Posts Tagged ‘lesbianism’

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.

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.

Mono (Not the Virus) and Poly (Not the Wog).

July 15, 2008

Let’s begin with a (somewhat relevant) shout-out to Ily at Asexy Beast, whose page bears the tagline “Of course, there’s always something to fall in love with.” That’s what I’m musing on today, the thoroughly beautiful fact that I am constantly head over heels with something or someone or somethings or someones, and (furthermore) loving every minute of it.

Years ago, in one of my first online journalblogs (ah, reminiscence), I coined a term for this propensity, the tongue-in-cheek word “polyffectionate,” which — if it isn’t obvious — is meant to play on the notion of “a” as a prefix meaning “no(t)” (although the “a” in “affection” is actually part of the root), which suggests the need for a term that could designate the spectrum’s other end, given that I (for one) was a girl of many ‘ffections.  Nearly seven years later, I stand by “polyffectionate” as a self-descriptor, and in fact, a little over a month ago, when — while leafing through a copy of Eat, Pray, Love in a local bookstore — I came across Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of herself as “the planet’s most affectionate life form (something like a cross between a golden retriever and a barnacle),” I chuckled more than a little to myself at how true this is for me as well.  The rather surprising thing?  I find I mind it less and less.  My propensity for dorky crushes — be they on people*, fictional people, bands, songs, movies, books or art pieces — keeps me rather happily occupied.  As I mention (or rather extol upon) in one of the recent spoken-word pieces (what was that about anonymity?  eh, fuck it … figuratively speaking, for you asexy types), I often don’t even mind that my crushes (when they do land on nonfictional people with whom I am actually friends) have gone unreciprocated, and thus undeveloped into relationships, up to the present point.  I simply enjoy them for what they are and enjoy the fact that I can freely jump from one love to another, like a hyperactive schoolgirl in one crazy game of hopscotch, without obsessing (too often) about the fact that I have yet to find a dateable girl.

I wouldn’t limit this kind of crazy-crush-happiness to the asexual community, but I do wonder if my quasi-asexuality influences it at all, in the sense that a lack of (or low level of, or delayed experience of) sexual attraction keeps a person from creating that traditional relational hierarchy that places True (Sexual) Love at the top and works its way down through family and friends to acquaintances.  I stand by a concept of asexual people that allows for them to have committed relationships (should they choose to do so) that are equally valid in comparison to the commited relationships of self-identified sexual people, and in fact, I aspire toward that single commited relationship that would stand separate from other equally awesome but not quite as touted friendships (et cetera).  I understand myself well enough to know that I would crash and burn if I ever tried my hand at polyamory, for instance; I’m too prone to the “why am I not enough for you?” insecurities that would make that kind of relational structure hell in a hurry.  That said, I think there might be something to the idea that asexual (and semi-asexual) people have the freedom to explore more possibilities and explore them simultaneously because the factor most commonly used to designate that one superior relationship — (sex, of course) — is often removed from the picture. 

AsexyAsexual, who has a livejournal account detailing her “quest to find [her] husband a girlfriend” (and sexual partner), talks in her most recent entry about a conversation she had with David Jay about “community-based intimacy” as a viable relationship strategy, specifically for asexual-types.  She describes it as involving a few primary relationships and a number of secondary relationships, which the way I understand it, serve to supplement but are perhaps not as intimate as the primary relationships.  (Correct me if I’m wrong here, kids.)  I find this terribly interesting because while something about the idea compells me quite a bit, I also suspect it would not exactly work for me.  There’s something ironic about the following truth, but I suspect I am not independent enough for this type of community, although perhaps it’s less an issue of “not independent” and more one of “not self-secure.”  I struggle to imagine a set of community-based or polyamorous relationships in which I would genuinely trust that I was valued and feel secure in the idea that I was not expendable, and while I can see that being the case in a monoamorous — (is that even a word?) — relationship as well, there’s something about a reciprocal commitment to one person, at least within the time period of the relationship, that I think would help convince me of my importance to that partner.  Granted, a few more years of therapy might convince me of it as well, perhaps even to the point that being “the one and only” for someone else (which strikes me as a pretty unrealistic thing to expect someone else to want or to expect myself to be) no longer feels so necessary.

Still, I think in a way, even with my borderline envy of the relational structure David was describing to AsexyA, and my tendency to fall for anyone and everything, something about a one-on-one relationship (although a less enmeshed, healthier version than I’ve been describing here) appeals to me.  I suppose that for such a diehard queergrrrl, I have some remarkably traditional points:  I want someone in my life who loves me and is willing to commit to making it work when she would rather bail.  I want to come home to this person, routinely, and have them come home to me.  I want to have a family together, although I struggle with attempting to determine in advance of knowing The Girl what that might look like or what it might mean.  I’m struck, however, by the possibility that desiring to create a family of some sort and desiring to create a community of intimate relationships is actually more similar than it is different.  In some ways, my “family” may look more in keeping with tradition (although less so if you start to plot its details or if you broaden “tradition” past the American 1950s), but the two still share some common goals.  When it comes down to it, who isn’t looking to connect with people, to establish a system of relationships that allows them to give and receive some version of love, in a way they find nourishing, fulfilling, and downright enjoyable?  If you can find a way to do that, more power to you, and seriously, I’m always open to pointers.

 

*Did you really think I’d link the people?  I’m not an entirely open book, thank heaven.

Now The Story is Different.

July 7, 2008

I may have mentioned this before, but given that I’m perpetually indecisive so multifaceted, I’m currently double-majoring, pursuing degrees in social work and English (while minoring in gender studies).  This translates into a projected graduation date some time around my eightieth birthday, but I still like to daydream sometimes about what I might choose to do with my degrees, should I ever successfully finish earning them.  My most recent thought, resurrected from a daydream I had roughly a decade ago, is to pursue a hybrid of writing and therapy, something that resembles art therapy, basically, with creative writing (my first rather passionate, asexual love) in the place of visual art.  Not long ago, I discussed this possibility with a (new!) friend, and he suggested I work with the LGBTetc population.  I filed it in the “not a crazy thought” drawer of my mental desk, since I’ve learned through the LGBT-related activism I’ve helped spearhead on my campus that this is actually a population I rather enjoy working for and with, despite my early resistence to allowing my orientation — (which is, not surprisingly, what sparked my interest in the population to begin with) — such a defining role in my life.  However, as a week or two has pushed itself between this moment and that initial conversation, I find myself more and more drawn to the possibilities of story therapy with the LGBTetc community, and I can’t help myself; I want to share why.

There’s a thoroughly unsubstantiated theory budding in my brain at the moment about marginalized populations, such as the gay and lesbian population or the asexual population.  It links, in some ways, to the point identified in that Peggy McIntosh article I mentioned in an earlier post, about the fact that only dominant groups see themselves consistently represented in media and mainstream art.  Because only dominant groups are allowed to tell their stories (or have their stories told), I suspect that the experiences of non-dominant communities are doubly collapsed.  First, of course, they’re collapsed by the dominant population; the stories that are told about them are only told about them (as opposed to by them) and have their basis in stereotypes.  Perhaps more disturbingly to me, the individual stories are squashed a second time by the individuals of the population itself, as they attempt to secure their own rights.  In an effort to create a unified front, I think marginalized populations start to minimize diversity within their groups; we pretend that we’re all the same (or closer to the same) than we actually are because we think it makes it easier for us to work together.  As a result of both of these pressures for uniformity, only one story of what it means to be lesbian (or gay, or trans) seems to get told consistently. 

I find this easiest to explain in terms of lesbianism, because that’s the area where I can start to identify key points of the story.  (The U-Haul comes to mind.)  But I know it’s applicable in other portions of the group as well.  Let’s start with this example, though.  When members of the gay and lesbian population are interviewed about their story, one of the questions asked so consistently it appears mandated is “when did you know?”  “Mr. or Ms. Gay Person, when did you first realize you were gay?”  The answers vary, obviously, but there’s an aspect of them that I notice so frequently, it seems unrealistically, disproportionately uniform.  Regardless of when Mr. or Ms. “Gay Person” knew he/she was gay, they speak of the sense, from a very young age, that they were different, different in a way that perhaps they didn’t understand, but markedly and noticeably different from their (presumably straight) peers.

This… strikes me as inconsistent.  On the one hand, it seems like an odd story for the LBGT community to offer if it’s not consistently the case, given that one of their — (I’m compelled to distance myself from this particular claim; hence the third-person pronoun) — claims is that we’re exactly the same as the non-queer folks, except for this minor issue of orientation.  Still, I really cannot wrap my head around the idea that the majority of queer folks knew they were different somehow, in relation to their queer identity, from the time that they were very young children.  To begin with, I’m a queer person who can’t do this.  Did I feel different in childhood?  Certainly.  But not for any reason I can logically connect with my (a)sexuality and orientation.  I felt different for economic reasons, religious reasons, and so forth, but as far as sexuality, well, as I recall it was perfectly normal to have no interest in boys until I was ten, and perfectly acceptable until I was twelve or so.  (As a sidenote, I can see this being very different for trans folks, as people start socializing you into your gender before you’re even born.)  Still, I don’t remember sexuality, even a child’s version of it, being clear enough for any of my friends before the sixth grade or so for anyone (including me) to recognize mine as potentially deviant from the mainstream.  I also can’t see any statistically significant tendency to bond more with other folks who would later identify as LGBT in some way.  And while this is one only one girl’s story, it’s still one girl’s story, and that … is kind of my point.

When the culture — and even the “subculture,” the non-dominant population itself — insists that something like this is a common-to-the-point-it’s-uniform component of a gay or lesbian individual’s identity, it’s completely reasonable that gay and lesbian individuals begin to look for that aspect of their own story.  We internalize what we’re taught to expect, after all.   Right?  The more that one story is touted, the more that we lose the diversity of the population itself, and we lose track of individual voices, and speaking as someone who was borderline mute for a few years — (heh, “speaking as someone who was borderline mute”… now there’s a noteworthy phrase) — I consider that a seriously dangerous possibility.  I consider it extremely important to my mental health to keep track of my own voice, and I don’t think that’s entirely due to the fact that one of my primary identifications is as a writer.  One of the reasons I’m compelled to write this now, and here, is that I think the asexual community, specifically, has a somewhat unprecedented opportunity.  In contrast with several other queer populations, asexuals — largely because of their “newness” on the social radar — don’t seem to have a consistent story that’s being touted.  That’s one of things I’ve found most striking about the asexual communities I participate in, actually.  Given the various subcategories of “aromantic,” “biromantic,” “heteroromantic,” and “homoromantic,” and more surprisingly even within those categories, there’s an unbelievable sense of diversity among people who identify as asexual.  At least, there is for now.  I wonder, though, how long it will last as asexuals fight for acknowledgement and representation (particularly in media).  One of the reasons I think the community of asexual blogs that is sprouting across the web is so powerful is because people are telling their own stories and giving their own perspectives.  Plural.  I don’t doubt that it will be more difficult for this community to affect change while maintaining that sense of pluralism, but it’s something I would really love to see.  Asexuality is revolutionary partly because it offers people a chance to define their story outside of the “we are all fundamentally sexual beings” template, challenging the very definition of “sexuality.”  It gives people the opportunity to define for themselves who they fundamentally are.  I would really hate to see that compromised, to see it transition to the point that it offers only one alternative story, the collapsed Asexual Person’s Narrative, instead of a space where people can explore themselves and define their “character” in their own terms. 

The job security that such a move would potentially grant me aside, I would very much like to see us prevent that.

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.