Last time I talked about how there’s a lot of extra scrutiny about attraction for both bi and ace people, which makes inhabiting that intersection difficult, and the misconceptions that become barriers to talking about it. Now I’m going to talk about some specific aspects of my own attraction and how it’s different enough from the norm that it usually goes unrecognized. Continue reading
I have some frustrations with the way that attraction is discussed in the ace community, which are related to and further amplified by biphobia/bi erasure. This will be part one of at least two parts, because this is something that’s really complicated for me, and so difficult to talk about that it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for more than two years! So strap in, because it’s finally time to do this. Continue reading
I’m taking an American Sign Language class right now. I’ve always thought it would be cool to learn ASL, but in the past several years it has become especially pertinent, because I now have a family member who uses some ASL, due to being autistic and mostly non-verbal. I’ve also found it helpful to use basic signs to communicate with my partner at night, since (without getting into medical details) both of us have some issues that can make it painful to speak that tend to flare up at night. There are a lot of benefits to learning a gestural language, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot.
We had a group assignment recently to perform a funny short skit. We could do whatever we wanted as long as it wasn’t inappropriate or anything, but the teacher strongly suggested fairy tales as something that would likely be the easiest.
“Let’s do Cinderella!” one of my group members said.
“Yeah! I’ll be one of the stepsisters!” She pointed to me. “Elizabeth can be Cinderella!”
“Huh? Wait, why me?”
“You’d be perfect for it! You’re blonde,” she reasoned. Continue reading
Another year, another National Coming Out Day.
I’ve long since stopped making a big production out of coming out, and I don’t really even have anyone to come out to anymore. No one important, anyway. The people who should know, know. The people who don’t? Meh.
More than anything, I guess I tend to come out via actions rather than words, to acquaintances, or random strangers on the street or wherever. I don’t make much of an effort to hide affection for my partner, although I also don’t go out of my way to show it, either. I have no idea who I’m actually out to anymore. Who is clever enough to put two and two together? Certainly not that one chatty grocery store cashier, who asked us if we live together and took it to mean that we’re roommates. But our next door neighbors probably more or less get it, because they’re a lesbian couple with two kids.
I don’t really bother coming out about asexuality anymore, most of the time. If I happen to meet another ace, I’ll come out. I wear an ace ring sometimes. Occasionally I might make a casual reference, but mostly nobody gets it, and I don’t care to explain. I just don’t have the energy to get into it, for the most part.
This year, I was pretty much by myself doing work all day. I read some Amy Lowell poetry and got mad about heteronormative interpretations of her work and homophobic smear campaigns leveled at her. If you don’t know her work, check it out. It’s well worth the read. She was also one of those women who engaged in Boston marriages, and if you’re interested in learning more, here is a great article that focuses on that aspect of her life.
I feel it’s pretty appropriate to spend some time thinking today about historical Sisters who came before us, obliquely open, veiled but still brazenly living their lives. These days, I often feel like I’m in a liminal space between out and not-out in my everyday life, but really I’m able to be a lot more open about all of these things, if I feel like it, than they were, and that’s thanks to all of those who have come before. I want to honor their efforts today.
I’ve been waiting for this book for a long time.
Years before it was written, I remember reading a conversation on LJ in which the author, Julie Sondra Decker (also known as swankivy), talked about potentially writing a book like this. Then, when it finally came out, my copy got lost in the mail! It took months for me to get the situation sorted out and actually receive a copy, although part of that was that I was out of town and without internet access for a significant part of last fall.
But it’s finally here, and now that I’ve read it twice, I can say with complete confidence: it’s excellent!
Before we continue, please note: Although I’ve been part of the ace community for a long time, and spent a bit of that time talking to the author several years ago, I was not in any way involved with the creation of this book. I didn’t provide any quotes, nor did I do any beta-reading. Because I took a long hiatus from the community starting in 2012, I didn’t even know that it was finally being written until after a release date had been announced!
So when I read this, I came into it with, perhaps, fewer expectations for exactly what was going to make it into the book than those who contributed to it… and also more criticisms, because one can generally expect most of the contributors’ criticisms to have been addressed before release.
What/Who is this book for?
As stated in the introduction, the book “should function as a starting point for people interested in asexuality.” It’s “for the layperson, written in everyday language” because “everyone will benefit from knowing that asexuality exists, that it isn’t a disorder, and that asexual people can be trusted to describe their own feelings.”
Fair enough! So I’m judging this based on those stated goals. This isn’t supposed to be the be-all and end-all of any writing on asexuality—it’s just a beginning.
And does it succeed at being a good beginning? Yes!
This is the Asexuality 101 book. It’s for laypersons, but I think it should also be required reading for professionals looking to better serve their asexual clients. It’s a starting point for real understanding, and one that outsiders looking in just can’t provide.
Books are prone to becoming quickly outdated as societal understanding deepens, and even less than a year after its release, there are already some passages beginning to show their age. But that’s more about how fast our high-level community discourse moves! On that level, it makes sense to forgive the subtle nuances rooted in older discussions. Here, we find the community’s foundation, preserved by someone who has been part of it much longer than most of us.
On such solid ground, we can now take steps toward further progress.
First, let’s talk about the best parts.
- The writing is clear, concise, and casual. It’s easy to follow for a layperson, so it definitely achieves the right level of accessibility for its intended audience—and, crucially, it does so without feeling like it’s talking down to anyone.
- It has a great hook for anyone starting the book right from the beginning. The author’s personal experiences and history of involvement with the community (pre-dating the establishment of AVEN) contextualize the book, and quickly dispel any notions that asexuality is “what the kids on Tumblr are making up these days” without having to directly address that charge. I particularly appreciate the acknowledgment that she’s been fairly lucky in terms of having “supportive family, unshakable confidence, no serious problems or issues in [her] life, and a thick skin,” because it’s important for readers to know that others haven’t been so lucky.
- The structure of the book is very well thought out. It is divided into five parts: 1) Asexuality 101, 2) Asexual Experiences, 3) The Many Myths of Asexuality, 4) If You’re Asexual (Or Think You Might Be), and 5) If Someone You Know is Asexual (Or Might Be). This allows a person searching for specific information to pick up the book and flip to the most relevant section. The author also makes very good use of headers, sub-headers, lists, and bold text so that skimming readers will still pick up on the most important points.
- I love the quotes from other community members highlighted in gray boxes throughout the book. They tie in others’ experiences, clarify concepts, provide illustrations of things described in the main text, visually break things up so that the reader will tend to feel less overwhelmed by walls of text, and serve as extra hooks to draw readers (back) in.
- My personal favorite highlighted quote is at the top of page 38: It’s an anonymous person’s illustration of their experience with grayness through the metaphor of soda vs. water vs. water-with-a-bit-of-soda-in-it. I think that’s a brilliant analogy to explain experiences of graysexuality not defined by rarity, and I think it will be clarifying for a lot of people. It resists the most common way of explaining grayness, and I think that’s exactly the sort of thing that’s needed in visibility efforts to allow others to really understand these concepts.
- Many points are supported by footnotes leading to more information, with a great bibliography in the back so that readers can look up the relevant studies for themselves. There is also a large list of other resources in the back—although books can’t keep up with the constant change of the internet, so a few of them have already disappeared.
If you’re a writer, all of the above are great lessons.
I also appreciate the minimalist cover, because it really mirrors how minimized and, indeed, invisible asexuality tends to be. Technically, that’s not part of the writing, and probably not something the author could control. Many people will tell you “don’t judge a book by its cover.” But I think that people also tend to greatly underestimate how important packaging really is in whether or not a book will sell. And considering that this is supposed to intrigue people enough to introduce them to asexuality for the first time and legitimize the orientation in their minds, in this case a professional look is especially important.
What Doesn’t Work
Now, I was all set to rate this five stars… but upon rereading the first half of the book and counting up the places where there are serious issues, I have to take it down to four. These are issues that (mostly) seemed very minor to me… until I really started thinking about the implications of them. I summarized these in my Goodreads review, but here I will fully explain them.
If these points seem to take up too much space, that’s only because they are such subtle points that I have to use a lot more space to explain! I’m citing specific examples with page numbers so that everyone can see what I’m talking about for themselves and come to their own conclusions. I think we can apply the lessons we learn from these examples to other visibility efforts. Continue reading
[Note: I’m swamped with work at the moment, so comment moderation and response may be slow. I realize other people have asked me questions, btw, before the last post went up, and I want those people to know I wasn’t ignoring them. The last few posts were all scheduled in advance so that I would have something going on here while I focus on other things.]
Here’s Amanda Marcotte responding to an article by David Wong on misogyny, wherein he claims that men are just so much more sexual than women, that women can’t possibly understand, and so men tend to think women are conspiring to give them boners in inappropriate settings:
Do you see what I’m getting at? Go look outside. See those cars driving by? Every car being driven by a man was designed and built and bought and sold with you in mind. The only reason why small, fuel-efficient or electric cars don’t dominate the roads is because we want to look cool in our cars, to impress you.Go look at a city skyline. All those skyscrapers? We built those to impress you, too. All those sports you see on TV? All of those guys learned to play purely because in school, playing sports gets you laid. All the music you hear on the radio? All of those guys learned to sing and play guitar because as a teenager, they figured out that absolutely nothing gets women out of their pants faster. It’s the same reason all of the actors got into acting.
All those wars we fight? Sure, at the upper levels, in the halls of political power, they have some complicated reasons for wanting some piece of land or access to some resource. But on the ground? Well, let me ask you this — historically, when an army takes over a city, what happens to the women there?
It’s all about you. All of it. All of civilization.
I don’t realize if Wong gets this, but he basically just argued that since women are just so asexual, we’re also basically unartistic, unambitious, and even though he decried treating women like decorative objects, I don’t really see how we fit into this. We don’t have any desire to impress men and get sex, so we’re never going to build and invent, right?
Amanda is right to call Wong out on his assumption that women just can’t feel as deeply sexual as men can. But whether Amanda meant to do so or not, she also plays into a common trope about asexuals that we’re all passionless, uncreative, and somehow lacking that “spark” of life that sexual people have. To her credit, she at least says “What about the gay artists?” a little later on. I haven’t read the comments, so perhaps she challenges this anti-asexual trope somewhere in there, but I wouldn’t make the assumption that she did. In any case, it’s a big oversight.
Now, Wong’s argument is familiar to me. I encountered a version of it several years ago:
9/7/2007 9:13:09 PM M: it’s considered unnatural, because for many people, sexuality is the central driving force behind our decisions, endeavors, and pursuits as human beings
9/7/2007 9:13:17 PM M: and for someone to step and say they dont have that
9/7/2007 9:13:31 PM M: a “normal” person can’t comprehend that
9/7/2007 9:14:08 PM M: and a truly asexual person, will never be able to truly understand what it means to be sexual
9/7/2007 9:14:28 PM M: that person will never know what it’s like to have a mind that is sexually driven,
9/7/2007 9:14:47 PM M: and by no means is it a simple, oh i like women/men and i act on it once in a while
9/7/2007 9:14:54 PM M: it’s an all-encompasing process
9/7/2007 9:15:01 PM M: that drives every single thought
9/7/2007 9:15:31 PM M: to a sexual, an asexual claiming their asexuality sounds like claiming you can have fire without fuel
It’s one thing to feel like your own sexuality is the central driving force behind all of your own behavior. But there are a hell of a lot of people out there who don’t feel that way, even among *sexual people. Ask my partner, for one. Moreover, there are a lot of male *sexual people who don’t feel that way, too. Are they not “normal” because their feelings aren’t the same as yours?
Failing to recognize that other people feel differently from you, failing to recognize that other people can be motivated by things other than the things that motivate you, is an egocentric fallacy. Failing to recognize that creativity and passion can come from avenues other than sexuality is a huge chasm in your ability to understand others.
You want an example of a fantastically creative person who isn’t driven by sexuality? Look at Emilie Autumn. Hell, look at me. I haven’t got much published yet besides this blog, but I am furiously working on it. I have to create, you guys. I have to write. I am passionate about making the world a better place, and to that end I will strive to annihilate misunderstandings and create human connection through my writing, even to the detriment of other areas of my life. How dare anyone call me passionless.
I think a big part of the reason why people think that asexual people are passionless is that they’re unable to conceive of passion in a non-romantic context, and also to a large extent, unable to fully separate love from sex. They’re different processes. I would suggest that love, being a neurochemical brain state similar to OCD, is as much if not more likely to be the motivation behind great works of art. For a lot of people, it’s probably motivated by both, but which is the stronger of the two? I argue that for many people it’s actually love, but it gets subsumed under the heading of sexuality without recognition that while the two often go together, they really are separate processes.
But you know what? Even if the definition of “passion” is strictly confined to sex, I’ve still got it. Don’t make the assumption that asexual people are cold fish in bed. We’re not limp robots, as long as we want to be doing it and have enough experience to know what to do. And if we are? Then there’s something wrong, and you better find out what it is and try to fix it.
Wong’s theory is a bad one, and while Amanda’s response didn’t quite cover all of the reasons why, she is absolutely right to say this:
I have a counter-theory. I don’t believe that men build civilization to impress lazy women who keep saying no to sex, because we don’t understand what it’s really like to want it. I believe men built most things because women were shut out of political power, job opportunities, and education for most of history, and instead forced into servitude towards men in the home. I believe my theory has a lot of evidence for it, in the form of all of history. Plus, this theory doesn’t do much to explain all the gay men who have been creators throughout history, of which there have been many. You know, it’s not like Michelangelo was rumored to be doing the Sistine Chapel to catch a lady’s eye. His theory doesn’t really explain how it is that women, once given the opportunity to be creators, take it.
Consider this a follow-up of sorts to my post on privilege and the tumblr crap that’s been going on lately. Most of what I was going to add to that post I already said in the comments, but I want to highlight one part of the discussion. Jay, who showed up in that post to uh, “defend” the Privilege-Denying Asexuals tumblr (but actually ended up just proving the point of my post), said this:
It’s pretty obvious that you didn’t, as you say, follow the debate on tumblr, because *several* people shared their experiences of asexuals in LGB+ spaces expressing disgust at sexual displays (like kissing) and making the spaces uncomfortable in other ways. Ridiculous as that might seem to *you*.
To which I responded:
You and the other people who have met people like that would do well to keep in mind that not all asexuals are like that, and attacking all of us is unwarranted. I also hope you keep in mind that there are LOTS of people who are NOT asexual who also bring hostile attitudes into queer communities. I’ve encountered tons of biphobia, transphobia, and even blatant homophobia within queer settings. But the gay people who denounce trans people are not excluded from the group on the basis of not being queer. They are still assumed to have a history with and understanding of both queerness and prejudice, and yet they turn around and spread that vileness themselves. The queer community is not and never has been a safe space for everyone, despite our lofty goals. It is at best a very loose coalition of people who may or may not be supportive of one another, and often undermine one another instead of doing anything useful. My experiences with local communities is so bad I just gave up on them, personally, and none of that had anything to do with their acceptance of asexuality at all. I don’t see why problems with asexual members of the group are any different from problems with any other members in that regard.
Let me repeat that: The queer community is not and never has been a safe space for everyone.
There is not even one “queer community” to begin with. Talking about it like it’s a monolithic entity is hugely inaccurate. We refer to it like there is one for simplicity’s sake, but in reality it’s just a bunch of related groups with vaguely similar goals. Sort of. Actually, that’s the problem, isn’t it? Each queer group needs to specifically delineate its goals and guidelines so that members know what to expect, and most of them (at least in my experience) fail to do so.
So take any given queer group, and then ask yourself: what is this group for? What purpose does it serve? Is it supposed to be a group that takes political action? Is it supposed to be a support group where people can go to feel safe and accepted? Those are two VERY different goals, and they can be at odds. Taking political action often requires people to be out, and exposed to public discourse in a way that threatens the sense of safeness and acceptance that would come from a more support-oriented community. This is especially true when there is pressure from the group to present yourself in a certain way to the media so that your message would be likely to be more palatable to the majority. These are common problems with establishing the safeness of spaces in queer groups of any kind, even the groups who focus on one single letter of the alphabetsmoosh.
Let me give you an example. Say a group is tabling for some political goal or another, like encouraging people to vote down something like Prop 8. But the group’s leaders are concerned that they will appear threatening to straight people, so they tell you that you can only approach people of the “opposite” sex. Girls approach guys, guys approach girls, and that’s it. Doesn’t that intrinsically send a homophobic message to the members of the group, who are supposed to be safe and protected by that group’s leaders? That’s not even mentioning the complete erasure of the trans members of the group. So, is this group a safe space? Not really. (This is a real-world example, by the way; it actually happened, and in a group that was supposedly more oriented towards support, at that.)
Now, obviously expressions of disgust at sexual displays would be bad for a group that’s specifically designed to be a safe space to express sexuality. But then the question is, has that group specifically delineated such a goal for its members? If the group is actually meant to serve some other purpose, especially if that purpose is more of a professional one in nature, then it could be argued that any member (including members who aren’t asexual) might find it unprofessional and tasteless to do more than maybe a quick peck on the lips in that setting. Context really matters, here. It could be that someone just finds public displays of affection of any kind inappropriate, and it’s especially likely that they would think that if they are from a country/culture where PDA is discouraged. Jay’s comment seems to imply, however, that the people who experienced that assumed that their sexual orientation is what caused the disgusted reaction, and not the person’s feelings on PDA in general. Whether they actually know the reason or not, it seems to have emotional resonance with the idea that they are disgusting and bad, because same-sex desires are disgusting and bad. I’d say that these people were triggered by that reaction, in the parlance of PTSD/survivor-type language; in other words, they have internalized messages that they are bad/disgusting because of their sexual orientation, and the negative reaction to PDA caused them to be reminded of those messages, whether or not that reaction has anything to do with their sexual orientation at all.
If the group actually is supposed to be a support-oriented safe space, then ground rules need to be established that take these concerns into consideration. I’ve done group therapy, and let me tell you, ground rules are incredibly important in order to help everyone feel safe and avoid triggers. It should explicitly be established that people should suppress their negative reactions to PDA, or refrain from showing PDA, depending on what the group decides on. And yes, different groups may need to form to cater to different individuals’ needs with regard to feeling safe. There is nothing wrong with coming together for political action with one group, and having different groups (or sub-groups) for supporting different kinds of people. It’s not at all uncommon to have a support group (or two) just for trans people, or just for lesbians, or whatever. What’s wrong is to try to force every queer community to be everything to everybody at the same time, as if there is just one thing called “the queer community” that has whatever goals you say it has… and then use that as an excuse to exclude people you don’t like.
Jay’s comments do not demonstrate any understanding of the complexity both of goals and of composition of the various queer communities, or even that we have more than one queer community for good reasons in the first place. I suspect that the people who have had experiences with asexuals triggering them in that way simply assumed that the group was supposed to be a safe space, and even if it was specifically stated that it was supposed to be a safe space, I doubt that much consideration went into planning ground rules designed to make it safe. If there had been such consideration, the offending member would simply have been asked to stop what they were doing or leave, because they were violating the ground rules. A good response in a support group where that issue unexpectedly came up would be to talk about what happened, why it made some members feel unsafe, and decide what action should be taken so that such an issue wouldn’t come up again. That may include coming up with a new ground rule about it, or even a member leaving because that particular group doesn’t really fulfill their needs.
A good response to this issue does not, however, involve deciding that because some members’ needs are in conflict, therefore only such-and-such group of people is queer, and the rest do not get to call themselves that or be involved with ANY queer group (except as an “ally”) because then they would be “appropriating” space. There’s plenty of conflict between members of groups traditionally considered queer all the time, and also between groups composed only of people of the same letter that try to fulfill different goals at the same time as well. There is no monolithic space to appropriate. There are only individual spaces belonging to different communities, each with different goals (that ideally should be clearly delineated).
When I heard that the topic of the blog carnival hosted at Writing From Factor X would be about coming out, I was a little dismayed. I’ve likened National Coming Out Day to Valentine’s Day before, and I think with good reason. I’ve become so tired of hearing people harping on the importance of coming out, especially qualified, as it so often is in the asexual community, with some kind of statement like, “Of course, coming out for asexuals is easy, all we really have to deal with is people saying annoying things.” So, I don’t much like to talk about it.
That is demonstrably untrue, by the way. And if the only responses you’ve received when you came out were just a little bit annoying? You’re a lucky one. Not everyone has it so easy, and it’s a privilege to be surprised that they don’t.
Really though, I think that many of the responses that people categorize as “annoying” are actually instances of emotionally abusive statements that go unrecognized for what they are due to a “sticks and stones” tough attitude that many people have. Since abuse is often thought of as only physical, it’s often hard to recognize it when it happens, especially when society agrees with the sentiment. One single instance is relatively easy to brush off, but the cumulative effect of the majority of people claiming that “there must be something wrong with you” is not.
The other day, Rachel Maddow said this:
I’ve long held three basic beliefs about the ethics of coming out:
- Gay people — generally speaking — have a responsibility to our own community and to future generations of gay people to come out, if and when we feel that we can.
- We should all get to decide for ourselves the “if and when we feel that we can” part of that.
- Closeted people should reasonably expect to be outed by other gay people if (and only if) they prey on the gay community in public, but are secretly gay themselves.
I also believe that coming out makes for a happier life, but that’s not a matter of ethics, that’s just corny advice.
Now, I’d agree on numbers two and three, but that’s it. Frankly, I think it’s very naive to assume that coming out would make everyone’s lives happier. Some people (and I wouldn’t say it’s impossible that any asexuals are among them, even if I’ve never heard of such a case to date) actually lose their lives after coming out, and I think it’s good to keep that in mind. I found Lena Chen’s response to Maddow’s statement particularly on-point. Much as I usually admire and appreciate the work that Maddow does, in this case I think she’s got too much privilege to see this clearly. I find it inconsistent to claim that queer people (of any stripe, including asexuals) “should all get to decide for ourselves” if/when to come out, while also claiming that we have a responsibility to do so. Saying it’s a responsibility heaps a whole lot of pressure on people to come out, thus making number two ineffectual. If it’s really meant to be our own decision, shouldn’t it be as un-coerced as possible?
In practice, though, I do see a lot of coerced unclosetings happening throughout the queer community. Sometimes this is accomplished through persistent nagging and guilt-tripping. Sometimes people just tell others without their permission. Sometimes it’s a case of a significant other going, “I won’t let you tell your family I’m your friend.” That last case is the only time that I think this kind of behavior is marginally acceptable, because it does affect the significant other’s life too, but even then, it has to be handled delicately.
And you know what? I don’t see all that much of a difference between people saying that queer people have a responsibility to their community to come out, and people saying that married people have a responsibility to their spouses to have sex. Education of the privileged about the lives of the marginalized, like sex, should be a freely given gift. Turning it into a duty makes that gift meaningless.
The asexual community, being invisible and obscure, does need people who are willing to educate others, spread awareness of our existence. But you know what? There are enough people who freely volunteer to do that. We don’t need to make it a responsibility. So let’s try to avoid that mindset.
So today is apparently the “International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia” aka IDAHO. Which is all well and good… except wait a minute, what? Why is transphobia tacked on to the end, there? Shouldn’t it be IDAHOT, if anything? Well, no, not really. Not only does it make the acronym less “catchy” (uh, if you could ever really call it that), but there doesn’t appear to actually be any appeal to transphobia being made here, at all.
You see, the big event for this day is a same-sex Kiss-In, which… yep, you guessed it, doesn’t address transphobia at all. And the reason why May 17th is being celebrated in the first place? Because it’s the day that twenty years ago, the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality—homosexuality, and not transsexuality—from its list of mental health disorders. Gender Identity Disorder is still an institutionally sanctioned diagnosis of mental illness in America as well as much of the rest of the world, and will remain so under the new name of “Gender Incongruence” with more extensive coverage, according to the DSM-V’s Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders workgroup’s current proposal.
Yeah, but who cares about that, right? Not the group behind IDAHO. I haven’t seen anybody talking about that at all, except for the excellent coverage going on over at Asexual Explorations, which is of course completely unrelated to this event. [Edited to add: Check out this link, if you haven’t already; it’s a letter by Dr. Allen Frances to the APA Board of Trustees on what is going wrong with the DSM-V—as Andrew says, “When the heads of DSM-III and DSM-IV are going ‘Holy shit! Holy shit!’ you know things aren’t going well.”]
So why the hell is transphobia being included at all?
This is just one instance of a larger trend within the GLBT community of tacking trans issues on to the discourse as an afterthought, without really doing anything to help alleviate them. It’s kind of like, “Oh yeah, and transphobia is bad too.” It’s a disingenuous way of making nice, and while the people involved might actually honestly believe that they are doing something to be inclusive and helpful… they’re not.
Transphobia and homophobia are very much separate issues, and that is a point that most people don’t seem to understand. Trans people can be homophobic (take Christine Jorgensen for example), and lots and lots of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals are transphobic. Gender and sexuality are two different things. Some members of my girlfriend’s family approve of me because they think it is somehow a sign that she isn’t trans after all, that eventually she’ll come around to lead a straight life as a man. That’s not going to happen, because she’s trans whether or not she decides to date girls or boys. Yet because “transsexual” sounds like “homosexual” and “bisexual,” and because the T is tacked on to GLBT without acknowledgment that trans issues are different from issues of sexual orientation, people seem to see connections between the two that aren’t there.
I mean, at the very least, if you’re going to say you’re against transphobia, wouldn’t you try to at least discuss the issue? The closest IDAHO gets to that is some petition they’re creating against homophobia and transphobia in religious discourse. Which, uh, yeah… fat lot of good that is going to do. I mean what are they going to do, hand it to a bunch of religious leaders? Yeah, I can’t see someone like Fred Phelps buying it, can you? Or the Pope. Or much of anyone else, except for religious organizations that already support gay (and maybe trans) rights.
It’s all well and good to have a day set aside to celebrate the removal of homosexuality as a diagnosis of a mental disorder, and promote acceptance of that. But it’s totally dishonest to claim that this has anything to do with transphobia, which isn’t even mentioned at all on the page which explains the origins of the event, so I have no idea at what point somebody decided it would be best to add it. So why do it? If it’s a move to be inclusive or politically correct, it’s a bad one, because simply mentioning that something is bad without taking measures to stop it doesn’t really constitute inclusiveness in a political sense. It may even do more harm than good, because saying that you’re fighting transphobia while you’re only really focusing on homophobia creates the misconception that the two words are synonyms.
Let’s be honest: it was never about trans issues, and it still isn’t. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; there can be other days set aside for trans stuff, where the focus is not split by another, more well-known issue. But if you’re going to say you’re fighting transphobia, then it’s best to actually do it.
Edited to add: I realize now that apparently, last year’s IDAHO was more focused on transphobia. And individually, some people have chosen to focus their own efforts on it this year. However, I still feel that this is not sufficient. I think it’s still problematic to call attention to the issue once and then go back to focusing almost solely, on a collective official level, on homophobia. Transphobia needs to be given an equal level of acknowledgment every time the day comes around, or else it becomes support in name only, and that is not good enough. We should not let trans people be kicked to the curb again and again and again, as they have been so many times already. In order to be true allies, we need to have higher standards than that.
The baseball metaphor, that is.
While messing around on the intarwebs tonight, I came across this article about finding a positive sexual metaphor. I’d highly recommend that everyone go take a look! In the first part of the article, the author examines baseball as a metaphor for sex in American culture, and just how insidious this metaphor really is:
Baseball is fundamentally oppositional. Both teams can’t win. One team wins and the other loses. As sex, that’s about one partner “gaining” something, and the other partner “losing” something. In our culture, women tend to lose status when they have sex, and there’s a lot of hubbub about women “losing” their “precious virginity.” Men, on the other hand, gain status and respect from sexual experience. This aspect of the model also serves to reinforce gender stereotypes, which are rarely conducive to safe, empowered and satisfying sexual encounters.
Could this have had anything to do with my own fairly intense fear of rape? I was born into the losing team, after all. And the message that I will lose out if I have sex is everywhere, as is the message that the “opposite team” is out to get me–to force or coerce me into having sex without regard for my own feelings about it. In a lot of cases, that really does happen to people, and when it does, doesn’t the baseball metaphor for sex provide the perfect excuse for the assailant? After all, it’s just how you win the game. No wonder there are so many rape apologists!
In its literal sense, baseball can be a fun game, but unlike its literal counterpart, when we’re talking about sex as baseball, there is almost never a switch-up between which team is batting and which is on the field–there is not supposed to be; you are born as either a batter or an outfielder, and that’s where, at least in theory, you stay. That takes all the fun out of it, doesn’t it? Because if sex happens, somebody loses, and that loser is determined before the game even starts. It’s a predictable, rigid social role. To win the game says nothing about whether the sex was enjoyable for either party. It’s just about whether or not it happens.
This underlying way of thinking has shaped my experiences with heterosexual men, and that’s not to say that they all thought that way themselves, but that this unhealthy power dynamic exists at all has made me extra wary of dealing with “the opposite team”–to the point that I, for the most part, choose to simply opt out of dealing with them entirely, and instead I generally only play with the queer team. It just removes that whole level of uncertainty, that vague sense of wondering whether this person is playing against me, that sense of always having to be vigilant, just in case. Queer people can’t play the game like everyone else anyway; they aren’t allowed to be included in it in the first place.
The article goes into a lot more detail about that, and also proposes an alternative metaphor for sexuality: eating pizza. It’s definitely a much more ace-positive model, since nobody assumes that everybody must eat pizza; while they may be rare, there are just some people who don’t, and that’s fine.
I do think, however, that the metaphor starts to break down a little here:
Eating pizza with a partner is also not a radically different experience from eating pizza alone. The pizza model deflates the myth that masturbation is a lesser sexual experience than partnered sex. Eating pizza alone encompasses the complete pizza-eating experience, just as masturbation is a complete sexual experience. When we do it it with someone else, the fullness of the experience doesn’t change, we simply add communion with our partner(s) to the experience. What’s different is the companionship, intimacy, variety, and possibly the fun of having someone feed you for a change.
I am not sure whether we should classify masturbation as a purely sexual experience. After all, there are plenty of asexuals who masturbate but do not necessarily consider the experience sexual. To some, it may be. To others… the very reason it might be considered okay is because it seems to be a lesser sexual experience (though even then, many find it bothersome). It really isn’t all that involved, when compared to partnered sex, whereas when eating pizza, aside from the initial negotiation of toppings, the actual act of eating the pizza is not different when doing it alone or with a partner. More is required of the person who is having sex with a partner, as opposed to the person who is masturbating. In many cases, a lot more is required. I just don’t think the difference translates well, when we use this metaphor as a vehicle for expression.
I guess the question is really about whether we consider something to be sexual based on sexual appetite, or whether we consider it to be sexual based on which body parts are involved. It seems that people define things as sexual using both of these determinants in different situations. For example, some people think that kissing is sexual–for them, perhaps, it arouses a sexual appetite. But then, to continue the metaphor, people can still eat something even if they have no appetite. Is it the physical act of sex that defines it? If so, which physical act(s) are we talking about, here? Or is it more about the mental aspect of it, the desire/appetite? In some cases, it’s clear how to define it, but in other cases, like this one, it really isn’t.
I also usually have a problem with food-based metaphors for sex because of the idea that having sex is a need, in the same sense that it is a need for humans to eat. I will admit that there is a need for people to procreate, but it is not an individual need, it is only a collective need. Every individual member of a species does not need to procreate in order for the species to survive. However, every individual must eat in order for the individual to survive. So you really have to be careful not to take a comparison of sexual desire with hunger too far. In this case, though, I think the metaphor of sex as eating pizza works okay, on that level, because it refers only to a specific kind of food, and not to food in general. People who don’t eat pizza can thoroughly enjoy other foods, and that’s not weird at all. Likewise, people who don’t enjoy or engage in sexual activities can get plenty of fulfillment from other activities in life!
Edit from the future: For further reading, check out this post by figleaf.