The Feminist Gadfly

Discussing the problems of feminist identification in the context of gender egalitarianism

Month: August, 2012

I Welcome the Coming Polyamorous Revolution, and You Should Too

by EddyNorthwind

[Content Note: Polyamory, discussion of homophobia and anti-poly sentiment*]

Over on Role / Reboot, an article said something that got me thinking.

My son told me that as much as he enjoyed it, he did not plan to do multiple partner sex again. He thought it was great as an introduction, but now he wanted to go back to a single heterosexual partner. As I audibly sighed with relief, he reminded me gently, “Mom, poly is the new gay.” If I wanted to keep my cred as a liberal parent I would need to accept it. This set me back for a second. I thought about how quick I was to judge other parents who refused to accept their adult children’s homosexual relationships. Poly is the outpost on the sex positive frontier that my children’s generation has reached.

Poly is the new gay. The similarities are definitely real. The Christian Right believes our “lifestyle choices” are abominations, and would rather us not exist. Poly marriage is as illegal as gay marriage, and has even less popular support. We’re both extremely othered by mainstream culture — gays with archetypes like the gay male pedophile or the scary man-hating lesbian, and poly people with images of philandering jerks and religious cults. I can easily imagine the same battles we’re fighting now over gay rights being repeated 50 years down the road over polyamory, with one key difference.

Polyamory actually is a lifestyle choice. And that’s awesome.

We’re making progress on the gay rights frontier, but that progress has mainly come about by changing how society views homosexuality, and not by changing how society views sex. I’m fine with this. All the same, it does leave much to be desired.

While it’s possible that poly rights will follow a similar route — normalizing polyamory rather than promoting sex positivity, that seems unlikely to me. There is no “born this way” for polyamory; it’s a choice. To win this one, we’re going to have to convince people that poly lifestyles are no better or worse than mono lifestyles; it’s simply a matter of preference. To do that, we’re going to have to convince people that sex is fundamentally private and personal, and that good consent, safety, and honesty are the only issues society has any business regulating or stigmatizing.

Read that last sentence again, because those two propositions are the absolute core of sex positivity. If we win poly rights, we win the culture war, at least about sex. There will be no need to worry about de-stigmatizing (safe, consensual) BDSM, because it will fall under the umbrella ideal of “your sex is not my business.”

I want to live in that future, and applaud those who are making it possible. Keep kicking ass.

~Eddy

*After reading AJ’s recent post and a ton of Shakesville, I decided to personally adopt the Shakesville policy of putting content notes on everything instead of trigger warnings on potentially volatile stuff. I haven’t talked to the other Gadflies about this yet, but if you see them doing it it’s because we’ve agreed to all start doing it.

Trigger Warnings and Pop Culture

by aronjerrison

Content note: intentional conflation of trigger warnings with content notes

Over the past couple years, a series of conversations with different people on similar topics has led me to form an opinion which I should very much like to share.

I got a phone call last year from my mother telling me that her next door neighbour (with whom I have some serious political differences) was attempting to ban a book that was on the curriculum at the high school that both her son and my brother attend.* The reason that my mother had called me was that she wanted to know what I thought she ought to do.

After making the potentially inflammatory statement that if she supported banning a book, any book, I would cut all ties with her, we had a long discussion during which we came to an agreement: the best thing to do would be to petition the school to provide all the parents of students reading the book with a run down of the potentially objectionable aspects of the book. This is not so that they can make the decision to “opt out”, but rather to give them a heads up so that they can be prepared to discuss these topics with their children.

It was only later that I realised that we had just reinvented the trigger warning.

When I began my foray into the feminist blog-o-sphere, I loved the idea of trigger warnings. We can talk about some serious problems, and it’s truly refreshing to have warning and be able to not read a post if I know that it might be difficult for me to read.

It is for this reason, that I would love to see trigger warnings in use everywhere.

Why doesn’t the Harry Potter series have trigger warnings for child abuse and neglect? The books have been challenged a great deal over the years, but it’s always been for silly reasons like promoting witchcraft. All the while, Harry suffers from criminal neglect and no one in the books mentions it as anything other than sad. I think that the discussion about child abuse in these books is one that needs to happen, and that warnings might start people thinking.

It’s not just books either. I want this for movies, comics, video games, art. If it would be describable as ‘text’ in a comparative literature class, it should have trigger warnings.

I have been asked if the movie rating system is what I’m looking for. Unfortunately, it’s not. I would love to be able to point to the MPAA and say “Yes, that’s what I want.” but they limit the accessibility of their reviewed works based on age which is pretty much the opposite of what I want. Don’t take it upon yourself to police the work, give fair warning and allow parents to make the decision with their children.

I have been told that this is an idealistic pipe dream, and that’s probably true. But as my earlier posts have shown, I’m an idealist.

So how about instead of looking at how unrealistic it is, just think about how nice it would be.

The first time that I asked my dad if I could watch an ‘R’ rated film, he sat me down and discussed the major aspects of the film that I, as a child, might find shocking, disturbing, or frightening. After the discussion, having decided that I was appropriately prepared, he let me watch the film.** Even if we’re ignoring the obvious benefits of trigger warnings, i.e. the purpose for which they were designed, I think that it would be wonderful to have this sort of discourse happening every time that a child watches a film or reads a book.

And hey, if you agree with me, maybe, together, we can make this happen.

-AJ

*I cannot for the life of me remember what the book was.

**Nor can I remember the film.

So It Turns Out I’m Not Straight

by EddyNorthwind

My name is Eddy, and I am…well, that’s the issue.

When I hit puberty and was suddenly feeling all sorts of strange feelings in my pants, my parents gave me a book about the birds and the bees which, relative to what some of my peers were getting, was pretty damn progressive. It didn’t give instructions for condoms, but it at least told me that they existed. It hit important topics like the subjectivity of cultural notions of attractiveness — complete with pictures of male and female paragons of beauty from different cultures. It even mentioned homosexuality, something that, comparing notes with my peers who had received similar talks or books, was not touched on by most parents in my social group.

The problem: the book tried it’s damnedest to remain “neutral” about homosexuality. With great quotes like “some religions believe that homosexuality is a sin. Others believe it is perfectly natural and no better or worse than heterosexuality. If you think you might be homosexual, talk to your parents and religious leaders for guidance” (paraphrased), the book did an excellent job of pleasing precisely nobody, liberal or conservative, to the extent that I seriously wonder how my parents found it.

One of the “neutral” positions taken would have a pretty large effect on my life. “Many boys and girls in adolescence experience same sex attraction, but later go on to be heterosexual. Sexual attraction may not be ‘fixed’ until adulthood, so don’t worry too much if you do experience homosexual attraction and don’t want to. It may be just a phase” (Again paraphrased). It seemed possible, and I had no reason to doubt it, so I took it for truth. Then the attractions came.

Going through puberty, there was never any doubt that I liked girls. Less clear was how I felt about guys. Periodically, I’d look at a guy and think, “Damn.” Thing is, it never happened so often that I was unable to write it off as “I just wish I could be him” or “it’s just a phase”. Homophobia was a very real thing in my community, and I had internalized some of it. A combination of that prejudice and fear of becoming an outcast pushed me to convince myself that I wasn’t attracted to men — I just thought some were pretty.

That self-deception held pretty strongly until I went off to college and was suddenly free from home’s shackles. At this point, I had befriended enough queer folk that the internalized homophobia was long gone, washed away by positive experiences with members of the feared group. There was, though, still a very real fear of being rejected by my family and peers if I were to come out as more than just an ally. There also weren’t that many hot guys around — I tend to go for guys with beards, something rare in my high school and delightfully common in college.

Things started off pretty slow and alcohol-induced. I’d drunkenly cuddle with another man, I’d look at a guy after a couple drinks and think a little more than “I wish I looked like that”, or some assdrip at a party would not-quite-enough-to-call-campus-police-but-definitely-lacking-enthusiastic-consent kiss me, and I would think about how I would’ve responded had he just fucking asked to avoid thinking about what had actually happened. Then, midway through last year, I sent the following text to AJ, in my typical can’t-walk-straight-but-dammit-I-can-spell style:

“Remind me in the morning that if I kinda sorta like guys while drunk, I probably kinda sorta like guys while sober.”

Amazingly, I ended up not needing reminding, but AJ obliged anyways. Then came the identity issue.

Straight was out — I knew I was way too into dudes for that. But bisexual didn’t seem quite right, either. I definitely have a preference: I find a little over half of the women I meet physically attractive, but only about one in ten guys. I also don’t like anal with either gender, which seemed to lessen credibility the homosexual attraction. I felt like, if I called myself bi, that would be cheapening the label for people who are “more bi” than I am, as silly as that sounds.

So I like men, just not as much as women. AJ, in his pedantry, thinks that I should just call myself bi and explain the specifics only when asked. And, after writing this out, I’m inclined to agree with him. I like both men and women. If that isn’t the definition of bisexuality, then what is?

~Eddy

In Defense of “Born This Way”: A Response

by EddyNorthwind

As some of you have no doubt noticed, AJ recently posted a rant about the phrase “born this way” and its kyriarchal implications.

I agree completely that the phrase is problematic and, in an ideal world, would not need to be used. Where I disagree, however, is in AJ’s assessment that now is the time to stop using it.

Because, to be blunt, his opinion reeks of the privilege of someone who has never had to live in an area where homophobia is rampant.

I wish I could, as AJ does, just say “fuck those people!” and ride off into the sunset. “Those people”, however, are not just some abstract concept, encountered only when they show up with bibles and ridiculous protest signs. “Those people” are my high school teachers and classmates, my neighbors, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, and, until very recently, my father. “Those people” are the reason I spent six years convincing myself that I had no attraction to men whatsoever, and those people are the reason I am currently absolutely terrified to act on that attraction. “Those people” are also my support structure and, as wrong as they are, they’re all I have.

The rhetoric of “born this way” convinced my father to switch his position from “I will disown any gay sons” to “I don’t understand it at all, and I’m not comfortable with it, but you guys are my kids and I will love you no matter what.” Without that shift, the thought of coming out to my parents would not have crossed my mind as an option.

The rhetoric of “born this way”, argued brilliantly by my class’ out-and-proud assistant principal, convinced my high school administration to allow the formation of a gay-straight alliance, which has since provided a safe space for four classes of LGBTIQ teens.

As problematic as it is, “born this way” has lead to a marked improvement in my own life and in the lives of countless others. It works. We know it works, because public opinion on gay rights is shifting in our favor and has been for some time. The fact that we ought not need to apologize for our attractions is something to worry about after existential concerns like bullying and child abuse are gone. Internalized prejudices rarely die before their hosts, but we can at the very least convince homophobes that we cannot just be prayed away. I’ll take tolerance now over compassion and understanding in some far-off, indeterminate future.

~Eddy

Disclaimer: I’m a 2 on the Kinsey scale who still hasn’t decided whether to identify as bi or “heteroflexible”. (Gods, I hate that word, but it’s useful.) My romantic options are not significantly hampered by only dating women. I have the ability to remain closeted to my family without much effort, something I am acutely aware that not everybody gets to do. I also do not have the privilege of being from a community that is at all accepting of homosexuality, though, and I still have some lingering doubt about my father, so please consider my decision to remain closeted thus far in it’s full context.

A Rant

by aronjerrison

Every time that I try to write a post, I get stuck with the same problem. Of all the things that are making me angry right now, what ought I write about?

Well, today at least, I’m going to be writing about something with which Eddy will disagree, strenuously.

With the recent Chick-fil-A controversy and the resurgence of BSA problems, queer rights have been at the forefront of my mind lately. In particular, a piece of rhetoric that nearly all of us use when trying to convince homophobes to be tolerant. I am speaking, of course, about being “born this way.”

I am not attempting to present an argument about the origins of homosexuality. I just think that queer folk, myself included, have a hard enough time. Why would we want to de-legitimise our own sexualities?

Every time that someone says “Don’t hate gay people, they can’t control to whom they are attracted.”, they are implying that, were sexuality a choice, homosexuality would be the wrong one.

How can we stand for this?!*

Eddy has claimed, and most likely will claim again, that rhetoric like this is important because it can help sway people who can’t accept the validity of homosexuality.

My response is always the same. “Fuck those people!”

I want the right to marry whomsoever I chose. I want the right to adopt without facing discrimination. I don’t want to have to worry about my sexuality being a barrier to employment.

I also don’t want to degrade myself by dismissing my sexuality as an unfortunate circumstance of birth. There is absolutely nothing wrong with me, nor, indeed, with anyone else who doesn’t conform the heteronormative paradigm. If someone finds his/her/hirself to be unable to accept that, I will not condescend to meet them half way.

Homophobes are beneath my contempt.

-AJ

*It’s at times like this that I wish I had an interrobang on my keyboard.