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A short blog about how I feel about nouns

18 Nov

I don’t know that I want to use identity signifiers any more. I feel like saying things like ‘I am queer,’ ‘I am a feminist,’ ‘I am a vegan,’ ‘I am polyamorous’ functions as a get-out – like, if I say I am these things then it’s as though I believe I don’t have to back that up with actually doing these things.

I’ve long felt disinclined to identify as a lesbian, or as a woman: these are not things that I am. Neither, now, are the things I listed above, even though by contrast I feel entirely committed to them as ideologies. But that’s the point: they are ideologies, and they affect how I behave, and that’s how you tell that I’m into them. It’s not that I am queer; it’s that I do queer: I advocate for it, I consider it, I use it as a filter through which I encounter the world and decide how to interact with others. I think, particularly with an identity word as inherently unstable as ‘queer,’ it would actually be quite inappropriate for me to use language that implies that I embody it over an extended and potentially infinite space of time. At the moment, writing this, I am doing queer. Just now, when I ate tomato soup with a piece of bread for tea and intentionally consumed no animal products, I was doing veganism. Later on, when I invariably have a go at someone on the internet for using problematic language, I will be doing feminism. But to say I am these things could mean that I might not have to do these things, and I don’t ever want to be lazy enough to allow myself a way out.

What’s Kim Kardashian got to do with it?

2 Nov

Okay, so. I am very new to Kim Kardashian. Obviously I knew she existed, and I could have probably picked her out in a line-up but, until very recently, she was completely irrelevant to me. In fact, I am about to argue that she remains completely irrelevant to me; her only and very temporary relevance is that I now feel compelled to speak out against other people’s inference that her life and choices have anything to do with mine.

In the last few days, my Twitter feed has been full of people saying the exact same thing. (Well – most people I follow are white, middle-class, artsy, feminist, queer or queer-friendly, and educated to university standard, so this isn’t really very far out of the ordinary. But, anyway.) In the wake of Kim Kardashian’s now notorious seventy-two day marriage, pretty much everyone has been going, ‘AND YET GAYS COMPROMISE THE SANCITITY OF MARRIAGE.’ And I have been getting fucked off with every single one of them.

For one thing, it’s a logically defunct argument that, because Kim Kardashian is alleged to have had a brief heteronormative marriage for publicity and money-making reasons – an accusation of whose evidence I know little but feel is quite unfair given that divorce and relationship breakdown are usually actually really upsetting, so maybe she’s actually really upset – this means that non-heteronormative couples ought to be able to get married. Before we even get onto my feelings about “gay marriage,” this is wildly problematic, because it still positions marriage between people perceived to be of the “same” gender as something of a deviancy. The argument tacitly runs, ‘because Kim Kardashian can do this supposedly fucked up thing with the institution of marriage, so should people in non-heteronormative relationships,’ which does nothing to challenge the view that marriage between people in non-heteronormative relationships is deviant. Way to promote your cause. (It reminds me a lot of this awesome article about justification of abortion – TRIGGER WARNING.)

For another, taunts about ‘Kim Kardashian’s seventy-two day marriage’ carry the implicit assumption that marriages are not authentic unless they last a certain amount of time. I was particularly interested to note in the last month or so that Mexico is considering offering finite marriage contracts to its citizens which, of course, has also prompted some to complain about the ways in which this might threaten the “sanctity of marriage.” Personally, I feel that, if marriage has to be institutionalised – which I think it does at least in the short term – check-in points during marriages are a great fucking idea, because the idea that anyone would feel anything forever, let alone love someone, is one that I tend to find, in hypothesis, highly idealistic.

I would like to point out here that I do not believe all marriages to be doomed, or all those who choose to get married to be foolish. However, my reason tells me that such a promise would be far better framed as ‘I will always endeavour to be committed to you,’ although I am aware that not all marriage ceremonies involve this promise, and I am also aware that, just because someone promises they will always try to maintain commitment to whatever relationship you have agreed upon, this does not mean that they will actually always do that. I understand that my experiences of being the child of a desperately unhappy marriage and ensuing divorce probably have some sway over the way I feel about this, but I do not think that my approach is solely emotional: I couldn’t, in right conscience, however besotted I was with someone, tell them that I would always love them. I just couldn’t. Because human beings change all the time, and our feelings change all the time, and obviously some people will be more constant than I am, but to promise to be consistently constant? I’m afraid I don’t buy it.

There is also the issue of non-heteronormative couplings by marriage and queer assimilation. I don’t take the view that queer people oughtn’t get married because they’re copying straight people, although I do recognise the potential for oppression that homonormativity carries with it, although I think this potential lies more in those who would seek to oppress non-normative others anyway rather than those who choose to marry their “same-sex” partners. However, I worry about any degree of submission to an institution – and there will be some degree if you are legally married, however you choose to phrase your vows and maintain your relationship – whose history is steeped in oppression. Of course, just because marriage began as the facilitator of possession of women does not mean that it still necessarily does that; this isn’t even really a valid point to raise with many non-heteronormative married couples. But marriage can still function to facilitate oppression, whomever you are marrying – it can compromise recognition of equally important polyamorous relationships, it can compromise the idea of the significance of the non-biological family, and it can impose a hierarchy of importance upon others’ relationships.

I don’t know if my beef with marriage is really reasonable on these grounds – perhaps it’s similar to my feelings of concern regarding that K-Y intense advert and how it might fuel bigoted ideologies. What do you think?

Happy Bi Visibility Day!

23 Sep

Today is, as several of my Facebook friends inform me, Bi Visibility Day. Hooray! I have identified as bisexual in the past and have had plenty of infuriating conversations with people, identifying as gay and identifying as straight, who didn’t take my sexuality seriously, or made assumptions that I was either straight or gay (depending on the kind of space in which they encountered me – and also depending upon their own sexual orientations). I was told more than once that my sexual identity “didn’t exist.” I’ve been told that I’m ‘either straight and trying to look cool, or gay and too scared to come out properly’ (by someone who, incidentally, identified as straight and decided that I was probably the former. Then I went out with another woman for two years. Not as a direct result, but, y’know. LOL). I’ve been told by people identifying as gay men, as an afterthought following a brief monologue about how great penises are, that, of course, I ‘don’t care for that kind of thing,’ except I totally did when they said it. I’ve found that, much like in many straight spaces, many people in LGBTQ spaces just assume that you’re the same end of the spectrum that they are – and that there’s a spectrum. In short, I was told a lot of bullshit about my bisexuality when I had it.

I haven’t identified as bisexual for a few years now – not, I hasten to add, because I “grew out of it;” at least, not in the stereotypical, offensive sense. While I don’t tend to find people whom I perceive to be men who are non-trans and/or non-queer attractive in the slightest, I don’t feel that this makes me a lesbian. I actually find terms like ‘straight,’ ‘gay,’ and ‘bisexual’ quite problematic because they imply a binary of gender, and ‘straight’ and ‘gay’ are particularly problematic for me because I feel they serve to define the subject as belonging to one of those oppositional genders. I’d like to point out here that this doesn’t mean at all that I have any beef with anyone who uses these words to describe themselves or their preferences: it is, of course, absolutely up to you how you identify and the words you use to identify yourself (to a point, since language is public property and publicly used, so I couldn’t, for instance, define as a black person, or an OAP. But you know what I mean). If you feel comfortable identifying as straight, gay, bisexual, a man, a woman, or whatever, then that’s awesome.

My point is that, for me, it isn’t that simple. I was identified female at birth, and I generally present as high femme, and lots of people take me to be a woman, which is a word that I don’t mind using as shorthand for my identity when in situations in which it isn’t really necessary to go into the ins and outs of it. However, I don’t actually identify my gender as being one end of a binary; for me, that binary is irrelevant. My gender, rather than ‘woman,’ is ‘femme’ – and, since feminine femaleness is no tautology, I feel justified in identifying outside what many call cis gender identity. (I actually think that ‘cis’ is a really problematic term, but I’ll not go into that right now for fear of going to far off-topic. I might write about it in another post, though!) As such, words like ‘straight’ and ‘bi’ and ‘gay’ have no real meaning for me, since I do not position myself on the gender binary, and also since my partners do not necessarily accept that binary either.

I understand that I walk through the world being afforded many of the privileges offered to “cis” women, because people who don’t know any differently identify me that way by looking at me. I also understand that, were I to be visibly trans, or visibly masculine, this would probably result in particularly uncomfortable and abusive experiences (although that isn’t to say that the routine denial of the sexualities of those perceived to be queer and women is unimportant, because it fucking sucks). But neither of these things detract from how shitty it is to have your sexuality decided for you by those who have not cultivated an understanding of sexuality, or of your sexuality.

This is where I think my current sexual practices and gender identity/ies cross over with those of people who identify as bisexual – because people are still making assumptions about who I like to fuck – although, thankfully, not friends or people in my community (that I know of). I understand that ‘queer’ as a sexual identity confuses a lot of people, but I don’t think this is any excuse for intolerance, or assumptions, which I think can function as a form of control. Even though I don’t find the terminology useful, I wanted to write this post in solidarity with people that identify as bisexual. I don’t consider myself “under the bisexual umbrella,” but that doesn’t really matter: my sexuality, and my gender, are still invisible to a lot of people, and that’s fucked up and annoying. Of course, I don’t expect people to get it as soon as they see me, or struggle to pick up cues from my appearance. Visibility can be difficult because it is all too often contingent upon assumption, whether those assumptions are right or wrong. I think if we had more bi, pan, and queer visibility then that could function to do away with visibility as we know it now, because people would have more options and therefore less certainty with which to place others – which I think would be awesome.

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