… and the idea of people weeping in closets amuses you, does it?
… and the idea of people weeping in closets amuses you, does it?
This morning on BBC radio’s flagship news programme an eminent journalist defined ‘transphobia’ as ‘irrational fear of people who change sex’.
(The LGBT activist he was interviewing didn’t disagree.)
I post this because I’m aware that as part of the discussion about whether words like ‘homophobia’ and ‘transphobia’ should be abandoned there’s some debate about whether the form of those words really misleads anyone into thinking that they describe psychological states similar to claustrophobia or arachnophobia.
I have no strong view about that debate but evidence is always useful and here is a single piece of anecdotal evidence to be taken into account.
I think with words that are in the process of changing, especially, people need to be much more conscious of age and background. My dad still cringes when I use ‘queer’, because that was a slur aimed at him. It’s an important perspective to keep.
True, true. Good point. Our ways of expression and presentation often adjust to suit the situation and the audience, including choosing our words according to how the people’s we’re addressing will interpret them. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that.
(Hey look, I replied to one of these without making it into an essay! I feel proud. On this positive note, I shall go to bed.)
dinoquark replied to your post: There are a few people who use “bisexual” as “attracted to all possible genders,” claiming that the “bi” can refer to “people with genders like yours” and “people with genders not like yours.” But they’re also usually the people who deny the rights of others to identify as pansexual, so I’m wary of the logic, as it seems to come from a place of dictating how other people should identify!
I don’t see bisexual as being any more binarist than heterosexual, homosexual, gay, lesbian, or straight. I guess I don’t see why bi is usually what’s brought up here while all those others tend to be ignored.
I’m with you there.
Well, I guess ‘homosexual’ is less questionable since the proposition that someone is attracted to people of the same gender as themself doesn’t imply anything at all about how many other genders there may be. And ‘lesbian’, if it means ‘woman attracted to other women’ (which I think is how pretty much everyone uses it?), is similarly okay although oddly specific.
But basically I think Kinsey Hope is right to say that our set of terms for sexuality, taken as a whole, is to a greater or lesser extent underwritten by heteronormative cissexism. If we were starting from scratch we’d probably develop a completely different set of descriptive terms that would clearly distinguish between, among other things, sexual preferences based on physiology and sexual preferences based on gender identity. But we obviously can’t just ignore the existing set of terms, awkward and unhelpful though they may sometimes be: we can’t ignore them because those are the criteria by which oppression is exerted. One can say ‘oh hey I’m not homosexual because that implies a conceptual type of sexuality and actually I just really like dicks of all genders and none and in fact the dick I currently enjoy on a regular basis is attached to my girlfriend’, but that isn’t going to make that person safe from anti-‘gay’ bigots.
So apparently my conclusion is that it’s all quite complex and messy and non-ideal?
14kgoldnyc replied to your post: There are a few people who use “bisexual” as “attracted to all possible genders,” claiming that the “bi” can refer to “people with genders like yours” and “people with genders not like yours.” But they’re also usually the people who deny the rights of others to identify as pansexual, so I’m wary of the logic, as it seems to come from a place of dictating how other people should identify!
Honestly, I frequently use ‘bi’ for convenience’s sake: most straight folk are more likely to understand me when I use that then if I just say ‘pan’ or ‘queer’. Plus, I’ve been identifying as such for a long time, before other terms were in use.
Fair enough! I am absolutely not here to criticize anyone for doing or saying things that make their lives as marginalized people easier, or for identifying themselves however they do. I’m sorry if it seemed like that. It’s the bit where they start trying to criticize other people’s identifications that makes me prickly.
Not that there aren’t times when it’s legit to criticize other people’s identifications. If a white person identifies as two-spirit or a cis person with somewhat non-normative gender presentation identifies as genderqueer then there’s obviously room for saying, ‘Er, maybe this is not okay’. I personally wouldn’t get too much into that because I’m not a member of any of the groups that have a two-spirit tradition, I’m not genderqueer, &c., and I think identity is one of those particularly sensitive things that people probably shouldn’t call others out about unless they can do it from a position of saying ‘I am one of the people you’re hurting’.
So I guess my position is that I’m not saying people shouldn’t use ‘bisexual’. I’m not saying it’s oppressive. I’m not saying it isn’t oppressive. I’m saying I think it has a certain undercurrent of binarism in it, but whether that makes it actually harmful (and, if so, whether the harm outweighs its benefits) is a judgment I can’t and don’t want to make. I don’t think it harms me, that’s all I can say about it. And whether or not people use it to describe themselves, I don’t think people should ascribe it to others who don’t want it. Especially not when, as with the criticism of Cynthia Nixon (because I’d hate this conversation to float too far from the original context — that’s when things get messy, I find), they’re doing so in order to reject the other person’s self-identification.
Me, well, there’s no word I can use to describe my sexuality that isn’t going to leave most people with either the wrong idea or no idea what I mean. So I guess that puts me in a slightly inside / outside position on the whole thing. :)
Are there indeed! I didn’t know that, thanks. Hmm.
Well, I dunno. If people want to try to shift the meanings of words, or use words differently from others, okay. But someone who’s doing that is presumably not a believer in linguistic prescriptivism. So unless those people are also highly inconsistent, they presumably wouldn’t try to say that there is only one valid definition of ‘bisexual’.
Prescriptivists generally rely on dictionaries, or at the very least on common usage, to distinguish their one ‘correct’ definition from all the other ‘incorrect’ ones. Someone whose definition is not in dictionaries and is not supported by common usage really hasn’t got any basis for promoting their definition over anyone else’s. (I mean, they can argue that it has greater merits and ought to be adopted, but they can’t argue that others are wrong.)
Since we’re on this subject, I actually do think there’s a kernal of binarism lurking in the word ‘bisexual’. It isn’t as simple as ‘but etymology!’. Etymology, as mikroblogolas says, is not a linguistic top trump. But I think the difficulty comes from the tension between the word’s etymology and its meaning. It’s important that this is a very obvious and well-known etymology. A lot of people who would never guess the original connotations of (to use Melinda’s examples) ‘vocabulary’ or ‘rape’ will immediately, without even thinking about it, grasp that ‘bisexual’, when used in the same way as ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual’, must mean ‘attracted to precisely two genders’.
So if we have a definition, in ordinary usage, of ‘bisexual’ as ‘attracted to women and men’, and we put that together with a very hard-to-ignore etymology of ‘attracted to two genders’, we end up with a word that really only makes sense if there are only two genders and they are male and female. If that doesn’t make the word in itself binarist, it makes it a word that’s much more comfortable in the gender binary than out of it. It’s transparently a word that a non-binarist world would not have come up with. That doesn’t mean it can’t be repurposed, but it does make me wonder why it isn’t better just to use words without these problems.
mikroblogolas replied to your post: Re: Nixon, I fully support her right to define her own sexuality as long as she doesn’t try to erase mine, i.e. “I don’t pull out the ‘bisexual’ word because nobody likes the bisexuals.” (Source Towleroad. Ask filters links, but I blogged it earlier today.) Maybe if “nobody” likes us, media figures should stop acting like bisexuality is something to be ashamed of.
“bisexual” isn’t by default binarist. see my long post on this and a million other people’s discussions of it, as well as the definitions by a lot of bi orgs. some people use it to mean “two,” but a great number of people use it mean “more than one.”
Hello! Yes, I read your post a week or two ago, in fact, and it’s one reason I was quite careful not to say that ‘bisexual’ is necessarily binarist. Which I’m pretty sure I didn’t?
I think what I said was that the fact that there are more than two genders means we can’t assume that Cynthia Nixon is bisexual. That’s still true even though some people use ‘bisexual’ to mean ‘attracted to more than one gender’, because we can’t know whether she is one of those people. The only way we could say that she’s definitely bisexual (ignoring my other two reasons why we can’t) is if we were going to say not only that ‘bisexual’ can mean ‘attracted to more than one gender’ but that ‘bisexual’ always means ‘attracted to more than one gender’, or that ‘attracted to more than one gender’ is the only definition of ‘bisexual’. Which is, of course, not true.
Also I think it’s fairly evident that the term was not being used in that sense by either of the people I’ve been engaging with who want to call Nixon bisexual and want her to call herself that. John Aravosis, in a passage I quoted, said this:
What she means is that she’s bisexual, and doesn’t quite get that most people aren’t able to have sexual romantic relationships with both men and women because they’re just not into both genders. She is into both genders.
Doctordisaster made a post, obviously responding to Nixon’s comment that ‘nobody likes the bisexuals’, saying:
“Nobody likes the bisexuals”
EVERYBODY LIKES THE BISEXUALS!
it may have something to do with the DEFINITION OF THE TERM
Which obviously makes no sense unless you think ‘the definition of the term’ is ‘has sex with everybody’. And, although there are people who use ‘bisexual’ to mean ‘attracted to more than one of the various possible genders’, there are, as far as I know, no people use it to mean ‘attracted to all possible genders’ except the people who think ‘more than one gender’ and ‘all possible genders’ are the same number, i.e. two.
Kevin Sessums: …You’ve been quoted as saying about these two relationships in your life: “In terms of sexual orientation, I don’t really feel I’ve changed … I’ve been with men all my life and I’d never fallen in love with a woman. But when I did, it didn’t seem so strange. I’m just a woman in love with another woman.” I’m a bit confused. Were you a lesbian in a heterosexual relationship? Or are you now a heterosexual in a lesbian relationship? That quote seemed like you were fudging a bit.
Cynthia Nixon: It’s so not fudging. It’s so not. I think for gay people who feel 100 percent gay, it doesn’t make any sense. And for straight people who feel 100 percent straight, it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t pull out the “bisexual” word because nobody likes the bisexuals. Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.
KS: But it is the “B” in LGBT.
CN: I know. But we get no respect.
KS: You just said “we,” so you must self-identify as one.
CN: I just don’t like to pull out that word. But I do completely feel that when I was in relationships with men, I was in love and in lust with those men. And then I met Christine and I fell in love and lust with her. I am completely the same person and I was not walking around in some kind of fog. I just responded to the people in front of me the way I truly felt.
Is that erasure? I’m not an expert on this stuff. I have relatively little experience of erasure, of how it happens and how it harms. But to me this doesn’t read like she’s saying bisexuality doesn’t exist. Or even denying she is bisexual herself. It reads like she’s saying she doesn’t use that term because ‘everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals’. Which, from what I gather, is kind of true?
Does simply choosing not to call yourself bisexual constitute erasure of bisexuality? Are we taking that approach now? Are we saying that bisexual people are obliged to identify themselves as such, even when they can expect to be stigmatized or marginalized or not taken seriously, even within queer communities, as a result? Are we saying that people who are afraid or ashamed to call themselves bisexual are actually being oppressive? Why are we interested in criticizing those people rather than the structures that are making them feel that way?
Okay, I recognize that it’s a self-perpetuating problem. The under-representation and the marginalization deter people from proclaiming their bisexuality, and at the same time the fact that people don’t proclaim it means it continues to be under-represented and marginalized. That’s clearly a reason to praise and celebrate people who resist that trend and make their bisexuality known. It sounds like you’re one of those people, and I celebrate you for it. But shouldn’t we be very careful before going from ‘people who are open about their bisexuality are doing a good thing and should be praised’ to ‘people who are not open about their bisexuality are doing a bad thing and should be criticized’?
But anyway, I’ve got a bit off the track here, because I’m writing as if it’s a given that Nixon is, despite what she says, bisexual. It isn’t. Even if there is some sort of moral obligation on people who are bisexual to say that they are, I don’t think we can say that she has that obligation because I don’t think we can say that she’s bisexual. Here are three reasons why.
First, okay, so she had sex with men in the past. Now she’s in a relationship with a woman. It seems to be a monogamous relationship. As far as we know, she hasn’t had sex with a man in the last, like, eight years. A lot of gay people have had straight relationships at one time or another. Some quite serious ones. Then they stop having them. Are they all always bisexual for the rest of their lives? Is there a certain number of years that have to pass? Or do you become gay as soon as you disavow your former relationships and confess that you were living a lie the whole time? Can’t sexuality change?
Secondly, there are more than two genders. That doesn’t mean that people can’t be bisexual or that all bisexual people are ‘really’ pansexual or whatever, but it does mean that even if you think it’s okay to label someone’s sexuality according to some kind of ‘objective’ criteria regardless of their self-identification, you can’t logically assume that a woman who has sex with men and women is bisexual. That person may also have sex with people who have another gender, or people who have no gender. We don’t know.
Thirdly, and coming back to the theme of my post yesterday, we can’t confidently say that Cynthia Nixon is bisexual because she doesn’t say she’s bisexual. Because, look, maybe I’m being overly rainbows-and-butterflies idealistic about this, but I think it would be nice if we could support her right to define her own sexuality even if she were trying to erase other people’s. It would be nice if we could support her right to define her own sexuality, regardless of anything she says or does, because it’s her right, because getting to define your own sexuality and describe it in your own terms is not a privilege that you have to earn by doing good deeds but something that we should support even the most obnoxious hateful people to do, because that’s the kind of revolution we want. One where people don’t deny or question your identity, your own account of yourself, even if you’re kind of a douche a lot of the time, because that’s just one of those things that we don’t do to people.
I know that isn’t my judgment to make. I’m not bisexual. If you think Nixon is being so harmful and oppressive to you that her own account of her sexuality doesn’t deserve respect or support, I have to concede that I’m less qualified than you are to make that assessment. All I can say is that I wish it weren’t like that; and that I’d like a queer community that regards accepting people’s self-descriptions as a basic rule and that criticizes the forces that oppress people rather than the people who don’t manage to overcome those forces. That’s the sort of community I see people I admire working for, and that’s what I want.
Image is a screen-capture of a headline reading Cynthia Nixon On Being Gay: ‘For Me It’s A Choice’, above a photograph of Cynthia Nixon.
Well. Now Cynthia Nixon has gone and pissed me off.
“America Blog writer John Aravosis was among those to criticize Nixon’s choice of words… ‘Every religious right hatemonger is now going to quote this woman every single time they want to deny us our civil rights.’”
I can definitely relate to what she’s saying, but only because I’ve been in the same place. Straight people can’t relate to that and saying that being gay is a choice really conflicts with the idea of being “born this way” which I think is the only way many people begin to understand the roots of homosexuality.
Nobody comes out of this looking good.
I take your point, Sarah, but to me it seems like Aravosis and company come out looking a lot worse.
I mean, when did political inconvenience become a valid reason to criticize a queer woman for the way she describes her own sexuality? Exactly what kind of world is Aravosis working towards? One where people can have civil rights as long as they’re prepared to subscribe to one particular model of human sexuality and describe themselves in its terms even if it doesn’t fit them?
It’s worth just comparing a couple of Nixon’s comments with some of Aravosis’ response. Here’s Nixon:
I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me.
Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate?
Here’s Aravosis (warning for binarism and ‘splaining):
What she means is that she’s bisexual, and doesn’t quite get that most people aren’t able to have sexual romantic relationships with both men and women because they’re just not into both genders. She is into both genders. And that’s fine. But she needs to learn how to choose her words better…
Allow me to get sarcastic here, because, hey, wow, I would definitely like to sign up for the new rainbow utopia where your sexuality is whatever Mr John Aravosis tells you it is. That absolutely sounds better than the one where people get to define their own identities and it doesn’t matter whether those identities are chosen or innate or constructed or whatever because it is generally understood that someone’s identity is their identity and that alone deserves a bit of bleeding respect.
Okay, at this point my first draft of this post turned into an angry link-filled rant about how objectionable Aravosis is, but you can google him yourselves if you want to know about that. That isn’t the point because he isn’t the only person saying this kind of thing. The point is:
This is the ask in question.
I know that it is important for certain aspects of an identity category to be questioned, but seriously, my gut reaction to the ask was this:
I don’t exactly like the implications of my being misgendered. Hmmm.
The picture is a simple drawing of someone side-eyeing a computer screen.
And here’s another response:
hey. i think it’s valid for you to identify as queer. and i think it’s terrible that this anon is invalidating your partner’s gender. D:
Not much to add really!
Hello, Anon. I hope it hasn’t inconvenienced you that it’s taken me a few months to answer this. Your Ask came at a very busy time for me (for the record, it’s dated 22 November 2011), and since it didn’t sound urgent I wanted to wait until I had time to reply carefully.
I wrote a first draft of this answer that tried to get into theory and analytical categories and stuff, but to be honest I’m not qualified to attempt that. I see your point, because sometimes ‘queer’ (and other identity terms like it) is used in a way that by definition refers to membership of a marginalized / oppressed group. Can you be a member of an oppressed group if you aren’t personally affected by oppression? It’s a fair question I guess. On the other hand what am I if I’m not queer? Straight? Can a man be straight while going out with (or even just being sexually attracted to) someone who isn’t a woman? Not by any generally accepted understanding of the term. Not without invalidating my partner’s gender, and I am not okay with that.
Do I benefit from straight privilege in every respect? Well, I can tell you some things that are true for me that wouldn’t be true for me if I were going out with a woman.
Now, I’m not going to assert that all this amounts to oppression or qualifies me to be a member of the queer club, let alone an expert on anything. I’m honestly not too bothered. Not that these things aren’t important: they’re extremely important to a lot of people, it just happens that I personally am fairly relaxed about them.
Kinsey Hope wrote some time ago that our whole terminology for sexual orientation is poorly equipped to handle the fact that there are more than two genders and you can’t tell someone’s gender by looking at them. If you want, let’s just say that I’m a man who fancies some women and some non-binary people (and doesn’t rule out the possibility that there might be some men he’d fancy too). Or if you want to say it’s nonsensical that we use the gender of the people you’re attracted to as an important identity category, I won’t even fight you about that, as long as we can agree that, logical or not, it’s going to be an important identity category as long as kyriarchal society treats some people worse than others on the basis of their partners’ genders. Which brings us back to your point that these categories are, at least to some extent, defined by the oppression that’s brought to bear on them. But are we really saying that that makes me straight? Does it matter? Do we need some new terminology to distinguish between ‘political’ identities defined by social forces and ‘personal’ identities defined by our self-identification, or is it important for us not to let those two things become separated?
Summary: I butt in on a conversation about the character Shane McCutcheon in the television series The L word. Spoilers up to about the end of season four. Press J to skip down or K to skip up.
· • ·
[Earlier conversation omitted]
tbh I know that loads of people love Shane but I think people love her for the same reason people love bland male characters, her character is written like a male character, which means all she has to be is not a total douche and be kind of stoic and people will read between the lines, like they only have to hint she felt bad about leaving Carmen at the alter and there was no fallout she just got on with her life. There’s no depth to her character, you get what all the others are feeling and I understand that some people hide their emotions from their friends but how is it that most of her day-to-day feelings are obscured even from the all-seeing viewer?
I think I like her but I’m still waiting for her to blossom, for them to do a proper episode about her and not just her screwing people. I’m guessing, given ALL THE SERIES I’m already watched, that tht’s not going to happen =p I feel almost like she’s written to seem like she has depth to her that you don’t EVER get to know about. I liked it best when her brother was around - at that point it seemed like she was going to have a personality and not be a cliche and then he was taken away, you never see him again, and she goes back to being just the one who sleeps around
Yeah it gets sleazy after that for some reason I feel like she’s some drunk single father that’s had her kids taken away and goes out on the prowl looking for young girls to fuck instead of properly mourning all the things she’s lost.
I really like Shane in the early seasons. She has the ‘screws like a dude’ thing, which I’m kind of ambivalent about: on the one hand it’s nice to have a prominent female character having lots of casual sex with lots of partners and not being stigmatized for it; on the other hand her lots of casual sex is associated with her androgynous / butch presentation and the tendency of other characters to paint her as masculine, so it doesn’t really challenge the idea that casual sex is part of the masculine domain; then again although it doesn’t challenge that directly, it does indirectly undermine it by making it visible; and then again I dunno really.
But what I like is that, along with that, she’s a really caring character. She looks after everyone. A lot of the time she’s the most loving person in that group. Combining that with the butch presentation and the commitment-averse ‘masculine’ sexuality makes for a really interesting character, as well as some nicely complex gender-politics. On its own, having a caring and loving female character with a butch presentation would be an interesting challenge to the idea that caring is an inherently feminine thing (because although Shane is a woman she isn’t especially feminine and it’s hard to regard her care-giving as particularly ‘female’ or ‘maternal’), though possibly not a strong challenge (since she is still a woman, which weakens the point in the same sort of way that her masculine presentation weakens the challenge of her sexuality). But when you have the same character raising both those questions at the same time — being caring and nurturing while butch, being sexual and unromantic while female — that gets really interesting for me.
As well as the immediate gender-politics of the combination, it brings up some nice stuff about love and sex and friendship and family. The way Shane is loving to her friends and puts so much energy into making that group into a family, while being completely uninterested in romance, questions the assumption that love belongs primarily in biological families created and perpetuated by heterosexual reproductive sex (in contrast to Bette and Tina’s family-making, which tries to follow a more ‘traditional’ heteronormative model and faces different challenges). I think that’s one of the reasons the plot with her brother works nicely and brings her appealing qualities out.
Frustratingly the series ends up rather slut-shaming Shane after all: not by condemning her casual sex in itself, but by increasingly depicting it as unambiguously destructive. You can try to read it as a critique of the pressure on her to have a monogamous romantic relationship, but I think it ended up just being unambiguously about depicting Shane as some kind of walking disaster. I think you’re completely right that the series failed to examine her emotions, especially when things get difficult. On paper I could believe that she’d panic and run out on Carmen, but we needed to see her making that decision and, like you said, grieving over it, because nobody can tell me that someone who cares that much about people is not going to feel gutted for a long time about hurting someone like that. And after that it just got more ridiculous — as my flatmate puts it, it’s like Shane just gets a personality reboot between each season and the next. It’s a real shame.
sententiola replied to your post: pixyled replied to your post: You know what? I’ve…To me ‘genderfriend’ sounds like a friend you do gender with, like a chess friend is a friend you play chess with or a cycling friend is a friend you cycle with.
But Jamie, I gender all the time! I gendered today, with my paramour as it happens. And we gendered last night too, until four AM!
(Herein using “gender” to mean “had a two-hour conversation about gender identity and the characterization thereof”. I just realized that the above statement began to sound very, VERY inappropriate…)
Exactly. I gender with lots of my friends and sometimes with people I’ve only just met. Which is why I find it disconcerting that suddenly there’s a word that sounds to me like it means ‘person with whom you have a common interest in gender’ but is actually being used to mean ‘person with whom you are in a romantic and / or sexual relationship’.
So today a pair of people who wanted to get married got married.
That was nice. I think it should always be like that.