Posts Tagged ‘lesbian’

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?

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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.

Making Mirrors for the Wall.

November 1, 2008

Photo Credit: MontessoriTraining.Blogspot.Com

Once, when my sister and her Boy were traveling through Europe, they grew so homesick for their own language that they began watching MTV in the hotels at night, simply to hear something familiar.  My hatred for MTV aside, I think I’m starting to relate to this.  One of the things I’ve been thinking about since Erin was here is the importance of representation, but I haven’t mentioned yet my theory of why (minority) sexualities become so all-encompassing, so constantly expressed, explored, and made relevant to the more apparent “topics at hand.”  Partly, I think it’s simply a strategy to avoid heterosexist assumptions.  (If I don’t want to be presumed straight, I must constantly communicate, verbally and nonverbally, that I am not.)  But partly, I think it, too, is an issue of representation.  If I want to see myself represented, in a community so decidedly non-queer, I must be the one to represent.  If I want to hear my language spoken, I must be the one to speak.

The result is less than comfortable.  In my case, I feel myself losing dimension, feel myself contributing to the perspective that I am the “token lesbian” by constantly being more “lesbian” and less myself.  My first response, more and more often, seems to be as the mouthpiece of the queer community, and as awkward as I find that fact, I submit to it to avoid the alternative.  Right now, in my current setting, the alternative is having no one be that voice, and — in the tradition of lousy sacrifices to which Erin has recently helped me bear witness — for the moment at least, I’m willing to temporarily surrender the vast majority of my identity to avoid living in a culture as oblivious to queer existence as this university would be otherwise.

This is not to suggest I don’t envy (more often than not) the classmate I’ve recently learned is more “privately” homosexual: closeted on-campus and out beyond it.  It’s not joyful for me to emphasize this fraction of myself so constantly that other people’s false impression (that sexuality = self) is confirmed.  But it’s the choice I made given the options presented to me, just as the pivate homosexual made her choice.  And, similar to Erin’s situation, I don’t really question the “rightness” of those choices.  I challenge them as our only options.

I would like to think that the work the GSA is managing, specifically the recent steps we’ve taken toward opening the eyes of the administration and finding more allies in the faculty and staff, are moving us in the direction of new options.  When I graduate, I don’t want the LGBT mouthpiece at this university to fall silent.  However, I’m equally unwilling to view that mouthpiece as a bullhorn that I must pass to the next Queer Example.  My hope is that, by the time I graduate, the goals of our GSA will be goals that allies across campus — faculty, students, staff, and administration — are working toward, so that the burden doesn’t fall on the shoulders of an individual (or handful of individuals) again any time soon.  Whether or not that’s possible, it’s what I hope we’re moving toward.

Because, put plainly, the alternative sucks.

It’s not that I dislike being openly queer.  It’s not that my Halloween costume (Lesbian stereotype, — because stereoytpes are scaaaaary — complete with flannel shirt, single feather earring, tool belt, and mullet) doesn’t appeal to me.  It’s that, eventually, I start to lose track of who else I am.  What more is there to me?  I ask, knowing there is more.  What take would I have on an assignment, what joke would I crack, who else would I be, if Teh Gay were covered somewhere else, by someone who wasn’t me? 

On the train home from San Francisco this summer, I encountered a guy about my age, who was having a very intense conversation.  It seemed logical enough, until the person I’d presumed he was talking to exited the car, and the man in question continued talking.  Eventually, I stole a glance at him and found that his words, including questions — You know what I mean?  You know what I’m saying, don’t you? –were actually directed at his reflection in the window of the car.  That story is many things — proof that we need better mental health care, for instance, and in another conversation, I might tell it for that reason.  But right now, to me, it speaks to the desperation we all have to be represented.  We are all desperate to have someone who “looks like us” say that yes, they know what we mean.  We are desperate to the point we will hold up mirrors and speak with our reflections.  We will make our queerness so hyper-visible that even we — inside of it — catch sight of it sometimes… not because this is all we are, but because it’s a part of who we are that we need to see reflected, and which — more often than is bearable — we don’t.

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.”

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).

Don’t Think It’s Hot.

August 3, 2008

(This is basically the previous entry part two.  It won’t make sense, most likely, if you read it before that one.  I am hoping, when it is finished, to return from this dear-diary-esque interruption to our regularly scheduled programming.)

A quick update to say that I found Violet Blue’s use of this (not totally work-safe) image today hilariously well-timed, given my last entry.  Maybe there is a bridge being built between asexual porn and the mainstream version, and I just don’t realize it. 

I also wanted to add to the last post this rather spot-on quote from Glad to Be A which managed not only to articulate some things I’ve been thinking, but also to push those thoughts further:

I don’t understand looking at someone and thinking sex.  It makes sense to me that you would have powerful feelings of attraction and a desire to be intimate with, and to please physically, someone who you found not only outwardly attractive but attractive in their personality.  I get love and lust being combined.  But what I find difficult to understand is random lust for a stranger, or even for someone you don’t like,  based purely on them having a nice rack or a great butt.  I find it difficult how someone could get all excited over some hot body, then another one a few minutes later, then another one.  Attraction to a few specific people, based on various qualities, seems like the only thing that makes sense to me.

Perhaps because I find myself fundamentally motivated by emotional connection — (Freud’s insistence that this cannot be the case aside) — I would add to this that I have a total incapacity to forget that bodies belong to people, to unique individuals who have personalities, thoughts, feelings, — the whole shibangabang.  This reality has gotten me into trouble more than once since I came out as a lesbian, when people have insisted I tell them who I think is “hot” or scoffed when a swimsuit calendar sparked a feminist rant on my part instead of an aroused grunt of approval.  Personally, I have a physical response to erotic images of women; I do seem to experience some physical desire toward bodies, (although as of now, I remain completely oblivious to what is so fascinating about genitalia.  Georgia O’Keefe understood it on some level.  I do not), but I grow uncomfortable having a physical response toward bodies that belong to people I don’t know.  I can’t shut off the part of my brain that wonders who the woman is and what she’s like, partly because that is necessary information for me to stay attracted, and partly because I find it difficult to suspend the knowledge that although she’s currently the object of my gaze (and even my desire) she’s the subject of her own experience.  Given the extent to which women’s objectification (and increasingly, men’s objectification) drives socially damaging constructs, I’m actually surprised that so few people mention having an issue with their tendency to gawk at women. 

I mentioned to Elephant when we were discussing asexuality that I’ve been called a “bad” lesbian because my feminism so often trumps my sexual desire.  (I really don’t intend to suggest that people who have those desires without the inhibition are lesser feminists; I hope it’s not coming across that way.  My experience is honestly the only one I’m qualified to describe.)  His characteristically awesome response was, “Sexuality is about what feels good and right, not what some others’ or some magazine’s definition prescribes. Don’t listen to anybody who calls you a prude or “bad lesbian” – that’s all bulls*&t. It just means they are trying to impose their particular libidinal urges on you.”  I see the truth in this and stand by it, but I’m also aware that my own “libidinal urges” are somewhat stifled, both by the fact that I’ve semi-unintentionally divorced my body from the rest of my self, and the (seemingly oppositional) fact that I *cannot* divorce other people’s bodies from the rest of their identity.  I honestly don’t feel that I’m judgmental of other people’s casual sex, virtual and otherwise.  But I don’t know how to suspend the knowledge that there’s a person attached to that sexuality, how to quell or dismiss my curiousity about who that person is, and how to suspend the rest of my personality long enough for my sexuality to take the wheel and allow me to engage in that kind of thing myself.  Maybe that’s not a possibility for me, maybe I don’t even want that to be a possibility for me, but without it, my ability to explore my sexuality is significantly limited.  Even when I luck into an emotional connection, it’s rarely with someone I could potentially partner with.  Add to that the reality that I’d be likely to value the emotional connection to the point that I would (over)protect it against the potential backlash of sexual exploration, and it seems increasingly likely that my questions of sexual identity will remain unanswered for some time.  And well, I simply never claimed to be a patient person, regardless of my rational understanding that I was dealing with something that shouldn’t be rushed.

I would like to return to my own body.  I would like to grow, — slowly, safely, — in my awareness of other people’s bodies, which for me seems to require knowledge of the rest of their identity.  I would like it if the way my sexuality functions (most particularly, its insistence on not objectifying people) would not essentially keep me from having one in the first place.  Does this begin to qualify as an answer to one of those middle school questions, to knowing what I want?

Boys Oh Boys.

July 18, 2008

Several thousand years ago, when I qualified as one myself, I was on a listserv for (very) young writers, most of whom appeared to be in their pre-teens.  Amid the pretty constant dreck that was submitted — (no offense intended, of course; I wrote quite a bit of dreck myself in those days; still do on occasion), — someone submitted a story that seriously blew my mind and which, in the years since, I’ve often wished had been a published piece, simply so that I could track it down.

The plot, as I remember it, went something like this: A teenage girl was uprooted and planted on a new continent, Australia I believe, where she proceeded to write pretty constantly in her diary about how unhappy she was to be in a place where she knew no one (and of course, how irritating she found her parents.  Rather realistic portrayal, in a lot of ways.)  Eventually, she met a young boy who completely won her over, and a rather hearteaning intimacy developed between them.  I have a vague image of them riding the same motorbike and another of him playing piano to accompany her singing…  Eventually, somehow, — the details have escaped me, — she discovered quite unexpectedly that this boy was actually a bio-girl, not a term I knew at the time and not one she was aware of either.  (The extent to which this was a portrayal of an FTM character is blurred significantly by my obliviousness to such things back in the day, but to some extent, the boy-character did fall under the broader use of “transgender” as an umbrella term, and for the sake of clarity, I’ll continue to use “boy” and male pronouns and such in my explanation here.)  Since the story was told from the girl’s perspective (her diary entries, I think), its themes ran less along issue of trans identity (largely tragic scene of Boy playing piano for a recital wearing a dress, aside) and more around the girl’s discernment process. Understanding that her boy was not recognized as a boy (and that she would not, if she hadn’t been more-or-less misled, have recognized him that way herself), she began to ask the question: if he is a girl, or even partially a girl, and I’m straight, does this change the way I feel about him? Does this change the relationship we have or the relationship we can potentially have?

At the time, this story completely changed the way I thought about relationships.  It coincided nicely with a sense I had around that time that in reality everyone must be bisexual, and that any other orientation was basically prejudice on our parts, sex being as irrelevant a reason to discriminate against potential partners as race or eye color.  The object of the girl’s affection in this story had managed to bypass the girl’s “orientational sexism” by presenting himself as a boy, and thus they had both had a chance for intimacy on a level they would have missed out on otherwise.  Interestingly, while experience dismantled that (“hetero or homo = prejudice”) notion for me over time — (I still conceive of orientation as a spectrum, but I believe some people, myself included, are close enough to one [homo] end or the [hetero] other, that it feels completely bizarre for us to identify as bi, and I don’t consider that prejudice on our parts; I consider it reality) — the content of the story stayed with me, and lately (obviously) I’ve been remembering it again.

I’ve been remembering it as I consider the notion of orientation and how it affects intimacy.  I remember, listening to Carol Queen the other day, she said something about how orientation (whether you label it a sexual orientation or a romantic/ affectional one)  speaks to the people you’re drawn to and the way they energize you (regardless of the acts you wish to engage in with them).  Basically, then, orientation serves as a discriminator, not necessarily in the negative way that I mentioned conceiving of it earlier, but in the sense that those of us who wish to find partners need to be able to discriminate between potentially compatible people and people who wouldn’t work so well.  Obviously, we use factors other than sex/gender to do this as well — like how well we know the person, their age, their politics, etc — but for whatever reason (because it’s so common, because there’s a heteronormative bias about the sex/ gender we’re supposed to find attractive, because orientation and gender are so married in our social thinking anyway) — there’s a great deal more emphasis on our preferences for our partner’s sex or gender than the other aspects.  For instance, while I may identify for myself that I’m largely attracted to progressives, if I told people that I was a progressiveromantic or a progressivesexual, the best response I could probably hope for is a rather amused giggle; if I tell them I’m homoromantic or homosexual (moreso the second one, given the tendency of people outside the ase community to not know the terminology), I’m more likely to have the statement understood and even taken seriously, (although quite frankly, the term progressiveromantic prompts an amused giggle on my part as well.)

So, why does a person’s biosex or their gender matter?  Does it?  On the one hand, I can totally see that it does, and I can answer (for myself at least) that it matters because, to the extent that your body is what I find attractive, I am about 900 times more likely to be attracted to a female body than a male one.  Or, — and maybe this is a better articulation of the same thing, — if I am attracted to you-beyond-your-body, to your identity and your personality and the all-but-the-body of who you are, that attraction is somewhat more likely to attach to your body (as well) and make your body an entity with which I wish to do things, if you are a girl.  However, just as the discussions between the asexual and sexual communities are challenging notions about what sexuality is and means, they’re also challenging the definitions and boundaries of intimacy, not only for society-at-large (or semi-large, given the relatively small number of people who are aware this discourse is happening) but for me personally.  Because if I identify as lesbian, which basically means female homosexual (as much as I despise that term) and the asexual community is redefining intimacy around or without or beyond sexual relations — (by their most hard-boundaried, “sexuality = sex” definition), — doesn’t that have something to say to how I, as a lesbian, could potentially have intimate relationships with men?  Isn’t that (nonsexual intimacy with the men I adore) something I aspire toward, something I want?

I think it’s a major problem in our society that intimacy is a euphemism for sex, something we use in our more sex-negative moods to avoid a straight-up discussion of fucking.  Because it’s possible that if I were the fictional Australian emigrant in the story that started this post, my discernment process around my partner’s transgender identity would not lead me to the conclusion that gender doesn’t matter, that rather (perhaps to my own devastation) I would recognize, particularly if I were someone aspiring toward a sexual partnerhood, that this did change things for me and was not something I could dismiss (my desire to do so aside.)  Even still, I think I would be grateful for the opportunity to have that relationship as long as I did, for the fact that this intimacy with this person had existed and had meant something to me.  Given that as the case, I’m more than a little excited about the idea of expanding my sense of intimacy so that, while “sexually” (to whatever extent I do anything sexually) I may continue to “discriminate,” I wouldn’t have to in terms of intimacy.  I have no desire to ignore my orientation; I worked too hard years ago to sort it out to make a false claim at bisexuality now.  But I also wonder, thinking of and holding in my heart the handful of really marvelous boys and men I’ve lucked into over the years, why I don’t spend more energy seeking out male people and relating to them.  It has me thinking that maybe one of the things asexuality can potentially teach me, personally is how to have intimacy all the way around, the boundaries of who-can-share-my-bed aside.

Strange (But Not Incompatible) Bedfellows: Aces and Sex Ed.

July 17, 2008

A few days ago, I read this article by Girl With a One-Track Mind’s Zoe Margolis defending a recent recommendation by the Brook Advisory Centres and the Family Planning Association (both in the UK) that children “be provided with appropriate information about relationships, their bodies (eg the names of body parts and the differences between women and men) and educated about sex as something other than a biological function.”  Personally, I think the fact that such a suggestion needs defending (against such marvelous headlines as “ZOMG, call f0r sex less0ns at age f0ur!!1!” –l33t speak mine) evidences all on its own what a royal mess sex education has become, (as much in the US as the UK, obviously), and I’ve been thinking since I read it about the ways that asexuality, in all it’s discussion-causing glory, can help with this problem.

One marvelous thing about the asexual community (because, in my of-course-totally-non-biased opinon, there are many) is that we/they force the larger society to reexamine concepts with such staid definitions that people have forgotten to consider them answers to questions, and have completely forgotten to ask those questions — (like “what is sex?  what is sexual desire, sexual attraction, and sexuality?” to name a few) — for themselves.  (This, I think, is how we end up with articles in Seventeen magazine — which I thankfully never read, but did pick up in a doctor’s waiting room once in absolute horror — about what constitutes losing one virginity*.  Note: Two lesbian perspectives were presented, one of which suggested that lesbians cannot lose their virginity unless they choose — god knows why — to have their vagina penetrated by a penis.  If I’m not mistaken, the other suggested that for a lesbian kissing would qualify as a loss of virginity.  This … was almost enough to make me triple-major in education and pursue the possibility of teaching sex ed myself because, um, wow.  I love that these are the two lesbian voices you choose to publish, Seventeen.  My increasingly sarcastic kudos to you.)

But I really did have a point somewhere… let me wind my way back to it.  Oh, right: asexuality and the expansion of sexual education.  I think the asexual community has so much to contribute to this discussion because what the leading voices in this debate seem to be saying (from my perspective; the mainstream media and the conservative right, assuming there’s still a slight difference between the two, obviously have a different take) is that we need not only better sexual education but also all-around relational education.  As this article (which Violet Blue linked to) suggests, most teens (rightly) do not consider their sex ed lessons relevant to their actual lives.  Programs, like the one that article details, (developed by the University of Western Sydney), which “trained [participants] to interpret body language, practice standing up to people, raise issues with their friends, and […] reflect on their behaviour and expectations” offer tools for social interaction beyond and within the erotic realm, not to mention a level of self-definition I would argue (and probably not without backup) is never seen in current sex-ed programs.  The question becomes one of safe, healthy, and self-defined intimacy, which includes physical (and in many cases sexual) intimacy but is not limited to such.  It certainly is not limited to heterosexual genital intercourse as a) a way of getting pregnant, b) a way of contracting STDs, and c) something to be avoided at all costs (at least until marriage). 

Aces are fantastic people to help facilitate this discussion because the very existence of the asexual community — in addition to the various discourses that take place within it — challenge the concepts of what is and isn’t sexual, and (perhaps even more importantly) push people to define those rather gray boundaries for themselves.  (One very small thing I will say for the Seventeen survey is that it pointed to the subjectivity inherent in terms like “virgin” and although it did not necessarily, to my recollection, encourage girls to determine a definition for themselves, it did perhaps unintentionally spark the question of how set-in-stone a “pure” definition — pun intended — can be.)

Personally, I think the please-god-let’s-improve-sex-ed discussion is one for the asexual community to consider (or continue) jumping on board with not only because of what we stand to gain (inclusion, mainly; “asex ed” and what that could mean not only for self-identified asexuals and confused teens who may find a great deal of comfort in asexuality’s existence), but also because of what we can offer.  It’s ironic, in a way, that asexuals could be of service to sex ed (not only because of the nominal differences) but because doing so involves individuals who self-identify as asexual offering better education to a demographic that seems to have asexuality imposed upon them.  Excuse me if I’m alone in finding it kind of awesome that we, a group of people who have little to no sexual desire, could ally ourselves with teenagers against the forces that continue to insist they should not have those desires, when (what appears to be) the (vast) majority of them, frankly, do.

Then again, I’m also just a fan of a good revolution.

 

*In my attempt to link something resembling this article — which I believe now was from the August 2007 issue of Seventeen — I came across this mention of the Kaiser/ Seventeen study on virginity, which also involves an extremely problematic (read: heteronormative) definition of what it means to be a virgin.  I sounded off with the suggestion that they read Virgin by Hanne Blank, which I still haven’t finished, but which dismantles the majority of their “fast facts” pretty quickly.  Perhaps you’d like to yell at them as well?

The Transgender/ Asexual Easter Bunny.

July 15, 2008

So, I have this friend.  (And I don’t mean one of those hypothetical friends people use when discussing themselves in the third person.  This is a non-hypothetical, flesh-and-blood friend of mine.  Or possibly a very believable hologram.  But I digress.)  And once, maybe over a year ago now, she told me that although she supports gay folks, she simply doesn’t “believe in transgender people” — meaning their very existence strikes her as suspect, as somehow not yet legitimized.  This kind of comment, in a new relationship, would probably establish a person firmly in the “acquaintance” category for me, but given that I’d grown used to valuing her friendship by the time she told me this, saying sayonara didn’t seem like my most compelling option.  Instead, I said my piece and hoped that eventually, she would meet some cool trans folks who, purely by existing as real people in her life, would help her understand the reality of transgendered experience, so she might move from a position of ignorance into one of alliance.  I also vented to a friend about the comment — which struck me as horribly misguided and hurtful — who sparked a hearty laugh when she replied, “What?!  Are trans people like the Easter Bunny now?” 

Seriously.  What is it about certain identities that makes people in positions of privilege feel threatened to the point that they deny the legitimacy of those identities entirely?  Why must the trans population and the asexual population — (which I suspect faces this response just as often) — constantly be given the same lack of status as the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, or our old pal Santa Claus?  There is nothing about another person’s sexual orientation (or gender identity) for the rest of us to believe or disbelieve.  We aren’t talking about a debate issue or a religious doctrine; we’re talking about an individual’s personal identity, and I don’t believe anyone else has a right to step in there (with the potential exception of a skilled team of therapists with a real understanding of gender identity and orientation issues and a real acceptance of all people.)  In the one instance I can think of when I have found it incredibly difficult to believe that a person who came out to me was “actually” a lesbian, I still advocated for her right to identify that way, despite the fact that her decision to do so (when what she really meant seemed to be more like “manhater” and the identity seemed to allow her a place to hide out and not deal with her violent dislike of 1/2 the population) was rather painful to me personally.  I chose to support her right to identify as she chose because even if I did somehow, telepathically, understand why she was choosing to use this term (and even though the term was one I personally adopted in order to stop hiding out), what right did I have to question the legitimacy of her own self-assertion?  Even if there were a large population of lesbians whose relational/ sexual orientation had more to do with their distaste for men than their taste for women, what right would I — as a peer of theirs — have to judge that, to claim that their lesbianism was somehow less valid than my own?  I have no idea what caused my own (a)/sexual orientation.  For all I know, the reasons could be just as ignoble as this girl’s were, or they could seem that way to others (as hers seemed to me.)  More and more, I believe that the “why you are how you are” conversation only matters to people who take issue with how (read: who) a person is.  The members of the LGB community currently searching for a way to prove a biological basis for sexual orientation often fail to recognize that the problem, really, isn’t the contention that sexual orientation is a choice but that anything but heterosexual orientation is considered the wrong choice and pathologized, demonized, and punished as such.  (I’m not saying I believe I chose to be gay or that I could change my orientation if I was so compelled, but honestly, which is the more powerful statement: that I didn’t choose to be a lesbian or that I *wouldn’t* choose to be otherwise?  The first option suggests that a non-hetero sexual orientation isn’t choiceful, while the second suggests that it isn’t wrong.  I believe both of these statements, but if I’m picking one to shout from the rooftops, I’d choose the latter without question.)

Unfortunately, in my experience, a large portion of the world doesn’t seem to feel as I do.  They don’t seem to have the same respect for people’s right to live as they are.  The amount of evidence one must choose to ignore in order to believe that a transgender identity or an asexual orientation are not valid (but rather misguided responses to trauma, etc) astounds me, and at the same time, I think it pales in comparison to the fact that one has to ignore *actual people* and refuse their stories the weight that they deserve.  How do you tell someone that their experience doesn’t matter?  I don’t care if you’re the most repressed, mentally ill trauma surivor on the planet (well, I do, actually, but it doesn’t affect my opinion that), you still have the right to be who you are without anyone else saying, “I don’t believe you.”  If a year from now, I came out again as straight, (not bloody likely, mind you), I suspect I would still be angry with people who had not supported me as a lesbian… because I think the need to be supported overrules the need to be right.  What gives people the impression that their “duty” to correct someone’s mistaken view (of their own identity) wins out over their duty to support another human being?

A few months back, when I was talking about asexuality to basically everyone I knew, (while of course, leaving out the rather pertinent fact that I recognized something of myself in this identification), I lent a copy of Bitch to a (somewhat skeptical) professor of mine so that he could read KL Pereira’s article “Do Not Want.”  To his credit, he was significantly more open to the idea of asexuality after he finished it — (kudos to Pereira for that; this is a man who still thinks a bisexual’s “true” orientation is revealed when they settle into a long-term relationship, thus ending their ambiguous experimentation phase) — but his resounding question afterward was actually, “When does it stop?  If a group as tiny as one percent of the population” (allegedly; raise your hand if you don’t believe it’s more) “starts to form a community, when is it ever going to be too few?”  Basically, he was trying to suggest, by way of a slippery-slope argument, that at any moment we would be seeing two- and three-person communities of people with a valid sexual orientation not yet recognized by the larger population.  “Why can’t we just be individuals?” he asked me.  I simultaneously saw and did not see his point.

The not-seeing was the more intense response so I’ll start there.  My own question, in response to his, was why does it matter?  If there are actually two or three people out there so committed, so well-organized, and so intently focused on getting the word out about their experience (which I think anyone in any “movement” would agree is basically required) that they can do so successfully despite their small numbers, what about that is potentially negative?  I don’t understand what we (meaning those outside the population in question) stand to lose by others speaking up about their experience.  I desperately need someone to explain the threat to me. 

I think people have dissected this, in terms of transgender identities, pretty thoroughly and the resounding response is that “we” (if not the we I’m personally a part of) feel a tremendous need to protect the strict gender binary, the one that looks like check-boxes outlined in bold lines (rather than a spectrum of varying hues.)  We will sacrifice people for the sake of preserving this (false) sense of gender, (excuse the strong social constructionist bias, if you please), rather than recognizing that gender has no purpose without people to serve.  …But what of asexuality?  What leaves some sexuals feeling so threatened that they must insist asexuality is a fantasy, a pathology, or some other invalid way of relating?  I haven’t heard anyone really begin to sort this out yet (no real surprise, given the lack of research being done on the more basic questions), but as I consider it, I’m reminded of something my mom said to me today, during an extensive and unexpected discussion about LGBT rights following an encounter with some HRC volunteers on a sidewalk corner.  (They were trying to raise money to help in the fight to pass anti-employment-discrimination lesgislation.  I listened to the guy’s spiel and told him, sincerely, that when his superiors decide to support a trans-inclusive ENDA, I’ll give what I can.  He told me, I hope also sincerely, that they’re working hard on it, that they “got a lot of flack” for supporting the non-inclusive version.  Well, duh.  I almost told him that while I was glad to hear they were working on it, I would prefer they work on it because they finally recognized the importance of doing so and the supreme ethical misstep of their former position and not because they were being harassed by trans folks and their allies.  I wanted to say “that ‘flack’ was justified, Sir; if it weren’t, I’d be on this corner with you.  Why do you think I’m not?”  But I digress again.

Sufficeth to say that my mom, (who is a tremendously progressive person and a huge supporter of gay rights/ my rights/ etc but nevertheless — or perhaps as a result — always attempts to see the other side of things, if only to better build bridges between the polarized edges of a debate), suggested that one of the reasons certain people might argue for same-sex couples having all the same rights as straight couples, minus the actual word “marriage,” was that they value the uniquely heterosexual experience and fear losing it in a sea of other experiences.  Obviously, I don’t believe that heterosexual couples have any more right to marriage than the rest of us, but I do believe that heterosexual relationships — like any other kind of connection– have unique aspects that are exciting, powerful, inspiring, et cetera, and have just as much right (but no more) to be validated by society.  This concept (finally) brings me to the second point I wanted to make to my professor, which was basically that if he really sees the continual surfacing of new populations and movements as a negative occurence, perhaps the most viable “strategy” to help reduce the need for such communities is to validate the experiences people have as individuals.  If the addition of statistics — (“but there are x many asexuals in this room!  but x in y of the people you know are transgender in some way!”) — weren’t required to convince people to listen to an experience and take that story seriously, we might be less inclined to gather them.  If our stories were being heard (truly), we might be less inclined to tell them in unison, as a united front.  Basically, if I mattered to you enough as a person (singular) that you could honestly tell me “I believe in, respect, and support who you are” than I might have less reason to show you there are others like me.  Why spend the effort to legitimize an already legitimate experience?

Of course, in the meantime, why be so anti-community?  Or anti-movement, for that matter?  Personally, I think it’s past time that all of us — me, my friend, the HRC volunteers, and everyone in between — have the sense to believe in, respect, and support each other.  Personally, I believe it’s past time that everyone stand up to acknowledge the existence of the Easter Bunny.