Since I began coming out to people as both queer and pansexual almost two years ago, I have only gotten two negative reactions. (Sadly this was true a few months ago when I wrote this post, gotten a bunch more since) One of these followed a very expected format – the ‘prove to me you’re bisexual’ reaction. The person wasn’t mean or hostile, but simply looked at me as if to say “Come on… you’re not serious?”
He then proceeded to inform me that he “has a test for this.” He asked me if I would “co-habitate with, and/or have my primary romantic relationship with a woman.” I said I would. It was the truth. But I didn’t feel good about having passed his test.
I politely explained to him that it’s offensive to make yourself the authority on someone else’s identity. “Has anyone asked you to pass a test to prove you’re straight?” I asked him. He chuckled as if caught in the act.
If you haven’t check out Shiri Eisner’s phenomenal monosexual privilege checklist you will definitely want to do so. I have privilege. We all do. But this list helped me tremendously to recognize some of the ways in which, as a bi/pan sexual, I do not have the privilege mono-sexuals do.
Privilege #2 from Shiri’s list:
Monosexual Privilege #2 – When disclosing my sexual identity to others, they believe me, without my having to prove it.
Folks who are gay or straight can mostly take for granted that if they reveal their sexual orientation, others will believe them.
–In 1980, Adrienne Rich wrote possibly the most important queer feminist text in human history, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Today, I bring you my own thoughts on compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory monogamy, gendered and vanilla existence, all through the lens of… ice cream.
—For anyone who might be wondering (especially those who remember this), no I was not high when I wrote this post, just hungry.
Every time I think I’ve stepped completely outside the box, I find there is another box. My life is like one of those Russian nesting dolls—open me up and there’s another one inside. But in my case, instead of getting smaller and smaller, I get queerer and queerer.
When it comes to sex and gender, our world is like an ice cream shop that only sells two flavors—with maybe a third special flavor available on certain days of the week. As a lover of frozen treats, I have to say, that’s pretty lame!
Imagine if ice cream only came in chocolate and vanilla. Strawberry would seem pretty damn novel—even radical! Strawberry might seem so radical, it could never occur to anyone to do something crazy like mix flavors together, add nuts, chocolate bits or (god help me) cookie dough! How empty our lives would be without cookie dough! And the saddest part—we would have no idea what we were missing!
I’ve always been outside the box. It’s not like I only knew about chocolate and vanilla. At 20 years old I was hanging out at something called a “Queer Kiss-In.” I just wasn’t kissing anyone. Why not? Because there were other boxes I was still inside.
Strawberry. I got it. I got the strawberry, but I didn’t get the cookie dough. I was outside the straight box, but I was still inside the monosexual box. I hadn’t reached pansexual yet, and wouldn’t for years. There was no way for me to imagine cookie dough back then.
Why do I meet so many other women who didn’t realize they liked women until later in life? You see, many of us were never offered that flavor. When we looked down into the display case of life we didn’t see queer as an option. Even me, who thought I was pretty damn radical, marrying a feminist man in a partnership ceremony, wearing a brown dress, keeping my name… I thought I was at the wheel, but I was still caught up in compulsory monogamy and heterosexuality. I questioned the gender expectations traditionally ascribed to “marriage,” but there were so many other things I didn’t question.
Seriously though, it’s really hard to see something in yourself that you’ve never seen anywhere else, and that no one recognizes in you. In the last couple of months I’ve had several friends I perceived as straight or lesbian tell me they are much closer to bi, as well as friends I perceived as cis-gender tell me they aren’t. The more I talk to people about my identity, the more I’m able to truly see them, and perhaps, the more they are able to truly see them. I’m left wondering if the LGBTQIAPK, etc. folks that we see out there are only tip of the iceberg.
What’s different about queer people who somehow manage to recognize queer in themselves and live it? Are their skins thicker, are they smarter, luckier, were they simply in the right place at the right time, or are they gayer, kinkier, or more gender flexible than the rest of us? I can’t say.
All I know is how incredibly fine the line is between me and your garden variety heterosexual, vanilla, monogamous suburban mom. If so many of us ladies are, or were, just a couple neuron-firings away from recognizing our queer, than how many more are out there like us whose queer neurons just haven’t fired yet?
Why does one mom stay closeted her whole life, even to herself, while another is tormented by her same-sex desire which she never reveals to anyone? Why does one woman have a secret affair with a woman, ultimately coming to view herself as a lesbian, while another has a full -blown, long-term relationship with a female, but still identifies as straight. What separates the woman who comes out to her husband and friends and has discreet relationships with women, from the one who leaves her marriage and never looks at a man again?
In my humble opinion, very little.
I say that because I could be any of them. I could have landed anywhere on that spectrum. I still could. Had I never had pregnancy and birth hormones coursing through my veins and experienced the head-trash of becoming a mother in our society (see here for my manifesto on motherhood and coming out), would I have gotten so in touch with my queerness? Easily not.
I once heard a talk by a woman who is an expert in the field of transgender identity. She stated, with regret, “We’re losing a whole generation of butch lesbians.” Her implication was that many of the women who would have identified as butch lesbians in the past are now transitioning to male. Why would this be? Current technology and visibility of transpeople means—you guessed it—more flavors. It seems the butch lesbians of the past were all about strawberry, but they hadn’t yet sampled the cookie dough.
It all comes back to the ice cream. If we look down into that case and all we see is straight, all we see is monogamous, vanilla, traditionally gendered, and paired off in dyads, then there’s nothing else to sample. There are so many flavors we all have yet to discover! Everyone has another box to get out of. We all have unexplored aspects of our identity, and for most of us, more unexplored than explored.
I never saw a woman love a woman in a way that wasn’t platonic until I was 18. When I acted flagrantly queer in high school, nobody ever noticed. I’m not saying they ignored or rejected it—see that would be a form of recognition, albeit painful. I’m saying they simply didn’t see it—like a color-blind person looking at a pattern and only seeing certain parts—they were queer-blind. Their brains were not wired to see queerness. They had neurons firing to straight girls acting very, very friendly with their best friends. Groan.
When I was a senior in high school, I won an award for writing. It wasn’t a surprise. I’d been getting praised for my writing my whole life. But what if I hadn’t? What if no one ever noticed my writing? What if no one around me even knew what writing was? What if my teachers paid way more attention to other talents I had and ignored my writing skills? Would I be writing this right now?
Amazing how parts of us can get hidden so far inside us that we don’t even know they are there, while the things that get validated, groomed, praised, and noticed tend to be the ones we cultivate. That my friends, is why I have a husband and a blog where I write about being queer, but not a girlfriend. And that too is why I wasn’t kissing anyone at the “Queer Kiss-In.”
It wasn’t that I wanted to kiss someone but didn’t. I don’t think I even had access to those feelings. I don’t believe it’s because they weren’t there—I think I just didn’t know where to look for them. I didn’t even know to look for them. By then, I’d had my straight parts reinforced up the wazoo, and my gay parts not at all. Remember Eve, my “sixteen year-old lesbian alter ego?” She’d already been sent into hiding by that point.
This is what compulsory heterosexuality is. It’s not big brother knocking on our doors and telling us “You are going to be straight, vanilla, marry, and be monogamous, and that’s just the way is it, young lady!”
It’s much more subtle, and much more pervasive than that. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything we see, but most of all, it’s in the many, many things we don’t see. It’s in everything we are told about ourselves, and it’s in the silence of the things that are clearly in us that not one ever sees.
So what is fluidity then?
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much that queer feelings suddenly appear where there weren’t any. I wonder if it’s more like we are, for a variety of reasons, able to see more. It’s like we get treatment for our queer-blindness, and suddenly we can see twice as much. It’s like walking into an ice cream store, and instead of three flavors, there are six, and then sixteen, and then sixty. What if those ice cream shops were everywhere? What if we could all see all the possibilities?
I wonder if we would conclude that fluidity is simply seeing more and more of what already is, and queer is just another word for human?
Copyright 2013, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.
People often ask me “what do all those letters stand for, anyway?” I’m not quite sure why they ask me, since most don’t know I belong in that alphabet soup somewhere. But they ask, and I’m glad, because I think they should know. However, there is definitely a part of me that’s annoyed by the question, and thinks, ‘come on people, keep up, it’s not rocket science.’ Of course, there are those who don’t know “what all those letters stand for” because they don’t want to, due to ignorance or hatred. But there are also well-meaning allies who are having a hard time keeping up.
Hell, there are a whole bunch of folks who fit within that list of letters, or a longer one we haven’t come up with yet, who don’t even know it. It is confusing. It should be. That list of letters keeps growing and growing because the variations in human sexuality and gender identity are infinite. We probably need the whole alphabet to cover them. I have this fantasy that one day when there are more of us who fit under the “queer” umbrella than don’t, it will finally be clear that we are all “sexual minorities.”
This is not at all to diminish the experience of people who have to live, openly or not, as sexual minorities in our culture right now. But perhaps the reason they are in the “minority” is because of how many others are still closeted in various ways. How many people must be out there who have never spent much time considering their sexual orientations or gender identities due to compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory gender-normativity, and/or compulsory sexual vanilla-ism in our culture? And how many simply don’t fit labels our culture has yet produced?
I mean, honestly, how many of us have “normal,” monogamous sex, one man, one woman, in missionary position, nothing “dirty,” no bondage-discipline-dominance-submission-sado-masochism-kinky stuff, no outside partners, no shared partners, only clean, run-of-the-mill fantasies, barely any foreplay necessary, easy “normal” orgasms, vaginal for the women, no clitoral stimulation needed, male gets hard easily, cums at just the right moment, no props, no toys, no porn, male in the dominant-but-not-too-aggressive role, woman in the submissive or seductive-but-still-respectable role, only “normal” masturbation in between, like our televisions tell us to?
And how many of us fit neatly and comfortably into one of two biological sexes, as well as the gender identity and gender role identity that our culture would dictate?
Folks in drag at 2012 Pride.
One of the main reasons the acronym that formed around sexual orientations (LGB) has become murky is that the categories those letters cover keeps expanding. When the gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender movements merged, a gender identity category was added to a list of sexual orientations. I believe this was a pivotal point at which our society began to wrestle with how gender variance can interplay and overlap with sexual orientation. This also opened the door for new identities such as “genderqueer” to emerge. The term “queer” also became the label of choice for those who sought a more inclusive category, in some cases to avoid having to choose either a sexual orientation or gender identity label. Queer has also been utilized by many who gravitate toward labels that haven’t gained status in the official acronym yet, like genderqueer and pansexual. Finally, queer can be a political stance for allies or others who don’t necessarily ascribe to specific “queer” identities, but take on a “queer” stance or perspective.
Transgender calls into question the assumed match between biological sex and gender identity. Intersex, also typically one of the commonly accepted “sexual minorities,” represents the almost 2% of the population who don’t fit neatly into existing biological categories of male and female according to Arlene Lev, author of Transgender Emergence. If genderqueer and androgynous became part of the sexual minority acronym, it would represent yet another identity category, this time for those whose gender identities do not fit neatly into male/female gender categories. Transgender, genderqueer, androgynous, and intersex are all identities which call into question the gender binary.
For me, pansexual is a label that defies labels. It pulls the rug out from under the gender binary as well as earlier concepts of sexual orientation, by separating sexual/affectional orientation from binary notions of gender. It is essentially a refusal to define sexual orientation based on gender. For some, it even calls into question the boundaries between sex/love relationships and non-romantic relationships. To me it is an identity category which expands, rather than narrows who people can be and how. As someone seeking to choose partners and set up my relationships and lifestyle based on criteria other than gender, I wasn’t sure how I fit into the queer spectrum until I discovered pansexuality. I think I always identified with being queer, but I never felt entitled to identify as queer until I heard this term. I am only identified as queer now because our culture was creative enough to produce such a concept. How many other queer folks are out there for whom we don’t yet have labels?
Despite the relative mainstreaming of gay identity, there was only one Bisexual group in NYC's gigantic Pride Parade, and no one representing Pansexuals, Asexuals, etc.
Asexual, an identity which is often included within the sexual minority acronym, represents yet another identity type, this time regarding one’s level of interest in sex or identification as a sexual being.
“Questioning” doesn’t necessarily imply what one is questioning, further muddying the waters, but potentially drawing in more folks who are either unsure how they fit under the queer umbrella, or again, may ascribe to identities not yet defined.
Other potential categories relate to those sexual minorities who do not structure relationships around monogamy. Polyamorists are candidates for inclusion in our acronym, in addition those who are “sexual minorities” by virtue of the less common sexual practices and/or sexual roles they take on, particularly those within the kink community. K would cover those who practice bondage and discipline, dominance-submission and/or sado-masochism, as well as those with an incredibly diverse set of fetishes and preferences. According to survey data around 15% of adults engage in some form of consensual sexual activity along the “kink” spectrum. This is a higher percentage than identify as gay or lesbian.
This is my official petition to add the letters P and K to the more widely accepted LGBTQIA acronym, and to emphasize other “A” and “G” identities. This would make room not only for myself, but for all those who already identify as genderqueer, androgynous, asexual, pansexual, polyamorous, and those who are part of the kink community. Perhaps seeing those additional letters will help some of the folks out there who haven’t been exposed to these identities understand themselves a bit better and feel they too have a place in the queer community.
LGGBTQQIAAPPK? The categories of human sex and gender expression and identities they could represent is likely infinite. If that acronym looks a bit absurd, it speaks to the absurdity of thinking there are a few isolated “sexual minorities” while the rest of the human race is “normal” and fairly similar. The truth is the level of diversity in our sexual lives as human beings means we are all sexual minorities. As accepted and culturally understood identity categories continue to arise, this will become more and more apparent. Perhaps the “queer” community, is, in fact, becoming more accurately described as the community of people who acknowledge the diversity of human sexual and gender expression and seek to be open to exploring that diversity within themselves and the culture at large.
Copyright 2012, UndercoverintheSuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.