Sexual Orientation, Cissexism, Binarism and You
Mild Clarification: Some people were a bit confused and thought that conceptual sexuality and physical sexuality are invariably separate. Actually, it’s quite possible to have both. So say if you were attracted to breasts and vagina only, but also could only find folks who are women attractive (so say, you’d not find a pre op/pre hormones trans guy attractive, despite his body structure), your sexuality would be a mixture of concept and body. This is fairly common, so don’t worry if that’s how your attractions work. Hope this helped with any confusion.
This is probably going to be a long post. I’ll probably also piss a lot of people off. But that does tend to be my modus operandi, bringing the unpleasant messages to the populace. Sit down, put up your feet, relax a bit.
Let’s talk sexuality.
Whoa! Sit back down! Relax. Have an iced tea.
Okay, little less skittish now? Good. Writing a For The Uninformed post on what sexuality is seems sort of silly. So let’s just do a nice primer. Sexual orientation is, at its most basic, a measure of what types of people you love, are attracted to, or primarily involve yourself with (depending on context). It’s also an identity which subjects it to the postmodernist complications that identity always loves to put into play. Sexual orientation started out quite simply as who you were attracted to (and if you weren’t attracted to anyone you were asexual, although back then people prolly just labeled you as broken. Go fucked up society, right?). Attraction being primarily the sexual attractions that one possesses to a certain grouping of body parts commonly placed under the categorizations of “male” and “female” (oh look, another link to my dissertation on how broken m/f terminology is). This was back when the terms were heterosexual and homosexual. Note the word structure. The terms were also based on your own placement in the categories of “male” and “female”. Troublesome, no? That hasn’t really changed much. Now we have Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Pansexual, Asexual, Straight and the umbrella term Queer (which mostly seems to only include the first 4.) And now the definitions are a great deal more expansive.
Quick run down for the uninformed folks:
Lesbian (Gay Woman): Woman (or “female”) aligned with woman (or “female”)
Gay Man: Man (or “male”) aligned with man (or “male”)
Bisexual: Anyone aligned with both men (or “males”) and women (or “females”)
Asexual: Anyone aligned nowhere.
Pansexual: Anyone aligned everywhere.
(You’ll notice that bisexuality, asexuality and pansexuality lack self references. The individual who is attracted (or not attracted as the case may be) is irrelevant to the label. This is not true for the two primary single alignments, lesbian and gay.)
For instance, sexual attraction is now not the determiner (unless you’re using the term to mean so for yourself only), love and romantic interest are instead. Even though the GLB community has moved away from the sexual elements of sexuality (Yes, I could see how that would be a confusing sentence) there doesn’t seem to be much effort to drop the explicit (but ultimately shitty) categories of male and female to determine what the alignments are. Or at the very least, even if they are using the conceptual elements (woman, man, etc) that often doesn’t change the inclination to default back to the m/f dichotomy of poorly categorized physicality.
For that reason, cissexism is alive and thriving in the very terminology of sexuality. This is somewhat unhelpful (oh look, intense understatement) to those of us trying to stop the shit storms of cissexism and transphobia in the cisGLB zone.
But wait, it gets worse! You see, there are trans folk referred to as nonbinary/genderqueer people
(NOT GENDERQUEERS. Genderqueer as a term is only applicable when it is requested as an identity marker. Calling all nonbinaries “genderqueers” is asinine, erasing to other types of nonbinaries and seriously binary privileged) [edited for evolution of language ~KH]. It’s a fairly simple concept, there isn’t only guys and girls. There are other types of folk too. Agendered/neutrois (without gender and/or without sexual characteristics for physical transitioners), sublevel genderqueer (this one’s tough to sum up, research it, basically it’s sort of a more specific GQ than the umbrella term), fluid gendered (person’s self conceptualization changes gears, causing intermittent dysphoria), bigendered (feeling like both at the same time, alternately a type of plural system), plural systems that have individuals in them that have genders that don’t fit the body (or systems with DID who have such) although technically a given individual in a plural would be considered a binary trans person if they were binary, as each individual should be taken individually (not doing so is intensely dehumanizing to the individuals in a system). Much of this terminology might be confusing. I would suggest heading to WiG to learn more, because I’m not the best to ask (being pretty much binary myself).
Well you’ll notice that nonbinaries don’t fit the specific zones of woman or man. At all. Guess what sexuality is based on? Well shit. There is not a single term that accounts for nonbinaries except for pansexual. Lesbian and gay and bi especially are based on a binary gender system and these phrases completely erase nonbinaries in every way and form. And you’ll notice that if a nonbinary is attracted to women only or attracted to men only, the word lesbian or gay isn’t applicable. Because nonbinaries are not men nor are they women.
So a lot of complications come out of the very terminology we use to describe our sexual and romantic interactions as human beings. And by complications, I mean cissexist and binarist bullshit.
There have been attempts to fix at least some of these problems, far be it for me to ignore the tiny, minuscule progress (and various useless lateral moves) made by a community that largely pretends to care but doesn’t. Efforts have been made to devise words that don’t reference the attracted or loving party’s gender or sex. Gynephilic, androphilic both respectively replace straight guys/lesbians and straight women/gay guys. They also provide a functional word for nonbinaries that can’t articulate that they’re attracted to women or men with a specific word as lesbian, gay and straight are all based on “attracted to the same as you or opposite as you”. The amusing part of it all is that under this paradigm of terminology, an nonbinary that’s attracted to men or women is actually heterosexual or straight, because that’s an attraction to a different gender. And nonbinaries that are attracted to nonbinaries are gay. Obviously the system doesn’t take this into account and folk have actually complained to me (and others) about this statement. These complaints usually come down to the “there’s only two genders!” bullshit though, so really, who gives a fuck what they think?
There’s also not a -philic word for nonbinary types. I suppose one could be “neutroiphilic” for agendered folk, androgynephilic for androgynes, and etc. But largely such orientations are not recognized as anything other than fetish, effectively cutting nonbinary people down pretty hard. And of course, changing the words to non self referential terms doesn’t really change the inclination to default to body type for conceptual sexuality (yanno, the one based on who you love, not on sex or body parts. Huuuuuuurrrrrr WAT?) Seriously, if you’re attracted to women, then that means you’re attracted to women. Not vaginas. Not tits. Being attracted to individuals with vaginas and tits is fine (I don’t find penis the least bit sexy on anyone), that’s just not conceptual sexuality. That’s physical based sexual orientation and a huge component of the cisGLB zone has moved away from that to break the public association with sex (which is a whole other convo about being anti sex positive assimilationist douches). Furthermore one can easily make the argument that one’s personal tastes simply don’t match certain things. I don’t like a lot of body hair on someone, really big feet or significantly different height. I find goth styles absolutely enthralling on a girl but if I see a cheerleader type getup, yeah, my interest goes *piff* and disappears. Personal taste does not denote what makes a woman. When you deal with conceptual sexuality, body hair levels, foot size, scent of a girl (I dunno why the scent matters so much to me, I am odd), the style of clothing they wear have no bearing on whether they’re a woman and whether you’re more of a lesbian for not wanting them or less of one. So when it comes to conceptual sexuality, a penis being there being a turn off is a matter of personal taste and need. And really physical sexuality in and of itself is so heavily based on the poorly structured terminology of male and female that the whole set of terms are likely a giant clusterfuck of cissexism and binarism and fuckery.
I’m not going to pretend to have the solutions. I really like what folk have done with the word Queer, which retains identity, can still be used to gauge oppression applied to GLB folk (cis or trans) for specifically sexuality related things (like say mistreatment for dating certain people, not wearing a fucking tux. That would be gender based mistreatment.) but largely queer may not necessarily adequately explain one’s sexuality.
And the solid fact is, sexuality is so intensely complicated and affected by so many things that summarizing it based on the most shallow level of categorization (the grand set of people you’d give the time of day to vs. the ones you wouldn’t give a chance to) seems flimsy at best. But that’s more of a personal quibble and part of the reason that I refer to my sexuality as “complex”. Cuz well, it is. Everyone’s is.
In any case, while we find solutions to this issue, some things you can do in the meantime:
1: Avoid the terms that depend on M/F: Try to avoid using physical sexuality terminology because of how it depends on the nonfunctional and largely problematic arbitrary classifications within sex terminology (i.e. male and female have arbitrary as fuck lines that make no sense). So not only are you yielding fairly confusing and nonsensical information by depending on that broken system (“XX chromosomes are soooo sexy, seeing someone who has them makes me sooo wet! Because you know, I have an innate chromosome detection system. I can sense them”) you’re also acting in erasure of women and men (trans or cis) who don’t fit those arbitrary lines and acting transphobic towards nonbinaries and trans folk who fit the set of arbitrary lines that they don’t belong in or want to be in.
2: Avoid cissexist usage of the terms: When using conceptual sexuality terms (based on the concept of a person; i.e. woman, man, androgyne, and love not sex) like gynephilic and lesbian, don’t default to the male/female as your base for the concept. Include trans folk. Don’t be cissexist. And if you’re with a nonbinary or binary trans person, don’t degender them just to protect your image as a lesbian or gay man.
3: Avoid erasure of Nonbinaries: Don’t refer to a nonbinary as a lesbian or gay person unless they themselves give the okay. The terms don’t apply. Only use bisexual in the context of identity if you’re with or attracted to nonbinaries. Claiming the objective use of it degenders them and erases their identity by claiming that they are one of the two genders that bi encompasses.
4: Work towards using neutral, non erasing words: Gynephilic, androphilic, queer, pan (or omnisexual) etc. These words all operate better than the terminology currently in place and they have less chance of erasing or harming trans folk, binary or nonbinary. Using them consistently will help you incorporate them into your identity, which in turn will make it easy to avoid identity clashes wherein one person’s identity is erased and stripped away for another’s.
5: Operate on concepts for orientation, default all other concerns to personal sexuality: I don’t find penis attractive. On anyone. And that’s fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re operating on conceptual sexuality, that lack of interest in penis is no longer a deciding factor in what your orientation is. And using it as such is cissexist. There’s nothing wrong with simply saying to someone, “you’re not my type”. You’re not obligated to explain why and I know that I wouldn’t hold it against you for not finding my genitals physically attractive. Anyone that does is being fairly fucking unreasonable. But don’t couch it as “well, I’m a lesbian, I don’t like people with penises”. Yeah, that’s fucking cissexist as hell. If you really feel the need to explain, simply say, “you don’t fit my type for sexual needs” and everyone moves on. Simple.
These will largely make the situation a lot more livable for the folks fucked over by this system while it slowly, painfully changes in short choppy bursts (like many major elements of our society that are a problem and deeply ingrained). I’ve spoken out against self referential terminology in the past (self referential as in recursive, it refers to itself and has no base case. I.e. identity term A means: One who identifies as identity term A. Well what’s identity term A? One who identifies as it. But… what is it? One who… *repeat ad nauseum*) but that doesn’t mean that one can’t have a functional word with a self referential definition that refers to the other definitions. My favorite example is: lesbian (n): A woman who is principally attracted to, loves, and/or dates women or one who self conceptualizes with the previous aspects and seeks to match them. Terminology being restructured in this way does allow one to retain their identity in the face of a lot. One has to be careful to make sure that it is known that they’re using the identity version though, when they’re dealing with trans folk. Or you’re likely to degender someone.
It’s complex and I can understand how a lot of folk don’t want to deal with it. But situations like this do need to be dealt with. They are major components of trans oppression and some of them are major components of sexuality policing, an issue still very prominent in the GLB zone (cis and trans, although it seems to happen more with cis. We’re too busy gender policing…). Someday things will change in this area, but for now, we all have to make efforts to fix this and negate the effects of it on marginalized people.
Filed under: activism, personal | 33 Comments
Tags: cis, gender, identity, marginalization, privilege, self expression, sexuality, transgender