Category Archives: Gay Rights
Most of my family, until very recently, didn’t know that I am a lesbian. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it or anything, but that I really resent that I have to inform them in the first place, like they have some sort of right to know. As far as I am concerned, they don’t. I don’t bother to hide it, and it would have been really obvious if I ever decided to bring another woman to a family event or into the house. It just isn’t something that I feel that I should disclose to people, as I highly resent that heterosexuality isn’t something that you have to confess, but homosexuality is.
I don’t define myself by the gender of the people I associate myself with romantically, and I hardly see why anyone else should. I am, however, aware that when people become aware that I am a lesbian, that often becomes the only defining feature of my existence. Much like any marginalized identity is considered more noteworthy than who a person is as an individual, homosexuality is considered more important for generalizing about the traits of any person than something like their hobbies or personal aspirations. Think about how we refer to people that we don’t know by name. There’s “that tall chick” if we’re talking about a tall white woman. Or “that black guy” if we’re talking about a black male. In the first case, the person is defined first by their gender — the most important personal identifier in a culture that considers gender the most important aspect of individual identity — and then by a physical trait. She is not defined by her race, unless she is in a group where her race is noteworthy. On the other hand, the second person is defined by his blackness, because we define the default human being as white in most circumstances. Thus, it is noteworthy that he deviates from that norm, and we identify him with that deviation.
The point here is that gender, as it identifies people, is a dichotomy. People are either male or female to the general population. Everyone has a gender (or is assumed to have one, regardless of their self-identification), and that is used to define everyone. Most other traits do not work that way. While maleness is often regarded as a norm, in which femaleness is the defiance — as can be seen in the tendency to define all of humankind with the word “man” or general pronoun “he” — this is much more readily apparent in general conversation when it comes to other social identities. Race, religion, nationality, weight, and sexual preference are all traits in which a dichotomy may or may not be used, but there is at least one value that is defined as the norm and thus, not noteworthy, while all other values are considered deviances.
Here’s some examples of how this plays out in the real world:
- That (average-weight) guy vs. that fat guy
- That (straight) man vs. that gay guy
- That (white) woman vs. that black woman
- That (American) person vs. that Polish person
- That (Christian) kid vs. that Jewish kid
What happens is that values like average-weight (which may or may not be average, depending on what is arbitrarily defined as acceptably average), heterosexual, white, Christian, and American are invisible. They are not noteworthy, because we simply assume that everyone is heterosexual, white, average-weight, Christian, and American until that person is proven otherwise by their appearance.
However, not all values are apparent via appearance. Things like nationality, religion, and sexual orientation have to be disclosed or forcibly discovered (or “outed”) by others in order for those deviant values to be used as identifiers — with or without the consent of the people identified, correctly or incorrectly, by them. Such is the case with homosexuality. There really is no reliable way to determine sexual preference by observation. Sure, some people fit the stereotypes of homosexuality. But for every homosexual that is “caught” because they fit the expectations people have of them, there are hundreds more that engage in everyday interactions without anyone having the slightest notion otherwise.
I am one such person. I’ve been told that I don’t come off “as a lesbian”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I more or less adhere to patriarchal beauty standards by the chance of genetics and personal aesthetic choices that tend to be perceived as more feminine than masculine. I adhere enough to those norms that even if I defy them in small ways by my mannerisms or wardrobe, the average person would not have any reason to suspect that I have little to no romantic inclinations towards men.
Thus, I feel constantly pressured by a very real social expectation that I either deviate from the norm in easily identifiable ways so that everyone can pigeon-hole me, or disclose my sexual preferences to anyone that I have more than a passing social interaction with. This expectation, plain and simple, pisses me off. I expect that many, if not most, homosexuals feel similarly.
I feel as if I must behave or dress in such a way that people may easily label me as “deviant” and then freely discriminate against me or make bigoted assumptions without fearing that their judgment is erroneous. I also feel that if I don’t chose to do the former, I must verbally inform them of my deviance from their expected norms, so that they are not “fooled” by my “deception”. In this way, my social behaviors are either classified as visibly wrong and abnormal or invisible and deceitful.
This plays out in regular social interactions. My family used to often inquire as to the state of my love life, asking if I had meet “a nice boy” recently. This they did with the assumption that I was both heterosexual and actively looking for a romantic partner. Since I am not the former, and sometimes not the latter either, the question simply didn’t apply to me. Thus, I was either forced to lie, obfuscate, or confess. This expectation left me with such anxiety that I often dreaded family events.
That example is pretty tame considering the usual consequences. If I do dress and act like a stereotypical “dyke”, I am harshly alienated in public in ways that are inhumane, degrading, and currently acceptable by both social and legal norms. I may be called a “faggot”, I may be excluded from job opportunities. I may be taken less seriously, or feared. That is the consequence of defying norms. On the other hand, if I dress as I choose to and act as I currently do, I “pass” as straight. I don’t do this by design or any explicit desire to closet myself, I do it because I like skirts, flowery tops, and cute shoes. I do it because I am not very assertive in pubic, and I paint my nails when I feel like it. That is just who I am, and who I am, apparently, is mostly read as “straight”. But this, inevitably, is eventually seen as a deception, sometimes by even my homosexual peers. I am accused of confusing or playing with heterosexuals, who are discomforted by the realization that they made the mistake of treating me like an actual human being until they knew I was a deviant freak. I am accused of hiding my “identity” — as if coming off as a lesbian in pubic was more central to who I am than my personal fashion inclinations. I am exposed to danger by men threatened by the fact that they have no access to me sexually, or thought they had access until I informed them otherwise. I am also exposed to danger by employers, acquaintances, and academic peers who feel like I have fooled them into complacency for my inherently disgusting nature, and thus, compromised their own comfort, safety, and moral values.
Out of frustration for the state of these injustices, I find myself torn between refusing to disclose any of my romantic life out of jealous spite, or visibly identifying myself as gay in such an obvious and blatant fashion that people assume I am “shoving it” in their faces. I find myself wanting to piss people off. I want them to feel deceived, I want them to be uncomfortable. This is because I am always deceived and uncomfortable, and there is nothing that I can do about it. I am always deceived when I assume that people are expected to treat me as an equal human being, and then fail to. I am deceived that we are a nation, founded on equality, when my day-to-day existence undermines that lie so utterly. I am put in situations where I am forced to out myself or lie. I am forced to distrust people who may disclose my preferences to a bigot with the power to deny me what is I am due. I never get to feel like I can trust or feel comfortable with the vast majority of people out of no personal choice of my own. That is the reality of being homosexual in a world in which that is considered deviant.
It’s pretty poor compensation that I can make people momentarily discomforted and unsettled in very small inconsequential ways of their own design, while I have to put up with enough Catch-22s to make me paranoid, anxious, and withdrawn out of fear of very real, very dire, and sometimes very dangerous social consequences. That is the nature of oppression: heterosexuals can choose whether or not homosexuality threatens them. They can give up the internalization that deviances to a standard they have placed themselves as the center of threaten their very existance of as individual. I can’t. I can’t wake up one day and say that heterosexuality as an institution and identity doesn’t threaten me. Because it does. Heterosexuality is defined as the negation, oppression, and alienation of homosexuals. That is what it is, and how it is defined, by institutions of power that I do not have any direct access to. I cannot redefine heterosexuality as a social superstructure or pick and choose what parts of it I want to adopt in my life. I am explicitly, irrevocably, and undeniably, excluded from heterosexuality and all the privileges it grants, and there is nothing whatsoever I can do to change that without putting herculean effort — effort not asked of heterosexuals — to cause massive institutional change.
That’s another power of priviledge: the opportunity to ignore the status quo. The heterosexual may chose to ally themselves with homosexuals and open themselves to a small portion of our vulnerabilities. Or they may quietly defy norms in small ways that do not directly threaten the institutions, but at least do not directly threaten homosexuals themselves either. Examples of these kinds of heterosexuals are those who are willing to picket for gay rights alongside gays, or those that simply live their lives enjoying the priviledges of heterosexuality — such as marriage — without enjoying the priviledges that directly deny homosexuals similar rights — such as refusing to vote for state propositions that ban gay marriage.
I don’t have that kind of luxury, not really. Sure, I can just go about business as normal, but that business includes enough unsavory reactions to who I am that I either have to be vigilant enough to preempt, or strong enough to ignore if I can. That kind of mental discipline takes effort and not a small amount of paranoia and alienation. This strength and vigilance is not required of heterosexuals, unless they too are the members of other alienated identities, but I assume that the vigilance required is different.
That vigilance and strength is symbolized and made palpable by the social phenomenon of “coming out” and then living “outed”. Choosing to come out, or being outed, takes so much strength and mental energy that is never asked of heterosexuals. It’s a vertible gauntlet of self-doubt, anxiety, and stress that is like nothing else. I’ve heard that it’s easier to come out than it is to live closeted. I say that’s bullshit. It’s not really easy to disclose a “secret” that has been constructed as something worthy of disclosure in the first place by its position as a defiance to the norm. It’s simply more of a relief to know that you don’t have to hide anymore, that you don’t have to fear the reactions of people close to you. Going “out” is not a one-time thing. Not even the most “flamboyant” of “queens” gets out opt out of outing themselves again and again. This is because homosexuality is treated like it’s something shameful that must be hidden. Much like nobody wants to assume that a stranger is a murderer without explicit evidence, so too to even the most liberal of individuals refuse to assume that someone isn’t heterosexual unless they have stated otherwise. Yes, people actually do behave as if being gay is a dirty little secret that it would be wrong to accuse someone of. Innocent until proven guilty; straight until proven gay. Being accused wrongly of a crime is precisely how people react when they are accused of being gay. How many times do people loudly deny that they’re a “faggot” or a “sissy”? How many times have those labels been thrown around as if they were indications of dire personal faults? How many people go to great lengths to prove to everyone that they are not sissies or faggots? Most people! Most people, if they were accused of being gay, would deny it quickly and unequivocally. They may or may not tack on a “not that there’s anything wrong with that” as a half-hearted objection. If there wasn’t anything wrong with that, they wouldn’t be so devastated with the assumption of homosexuality that they had to immediately correct that assumption. If they really thought there was nothing wrong with it, they would have neither confirmed or denied it in the first place!
Homosexual individuals don’t come out once and then live their lives knowing that everyone knows and that they don’t have to hide. I have to continually out myself to everyone that ever gets close enough to me. Because everyone will assume that I am heterosexual until it is explicitly shown or said otherwise. And you I bet that they will never just come out and ask me. It seems funny to say this, but I actually prefer it when people ask me my orientation before they assume I’m anything at all and ask if I have a boyfriend. They want to know for their benefit, after all. I don’t lose or gain anything by them knowing. Their ignorance is of far more consequence to their assumptions regarding who I am than my ideas of myself. It comforts them to know, not me. I honestly could care less. I only want them to know because hiding is a pain in the ass and their frequent assumptions regarding my nonexistent heterosexuality are annoying and alienating. But it doesn’t end there. I have to juggle a mental list of who knows and who doesn’t for the rest of my life. Plus, I have to worry about if the people who know are going to tell other people or reveal it to people who I don’t want to know.
I was faced with this recently when a close family member who does know told family members that didn’t know without my permission. She claimed that she was “not ashamed” of my sexuality, so when they asked about whether or not I had a boyfriend, she informed them of my orientation. Then, I was faced with the prospect of seeing them for the first time, knowing that they knew, in front of other family members that didn’t know. That encounter will go down in history as one of the most awkward and anxious family events of my life. I hated it, and resented that I had to worry about who knew what and who was going to disclose what, and say what, and think what, and judge what. I’m surprised I didn’t have a panic attack right then and there. It was horrible. That situation was only surpassed by the endless anxiety of Christmas, in which I wondered the entire time if my father — who snooped through my private things without my consent and found out himself — had told the rest of his family. Then I had to wonder if they were being particularly unpleasant shits because they knew I was a big fat dyke and didn’t like it or just because they were extra special assholes for no reason at all. And the entire time, I was wondering if I should ask if they knew, because if they didn’t, then they would. But they seemed content to not ask me about it, if they knew, which was infuriating.
Thanks for keeping things about me from me, dude. That’s really mature and fair of you. I really highly doubt that your qualms about it being awkward for you are worse than how awkward it is for me. You know, the person who is actually concretely affected by this shit, day in and day out. But I forgot! The unearned comfort of heterosexuals is oh-so-much-more important than the very minimum of human decency and respect owed to homosexuals. My bad.
The point is that I really didn’t give a flying fuck whether or not that family member was “ashamed” or not of my sexuality. Her opinion, frankly, in that situation didn’t matter. It’s my secret to tell or to hide, not hers, and being in that situation out of no decisions of my own made me equal parts depressed, anxious, and really pissed off. I can never be completely out. That’s not the nature of homosexuality. I always have to decide who I’m going to “act gay” around and who I can’t. I’m not going to correct someone that interviews me for a job that I’m not straight. I’m not going to tell my gossipy older relatives who I know are both conservative and bigots. I simply don’t want to put up with their shit. I’m not going to scream it from the rooftops. I’m not going to walk into a restaurant holding the hand of a woman I desire and pull out a soapbox and say, “YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! I AM GAY, SO YOU CAN STOP WONDERING AND RUBBERNECKING AND GET BACK TO YOUR DINNER!”
I didn’t come out. I came out, then came out some more, and remained closeted, and told white lies, and denied, and came out, and came out, and ignored questions, and came out, and denied some more, and simply let people have their assumptions. I have to chose who to trust and who not to. I chose wrong. Hell, I came out to the internet and my friends before I came out to my parents. Then my father snooped and told me he knew. Then he may or may have not told other people without my consent, which made the holidays hell. Then I told my mother. Then she told more people without my consent. Then I decided to keep my brother in the dark because he’s an immature fuck, and would probably say something really stupid at a bad time. Then I decided that my work doesn’t need to know either as long as I’m not dating anyone that I want to take to social functions. Then I start to trust and admire professors and realize from their off-hand comment about “that lifestyle” that I can’t trust them and have to be careful what I say around them if I want a recommendation letter. Then I have to lie awake at night and wonder if a recommendation letter for graduate school is more important than some basic fucking dignity, and if I’m betraying myself and gays everywhere by being a coward.
And around and around it goes. I tell the wrong people, I get the brunt of the consequences. So far, every single person I’ve told except my friends has done something I didn’t want them to with that knowledge and put me between a rock and a hard place. Does that make me want to trust people? Fuck no. I’m not a trusting person. I don’t like strangers, I don’t like casual social events. I don’t tell people about my personal life. I zealously guard my personal space and my time. Then, I get told that I’m paranoid. Yeah, okay. I get stabbed in the back by most of the people I trust, and I’m paranoid? I have to worry who knows and won’t tell me they know, I have to worry who suspects and won’t ask, I have to worry who is clueless and will react badly, and I have to worry who knows and has done something stupid with the information.
Ugh, this shit is so fucking frustrating! It’s horrible because straight people have no clue. They have no clue the endless anxiety they cause whether or not I trust them. My nightmare doesn’t end when I let them in. It isn’t any better if I don’t. I know now why my peers invent slurs for heterosexuals. Breeders. Deep down, I want them to feel the sting of social rejection. When I’m petty and upset and anxious — which is about half of the time — I want them all to know how much their ignorance sucks. I want them to suffer. I hate their privilege, and I covet it at the same time. I wish for the days back when I was kid and the extent of my sexuality was that I had private parts that were fun to play with and horrify the adults. It seems horrible to say, but I know why people — after a revolution — go through the homes of their former oppressors and rape and pillage and assault and burn. Not that I’m saying that I would do that (because I wouldn’t), but I wouldn’t judge those who did it harshly, pretend that they are monsters. Because I know, intimately, the seductive catharsis that would be making them suffer just one fraction of what they have gained off our oppression.
And I end the first part of this series with that thought. I hope to have captured the rage, the anxiety, and the horrible gut-churning fear of what it means to me to be homosexual in American society. I want to expand this series, next time, with the concrete social mechanisms that I think are responsible for the alienation I feel. Then, I’ll finish up with a third post about my personal experience coming out, and what it meant to me.
Before I go off, let’s set the record straight: being queer very often makes almost everything harder in your life (except, of course, for sleeping with women, but that’s obvious). Sometimes, however, you get some benefits out of it.
One of those benefits is how queerness intersects with feminism. Unlike other intersections, lesbianism has had it’s say in the feminist movement back even in the 2nd wave. Most intersections didn’t get any recognition until the 3rd. That doesn’t make up for the dominant preoccupation with heterocentrism in today’s mainstream feminist circles, but at least it means that I can find some feminist theory on being queer without digging too deep.
The best perk of being queer and being a feminist is the knowledge that I might never have to fight tooth-and-nail with male privilege in my romantic life. Sure, it affects it in secondary and very irritating ways, but it’s typically the case that any woman I choose to get involved with has internalized patriarchal values in a way that can be overcome without daily struggles over what they still find central to their gender identity.
Specifically, I am talking about the most important part of being male: a complete aversion to all things associated with femininity. Women never really seem to have as much success with internalizing the thought, “I’m not like those girls, so I don’t care what happens to them or think it’s just the Natural Order of Things™” that men do. Thanks to gender roles, men have to embrace feminism by rejecting what the patriarchy says makes them a man. Women just have to embrace feminism by stop being shits to other women and themselves. Plus, you can always say to a woman, “hey those Bad Girls you dislike? Well, according to statistics, bad thing X that happens to Bad Girls also happens to everyone else, and those Bad Girls are just normal women, just like you.” From there, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get someone to emotionally grasp that sexism is wrong, because it happens to people like them, and could very possibly happen to them.
Men, on the other hand, get the benefit of complete ignorance. Which is why men entering feminist spaces often ask women there to “calm down and be rational.” It’s really easy to be completely unemotionally invested in things that happen to people that are the complete opposite of you, by definition, and that will never happen to you in the way that they happen to them. Yes, men can be raped, men can be sexually harassed, and men can be economically disadvantaged by being a single parent. But they will never suffer the same reaction from the culture that women do, and they have a pitifully lower chance of going through any of that than the women who languish in a cultural epidemic of misogyny. Of course, it also helps that unemotional involvement is supposed to be the mainstay of masculine identity and the paragon of all things rational, so men’s biased flippancy gets a cultural stamp of legitimacy whereas women’s earned outrage is dismissed as shrill, irrational, and unpalatable.
And then there is the whole personal life aspect. Let me tell you, facing a life time of endlessly worshiping the ground my Nigel walks on because he does an equal share or somewhat equal share of the duties of maintaining a family sounds extremely unpleasant. Here, let me praise you for doing the amount of work that if anyone with a vagina did (i.e. less than half) they’d be labeled a bad wife/mother. Also, navigating the choppy waters of trying to object to the overwhelming emphasis on the idea that sex=dick (dick gets hard, dick goes in something, dick cums, sex ends) while having dick in my sex life sounds bothersome.
Most importantly, though, my queerness makes the most common objections to my observations of sexism in our culture fall apart.
Let’s run down the usual scenario: Jenn sees a movie. Jenn sees a metric ton of sexism and misogyny. Jenn objects. Resident chauvinist rejoins something to the extent that men like titties, and ain’t nothing wrong with that/ain’t no changin’ that, or women are actually really like that, or it’s just the biological destiny of humankind (they’ll say mankind though) that women will turn into stupid weak servile children around men because [insert bullshit essentialist evolutionary biology/psychology here].
Here comes the fun part. I get to reply, “hey asshole, I’m queer”. That means a lot of things in different contexts. It means that there’s a ton of women out there who don’t do stupid things for dick, because they don’t like dick. It means that I like titties too, so I’m not just objecting to sexism because I don’t understand what it’s like to be attracted to women’s bodies. It means that there’s people out there that don’t do things for a sugar daddy or some sweet pussy because they like people of their own gender.
And for my trump card, being queer means that men don’t have a single fucking excuse for excusing misogyny and objectification of women. Because I can seemingly still recognize that Meghan Foxx is quite far from unattractive without thinking that the pile of shit that was Transformers 2 was totally not sexist. I can be titillated by some pornography (I admit it!) without thinking that the marketing of a very narrow and restrictive version of female sexuality for consumption is wrong. I can sometimes feel like I need to have sex with someone with a vagina right now or I’ll be very irritated and uncomfortable without excusing raping someone that teased me or was “asking for it” or buying someone at an economic disadvantage to me so I can use and discard their sexuality.
So now what’s their excuse?
Plainly, they don’t have one. A sex drive that focuses on the attractiveness of women and having sex with women is not a good reason to ignore misogyny, like misogyny, think misogyny can’t be helped, or “helplessly” be a misogynist.
Considering all the shit I have to take daily without complaint because of being queer, I very much enjoy ripping a misogynist’s “but I can’t help it” argument to shreds with a simple revelation of my sexuality. At the very least, I might get to confirm that he’s a total homophobe—on top of being sexist—so I can end a conversation with the intellectual equivalent of a dining table and find less futile ways to spend my time.
In the course of the gay rights movement, it seems that sexual orientation has been constructed as something unchanging. Gay people are assumed to have been born gay, and their sexual choices are thus “natural” and above political analysis.
I think that this has done far more harm than good, for the following reasons.
1. It excludes from the gay rights movement those who are not cisgendered. Transpersons and intersexed persons do not have a definitive place of the gender binary to call their own. Thus, they cannot call themselves either straight or gay. Orientation is an identity that depends on both one’s gender and the gender of those to which one is attracted. For those who have no place in the restrictive gender paradigm (or those whose partners do not have a place), an unchanging model of identity cannot conceive of their experiences and oppressions. What happens is that these people—who are more vulnerable to violence than cisgendered homosexuals—are often totally ignored in the scope of gay rights and gay theory.
2. It excludes those who are not homosexual but not straight. Bisexuals, pansexuals, polysexuals, and asexuals all have identities and experiences much different from homosexuals and heterosexuals. Yet, because orientation is determined mostly by one’s attraction to the opposite or same sex, rather than other variables1 these people occupy a tentative place in gay theorizing and are often thrown in as an afterthought or excluded altogether. An example would be a gay bar whose patrons are not friendly to the expression of heterosexual relationships therein. How do they create a place for the bisexual woman with a male partner? Is this possible? Such instances, in which cisgendered and/or cisgender-attracted (i.e. attracted to one specific gender) homosexuals oppress or exclude others, cannot be captured with the assumption that orientation is binary and unchanging.
3. It excludes those whose gender or orientation has changed. Many closeted homosexuals have had relationships with members of the opposite sex. While some later find that these relationships are not satisfying, some find that although they were satisfying at the time, their identity has changed. For example, a gay man might marry a woman in order to hide his sexual preferences and enjoy the many privileges legal marriage grants. However, he never feels fulfilled. But it is also the case that a man can marry a woman and be fully fulfilled in that marriage, only to later turn around afterwards (through divorce, death, or separation) and find that the company of other men is just as satisfying, even though it was not before. I wouldn’t doubt that such circumstances are far more commonplace than presently reported. Other groups that fall under the same oppression are those such as political lesbians—women whose political convictions imply that being a “woman-identified women” is more revolutionary than remaining straight—and any transitioning or happily ambiguous non-cisgendered person. Obviously, if one is not female or male, one cannot have a sexual orientation. The current definition of orientation relies on the sex of the orientated. If that sex is fluid, ambiguous, undefined, or transitioning, the orientation is similarly undefined, ignored, oppressed, invisible, and/or transitioning.
4. It gives authority to dichotomous and oversimplified thinking. The reasons for maintaining that orientation is innate are very political pervasive. First, it serves as an easy way to stop debate. The gay rights chant, “we’re here; we’re queer; get used to it!” references the idea that orientation cannot be altered; only suppressed. But this obviously excludes vast numbers of non-heterosexuals who are equally, or even more, oppressed than homosexuals. It might be tempting thus to grant legitimacy to those whose orientation has changed, but deny that anyone can consciously change their orientation. But this solution is inadequate. Is the political lesbian who chooses to seek romantic relationships with other women not oppressed? It would be absurd to deny that. Why this concrete theory of orientation arose has little to do with referencing the experiences of oppressed non-heterosexuals, and more to do with making the face of the gay rights movement easily defensible and more palatable to those who are responsible for oppression. What has happened is that the gay right movement has let the prejudices and the biases of the homophobic public dictate the method of gay theorizing. This obviously has resulted in the exclusion of wide swaths of the non-heterosexual experience, and jeopardized the long-term success of the entire movement.
What I mean by this is that the public conception of “natural” is very much tied up with the conception of “good”. What is good is natural, and what is natural is good. Such reasoning is not only dangerous, but highly absurd. First, determining what is “natural” is always done by the dominant class. There is no objective way to point out the natural order of humanity without creating an infinite regress of anthropologic theory. Is Babylonian civilization “natural”, or do we have to regress back to an earlier non-human ancestor to answer that question? Such inquires are absurd and have no cognitive value. The result is that the dominant class—the class with the most access to the prestige required for recognized theorizing—stops the regress at the point which best buttresses claims about the legitimacy of the forms of oppression that they benefit from. The result is such navel-gazing “science” as the following examination of why women like pink:
Ling speculates that the color preference and women’s ability to better discriminate red from green could have evolved due to sex-specific divisions of labor: while men hunted, women gathered, and they had to be able to spot ripe berries and fruits. Another theory suggests that women, as caregivers who need to be particularly sensitive to, say, a child flushed with fever, have developed sensitivity to reddish changes in skin color, a skill that enhances their abilities as the “empathizer.”
Thus, when a gay person asserts their right to exist with claims about the naturalness of homosexuality, they are framing the debate in the only way the class of oppressors permits them to. This references the old homophobic claim that “homosexuality is unnatural“. Rather than the gay rights advocate exclaiming, “No, it’s just as natural as heterosexuality,” they should have replied, “Questions about nature are irrelevant.” After all, the purpose of sex is not solely reproductive. Unless the heterosexual debater is willing to cede that his purely carnal, not reproductive, enjoyment of women—clad in artificial titillating textiles or slathered in toxic paints—is just as unnatural and should thus be subject to the same vicious repression.
5. It conceals the real source of oppression. For some of the reasons I’ve briefly explored above, insisting that homosexuality is as “natural” as heterosexuality is simply easier to support without rigorous debate. But why support anything without rigorous debate? When confronted with the pseudo-intellectual who is unwilling to entertain arguments that unseat his deep prejudges, the better idea, clearly, is to reject those prejudges rather than continue to play the game by his rules. Playing the game in this fashion has legitimized the “divide and conquer” tactic of the oppressors. In much the same way that anti-feminists mischaracterize feminists to pit working mothers against homemakers, or anti-porn feminists against sex workers, homophobes would like nothing more than to let non-heterosexuals endlessly fight amongst themselves rather than ever have to see their privilege dismantled. It should be obvious, for any marginalized population, that letting the oppressors set the frame of the debate will result in intellectual stagnation and political fragmentation on the lines of false dichotomies.
The issue here is not whether or not homosexuality is natural. In fact, who cares? Who cares why Sally prefers women to men? Who cares why Sally can maintain this preference and still have a happy relationship with a man? Does any of this change the fact that non-heterosexuals are viciously oppressed? No! For gay rights to even have a chance to succeed, the debate must be framed in a way legitimized by the experiences of all oppressed non-heterosexuals. It should not be comfortable and soothing to the innate prejudices of homophobes. Indeed, isn’t that contrary to the point of the movement?
When mental health professionals try to “cure” adults and youth of “gender disorders” and homosexuality, is the problem that they cannot cure them? Obviously not. The source of oppression is that anyone can conceive of why such things are deviances that ought to be “cured” in the first place. This point is not altered if the gay movement recognizes that orientation can change, and has changed, for many people. They have ceded no intellectual ground. Rather, they have wrested the reigns of the debate back from the oppressors and refused to recognize their logical fallacies.
The question was never whether or not transsexuality, homosexuality, bisexual, heterosexuality, or anything else was “natural”. It has always been whether or not the oppression of anyone who is not heterosexual and cis-gendered is valid. This is concealed with debates over if therapy to cure homosexuals can work, or if such a thing as a gay gene exists. Honestly, anyone who is a true ally of the gay rights movement shouldn’t give a damn whether or not homosexuality is learned, innate, or filters into our brains with a diet of tainted fruit.
All such debates rest on the assumption that heterosexuality is normal and that non-heterosexuality is the other. Rejecting that hierarchy of oppression cannot be accomplished by excluding non-cisgendered non-heteroexuals from the debate or by infinitely regressing explorations of anthropological “natural” human behavior.
In fact, it never will.
1I fully intend to, at a later date, attempt to construct a more useful method for the delineation of gender identity and orientation with more variables than the current political model.
Yes and no. It’s true that things like the rape culture or horrible exploitation of women around the world look obviously more dire and disgusting than the American beauty double standard. It’s also true that they ultimately result in more death and abject misery.
But this sort of brush-off of the beauty double standard entirely misses the point: sexism is pervasive and maintained by things as meaningless as grooming regimens. The reason women are required to wear makeup, and men are not, and the reason why women own less than 1% of the world’s wealth while working two-thirds of the world’s working hours—paid and unpaid—are exactly the same. That reason is patriarchy, sexism, bigotry, and chauvinism. Whatever the name, it’s all just hatred of women.
Talking about make-up is a big no-no among the liberal feminist crowd. Even those that are not adherents of “SexyFun Feminism” ask those man-hating radical dykes to lay off their precious powders lest they be painted with the same brush as those disgusting radical feminists or lesbian separatists.
I’ll be honest here: talking about make-up and plucking my eye brows seems completely and totally irrelevant and superficial. I catch myself making that assumption based on a sort of “common sense”. Well this common sense might be common, but it’s certainly not sensible.
The mechanics of how and why the beauty and fashion industries operate the way they do—here and elsewhere—all return back to the fact that the natural state of a woman is something that is vile, disgusting, and dirty in this world. Like Dworkin postulates in Pornography, women are regarded as nothing more than “cunt”. By cunt, she means an object whose entire nature is encompassed by a sexuality that is sinful and wrong and an object which is hurt because it wants it, and must be hurt because the aggressor has no choice… being manipulated by the object the way that he is.
Women are naturally cunts, or so the dominate social doctrine goes. Our bodies are shameful. All of are parts may be dissected and separated from our individuality, because they all—in sum or in parts—have the mysterious power of sexual arousal in the male viewer. We cover our breasts, the center of substance production for infants, because their purpose has been usurped by the unwanted reaction of the male gaze to that which they deem dirty. We carefully groom our body hair into pleasing shapes, or remove it all together, because of its socially-defined connection to filth, to smell, to age, to masculinity—all things a woman cannot possess. We cover our acne, painfully groom our eyebrows, lengthen our lashes, and paint our lips with a cocktail of chemicals considered, by some, too toxic to even test on animals.
Update: If you thought that the name Barry Deutsch sounded familiar, that’s because he is the owner known by the penname “Amp” of Alas, A Blog, the very same person who sold his domain in 2006 for money to a review site (link obviously NSFW) for hardcore, racist, “teen”, misogynistic pornography. Is there a single male feminist-ally that isn’t a scumbag? After Kyle Payne and Alas, I’m beginning to think not.
Know what I can get behind? Political cartoonists that know what’s up like Barry Deutsch. Unlike Barry Blitt, his cartoons run the gambit from feminism to racism and war while displaying a shocking amount of sensitivity and political insight. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more political cartoons like the above instead of this:
Just to be clear, I do hate the focus on tits and ass at the Olympics. I think it’s incredibly demeaning that women are required to wear smaller and more revealing uniforms then the men on almost every event. Also, it doesn’t help that shitbags like Simon Barnes, without a shred of irony, are upset that the women’s swimming uniforms compress their breasts so he can’t ogle them at the same time he feels threatened enough by the male synchro divers to remark, “it all looks like a wonderfully elegant gay suicide pact.”
In short, he finds the lack of female breasts to drool over insulting at the same time that he feels that the perceived sexuality of the male divers (who must be gay, because semi-naked men are obscene and catering to other men by default, not women or, shockingly, no one) is worthy of denigration.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that the endless parade of shirtless male swimmers and scantily-clad sweaty and toned female volleyball players is enormously titillating. The athleticism and sportsmanship is way more attractive than any mock coquettishness in a sleazy pornographic film.
I’m fairly aware that half the reason the women volleyball players are supposed to wear as little as possible is for ratings. But, God help me, it’s working. I usually like watching gymnastics more than volleyball, but I simply cannot turn away from Misty May and Kerri Walsh’s beautiful and awe-inspiring sportsmanship. I’m also incredibly disappointed by the lack of coverage on female soccer, which is also one of my favorite events.
Ron Paul, his pose of State’s Rights robots, and anyone that expresses the same sentiments make me fear for the state of humanity and rationality. What is so blindingly obvious to me seems to escape so many. It’s funny really, because they dress up their REVOLUTION in psuedo-intellectual justifications and pat each other on the back for finding the easy answer to everything.
Wake the fuck up, people! There is no easy answer to anything. It took a revolution to end slavery. It took almost a century to let women do something as basic as vote. Hell, our country doesn’t even think that women have the right over their own reproduction without decades of talking points. I surmise to end things as entrenched as sexism and homophobia, it might take a holocaust (that is not a justification for genocide, I’m just being cynical, m’kay?).
But all of the above is just me being really cynical. You don’t have to be a pessimist, however, to come to the conclusion that State’s Rights never solved anything.
A huge topic in Feminism is the claim that minorities and women are invisible in our society. The default “human position” is male. When reading something in which the author is not specified, the average American assumes that the author is male. If the author is female, of color, or homosexual, we praise it as a “fine piece of work by X minority”. In short, a white man can publish a book and be praised for his contribution to academia, while a woman, person of color, or any other minority is primarily identified by that minority specification, not their accomplishments. Their contribution is something that belongs to a collective, whereas a white male’s work is attributed solely to him, not to his unstated group membership.
Being a Feminist, I abhor when the majority subconsciously classify the words of a “minority” as representative of that minority group. It creates this sort of “otherness” in which we are all hyper-aware of race, gender, and sexual orientation because it seems to be known as the most important facet of one’s identity.
However, when this identity is not stated, we simply assume that someone is a straight white male. Perhaps we might think the tone is sufficiently feminine, and then we consider that the author is a woman. Unless a piece of literature specifically alludes to homosexuality, race, or religion, we assume that the author is heterosexual, Christian/Atheist, white, and usually male.
I, just as much as the rest of you, am equally guilty. I subconsciously make distinctions of “otherness” when reading something by a woman, a homosexual, or, for instance, a Muslim. I make insensitive comments even about my own gender unknowingly because I grew up in a society that counts privelege and many different bigotries as a standard part of socialization.
Cross-posted on Female ImpersonatorOn behalf of Blog for Fair Pay Day, I reflected on the considerable resistance to legally prohibiting sexism in the work place. There are several acts and amendments being considered by our legislators, one of which is the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act briefly covered in Lindsay’s post.
However, when I was first informed of this “Blog for Fair Pay” event, I did not think of the Fair Pay Act; I did not even know it existed. What immediately came to mind is the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which has been introduced in every session of Congress since 1923. If passed, our 28th Amendment would read:
Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Our 110th Congress (2007-2008) has introduced the amendment as S.J. Res. 10 and H.J. Res. 40.
This amendment, over eighty years in the making, would finally grant women equal rights in all legal matters as guaranteed by the federal government. Currently, various states do grant various legal protections by law, but the fact remains that not only is there no federal amendment barring discrimination by sex and not since 1972 has the amendment passed both houses of Congress.
The federal ERA would prohibit states from restricting state-funded abortions differently from other “medically necessary” procedures sought by men. This interpretation of the ERA was upheld in 1998 when the New Mexico Supreme Court found that the state’s ERA required that Medicaid pay for abortions. Justice Minzer ruled:
New Mexico’s Equal Rights Amendment requires a searching judicial inquiry to determine whether the Department’s rule prohibiting state funding for certain medically necessary abortions denies Medicaid-eligible women equality of rights under law. We conclude from this inquiry that the Department’s rule violates New Mexico’s Equal Rights Amendment because it results in a program that does not apply the same standard of medical necessity to both men and women, and there is no compelling justification for treating men and women differently with respect to their medical needs in this instance.
Furthermore, opponents have argued that an ERA would require the legal recognition of same-sex marriages because the amendment would prohibit any legislation that bars participation from a legal contract on the basis of gender. Other considerations that have defeated the bill are claims that an ERA would draft women, prohibit same-sex schools, and require that women serve on the front lines of the armed forces.