Why being “born this way” shouldn’t matter

“If you don’t have any shadows, you’re not in the light” – LG

In 2011 Lady Gaga wrote a song that has become a bit on an anthem for the LGBT movement. Though Madonna would like to point out that she helped with the tune, Born This Way is a pretty amazing song for using and normalising terms like bisexual and transgender within a popular realm (plus just generally encouraging the listener to feel empowered). It seems that in this song Gaga is promoting the political line that people should be respected because their attributes are predetermined.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that this is a valuable sentiment and has certainly been a central argument for LGBT activists for some time now. There are already a number of people out there writing about how we aren’t “born” but rather “made” (i.e. socialised into being) and I’m not here to make that contention. My problem isn’t so much with the idea itself, but why we need to make it in the first place.

I just don’t think we should have to argue that someone was genetically pre-determined to be XYZ, in order to accept them as the human being that they are. It just seems silly. Plus this line of reasoning inevitably leads to lynch-mobbing as soon as one LGBT activist says, “well, actually I personally don’t feel I was born this way” (see the Cynthia Nixon debacle). Admittedly the biggest factor beind the born-this-way line of reasoning is probably that it is a reaction to the crazy bucketloads of homophobia and hatred based on the notion that being gay is “immoral” or “unnatural”. And who wouldn’t react to such violent exclusion with an argument that says, I can’t help it, it’s science.

But if we keep trying to win all of our arguments on the basis that it’s science, what happens if one day (some how) they “prove” that sexuality isn’t pre-determined? What then? Do we just chuck out all of our politics? If this ever happened, one way to turn it around would be to say… “so I guess being born ‘straight’ isn’t a thing either…?” And the whole question of the natural versus the unnatural would be turned on its head.

At the end of the day, people should be respected as the human beings that they are. Full stop.

Femme Flagging II: The Glitter Strikes Back

So a little while ago, I did a post on the difficulties of being recognised as a femme. One of the difficulties with identifying with femme is that you have to come out over and over again because people assume that you are doing the heteronormative thang. As blogger Megan Evans points out, “we mainly slip under the radars of both gay and straight people”. Visibility matters. Though I have to say, Evans’ online campaign for femme visibility is kind of dispiriting since it is only for “those who define solely as lesbian” (where’d I put that pack of gold stars…). But homo-normative femme campaigns aside, how do you let the world know that you’re a [queer/gay/pansexual/lesbian/straight/kinky/bisexual/insert-identifier-here] femme?

Having a go at some femme flagging of my own

Nail polish. I feel naked without it. So you can imagine my JOY when I read this post about femme flagging using the stuff, on the Queer Fat Femme blog. The whole “flagging” thing is meant to be a sexual code that lets your prospective partners know what you are into, and was traditionally practiced with strategically coloured hankies in your back pocket (e.g. fuchsia worn on the left means you’re more of a spanker than a spankee). There’s a pretty elaborate guide to the whole hanky code available here.

But aside from pronouncing your sexual proclivities, it seems that the new femme code of painting one fingernail differently to the rest is more about signaling general femme-ness than anything else. Apparently it all started in March this year, when someone on Tumblr suggested the idea after posting this picture and suggesting that fingernails were the perfect femme version of the hanky code (it’s like Starbucks invented femme flagging…is this just an elaborate marketing campaign?). I have to admit that I got pretty carried away when I first heard about it, as did several femme groups I’m part of online. There was a sense of finally, we can recognise each other! in the air. Though of course we can assume that not all femmes like wearing nail polish, it seemed like a pretty fabulous idea.

SDB sporting some femme fingernails and looking overall pretty femme fabulous. SDB if you’re listening, I think you’re an accidental femme icon

But then, things got tricky. Someone in our local femme group noticed that a contestant Sarah De Bono on the Australian reality singing show The Voice, had been sporting the look. I immediately got on to Twitter to try and contact her, to see if she had done this intentionally. I said I would “vote” for her if I got an answer. An obsessed fan wrote back – nup, SDB is not a flagging femme, she’s just being trendy. This was a double-blow. Not only had SDB appropriated this newly found queer indicator, but I also had to stick to my word and vote for her.

Springsteen: Fist receiver?

Back to the drawing board I thought  *sigh*… BUT THEN I remembered that good old Bruce Springsteen album, the one where he accidentally flagged the hanky code for fisting! I also reflected on the fact that a lot of the time mainstream culture absorbs awesome stuff from the queer community, because it is awesome (e.g. who doesn’t like rainbows?!). And despite Born in The USA, flagging persisted. So why not finger nails too? I’ve decided: I’m going to persist with the nail polish thing. Though I’ll be aware that not all femmes are going to paint their sexuality on their hands and not every person I see with trendy nails is a femmster. Hanky code or no hanky code, I am going to keep hoisting the femme flag, loud, and glittery proud.

Mmmm alphabet soup…tastes like rainbows

So last week I was asked to give a speech at my university’s local Mardi Gras celebration. Here it is:

“So what can I say about today’s Mardi Gras event? Well, I spend a lot of my days thinking about questions of gender, sex and sexuality, and the way in which we take up those specific identifiers that say, “Yes! This is who I am in the world”. I think that Mardi Gras is both about the personal and the political- celebrating who you are out loud, and demanding to be seen and heard. Mardi Gras is about opening up a space to talk about identity and belonging, and to have a discussion about things that might otherwise go unsaid and unheard.

As some of you may know, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras changed its name to just “Mardi Gras” for this year’s festival. The organisers of the event said that they wished to promote greater inclusivity by dropping the “gay and lesbian”. And, as we celebrate our university Mardi Gras event today, we stand under a similar banner, designed to promote respect and equality for all people, no matter their sexual orientation.

While a central aspect of Mardi Gras might be inclusion, how do we make sure we don’t lose the alphabet soup along the way? I’m talking here about the ever growing acronym- LGBTIQAP, Lesbian Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Asexual, Pansexual… I could add more. How do we maintain our pride for who we are, without getting lost in the milieu of inclusion? While I agree that we are all equal despite questions of gender or sexuality, issues of visibility are ever-present. Being recognised, acknowledged, and respected for the person that you are, is a big deal.

Well, my thoughts on this are: say it out loud. For example, I am proud to say that I am a bisexual, queer, femme.

But this isn’t about labelling or having to “fit” into specific categories- it’s about naming our diversity and opening up new areas of discussion about identity. 

So let’s take this opportunity today to remember the alphabet soup, and in doing so, welcome everyone and anyone, under the ever expanding rainbow.

Happy Mardi Gras!”

The world through rainbow-tinted glasses

Queer specs

Okay, I’ll admit it. I think everyone is gay. It’s this affliction I have- like that thing where people usually assume you’re straight, but the opposite. Literally. It’s not my gaydar that’s broken, it’s just that my straight one is missing.

This is actually quite annoying when it comes to finding potential lady dates- especially given the extra line blurring that hipster fashions, roller derby, and burlesque seem to have brought to the mix (queerifying straightness in a not-necessarily-gay way). In fact, it’s not so much that I think everyone is gay, but I tend to err on the side of everyone as potentially bi/pansexual.

Let me explain. 

I really respect that people have different sexual orientations that they identify with, I do. I just accidentally assume it’s a bit more fluid than that. This conversation I recently had with a friend (at Tilleys Devine Cafe) demonstrates my thought pattern:

Lady friend: So, what you’re saying is, you think everyone’s gay? Me: Basically. Lady Friend: What about me, do you think I’m gay? Me: Pretty much. Lady friend: But I have a boyfriend. Me: For now…

I am basically Friend Zone Fiona (if she were gay. Which she clearly is)

While I understand that this is probably really offensive to some, and just stems from my narcissistic and un-empathetic queer perspective, I also hope that some people find this refreshing. After all, why assume that everyone’s on the straight and narrow path (or the gay/lesbian yellow brick road and staying there) if you know that things are rarely that simple? Why assume that every happily married couple you meet also doesn’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or some other arrangement of a rainbow flavour? No reason (well, unless they explicitly tell you. Maybe).

So basically, if you’re straight, I’m afraid you’re going to have to come out of that gay glittering rainbow closet when you’re ready. That’s all.

Being seen: a few thoughts on flagging femme

Following up from my previous post on girlfags, I thought I should write a few words on my ever persistent question: how do you do femme identity? When I’ve asked this question to online femme groups in the past, I’ve been met with some fierce responses along the lines of, “I know I’m femme, and I don’t need to conform to anything!” This kind of self confidence is refreshing, but just deepens my curiosity as to what makes someone stick to this particular naming. Moreso, I wonder how these individuals communicate this chosen term to others given that femininity is stereotypically not-so-queer when it comes to outward appearance.

From my own experience, when I first heard the term, I was over the moon that I could finally align with a grouping where my existing penchant for femininity could be understood in a queer context. I felt relieved and ceased my futile attempts at trying to butch myself up (the extent of which involved purchasing a studded bracelet, so I wasn’t doing very well). I had heard of the butch/femme role dynamic before, an idea prominent in the underground lesbian bars of the 1950s where lesbians “coupled up” along these lines, but I was enthused to hear that the term was evolving into a standalone concept – no longer did the femme need her butch to be validated. Or so I thought…

The trouble with femme is that unless you do hyper-femininity (a tactic I like to metaphorise as strongly brewed tea), it’s just not that obvious. While I like the fact that one friend recently said to me, “if you get any girlier you’re just going to explode in a shower of kittens and sunshine”, being bisexual in an ostensibly heterosexual relationship means that feminine looks like thoughtless embrace of an old-fashioned hetero paradigm. For me, femme is not about rejecting feminism or buying into a pre-packaged notion of who I should be- it’s about enjoying the fact that I can be who I want, and if that involves love hearts, frilly dresses, glitter, or whatever might be labelled “feminine” then so be it (though I don’t think femme has to be weak or passive). This is where the radical feminists really grate my soul- they reject femininity as an invalid construct and then present a “right” way of doing gender (i.e. not feminine). Plus, femme identity is definitely not limited to people assigned “female” at birth (and see Femme FTM for more femme wonderousness).

Read my lips: FEMME

And why is this presumably “privileged” feminine identity a problem? Well, because you always find yourself asking, where are all the femme queer girls?! Are they off at roller derby, or a burlesque performance, where dammnit?!. Plus there is the problem of assumed straightness- always (sometimes even if you are on a date with a woman!). Of course there are some unique solutions to the femme dilemma. Flagging – the gay art of putting a bandana in your back pocket to “signal” what you’re into sexually – has crossed over into femme land, with these exciting flower creations. Others might opt for something more permanent, but this article on Autostraddle also suggests you look to the tactics of some out and proud hot femmy people (without having to be someone you’re not).

So, I may not have the solution to femme invisibility- but I’ll just keep being my pink sparkly self, and see how that goes.

You and me could write a panromance

"Ace" is a term often adopted by people that identify with an asexual orientation

After all my talk of limerence and pansexuality, I’ve been thinking more about romance in relation to sexual orientation. Turns out the asexual community is all over this topic, employing the term “panromance” to describe the ability to have romantic feelings for all number of people, not dictated by the gender binary. Probably the greatest quote ever on this subject comes from Urban Dictionary, that gives an example of panromantic in a sentence:

“I don’t get it. Bretta is totally hot, and she’ll date anything, but she’s still a virgin.”
“That’s because she’s panromantic asexual”.

The term panromantic has been embraced by many self-identified asexuals, also known as “aces”. So what does being ace mean, and how does asexuality and panromance trouble our ordinary notions of the importance of sex in relationships? While Wikipedia defines asexuality as a non-orientation that entails having no interest in sexual activities, AVENwiki (a wiki made by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network) describes asexuality as a particular kind of orientation, distinct from practices of abstinence, celibacy, etc. While asexuality is often described in terms of lacking (lack of sexual interest, etc), the ace community reminds us that they are still interested in having meaningful human relationships and deep romances.

However (as usual) there are some people that insist that asexuality is just another example of “not queer enough”. While I can see why some people might get defensive about sex and sluthood in a world where sex has been simultaneously commodified and monogamised, I also think that the asexual not-interested-in-sex orientation is completely valid (and, after all not really that heterosexually hegemonic when you consider that the reproductive family unit is promoted as the foundation of society). The confounding of asexuality with being anti-sex seems commonplace. But just because someone would rather eat cake than have sex, doesn’t mean they want to stop other people from relishing in the activity.

Cake- a symbol often used by aces to describe pleasure in things other than sex (e.g. "Sex? Nah, let's just eat cake")

What I like about the way asexuality embraces romance and other ways of understanding attraction, is the reminder that it’s not all about sex. Like this entry on affectional orientation states, romance and sex are all part of a larger fabric of human relationality. Embracing terms like panromance (or polyromance, biromance, demisexuality, etc!) even if you aren’t an ace, broadens our ability to conceptualise our own orientations and experiences, and can help us to build a multi-faceted self-understanding rather than a straight and narrow approach. So let’s embrace the A in the alphabet soup- we should sit down and share some cake together sometime, we might just learn something new about ourselves in the process.

Limerence: the key to sexual orientation?

Every day it seems that I am introduced to a new term related to sex, gender, sexuality or gender expression – which serves as a reminder to me of the complexity of human sexuality. Today the word is “limerence“, probably the most poetic term encountered during my week. While “girlfag” might spring to mind a grunged-out beat poetry cafe, “limerence” smacks of English romantics sitting on benches under lime-tree bowers.

When it comes down to it, limerence is a classy name for the word “crush“. Apparently first described by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in the late 1970s (and not in the 18th Century as I had lovingly imagined), limerence describes that anxious/exciting period of time when you can’t stop thinking about someone – also known as having a heavy dose of love blindness or seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses. The “symptoms” include: fantasies and constant thoughts about your Limerent Object, self doubt and rejection fears, feelings of uncertainty versus ones of hope, all those embarrassing physical factors like literally not being able to talk, and a desire for partnership (i.e. not just sexual attraction).

This last aspect of limerence got me thinking about how this idea might relate to our understanding of sexual orientation. Turns out that the font of all knowledge (i.e. Wikipedia) gives a pretty interesting definition of sexual orientation as: “an enduring pattern of attraction – emotional, romantic, sexual, or some combination of these – to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither, and the genders that accompany them” (note: this definition does not account for pansexuality). But what about those that claim polyamory as a sexual orientation? How could a poly disposition be differentiated from other orientations if we use the wiki definition? The answer might be limerence.

Those experiencing limerence may appear wistful

Lawrence Mass’ 1990 work, Dialogues of the Sexual Revolution, includes a conversation with controversial sexologist John Money regarding the relationship between limerence and sexuality. In this interview, Money claims that limerence (as described by the symptoms above- fantasies, desire to partner up, etc) has more to do with our orientations than pure sexual desire. This rings true for the consideration of polyamorous orientation – which is described as the ability to have strong feelings for more than one person and/or ethically maintain more than one partnership at a time. When faced with the concept of polyamory, many people respond with, “I could never do that” – perhaps non-poly people can have attraction to someone else while partnered, but cannot maintain limerence for more than one person? After all, one commonly noted “cure” is finding a new Limerent Object…so maybe the key to poly orientation is the ability for simultaneous-limerence.

Here’s a video exploring limerence and first crushes (lovely):

Not quite girlfags: Kylie Minogue and femme-queer identity

Kylie: gay icon

Recently, I was at a party where a Kylie Minogue CD was on rotation (I think it might have been Ultimate Kylie), much to the enjoyment of one of my femme friends. This got us talking about the “gay” icons that we enjoy like old Madonna and Lady Gaga, our love of the colour pink and our preference for a queer rather than straight description of ourselves. Following this, we considered the notion that maybe we could identify as being gay men in women’s bodies.

I wondered if such an identity descriptor was already in existence, and it was this that led me to the term “girlfag“- which refers to women that identify as being sexually attracted to gay men and/or gay subculture. I also discovered that several (straight) stars have described themselves as being “a gay man in a woman’s body” (for example, Posh Spice and Mila Kunis, though note: neither of them use the term girlfag!). On reflection of this sentiment however, I realised that it was somewhat problematic. Mainly, the trope of “trapped in the wrong body” is commonly cited by transgender people, who report gender dysphoria. Considering this, it wouldn’t be good if the expression my friend and I favoured was read as an offensive parody of trans identities. However, even if we nuanced our statement to reflect that we were akin to gay men in women’s bodies but that this didn’t impact upon our gender presentation, there are still further complications. Basically making this claim about our identity would entail making a parallel claim about what it is to be a gay man, which is therefore not cool on the reinforcing stereotypes stakes.

Despite these issues, I still think that there is some merit to the girlfag positioning. Basically my friend and I were reflecting a desire for queering our supposed girly-ness. Mapping our love for certain feminine things onto a gay paradigm allowed us to queer our femininity. I have always felt that there are things that I love that align with classic gay iconography (but then again this might be because there has been a lot more said about gay icons than lesbian, bisexual or other ones). And certainly the idea that I had more in common with a flamboyant gay man than a straight girl would ring true for me (for example, I once took a date home and played her the best-of CD “The Magic of Doris Day”, which didn’t really set the lesbian tone I was hoping for…).

So, maybe we’re not quite girlfags, but then again maybe we can embrace our “stereotypically-gay” tastes as part of a new lesbian/bi/pan dynamic of queer femininity. I hope so.

DIY paper your nails with a “Mardi Gras” opinion piece

Take one great story and memorialise it on your fingertips

I recently discovered a great new twist on manicuring – newspaper nails. No doubt this has been around for centuries and I am only just getting on the bandwagon. I decided that if I was going to put print on my nails I might as well make it a little bit political, even if no one else would notice. So here’s how you too can have crazy and mildly subversive nails too:

1. Find a great story or opinion piece in a newspaper that you have lying around and would probably chuck out otherwise. I chose this one.

You could theoretically use any colour of the rainbow for this trick

2. Paint your nails some kind of base colour. I chose white but you could really use any kind of base colour if black ink will be visible on it. Wait till a few coats of the base colour are dry.

3. Dip your first finger in a little bit of alcohol. Apparently people use rubbing alcohol for this, but I found that if you have spare gin lying around, that also works completely well.

I used Tanqueray, but any high proof alcohol will do. I guess.

4. While your finger is still wet with the alcohol, take a small section of your chosen op-ed, etc and place it on top of your nail, rub it down smoothly and hold it in place. The alcohol should bring the ink off the page onto your finger. Oh the miracle of chemistry!

5. Remove the paper after about thirty seconds and the ink should be left on there (albeit backwards). Let this dry and then paint with some clear lacquer.

The finished product. Perfect protest material.

6. And with that you should have the amazing science of fingernail newspaper art complete. While people may or may not be politically moved by the backwards small print newspaper article on your fingertips, at least you’ll know that you have captured something important.

Here’s some nails I prepared earlier —>

I like that my middle finger says “queer mardi gras” backwards. And that’s really all it’s about in the end.

Pansexuality: because bisexuality is so passé?

Pansexuals strike back

When I talk to people about gender and sexuality, a lot of people tell me that they “don’t fit into any category of sexuality”. Then I tell them about pansexuality, and I usually get an “oh, right. That’s what I am”.

Pansexuality describes a sexual orientation wherein a person has the ability to be attracted to a diverse range of people across sex and gender spectrums. Pansexuals describe their attraction as different from bisexuality, which only considers the gender binary- if you are bisexual, by definition you are attracted to either men or women. Thus it is often claimed that pansexuals are “gender blind” (though some pansexuals would argue that this is not the case- sex and gender may play a role in attraction, but their sexual orientation doesn’t rule anybody out because of their sex or gender presentation).

While academia seems to be running to catch up, some of the most interesting perspectives on pansexuality come from YouTube posts like this. What seems startlingly obvious about the presence of pansexual self-proclaimers on the internet, is their age. While I’m sure that with the evolution of the term into more popular usage there will be more and more people of all ages that adopt the category to describe their own orientation – but for now, it seems that (overwhelmingly) Generation Z is embracing the idea.

The pan flag

It will be interesting to see how this identity discourse will pan out. What effect will pansexuality as an accepted and well known sexual orientation have on our views on sexuality’s relationship with the gender binary in the first place?

What’s great about pansexuality is that it allows a new way of thinking about desire and love, that is (apparently) outside of gender. Though, I do find the pansexuality vs bisexuality debate a little concerning (our sexuality is better than your sexuality- really?). Admittedly there are both those asserting their pansexuality and those reclaiming bisexuality in the face of the new pansexual discourse.

After all, I can’t help but wonder whether some people currently identifying as bisexual meant something closer to pansexual all along?