Posts Tagged ‘sexual orientation’

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.

At Least Let Me Call it By Name.

September 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

However.

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

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

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

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

If You Recall, The Scarlet Letter Was “A.”

August 25, 2008

Somehow these professors I’m dealing with don’t seem to recognize I have blogging responsibilities.  It’s really quite sad.   And in the craze of moving back across the country and beginning yet another semester of schooling, I missed talking about how when David and I hung out, we got to talking about his podcast with Carol Queen, — how awesome it was, how awesome she is, etc — which resulted in him telling me about an event at the Center for Sex and Culture (which Carol Queen co-founded) that he was hoping to attend, and inviting me to tag along. I had to think for a minute (about how many different ways I knew to say yes), before settling for “um, yeah” and agreeing to meet him in the city.  The event was actually a reception welcoming Heather Corinna of Scarleteen.com, a site offering comprehensive sex education via the Internet to all of those teens and young adults who can’t get it in the classroom.  (And when I say comprehensive, I mean it. Scarleteen covers everything from body image to reproduction, pleasure to rape prevention, and much, much more… including a recent letter discussing asexuality and linking AVEN.)  Do I need to bother mentioning that the event was fantastic, that the CSC is fascinating — (there’s just nothing like being shown a display of vibrators by a guy so uninterested he founded asexuality.org) — but pales in comparison to the awesome people who inhabit it?  Or is that already obvious?

I won’t give a run-down of the event, mostly because I attended it, and journaled about it, and chronicling it yet again would probably bore me past capacity, despite the awesomeness.  But I do want to talk about one of the main things I took away — aside from the awesomeness of Heather Corinna, Scarleteen, and Carol Queen.  Ever since I started immersing myself in the asexual community, which — somewhat shockingly from my perspective — was only a few months ago, I’ve benefitted immensely.  I’ve made friends, I’ve learned loads, and I’ve been more fully introduced to sex-positivism even as I’ve been more fully introduced to asexuality.  One of the great things about this event, which I didn’t get to properly express my gratitude for at the time, was that it drove home for me once again how accepting and supportive many sex-positive people are of asexuality, above and beyond more “standard” “sexual” folks.  I think we hear a lot about the Joy Davidsons of the world, who refuse to accept asexuality as legitimate, and walking into a room where such vibrantly sexual people didn’t even blink twice at David (or me, considering I was basically “asexual by association” that night) was really powerful for me.  An intern, whose name I can’t remember given the ridiculous amount of time that’s now passed, said something about how sex-positivism is about allowing people to do what they want, which includes not doing anything (ostensibly sexual) in the first place.  And Heather Corinna herself sent me an e-mail in the day or two that followed pointing out that the sex-positive culture (and people who’ve been working in sexuality for more than five minutes) is (/ are) so used to accepting alternative orientations that adding an asexual orientation to that list of the accepted is easier than some of us (myself included) might think.  I think — whatever the implications of this — it’s really affirming for me because it suggests that the support of this orientation extends beyond people who self-identify as having it.  It also suggests that an asexual identification doesn’t cut someone off from the sexual world as much as people tend to think, which has definitely been my experience.  I swear I learned more about sexuality while (and since) identifying as asexual than I ever did before finding the ase community.  It’s awesome to have that affirmed by people like Heather Corinna, who I trust know what they’re talking about.  Their ease around asexuality helps put some of my lingering prejudices about the community to rest, which is past due, seriously.  And their ease around orientations in general helps to remind me that. however I end up identifying, whatever I end up being, it will be an acceptable facet of the way that I love in this world.

And I’m good with that.

Getting Differences Patched vs. Perfectly Matched.

August 5, 2008

Last night, in a fit of boredom, I started searching the interwebs for interesting posts on sexuality and asexuality, and came across something that, if I were a little less masochistic, I probably would have had the sense to leave at the first hint of biphobia.  But, as someone who has never really come out as asexual (unless you count those couple of times I came out as questioning, prior to rethinking my own desire to use the term), encountering such serious and misinformed prejudice regarding the asexual community as I did in that post kind of startled me, and I wanted to at least understand (better) what my asexual friends are up against.  I’m hesitant to quote or link the piece here because I sort of feel like that gives power to the wrong narrative, the way that responding to Fred Phelps (or someone similar) would give power to the wrong kind of words, but I think it’s more established in the larger world that what Fred Phelps touts is prejudice.  In some ways, the asexual community and the allies of that community still need to respond to these claims, because how else will we reach a point where they are classified as nonsense?

Rather than parse every problem that I have with womanbythewell’s post on asexuality, I’m just going to do what I can to address her main argument, which seems to be that, by engaging in romantic relationships with people of all sexual orientations (or any sexual orientation, as opposed to strictly relating within the asexual community), asexual people with sexual partners are “selfish […] abusers.”  As evidence, she offers two rather discouraging stories of relationships sexual friends of hers have had with asexual partners.  In one, the asexual partner abruptly “quits” having sex with the sexual partner, except in those times when he worries she might be considering leaving him.  In the second, the sexual person believes that her asexual partner refuses to understand her needs and her feelings of pain and frustration.  The latter relationship ends, supposedly as the result of the asexual person’s “refusal” to understand; the first relationship continues with the sexual partner feeling increasingly rejected and in pain.

I don’t offer either of these stories as models of asexual/ sexual relationships or relationships in general.  Leaving the issue of sex or no sex behind for a moment, there are other clear problems in these partnerships.  For the couple that suddenly “quits” having sex, there’s an abrupt and presumably undiscussed decision that changes an important aspect of the relational contract.  The structure of the relationship is altered without a real dialogue, and I would argue that the lack of communication would be detrimental in any relationship, regardless of the issue it was around and whether the partners had the same orientation or two different ones.  Still, I don’t dismiss the importance of (no) sex in this scenario.  While it’s fairly easy for me to imagine the main problem here as a lack of communication, I can recognize that I might feel differently if I had stronger and more consistent sexual desires of my own.  Given that the sexual partner views sex as a need, the new relational structure has only met the (sexual) needs of the asexual partner, and no compromise has been discussed, let alone tried.  I’ll work my way later to the claim that asexual partnering with sexuals is fundamentally selfish; however, I do see the decision (by any person, of any orientation) to look after their own needs without regard for their partner’s as a fairly selfish one.  Perhaps in these particular relationships no compromise is possible, but I think it’s the lack of an effort toward one (on both sides, as far as I can tell), that leads to the issue.  Particularly in relationships that begin when one person already identifies as asexual and the other does not, (rather than relationships like I understand at least one of these cases to be, in which a person identifies and comes out as asexual while in an established relationship), I think it’s crucial to establish a mutual understanding that “sacrifice,” “compromise,” and taking pleasure in another person’s pleasure (whether that stems from sexual gratification or relief at not having to sexually engage) are necessary.  That said, I’m reminded of a rather spot-on Carol Queen quote I discovered in an interview at her website, which pointed out that issues of time and commitment can be as problematic for “monogamous twosomes” as for “poly people, because it doesn’t have to be one’s time spent with another lover that leads a partner to feel under-appreciated — it could be commitments to work, hobbies, or friends that leads to jealousy.”  As someone who always assumed she could never be in a poly relationship because of the insecurity I feel and the suspicion that I would leap pretty quickly to a place of jealousy, I found this insight incredible.  It hadn’t occurred to me that those same issues could be equally problematic in a mono relational structure.  Likewise, I don’t think it’s occurred to womanbythewell that problems such as neglected needs, one-way decisions, lack of communication, and a relational structure that serves one partner and not the other are problematic in any relationship, orientation(s) aside. 

Not only that, but these problems don’t automatically correspond with being asexual, or even with being an asexual who is romantically involved with a sexual person.  In my (admittedly limited) experience, a lot of people in these relationships, sexual and asexual alike, are strongly committed to making sure that their partner’s needs are met to the best of their ability.  There is an ongoing dialogue in such relationships about both sets of needs and potential ways to meet them.  There’s even an AVEN board dedicated to supporting — (not simply educating, but supporting) — the sexual partners of asexual people, as there’s an understanding among many members of the community that being a sexual person with a partner who does not sexually desire you or wish to have sex with you at all can be difficult both emotionally and practically speaking.  Both partners in any relationship, but especially in a relationship with such explicit challenges, need to work to understand not only their partner’s perspective but how their own perspective affects their partner.  To begin with, sexual people need to consider how a celibate lifestyle potentially ignores their partner’s needs and how their orientation can be misconstrued as a rejection of their partner.  Sexual people, meanwhile, have to consider the idea that their need to have sex doesn’t necessarily trump their partner’s need not to have it, and that the pressuring their partner to feel or do more sexually than (s)he is comfortable may actually push them further away.

In a sense, the discussion here actually revolves around consent.  Consensual non-sex as well as consensual sex.  I had a discussion with a (sexual) friend fairly recently, during which she said that she didn’t think she was up to a relationship with an asexual person because she desires sex and can’t imagine comfortably having it with someone who does not.  She suggested that doing so would be “glorified rape,” which strikes me as similar, in a way, to womenbythewell’s suggestion that not having sex with a sexual partner constitutes abuse.  In the same way that an asexual person might, for many reasons, choose to have sex with their partner or agree to establish a relational structure in which their partner’s sexual needs are met another way, a sexual person can consent to meet the asexual person’s need not to have sex, if indeed that’s a need this particular ace-person has, which… is not always the case.

The fact that not all asexual people refuse to have sex points to one of the reasons I strongly disagree with the comment that dating outside the asexual community is “selfish” on the part of aces.  In general, I don’t think that attraction — and even relationships, which are more choiceful than attraction — are as clear-cut as womanbythewell suggests.  Straight people have been known to date gays, choicefully in experimentation phases, and without realizing it in cases when the gay-person remained confused or closeted.  Bisexual people date not only other bisexuals but also gay and lesbian individuals, (and experience similar accusations of wanting everyone as a result.)  Even recognizing that the majority of straight people date other straight people and the majority of gay people date other gay people, I think there’s something telling in the fact that asexuals are currently estimated as one percent of the population.  To be completely honest, the fact that womanbythewell knew of two asexuals in her everyday life bowled me over nearly as much as her comments on them did.  I’ve lost count of the number of asexual people I’ve heard mention that off-line they know of no other asexuals.  As a community that is potentially so small, with such low visibility that even those who might identify as ase don’t know to do so, how are the bi-, hetero-, and homo-romantics of the world supposed to relate to anyone if they limit themselves to asexuals?  As romantic people, I don’t think the desire for relationship automatically establishes us as selfish, and I think those sexual people who have successfully created relational structures with asexual partners about whom they care deeply would probably be grateful that not everyone in the ace community feels it necessary to relate as womanbythewell suggests. 

Even if we limit the issue to one of “sex” or “no sex,” which I think simplifies things way past the point they should be simplified, I don’t think it’s fair to argue, as this blogger did, that asexuals should not “seek out” sexuals because they intend to live an “asexual lifestyle.”  From my perspective, problems in relationships between asexual and sexual people arise from an intention on the asexual person’s part to live a celibate lifestyle and an intention on the sexual person’s part to live a non-celibate one.  Not only are both parties responsible for considering their needs, their partner’s needs, their assumptions, and their partner’s assumptions, but a distinction needs to be made (yet again) between celibacy and asexuality.  Celibacy is a lifestyle and a choice.  Asexuality is an orientation.  You can ask how a partnership can work when only one person desires to live a celibate lifestyle (provided you are willing to listen to the answer.)  You cannot (fairly) ask how a partnership can work with someone who intends to live an “asexual lifestyle,” because as asexual people, what other lifestyle would you expect them to live?

An Uncharacteristically Concise Post on A/sexual Fluidity.

July 31, 2008

I’ve been thinking again… always dangerous. Pretzelboy proposed in a comment at Ace of Hearts that the portrayal of asexuality in the media contributes to this notion on the part of (many) sexual people that asexual individuals are static types who have shut off part of their personality and will remain closed to the possibility of sexuality for the rest of their lives. I think I disagree with the notion that the media’s portrayal of asexuality is responsible, simply because… when does the media represent the asexual experience, poorly or otherwise? (Ok, there’s that soap opera in New Zealand. Can we say “exception,” anyone?) It seems possible to me, however, that the social concept (in the media and elsewhere) of sexuality as a given and as a driving force defaults into an understanding (or a misunderstanding) of asexuality as a stagnating identification, one which – rather than opening up an individual to what Ace of Hearts so eloquently terms “the exciting challenge” of “learning to express [one’s] love in alternative ways” – stunts one’s ability to love entirely. However it comes to exist, this perspective of asexuality remains, and as irritating as the negativity is, I think it unintentionally underlines one of the exciting things I’ve discovered in the asexual community: a genuine tendency to embrace sexual (or asexual) orientation as fundamentally fluid. I’m really not attempting to promote the idea of an Asexual until Graduation (AUG) or suggest that because there’s an openness in the community to shifting how one identifies, asexuality is indeed no more than a passing phase. Rather, I’d like to suggest that this openness (where it exists; I’m also not implying it’s universal among aces) validates sexual fluidity as a whole. While highlighting fluidity in asexuality is slippery territory at this point, given the perspective that it’s not a real orientation, I think potentially we can use it to point to the fluidity in sexuality as well, so that – rather than invalidating how one identifies or how one previously identified – fluidity itself is validated. I suspect we could all benefit from that, ace or otherwise.

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.

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.

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. 

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

June 1, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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