Tag Archive: identity


Why I’m Called Queer

It’s no secret that my sexual orientation has morphed over the years.  I’ve taken a number of different labels, each of which meant something to me at the time I adopted it, but as I switched between them, a gnawing falseness set in—a questioning of why I couldn’t simply stick to one identity.  I knew it confused people.  I often still use outdated labels with people who can’t keep up with the saga.  I’m bisexual to my friends and my parents back home, who’ve known me when I dated both my first girlfriend (a pan-romantic asexual, what a beautiful juxtaposition) and my two boyfriends, one of whom I loved with all my heart.  Bisexual still makes sense to them.

Meanwhile, I’m pansexual to many of my freshman year college friends, as a political statement about gender as much as an explanation of attraction, and I use the mouthful bi-romantic homosexual with my best friend, although that seems no longer accurate either.  Right now, I’m settled with queer, which feels hip and as close to concise and my own self-understanding can get.

And this whole timeline has the aura of something I’ve written down many times before, although I can’t remember if it was on this blog or in a journal or one of the multifarious word documents hiding on my hard drive.  But this article from Autostraddle reminded me why all these labels are important in forming the person I am today.

Reise from Autostraddle writes:

“So, what am I? I identify as bisexual because my relationships with men were not lies and I think that’s what bisexuality means. I loved them/sex…   “Lesbian” seems like what I am but “bisexual” honors who I was, too — it wasn’t just a filling station from there to here, it was another highway altogether. I didn’t evolve, I changed. But that girl was real, too.” 

“We want sexuality to be biological because we want sexuality to be instinctual and natural and out of our control… We don’t have faith in the rest of it because we doubt the permanence of anything we are capable of changing with our minds.”

And it’s true, isn’t it?  The scientific community is desperately seeking a “gay gene” that legitimizes our presence as LGBT people, because if sexuality truly is organic and predestined, it is also beyond our control and somehow…more ok.

I’ve had trouble in the past accepting that I am allowed to morph—that an identity doesn’t have to be something I stick with for the rest of my life, that I can shed layers and grow new ones, no matter what the rest of the world says.  But we are still accountable to them: the old friends, the grandparents, the family newsletter, those people and circumstances that do not closely follow our personal journeys and transformations.  And we have been taught to fear the idea of changing too much and returning home to find that the people who once knew you best no longer understand the person you’ve become.

And that is scary.

But sexuality, the fluidity of what attracts us to one another, embraces that fear and uncertainty.  It must, because its very idea is at the edge of society already.  I don’t have concrete answers for how you face that uncertainty and that fear and all the dynamism that comes with it, because goodness knows I haven’t completely.  But what I can advise is that you accept, at the very least internally, every label that you have ever ascribed.  You are who you allow yourself to be, and your integrated whole, which embraces your past love, your future possibilities, and your now- THAT is truly the most beautiful and authentic person you can be.

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In a Bind

One of numerous difficult aspects that comes with the territory of being a transgender or gender non-conforming biological female (to unpack that, I mean a person born with female characteristics like breasts and a vagina but who does not feel that he/she/ze is a woman) is the issue of secondary sex characteristics.  A lot of trans and gender non-conforming people do not feel comfortable with the body parts they’ve been given, so there’s now a decent market of products to help you alter that body- with chest binders, padded underwear and bras, etc.

The awareness of the need for these items and also an information sphere surrounding them has led to intriguing “do-it-yourself” pieces like this gem from Carnal Nation, A Butch Girl’s Guide to Chest Binding.

HOWEVER, there’s a really intriguing split between trans/gender non-conforming (GNC, for now, since this is getting long to type) who feel the need to bind and alter their bodies, and those who are comfortable living in them…at least for the moment.  I can’t claim to speak for these people, but I will direct you to a really interesting blog, That’s What Ze Said, written by a GNC person (who considers hirself to be “female-influenced”  in gender identity).  Said article explaining the concept of being ‘female influenced’ is here, and introduces us to the idea that one can acknowledge aspects of female-ness that apply to ourselves, but simultaneously reject the social framework which then makes us “female.”

“The fact that I, along with most everyone else in society, have been trained to see my body as female influences my life in so many ways. It affects how I think about myself. By being raised female I internalized a lot of messages sent to those with my assignment….The important differentiation between being female-assigned and female-influenced is how I see myself. I like having a connection to female-ness. Many transfolks do not hold any attachment to their assigned sex, but I do. Whenever I feel the need to distance myself from “female,” I feel part of me being erased. It’s too much a part of my experience, past and relation to body.”

This forces us to do a little bit of mental legwork in teasing apart the difference between gender identity and gender association.  A female-influenced person can have a gender identity which is neither male nor female, but still embrace

male and female associations- like womanly curves or masculine confidence and stature- without fixedly ascribing them to their identity.  They can take on and accept those associations when it feels right to them, and reject them when it does not.  I think this is an important construct to understand not only for cis-gendered people (those that are lucky enough to beborn with a body that fits our understanding of our own gender) who want to know and understand Trans and GNC people, but also for young people who are coming to realize that they are trans or GNC, but feel conflicted about their bodies.  You don’t have to want gender reassignment surgery to be trans.  You don’t have to feel an alienation from all things male and female to be GNC.  There are elements of both genders that can resonate for all people, but it is everyone’s job to better understand the manner in which gender binds us as a construct and to be mindful that it not restrict our thinking about friends and coworkers.

Here, Queer, and Beautiful

A lot of people are confused by the term queer.

In many senses, I don’t blame them.  The word queer is intensely charged, historically confusing, and means an incredible variety of different things for different people.  But I think this article by graduate student and porn performer Dylan Ryan gives an excellent snapshot of what the word has come to encompass in terms of sexual identity, performance, and attitude.  Take a look .

Hopefully more real posts soon, guys.  I’m a little exhausted by life at the moment.  Also, let me know if there’s something you want to hear about.  I know you people read this, but sometimes it feels like I’m talking to no one.

My introduction to C-spot magazine was this article-http://www.c-spotmagazine.com/main/?p=1110, On Loving Women, by Irin Piperin.  And I can assure you that the sexual undertones (and overtones) of the article indicates that I will be soon sharing links for some of my favorite literary erotica- because sometimes the pen is mightier than the video camera.  But ANYWAYS, this article is about sex, but also something a lot deeper.

Irin Piperin speaks to the interesting assumptions about the gender and power dynamics in lesbian relationships, which I find at once frustrating and highly intriguing.  Irin, now and open lesbian, writes of a conversation with a college friend:

“I don’t like women,” I said, taking a swig of beer. “I think that they’re silly and loud and generally obnoxious. They’re irrational and oversensitive and generally ridiculous. The thought of joining a sorority actually makes me itch all over.”

“But you are a woman,” he replied. “Do you hate yourself?”

“No,” I laughed. “But I feel like I’m a lot different than most others. And the women I do like all say they hate women, too.”

Irin frames being female in a very precarious way at the beginning of this article: she has a set idea of what women are like and her concept of femininity falls only into this one narrow category.  Therefore, because she is not traditionally feminine, she alienates herself from the title female.  And that’s just silly on a number of levels.

But it brings up an important point.  As I ranted about in an earlier post, we tend to view the world in dichotomies (however flawed they may be): rich/poor, straight/gay, black/white, and in this case…Butch/femme.

So much of the way popular culture looks at lesbianism is through this dichotomous butch-femme lens.  Butch lesbians wear flannel and crop their hair- they are masculine, strong, Amazonian, powerful.  Femme lesbians are soft; they have long flowing hair and apply ruby-red lipstick.  They are beautiful and little else.  But in the age of Ellen DeGeneres and self-proclaimed “chapstick lesbian” label, this dichotomy is becoming less and less relevant.

That’s because people, just like Irin Piperin, are realizing that there are more shades of lesbian than the butch-femme dichotomy showcases.  Irin writes:    “The women who turn me on are the opposite of everything that I once considered feminine but they are women in the strongest sense.” These are women who fall in between

the lines of her dichotomy- who have long, sexy hair and strong, tan muscles; who are self-assured and lustful but also

compassionate and soft.

Point being, not all lesbians play rugby or eschew bras and shaving, nor do they all play folk music in their hippy skirts.

This is just the same as saying that not all women wear mini-skirts or like high heels.  This should be self-evident.  Lesbians are just like every woman- varied, strong, curious, and unique.  They can be muscled and Amazonian, but still

sensitive and tender.  They fall not only within and around the butch-femme dichotomy, but encompass characteristics of each side simultaneously without compromising their own individual identity.

Irin sums up beautifully:

“I have realized that what I disliked about women was really just what I disliked about a kind of

person. I’m not sure anymore that there is some static definition of femininity. To say that I don’t like women is to demonstrate an unmerited gender prejudice. The same is true if one claims not to like men. One cannot presuppose an identity onto someone based on sex or gender.”

EXACTLY.  So if sex/gender does not presuppose a personality or identity, then where does that leave us?  Oh yeah, as

individuals, fighting for an expression of self beyond the labels we ascribe to our sexual practices, our genitals, our ethnicity, and our eating habits (queer, female, Russian-Italian, and pollo-vegetarian if anyone cares…).

So guys, girls, lesbians, bisexuals, genderqueer, allies, undefined, and all or none of the above, my challenge is this: describe yourself and how you are more than a dichotomy.

Here’s me: I am the strong, confident daughter of a bodybuilder with a propensity for muscle, but none of the drive.  I have loved men and women, but I feel more fiercely feminine around women and more masculine with male partners.  I refuse to be traditionally dominated or to traditionally dominate, so my sexual conception of self swings like a

pendulum depending on my partner.  I wear chapstick and eyeliner, but no mascara. I like vests with no shirts under them.  I waitress to pay the bills, but I am will to do a lot of other things far less acceptable for the enjoyment of it as

well as the money.  I am not ashamed of my body or its inherent beauty.  I smile a lot.

Ok, your turn.  Affirm yourselves.

Ok kids, it’s 1 Am and I’m feeling philosophical, so get ready for me to lay something heavy on you.

I’d like to talk a little bit about the conceptions of sex, gender identity, and gender expression for a moment.  As a Rainbow Speakers Bureau presenter at American University, I spend a lot of time talking about the difference between these three terms and how they have NOTHING to do with sexual orientation.

So in case you missed the class lecture, here’s a briefing:

Sex is biological- chromosomal, genital, and hormonal.  It’s how many X’s and Y’s you have, whether your nether regions have a penis or a vagina, and the respective levels of estrogen and testosterone floating in your veins.

Gender identity is psychological- is is who we think we are and how we perceive ourselves.  Now this can be perfectly in line with our biological sex, it can be the complete opposite, or it can be somewhere in the middle.

Gender expression is how we chose to “show” our perceived gender.  So if you want to express a masculine gender, you’ll probably wear more pants and fewer skirts.  Again, this does not necessarily line up with your gender identity or your biological sex.  So you can be biologically a woman by sex, and feel like your gender identity matches (as in, you feel that you are a woman inside), but you can chose to express your gender as a man, by wearing your hair cropped close and dressing in suits and waistcoats.  These are all personal decisions.

I think it’s easiest to look at it in terms of a diagram:

BIOLOGICAL SEX

(anatomy, chromosomes, hormones)

male ————————————- intersex ——————————— female

GENDER IDENTITY

(psychological sense of self)

man ———————————- genderqueer/bigender ————————– woman

 

GENDER EXPRESSION

(communication of gender)

masculine ——————————- androgynous —————————— feminine

Perhaps the most interesting parts of this diagram, however, are the center sections, which encompass the genderqueer, androgenous, and intersex people.  Normally we think of gender and sex in dichotomies: male/ female, masculine/feminine.  But there, with all things related to human behavior and identity, there are many shades of gray, which is the space these terms occupy.  So genderqueer people may consider their own gender identity to be a mix of male and female components, existing as both male and female at the same time (two-spirited), or conforming with no gender conception at all.

Now, Scarletteen, which is an AMAZING sex education website for teens has a lot more to say about this and I HIGHLY suggest that you read up on it.  http://www.scarleteen.com/article/politics/i_feel_like_im_in_the_wrong_body_but_my_parents_say_my_feelings_are_whats_wrong-

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project also has a good introductory article to transgender issues: http://srlp.org/node/123

But this is homework for a very important reason, not simply because the question of gender identity and expression is incredibly interesting from a sociological study viewpoint.

What a lot of people need to understand is that we come from a very privileged place in society- and I don’t mean in terms of wealth, status, or connections.  Most of us are born into bodies we believe naturally match our internal conceptions of ourselves.  We take for granted the fact that because we were born a certain way, our mental processes match the way we were born.  Not all people are so lucky.

This is not meant to be a boo-hoo, poor transgendered and gender-non-conforming people post- it’s a statement about understanding.  Because people who do not fit neatly into the pre-ordained categories of gender not only have a tough time coming to terms with their understanding of self, but even more so of explaining that understanding to others in such a highly dichotomized and gendered world.

So while it may not seem worth your while to go grab flashcards and learn the intricacies of gender identity for the sake of humanity as a whole, the education of self goes a long way in transforming the world into a place where we are not bound so tightly by societally-defined ideas of gender and conformity.  This will make the lives of less gender-privileged people infinitely easier, and might even open up a deeper understanding of self for boring ‘ol gender-conforming people like me.

If you’re an old hand at this gender identity stuff, I have some cool articles for you, which I will link from my personal collection to a spot the sidebar.   Susan Striker’s “LGBT (and sometimes I)” talks about the immergence of the transgender movement and their struggle for acceptance and visibility in a large and vocal gay scene during the 1970’s.  It really highlights the way that trans and gender non-conforming people have been pushed to the sidelines in the rush for gay rights and recognition, but also looks to the very potent push-back from the trans community. 

 Striker wrote another article “Transgender Terms and Concepts” as part of a complete work which I don’t have access to, but this particular section looks in-depth at the various elements that compose gender identity and expression, as well as the political and social connotations behind a variety of vocabulary words used in discussion gender.

ALSO ALSO ALSO- KinkforAll held a conference this past year with a speaker (forgive me, I don’t know his name!) who gave a brilliant presentation on dichotomies in sex and gender.  It’s a little long, but so worth watching.  I have the full
text included in my file sharing section as well.

http://vimeo.com/9304697

And now…it is time for bed.  Goodnight everyone.

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