Posts Tagged ‘ sexual identity

Bound Together

Slate started a new blog recently called Outward, their new LGBTQ outlet. While there’s been some more writing out of it, it’s mostly just helped to codify some of their other writers and writing that didn’t really have a good home. It’s not particularly unique or unusual in regard to its scope. Plenty of other online publications have similar outlets for that kind of work. I do not mean to call them out particularly other than the fact that I read a lot of Slate and have been paying attention since it got up and running. I actually think they are doing an excellent job. But it mostly feels, like many similar ventures, that most of the focus is on the L and the G. Now I can’t particularly speak to the B portion of the acronym from personal experience, but I can definitely speak to the T. And from my observation, they feel underserved in the sense that they are rarely discussed.

This isn’t to say there should be a quota. I don’t think they should have to say a particular amount or have a particular focus. They are free to set the scope of their boundaries. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t (or shouldn’t) call bullshit when I see it. But the probably really goes a lot deeper than some new blog in some online publication. It really gets back to the whole core of they acronym itself, and whether it makes sense to conflate two different ideas that don’t necessarily belong together in regards to gender identity and sexual identity. Why are they still together like that? Certainly there are more specialized outlets in this day and age. And a lot of what I read in regards to trans issues comes from trans-specific sources (though, in fairness, they spark some different concerns…but another time).

Well, they are together like that because for a lot of people that are conflated. A lot of people never think too much about their gender. Okay, maybe it’s more appropriate to say they don’t question it. I’m pretty sure everybody thinks about their gender to some degree. It affects all the little things we do every day, how we groom, how we talk, all the we up to much bigger things, like what we can expect from life in general. So I think everyone’s aware of their gender. And for most people that’s an attuned part of who they are. For a few of us, there’s some dissonance. But set that aside for a second. Most people don’t think about their gender that much (or at least, don’t think about it any differently than most other people). Much the same, most people don’t think about their sexuality all that much. For most people, it’s relatively in line with what society views as normative. But for some people, that’s not the case. In that much, I think there’s a great degree of commonality that binds all those letters in the acronym.

Obviously, I’m being a bit unfair here. Gender identity and sexual identity are conflated for good reason. Or at least there’s a reason they factor into each other. That doesn’t necessarily explain why they get conflated. Sexual attraction certainly is influenced by gender. Right, if you are a heterosexual man, then you like women, and that’s a gendered group right there. If you are a homosexual man, then you like men. What makes that all more complicated is exactly how we start defining men and women, which is where the gender aspect comes into it. Because there are exceptions to be found for any nice clean idea of what gender is, that’s not as easy as it sounds. Right, try coming up with a clean definition of how you would define either gender in the binary sense. It’s fluid, and worth thinking about. Or at least being open to it. What seems like it might be a simple definition could exclude people that you would by no means want to exclude. Even the most obvious definitions have those exceptions. Right, maybe you were thinking, well, all women are XX. Chromosomal seems like a pretty solid one to rest on. Except that even there, there are exceptions. I am not a big believer in a definition like that, for reasons that are hopefully pretty clear already. Nature sure does love its variations. But I digress. In the sense that gender and sexuality are two things that obviously are related to each other and both of them are concepts that most people ought to at least be more cognizant of. I still have to remind myself that just because these are ideas that I spend a lot of time thinking about doesn’t mean that other people share that. Which in turn reminds me to spend a little energy trying to think about the things I never think about that much.

So obviously there’s a relationship there between the two ideas. And in the sense that being gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans is a (at least for most people) non-normative expression of those related concepts, I get that. When I say non-normative, I don’t mean to imply they aren’t normal in the sense that they are an aberration. So perhaps it would be better to be less pejorative and use a word other than normative. See how even a benign looking word can be so troubling? Let’s say non-majority expressions then. Because that is just a factual way of expressing that there are less LGBT people out there without an implied (even if accidental) judgment.

That kind of exercise right there shows you there’s still a lot of ground to be gained in terms of acceptance for those sorts of concepts. One might not question the use of such a word in that instance, or one might argue that it’s fine to use it in that way. But the way we deploy words, the way we group concepts, that influences how people think about them. Words are funny like that. I used to write about that periodically in my old blog. There are a lot of unconscious meanings behind words that can be implied and/or inferred, depending on which end the interpretation is coming from. And at its core, that’s why I am curious if it makes a lot of sense to keep the concept of gender identity conflated with the idea of groups that are representing sexual identity. I don’t necessarily think that it does. At the same time, that’s where the concept of trans thought and exploration is currently attached to communication out to a more mainstream audience at this time. Grouping related, but different concepts together can create misconceptions. Conversely, it also gives trans ideas at least the chance at having some larger audiences, because it’s not necessarily a given that people would spend a lot of time going down every little offshoot to learn more about it. Having a related, if somewhat disparate, home for ideas, awareness, and exploration of trans issues can be a good thing too. Being too narrow in focus isn’t a good thing, as I’m sometimes reminded when I read some trans writing that doesn’t always feel to have a great sense of awareness of that. It can lead to myopic ways of thinking.

All the groups under the LGBT umbrella obviously still have to deal with discrimination in their day-to-day existence. But the issues that someone who’s dealing with discrimination due to sexual identity has to deal with can be quite different than someone who’s dealing with discrimination due to gender identity. Though they seem to be attacked from the same angle of protecting children or protecting society as we know it. The thought that gay people are going to create a society of pedophiles is just as head-smackingly dumb as the fact that trans people are going to create some sort of weird genderless society. The related ends of gender and sexual identity are perhaps grouped together in as much as they are attacked the same way. And while the legitimate fears of discrimination and violence remain shockingly and maddeningly the same, the issues therein are quite different. Right, a gay person is not going to have to worry about jumping through hoops just to get identification that matches their identity because we aren’t in the habit of having ids that have our sexual identities on them. But we are in the habit of having identification that has our gender on it. That’s an obvious example. And in some ways, we’ll all get grouped the same. Trans women and gay men are pretty much the same in the eyes of blood donation, at least from my experience with the system. Though I got the added bonus of having to answer the female and male questions.

But when you see articles about blood donation, it’s just about how gay men can’t donate. It’s a small example. Right, there is an issue that could rightly affect both. Though I suppose if you didn’t start donating until after you transitioned, you might not have the same issue. Or you might not get pressed on it if they didn’t know you were trans and you’d just get to answer the questions as female. Perhaps I am just the outlier there. Or perhaps it’s just not something that anyone really talks about that much because no one really knows it’s an issue that exists. It was a weird and humiliating experience after a bit, so much so that I finally stopped doing it. But that’s a different story than the current narrative, and it’s not something that just tacks onto the current stories regarding the issue of gay men and blood donation all that seamlessly. In that case, it goes away all the same if they change the rules regarding gay men and get rid of those ridiculous questions. Perhaps the trans angle raises a bit more awareness for some people. Perhaps not. It’s just me reading my own experience into the articles I read. Selfishly, it almost feels like i’m trying to insert myself into the narrative. I don’t think that’s really the case those. I think it’s just something you don’t hear about.

That kind of stuff is worth remembering. Sometimes things are not necessarily attached because it distracts from a clean narrative. Or because it’s unnecessary detail to a lot of people. Now the people affected by it wouldn’t agree with that. But a lot of other people would just get bogged down by it. It’s important to remember that kind of thought process and be aware of it. And it’s important to remember that a lot of the same fears and worries keep people up no matter where they fall the non-majority alphabet soup that currently makes up whatever acronym you use to classify gender and sexual identity discussions. Fears of acceptance and of finding a place in the world. Legitimate concerns that those individuals will face outright discrimination and violence just for being who they are. Of course, in that sense, one could lump a lot of groups together. In the end, it’s just a grouping, and all groupings have exceptions. Just as I can’t given you a fail-safe definition of what a woman is (though I can give you a lot of different definitions), I can’t really provide a good rationale for what would make a fail-safe definition of what makes the most sense in terms of grouping gender and sexual identity. They do matter and they do correlate. Right now, I would like to see a little bit more on the trans end of the spectrum from outlets with broader reach. Though it’s a bit of selfishness on my part. I’m trans. I want to see more about that. Those are the issues that affect me. All the same, I like to stay informed about broader LGBT issues as well.

A lot of places still don’t necessarily have openly trans writers who are informing those sorts of columns and blogs and spaces. That certainly would have an influence. For my part, though, it’s important to remember things like Outward don’t just exist to serve me. They exist to serve a large community that, whether it should be or not, is currently bound together. Some days, I’m not sure, but most of the time, I feel like it makes some sense why all those various letters came together. Besides, Outward still a lot of good writing that keeps me informed about a lot of other issues that I like to stay informed about. I still have hopes to see a little bit more from a trans perspective. I will still keep reading. And in the meantime, I have my own spaces and my own space to think about it.

Variations On A Theme

I know I’ve certainly mentioned it before, but I came across a couple articles recently that reminded me, once again, of the dangers of conflating similar, but unrelated, things. Now when I say things, I specifically am thinking about the wide gulf between concepts of gender identity and sexual identity and how they get rolled under one big umbrella in the minds of a lot of people through the use of LGBT (or LGBTQ or GLBT or however many other letters you feel are appropriate for that acronym). Now I’m a strong advocate of unpacking all of those letters because they all mean pretty different things, each with their own unique challenges, but I understand. It just seems to be in our nature. But it isn’t always the most useful way to think about things.

Over the weekend, I noticed an article from last week from the AP about the growth of mainstream advertising featuring gay themes. It’s certainly nothing earth-shattering to anyone who’s been paying much attention to anything recently, but it’s still a nice thing to see in the AP featured in papers around the country. It carries some pretty standard undertones of a lot of writing of this type, in my opinion, in that it’s kinda got that “look, things getting better!” feel to it. Frankly, it’s nice to see, if a little fluffy and light on much of any real information. It’s nice to see that rather than vitriolic statements that one doesn’t have to go that far to find coming out of, say, the Minnesota state legislature’s current public hearings about whether to even have the body vote on same-sex marriage. And I’m a big supporter of stuff like this because I think it’s a good thing to see.

But (you knew there was a but, didn’t you) correct me if I’m wrong, I’m not seeing a whole lot of T to that article. Call it my inherent selfishness, or my inherent disbelief that there’s any mainstream advertising that features people like me, but I’m not seeing it. I’m not saying that there has to be in that article. Frankly, I still think we’re a number of years away from a modicum of comfort with trans issues in regard to it being something that’ll just be in an ad. Besides, there’s plenty of rightful questions about how you show that or what that really means. Right now, people can get pretty comfortable when it’s not something that’s right in front of them, so it’s an issue of passing. Whatever that means. And I, while, I’m perfectly comfortable with who I am and how I put myself out there in the world, obviously I cause enough problems for the majority of people to not fit into that category. Or I wouldn’t get called sir so much. So while there may be advertising that features trans people out there, there certainly isn’t advertising that’s particularly worried about making people who might not be able to go stealth. There’s nothing out there that’s trying to convey any sense of normalcy as the article intimates about gay and lesbian advertising. And I don’t necessarily think that needs to come up anywhere in the article. That’s not really what it’s about and I’m okay with that. I’m a big booster of gay and lesbian issues (bisexuality, too, but in the sense of advertising, I am not sure how that’d be treated, so let’s just set that aside). But I do think it’s important not to conflate things by using LGBT when there’s obviously not any concern with the T. I mean, it’s used 8 times in the article, and while it certainly saves some column space, this is the internet, I don’t think that’s a huge concern. It’s the carelessness of conflating things once again. Not that I felt bad, or that their use of LGBT in that article made me feel bad; I just think it’s important to realize that conflating is going on, and I do feel like a lot of people don’t realize that they are doing that.

Conversely, here’s an article I saw today in Citypages highlighting some of the depressing issues around the state of LGBTQ health care. Unsurprisingly, this article has the opposite issue of the previous one. Its focus is mainly on the T. And frankly, that’s understandable. Short of a sore throat, I’ve been seeing the same doctor both pre and post-op. She works at the Center for Sexual Health, and as a part of that job, is obviously far more aware of the concerns of trans people as we make up a fair amount of the clientele there. And while the article does seem to tangentially touch on non-trans issues, the fair conclusion from the article seems to be that the risks for transgender individuals are definitely there. And while I certainly understand why someone wouldn’t be forthcoming about sexual orientation, I am just not as aware of what issues there might be in regard to one’s medical treatment due to that. But I definitely can understand how not knowing someone’s birth gender could have a huge impact on medical treatment. I can equally understand the desire to not say something about it if you don’t have to. Though it seems sad that someone should have to worry about who they are affecting the quality of care, or even their ability to get it as the first respondent sampled states. I definitely took a lot away from the article and spent a lot of time nodding my head. But I did wonder, what are some of those issues that one might face not disclosing orientation. Of course, there’s the obvious impact if one has a doctor who might discriminate on that basis. But that’s really all I could come up with, and I didn’t really get a good feel as to what those other problems might be, other than outright discrimination. Since the article talks about hidden disparities, I was left wondering, well, what’s that hidden ?disparity for a gay or lesbian or bisexual individual other than outright discrimination. And that doesn’t seem like one that’s all that hidden. That seems like one that’s being dealt with every day. But again, it seems like there are unique issues present for all of those groups, and conflating makes it a little more difficult. Non-trans people don’t have to spend time educating their doctors about what being trans means, for example. Certainly, please, feel free to do that, but it’s not a risk anyone but a trans population faces. So it feels a little weird to attach that to a larger group that doesn’t face those same issues.

Anyway, those were just some thoughts I had in response to some recent reading. And something to think about. I’m sure I do it in my own ways in response to issues that I conflate in my head that I just haven’t unpacked. And by all means, tell me that. Challenge me on that kind of thinking. I’ll keep challenging you on that kind of thinking, at least in regard to trans issues, because I can. When you start looking at everything that falls under the umbrella of LGBT (etc, etc, etc), I think there’s plenty of great things to think about. Just remember that it’s not necessarily all tied together. Gender identity and sexual identity are different things, they have different impacts, and they can be combined in far more ways that you can imagine if you think about all the variations therein. Gender, specifically, is not static poles, but a fluid range with multifarious expressions that vary greatly.

Live And Let Live

I know this is a couple weeks old now, but I wanted to talk about it, and while I tangentially addressed it last time, that was much more about language and much less about feeling. And while the intent of the post is that I shouldn’t really have to say much (if anything) about my experience, I still like talking about it. As I mentioned, it’s how I’m wired.

So for those of you who still haven’t clicked on the link, let’s catch up. A couple weeks back The Observer in the UK put out a column in which an author was responding to some criticism a fellow author received for stating in her own article that women were too often expected to look like a “Brazilian transsexual”. Sounds like she ended up writing a screed instead of a defense. I don’t know, it was removed from The Observer’s website, and while I’m sure it’s still kicking around on some corner of the web, I’m not in any particular rush to find it. I’ve read it before. And I’ll read it again. Just like I’ve heard it before and I’ll hear it again. So a writer named Dan Solomon wrote a pretty cool piece about compassion framing it through general trans struggles in response to that piece and everything that happened with it. Which I haven’t really heard much of. Which got me thinking about some of the other elements that he tangentially touched on.

Sure, I spent an entire post complaining about indignities just prior to this, but facts as they are, I’m a fairly privileged trans person. I live in a society that is far more accepting than some. After insurance, I paid all of $2000 for my surgery. That is pretty fucking cool, right? And I live in a place in the Twin Cities that is also pretty accepting. I’m not gonna say my friends and family just shrugged it off and moved on with their lives, but by and large, the whole process of coming out to them was far more terrifying in my head than it was in reality. I kept my job and have never really encountered anything worse than missed pronouns and the such. Which isn’t to say that should happen either, but I haven’t received any threats or anything like that. On the grand scale from totally passes and never faces any questions ever (which I don’t think exists truly) to facing down potentially deadly violence just to be who you are (which definitely exists), I am definitely much, much closer to the former than the latter. And that’s a good thing. That’s a mark of a lot of progress. That’s the mark of a lot of individuals who came before me, who lost their jobs, their families, their lives in some cases just for being who they are and those who still are or will face those kinds of struggles. And that’s something I try to never forget. Because if a lot of people did that for me, then it’s my job to keep doing that.

So it’s nice to see someone else noting that and therefore doing it. The problem is, and it’s the same problem I have when I meet people who are different than me (which, of course, is happening all the time) is translating that logical thought that compassion is good into actual behavior. Right, plenty of people have no problem with who I am (at least that they outwardly show), but it’s still kind of astounding how often it feels like people still essentially treat me as male. Or put another way, how much people know I’m female but have to think about it instead of intuitively processing it. And that’s to say nothing of sexuality. I get that people ask me all sorts of importunate questions because I’ll answer and because they are curious, but I don’t understand why my sexuality is such fair game as a topic for discussion. Right, you wouldn’t just ask those kinds of questions to just anyone you meet. It’s not even the kind of question you’d ask your casual acquaintances. And yet, I have been asked that kind of question with people that I have just met or people that are casual acquaintances. I think it harks back to the idea of self-correction that I brought up last time. Most people do not immediately correct themselves when they screw up my pronouns just as they don’t think anything about asking me a question that they would not ask a lot of other people. It’s inevitably awkward, too, listening to someone try to spit out a question that they don’t quite know how to finish about either my gender or sexual identity (or sometimes both). I mean, I’m happy to talk about my experiences and break that kind of stuff down (at least from my perspective), and I’ll tell you when I don’t feel like it. But sometimes I really am just trying to enjoy a beer at the Bulldog and I don’t mean for my evening to turn into a seminar on gender. In much the same way, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone try to set me up with anyone. Granted, that has just as much to do with my personality as anything else, but it’s hard not to feel there’s not an element that’s also reflected in how people think of me. Or rather, how they have to stop and think about me instead of intuitively processing who I am. That’s not to say you should rush out and set me up with someone. It’s just something that I’ve noticed.

That isn’t to say that I expect any of this to change tomorrow. Honestly, keep asking the questions. If I don’t want to answer, I won’t. It’s great knowing that I live in a world where there are more people who are willing to speak up on my behalf, unsolicited, about my general experience. That’s the same sentiment he ends on. But I’ve learned that most peoples’ understanding of gender identity is still a fairly nascent thing, and the more people I talk with, the more people I’m establishing that rapport with. Because while someone may already feel like Dan Solomon even though he or she doesn’t know anyone who’s trans, like anything, it helps to ground the experience. And I am that ground. For my part, I want to pay it forward, and if I have to suffer through some indignity to get to a point a couple of generations down the road where trans people truly are met with a shrug, then that is the least I can do. Because while he might note that people like me shouldn’t have to assert our right just to be, the fact is we do right now. It isn’t an issue of fairness; it is an issue of reality. Even for someone relatively privileged like me. Neither us want to live in that world, but it’s the world in which we live. And if we want to change that, we’ve still got some work to do.

Please Check One Or More Boxes

I get asked a lot of unusual questions in my life (then again, I’m pretty sure we all do, but I’m going to be selfish for a minute). Being that I’m the confusing intersection of gender and sexuality and we have enough trouble talking about those things as adults, it’s understandable. They are questions that you wouldn’t ask a lot of other people, though. Do you ask a random woman or man you meet at the bar to point out anyone that they think is attractive in there? I couldn’t tell if it was a question to try and peg me or not in terms of trying to parse my gender and/or sexuality, if he was hitting on me, or if he just wanted someone to share his love of Asian women. This was after a new entry into the all-time pick up line fail list; someone asked me if I was the mom of one of the band members in Phantom Vibration (hey, at least he got the gender right!) (also, really? Really?) during the show last night. Personally, I don’t mind answering questions like that most of the time (they are so entertaining). I try to be approachable because that’s who I am as an individual (I believe that is my grandfather’s work). It has nothing to do with my line of work, my gender identity, my sexual identity, my likes or dislikes, or anything like that. That’s just me. It’s just something I’ve grown into the past few years as I’ve found that I don’t particularly have anything to hide anymore. Not that I’m just going to divulge anything and everything to the random strangers I meet at The Bulldog or the Turf Club, where those conversations respectively occurred. What I’ve learned from it is that most of us lack an adult vocabulary to discuss issues of gender and sexuality.

Not that I’m really all that surprised by it. It’s just a little shocking how hard we work to categorize people (even if it’s unconscious). Putting it in more normative terms for most people, think about the people you find attractive in your life. We are constantly trying to come up with objective standards to judge it, but there’s an ineffable nature to attraction. “Why do you love the woman you are in love with? Because she is?” as Huxley said best. No matter how many qualities of your partner you enumerate, there’s always those ones that you can’t put into words. Istigkeit, if you will. Now this isn’t a problem when attraction falls into your neat little rubric for people you like in terms of traits. But what do you do when it doesn’t? How does it add up when someone who is normally outside of what you consider attractive turns you on. Life likes to put things into neat little categories, which is why we spend lots of time checking boxes about our gender, ethnicity, income levels, number of kids, whatever. We like to take that information and see if we can make sense of it. We are all outside of those boxes, though. They never get quite specific enough to capture everything. In our heads, we have our own ties to what we think of. Our types, if you will, of what we find attractive. Why, those boxes above overlap, don’t they? Those are all important things to a lot of us. Though I’m not trying to, I can pose a fundamental challenge on the basic level of my gender. Because I don’t fit as neatly into the boxes as someone might expect. Even people who know me have trouble figuring out what that means in terms of my sexual identity. And that can manifest itself in the form of a simple question; who I’m looking out over a crowd with a drink in my hand?

Also, I’m not particularly offended when people ask me who (in general) I am attracted to. It’s actually a really smart question, even if it comes from a place that’s just usually confusion. While it can certainly come across as an importunate sort of question, I find it’s because we tend to be more puerile than matter-of-fact in the way we discuss attraction. We shouldn’t assume that the people we meet in society fall into our normative (at least societally speaking for most people, heterosexual) mores of what sexuality is about. There may be a greater statistical chance, but it’s probably not a necessary judgment to make most of the time. And yet, most of us do, all the time (I’m no exception). Even though there are so many gradations within what being heterosexual means, we just take it on a very basic level. That’s not even getting into the fact that we conflate gender identity and sexual identity all the time. What does it mean when I say I am heterosexual? It is that simple. And yet, it obviously isn’t. Certainly, I had relationships with women in the past, and while there may have been attraction there, there was also the great sense that I needed to do something normative to distract from the fact that I was not facing my gender identity or sexual identity in an adult fashion. But that right there shows that it’s not simple. So now people who have known me for a long time have to wonder. Anyway, I can’t do anything in particular about that other than learn from the experiences and try to be more honest with myself going forward. So I am heterosexual. Because I’m female and I’m attracted to men. But…see where this gets problematic? It’s a simple statement, but it also has a lot to do with how other people perceive you. If I’m not being perceived as female by someone, where does that put my sexual identity? If someone is attracted to me, but has trouble accepting me as female, what does that say about their perception of their sexual identity? How does one rectify thoughts with feelings?

It’s negative for me because I’m unconsciously limiting the people I let in. I get tripped up in my own gender identity and wonder how anyone I meet will deal with that. When I shouldn’t. Because that’s not my problem to deal with. That’s someone else’s problem, and I have my issues to sort out. If I don’t want someone making those assumptions of me and my gender and sexual identity, then I shouldn’t be making the same assumptions right back at the people I meet. I can deal with whatever comes up because of that when it comes up, but I can’t preemptively handle anything in regard to my gender. I just can’t. The takeaway for me is that I just need to be more confident about it. And as open with myself as I am with other people at times. Even in the most normative sense, relationships are crazy, weird, messy things. No matter how simple, or normal, or great it looks to outsiders. No matter what the intentions of them are from the onset. They are a lot of work, and there’s a lot of communication that goes into it, even if it’s just something for the short term. Of course, at its most basic, there has to be that attraction there for a relationship to kick off. And I’m probably not going to end up in the relationship that I thought I would. Do any of us do that? Not that either of those guys took the greatest tack to trying to kick of a relationship last night. And not that anything was going to happen with that first guy. But it’s not like the second guy was too bad looking. He at least had the braggadocio to say that I could say him for who I thought was attractive at the bar last night. Not last night, though. But maybe next time.

 
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