Tag Archives: homophobia

“But I’m Otherwise In Compliance With Your Bigoted Cultural Norms!”

NB: “gay marriage” is a bit of a misnomer since not everyone getting “gay married” is, in fact, gay. And do marriages really even have sexual orientations? Suspect. However, that is the term most commonly used for legalizing marriage between two adults of the same legal sex.

It’s a sentiment that crops up a lot, especially in the gay marriage debate, but also in the is-it-okay-to-call-yourself-a-feminist debate (“but I shave my legs and have a boyfriend! Feminists aren’t all ugly, socially-awkward dykes you know!?!?”) and—apparently—the can-we-stop-pretending-that-all-sex-work-should-be-criminalized debate.

Pro-sexwork legalization poster

As in, “guys! This sex-worker is middle class pays her mortgage! She has heterosexual privilege children and a nuclear family! She is, very explicitely, “not so different,” after all! Maybe we should think about not throwing her in  jail, then?” Many, many sex workers are queer and trans*. Many of them are young; many were kicked out of their homes. Many are very, very poor. But you won’t find any of those people represented in the “Turn Off The Blue Light” campaign, because who gives a fuck about a transgender teenager who moved out of an abusive home? There are cis women with mortgages and husbands and athletic children and middle-class lives to lead!

The gamble is a cynical one: people would rather hear about the most privileged in a group, the people who would benefit the least from social change, than actually put up with stories about the least privileged sexworkers, for whom it’s this or starvation. But, we’re told, it works. And so POC shut up about how the anti-prop 8 advertisements were overwhelmingly white, and LBGT youth don’t speak up when referred to collectively as “gay,” and I guess it fits that people engaging in survival prostitution allow themselves to be spoken over by the reassuring intonation of presumably-straight, middle-class, cisgender white ladies who are “not too different” from the way every bigot in the West would like them to be.

After all, gay marriage should be legal, some representation is better than no representation, and consensual sex work should not be equated with criminal activity. So in that sense, I’m not ready to start shaking my fist at commercials that say (implicitly), “we’re two white, cisgender, monogamous, middle-class, college educated gay men, so please don’t devalue our relationship.” Because the rights of white, cisgender, monogamous, etc. gay men are important to me, and holding minorities specifically to a higher standard than the majority generally is bigoted. (Confidential to white queers who complain about “black people’s intolerance” as though it is more offensive to you than white people’s intolerance: STOP).

But a big part of the reason gay marriage should be legal is specific to the ways in which heteronormativity (which is already objectionable in and of itself) can coexist with bigotry against things like disability or poverty or immigrant status or some kind of “social deviance.” Because that coexistence tends to bring fears like “will my kids be taken away from their home and forced to stay with my abusive parents when I die?” or “will my wife be able to stay in this country?” and not just “will everyone please recognize that my marriage is valid?”

I think that similarly, questions like “how can I support myself now that my parents have kicked me out of the house?” and “will I be killed in jail for being trans* after I’m arrested for being a prostitute?” are being ignored in favor of “how can I put myself through college?”

And I’m loath to tell marginalized people that their narratives aren’t marginalizedenough for them to deserve space on a poster. I think that becoming a sex worker because you have kids and a mortgage is really fucking valid, and I wish more people could understand that.

But I would also like to see some recognition of the people who would most benefit from social change, not just the beneficiaries who are most “acceptable.”

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On Being “Batshit Insane” and the Anatomy of a Slur

[If you are easily triggered by racist, ableist, or homophobic slurs you may want to skip this one.]

I was recently trying to write something on tumblr about this one radfem I know and love. It started out as an explanation of how oppression creates a false scarcity, pitting oppressed people against each other instead of the system by which they are marginalized. But it did, at some point, become necessary to mention that the radfem in question believed all sex between men and women to be rape. That is, I joked, absolutely batshit insane.

And then I stopped. As a person with PTSD, as a person with an anxiety disorder, with depression, as a person who used to be legitimately agoraphobic, I am arguably the most insane person I’ve met. So why is it that I attached a word commonly used to describe my own condition to someone’s fucking ridiculous theory? I am certainly not making any un-nuanced generalizations about male-female intercourse. In fact, I’m being a lot more cogent on this subject than she was, so why is it that I insult her by comparing her own theory to myself?

That’s just how slurs work. They can be applied to almost anyone, but they always reference a specific group of marginalized people.

This presents a weird sort of disconnect by which people (read: bigots) sometimes try to justify their usage of words like fag or n—. “But he wasn’t gay!” they protest, “and White people can be n–s too!” That right there is some steaming bullshit. Because the truth is that if slurs were really as disconnected from their original meanings as the people who use them would have you believe, they would look very different.

Non-oppressive insults that have etymological origins in a slur are not immediately recognizable as such. If I told you that you were “bad,” you would most likely have to reach for a dictionary before making any connection between the word “bad” and being intersex. So while “bad” did evolve from the Old English word for “hermaphrodite,” bæddel, it certainly doesn’t have that association now. The ordinary English speaker would not make any connection between the word “bad” itself and people with ambiguous genitals. Tell me that Black people are separated from the n-word to a similar extent. Just fucking try.

The other way you can tell that a slur is still a slur, and not a generally acceptable insult, is that the slur will denote specific stereotypes associated with the people it’s based off of. You can call a straight girl a dyke, sure, but the function of that isn’t to shame her for an inherent quality, it’s to compare her to a queer woman (and thereby make her ashamed). This is because “dyke” invokes all sorts of qualities our culture associates with female queerness: gender-nonconformity, “non-normal” sexuality, aggression, lack of “befitting” sexual interest in men, etc. For a straight woman, being called a dyke is offensive because she *is* attracted to men, and because of systematic homophobia she knows that our culture values her heterosexuality. So she feels devalued when someone calls her a dyke after she’s turned him down sexually, for example. This doesn’t do her nearly the same amount of damage that it does an actual queer woman, who is devalued do to an unchangeable facet of her personhood whenever she is called a dyke.

And that, I think, is why it’s so important to reserve the reclamation of a slur for the group of people that specific slur (in and of itself) refers to, regardless of who has been called what. Because it’s actually a shorter order. Instead of applying the word randomly, we can just focus on robbing it of its negative connotation, while keeping the functional definition (“dyke = queer woman,” for example) intact.

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“Being Bisexual Means That You’re Only Attracted to Two Genders. Bi Means Two. Two Genders.”

Oh, blogosphere, when are we ever going to convince each other that etymology does not, in fact, determine meaning? On the one side, you have queer-hating dipshits talking about how they couldn’t possibly be homophobic…because they aren’t afraid of gay people.  And then on the other, we have well-meaning activists who really truly believe (correctly) that gender is not just a male/female dichotomy and are trying to adjust their language accordingly.

Unfortunately, no one told these people how language works. And moreover, no one told them that it is unacceptable to re-define other people’s identities. Telling me that, as a bisexual person, I am either attracted to two genders exclusively (e.g. men and women, but not genderqueer people) or flat out lying about who I am isn’t just intelletually lazy, it’s oppressive.

I don’t think I can even impress upon y’all how incredibly grossed out it makes me to witness conversations in which none of the major players are bisexual, but everyone is tripping the fuck over themselves to define the word “bisexual” to their satisfaction. To be honest, it feels like I’ve just walked into a room where a bunch of straight girls are trying to determine who “counts” as a lesbian, and whose identity is a total farce.

So here’s the deal: anyone who identifies as bisexual is bisexual. Full stop. And if you don’t want to identify as bisexual? Congratulations! You don’t have to! But please, if you’re going to decide that you’d rather be pansexual than bi, don’t back it up with “bi means two genders and I’m attracted to *every* gender.” Because there are bisexual people who are also attracted to every gender, and they don’t appreciate you errasing them to make yourself look more legitimate. Non-monosexual people often feel like they need to justify their non-monosexual identity, but the way to solve that problem is to combat monosexism, not turn on one another to prove that one of us is somehow “correct” in their identity.

Here are the reasons why I identify as bisexual:

  • Because it was the first term I heard that could reasonably describe people like me.
  • Because it represents a community that I am part of.
  • Because more people understand the word “bisexual” than they do “pansexual” or “polysexual.”
  • Because I’ve decided that it fits.
  • Because I’m attracted to two exact genders and that’s the only way Kinsey Hope will allow me to keep this label.

The word “bisexual” originated in 1824, when it was used to describe things that had both male and female genitals. And it has since evolved. It’s not like the word “bisexual” was made up at a conference of queer SJ people and just happens to be widely misused. So when you try to take me back to the 1800s to teach me a lesson in etymology in order to convince me that you have a better label for what I am than I do, what you really should really be saying is this: “being bisexual means that you have two pairs of genitals. Bi means two, sex means genitals. Two genitals”

Or, better yet, you should just not be saying anything at all.

[A similar version of this essay appeared here on my tumblr]

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