests in terms of sexuality (versus asexuality) and begin to unpack what McIntosh calls the “invisible knapsack” of privileges individuals in the dominant group carry around without even realizing it. Looking at “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” her article containing the original list of examples of racial privilege granted to Whites in our culture, I’m curious what asexuals would suggest in terms of social privilege they notice granted to sexuals but not to themselves. A few examples come to me quickly – “I can identify my sexual orientation without others assuming I am repressed/ mentally ill/ et cetera,” “I can easily find others like me represented in various forms of media,” and even “Other people have heard of my sexual orientation.” I highly doubt however, that this even begins to exhaust the depth of the list, which leaves me curious what other privileges asexuals would point to, if asked. I suspect that while some of them – the assumption that I’m mentally ill, for instance – may overlap with the experience of a gay or bisexual person, they may be more intense. (Homosexuality, at the very least, has been removed from the DSM.) I also suspect there would be many privileges granted (“even”) to homosexuals, but denied to asexuals, and I’m curious what would land in that category, as – presuming I don’t take on the asexual label at some point – I will need to know what privileges society is granting me for no good reason whatsoever, if I intend to successfully challenge that ascription.

And I do, of course, intend to challenge it. There’s a line I remember from another class, which in my mind I link to McIntosh as well, but I can’t find it in any of the articles I’ve searched, which leaves me wondering if actually belongs to Larry May and his essay “Shared Responsibility for Racism”. The idea of it is simply that when a person begins to confront privilege they wrongfully hold, they often feel a sense of guilt for the quality that makes them privileged, although they have no control over it. May (if it is May) suggests such guilt is misplaced, that actually people should only feel guilty for failing to take a stand against the injustice rooted in their privilege. This concept helps me to live as a white person in a society rooted in white supremacy without completely hating myself. I’m hoping that, as someone who (complicated facts of the matter aside) will at least be presumed sexual, it will help me to let go of that guilt as well.

Rainbow Brite vs. The (not-so) Religious Right.

June 22, 2008

Walking in San Jose this evening, my uncle, aunt, mom, and I ran across a handful of people protesting.  It barely occurred to me to blink an extra time when I heard the main mouthpiece of their effort repeatedly remind passers-by that Jesus had cured the lepers, or when he urged everyone in the surrounding square to repent.  I may not put much stock, personally, in the concept of “sin,” but I have enough close Christian friends to not find public reminders of our (relative) freedoms of religion and speech too irksome.  Only when we passed behind the protest and I caught sight of the back of the speaker’s sign, which clearly read “Homo Sex is a Sin” did something in me start to swell with anger.  My uncle, who has been in a poor mood these past few months, commented that he was grateful the restaurant we were heading to wouldn’t force us to directly view these “assholes” during dinner, and then – because he apparently has not yet recognized that my personal speech habits would quite often cause sailors to blush – he apologized to me for his language.  I pointed to the quote on the back of the picket sign and said plainly that, if he wanted to call these particular people assholes in my presence, I would not take offense.

I don’t know why exactly homophobia bothers me more at certain points than others.  To be honest, it still angers me far more often than it doesn’t; I have yet to cultivate the level of cynicism that would lead me to expect it or the level of Zen acceptance that would lead me to dismiss it without sudden budding negativity.  (I’m not suggesting this is entirely a bad thing.  As a rule, cynicism is not something I attempt to cultivate, and generally speaking, I consider it a sign of conscience that prejudice pisses me off.)  I think, however, that part of my sudden wish for a megaphone in that moment (either to recite the spoken-word piece I’m currently working on, which is based on my need to tell off a – thankfully adjunct – social policy professor who once told my class she “could not support” gay and lesbian foster parenting … or simply to beat the shit out of these people with any available blunt object) stemmed from where we were: a California arts district.  I wonder to what extent my anger today reflects the fact that I do, on occasion, like to pretend that I live not in Actual California, where the Terminator can be elected Governor and a fifteen-year-old can be brutally assasinated in a computer lab by a homophobic/ transphobic classmate, but rather the Hypothetical California I learned to believe in growing up in the Midwest.  Hypothetical California, I imagine, exists only over the rainbow; it’s a place where progressive politics are not only the majority but the standard starting point.  It’s a politically active queer utopia, accepting without exception and absolutely diverse (minus, of course, the conservative end of the spectrum).  As someone only spending her second summer in the area, I can – curled up in the comfort of my own social circles – occasionally pretend this is the actuality of California.  …Until I take a walk with family down a public sidewalk and am slapped with a reminder that, even an hour south of San Francisco the weekend before Pride, homophobia is an unavoidable reality.  Perhaps not the only reality, but a reality neverthetheless.

Obviously, I’m not unacquainted with homophobia.  Although I have the good fortune of coming from an unexceptionally liberal nuclear family that basically responded to the Big Announcement of my lesbianism with an overall chorus of, “right, but what was the Something Major you wanted to talk about?” and – as a campus activist – repeatedly benefit from the (otherwise annoying) fact that my generation, minus their budding support of Obama, appears to be the most apathetic bunch of people on the planet, I haven’t exactly managed to avoid the reality that homophobia still runs rampant in society and that it often disguises itself as religion.  (I did, somewhat accidentally, attend a Catholic university.  I do have an extended family that considers “love the sinner, hate the sin” the hallmark of tolerance and prays every Sunday for my speedy recovery from, you know, loving people with the wrong chromosomal pair.)  Still, every time I encounter homophobia, I respond like it’s some new beast, or rather an old one I thoroughly expected would be extinct by now, and after the fury cools (or starts transforming itself into material for the next short story/ slam/ et cetera), I’m left confounded by the fact that people are still holding onto this.

I’m left, also, to wonder if this constitutes perhaps the slightest fraction of my resistance to adopting “asexual” as a self-identifier.  I spent a lot of time, as I considered coming out, wondering why exactly I wanted to, and realizing that – in a few, specific cases – I very much did not  wish to inform people of my asexuality.  I knew, in those cases, that it would lead that person to assume celibacy on my part, and while that’s not an inaccurate assumption, it was not a card I wanted them to hold.  I’ve been told on occasion – though not directly by these aunts and uncles – that I would be allowed to bring a girlfriend to the homes of certain relatives only on the condition that we played ourselves off as platonic.  I have attended more than one (otherwise blissful) family gathering (on the other side of my particular genetic tree) where multiple relatives talked lovingly of my cousin’s close “friend” (and, you know, decades-long partner and co-parent of two beautiful hounds.)  I know that in that world – where people pray at least a rosary a day, regularly attend pro-life marches on Washington, and declare Hurricane Katrina a necessary attempt by God to purge Louisiana of the wrong kind (read: shade) of people – the knowledge that I have yet to sleep with and may never sleep with a woman, despite the fact that I will proudly and repeatedly declare myself a lesbian, would be taken as a significant victory.  Perhaps I can still be saved.  Perhaps, I will never fully commit to a straight lifetyle, but at the very least, I will not act upon the sin of my orientation.  (What’s that theological bullshit about it being okay to be gay as long as you repress it entirely?  You remember, surely.)  In the face of that kind of prejudice, it’s all I can do to keep from creating a thoroughly promiscuous alter-ego, who makes it her mission to seduce the sweet, straight Christian girls who attend her college in order to “lie with” them every Sunday evening when she should be at mass repenting. 

Lie, indeed.  Because it is a lie, obviously.  I am, in actuality, much closer to the kind of lesbian my extended family and the rest of the homophobic population can pretend to accept.  And in actuality, I’m compelled to be this person openly, to not pretend a different kind of lesbianism in order to drive home a point.  I don’t want my life to be their teaching tool; I simply want my story as my truth – and yet… I refuse to be accepted because I have seemingly sacrificed the sexual aspect of my orientation for the sake of their acceptance in this life and “God’s” in the next.  So for the moment, I keep the reality of what I (don’t) do in bed private, and allow the hypersexualization so typical to that perspective to force them toward accepting something I technically am not.  I allow them to misunderstand my sexuality because it forces them to encounter my politics, and if I only get to have one sentence on the subject I prefer to replace “I’ve never f*cked a woman” with “homo sex is not a sin.”

ETA: These beautiful pictures from protest-protesters.