Confusing Sexualities: a confession of presumption from someone who claims to be open-minded

March 8, 2011 § 5 Comments

I have committed sins against my alternative genders/sexualities brothers and sisters. You see, while on one side of my mouth I have preached open-mindedness and equality for all, on the other side of my mouth, I have expressed shock at discovering that someone who dresses a certain way or speaks a certain way or moves a certain way is married to someone of the opposite sex.

Please forgive me, those I have wronged. I am deeply sorry and have finally now seen the errors of my ways.

What led me to my self-revelation, you may ask?

Naturally, it was my dissertation.

I felt this idea bubbling up on Friday afternoon as I talked my way through Chapter Two with my diss-buddy V. I told her what I would say to some of the more conservative (in my opinion, backwards-thinking) antagonists to sexuality, and that was along the lines of, “one’s expression of gender does not automatically indicate sexual preference.” What I meant by this at the time was that just because someone cross-dressed, that person was not automatically gay. This line of logic was first presented to me in 1999 when I saw Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill on HBO…or one of those channels. Izzard gleefully struts across the stage in late 90s fashionable strappy platform heels and carefully clarifies a common misconception of the sexual preference of transvestites:

Oh, Eddie. I adore you.

Anyway…so, Izzard helped shape my developing mind as I prepared to go to college. I was always inquisitive about other people’s sexual orientations, and I never agreed with anyone who thought that those who did not identify as heterosexual were destined for an afterlife with flames and torture; I never believed that sexuality was a decision either consciously or subconsciously made; I never gave any credit to programs that claimed to “heal” individuals of their sexualities. Izzard’s point encouraged me to see gender constructions (gender identities–such as effeminacy and masculinity, and all the myriad gray area in between) in terms that did not dictate sexualities. A male transvestite does not always fancy dudes. So there you go. That makes sense.

So, A.Hab., you may be wondering, what atrocities did you commit against those who express their gender and sexual identities in alternative ways? (Alternative to what? The hegemonic ways to express heterosexuality, I figure.)

Well…I have ashamedly been known to participate in terribly presumptive conversations with other friends. “I can’t believe he’s married with kids! I wonder when he’s going to come out?” “So, that guy got a sex change, huh? Wonder if his faithful wife is a lesbian?” “She’s too butch to be straight. Surely her husband is effeminate.”

I’m embarrassed and truly disgusted to share these with you, my reader. But I feel it’s important to confess these sins…I can’t possibly have you all thinking that I’m awesome and cool with my progressive mind, can I?

So, what’s so wrong with the things I’ve said before? I assumed that just because someone identified as masculine or feminine (in spite of what society would assume their biology might suggest), then that person must obviously be gay. How can an effeminate man want to sleep with women?, I wondered. The tried and true rule is that there’s always a butch and a lipstick in lesbian relationships…but I wonder who is who in this coupling? Oh yes, folks, I’ve had these perfectly horrible thoughts. They’re horrible in their presumption. They’re disgraceful in their need for clear-cut delineation.

Last night, as I was composing the fleshed-out outline for my second chapter, I wrote the following notes:

In what way exactly does effeminacy equal homosexuality in men? In what way exactly does masculinity equal homosexuality in women?

Which naturally led me to the following points:

1. Social fear: seducing the same-sex other–>a woman dressed as a man will seduce other women who will fall for her disguise, thinking they are in love with a man.  A man dressed as a woman will seduce other men who will fall for his disguise, thinking they are in love with a woman.

2. Social representation of wishful thinking (assumption): because I am a woman in love with other women, I will dress as a man because I wish I were a man so that it would be acceptable to love other women.  Because I am a man in love with other men, I will dress as a woman because I wish I were a woman so that it would be acceptable to love other men.

Note: society here is referring specifically to the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries England, although I would argue that it is easy to find people today who have the same fears and assumptions.

The first point, the social fear, explains that people who cross-dress (who may or may not identify as transvestites) are sinister individuals who want to trap other people into sinful same-sex couplings. Obviously, Eddie Izzard has already worked that one out and knocked down this fear.

The second point, the social assumption/wishful thinking, ultimately homogenizes sexuality into heterosexuality. Transvestites are desperate to be “normal” and, just like the rest of us “normal” people, find value in heterosexuality. So, they cross-dress to normalize their homosexuality.

Note: I should point out, in case I haven’t already, that in this time, it was not an uncommon notion (at least for some Puritan pamphleteers, like Philip Stubbes) to assume that cross-dressing actually changes physical sex organs. So, a man who wears a dress becomes a biological woman, while a woman who wears pants becomes a biological man. Obviously, this notion is ridiculous.

What makes the second point “wishful thinking” is that it assumes that heterosexuality is the norm, the bottom-line, the natural, and that all things in nature will seek to return to their natural state. So, if a person is homosexual, the wishful thinking goes, then that person will do what s/he can in order to normalize and become heterosexual again.

It was in rereading those points that I realized with horror just how damaging were my previous thoughts, made entirely in ignorant innocence. No matter! If my words have been damaging, the intent behind them is obsolete. Consider this my public apology.

I will endeavor to curb these future thoughts should they arise; I will maintain Valerie Traub’s stance that human sexuality and gender identification(s) are in continual flux and cannot be easily defined and characterized. I will remember that stereotypes, though certainly made for some reason or other, are not the alpha and omega of reason. Just because Hollywood might tell us that a pair of lesbians must fit this exact equation, I will shake my head and laugh in great pity of that assumption. I’ve known a few lesbians in my time, and I don’t think I would precisely know how to characterize one as “the butch” or the other as “the lipstick.” (And how demeaning to whittle down a person’s entire Self to a single word with all of the assumptions and judgments it carries.)

To those who I may have hurt with my assumptions: please accept my apology. I am only sorrier that it has come so late.

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§ 5 Responses to Confusing Sexualities: a confession of presumption from someone who claims to be open-minded

  • I’m afraid that even those of us who are gay and lesbian can be guilty of this kind of thinking. Rather, I should say, I am. So I join you in confessing! I have assumed things I shouldn’t and don’t know why I have done/still do so.

    I guess my point here is this: this mistake is not only made by heterosexuals. The rest of us are equally capable of making it–those of us who you would really think would know better.

    Hugs from Haiti,
    Kathy

  • Lisa says:

    Okay, now that my head is thoroughly spinning, I think you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself. As a society, and perhaps as humans, we natural label things we see to help us understand them.It is easy to fall into assumptions. We are all guilty of seeing someone behaving out of the so-called “norm” and making assumptions about who that person. I’ve caught myself doing it with race at times, even though I don’t think of myself as racist. All you can do is begin to recognize the assumptions you make as a person, and then acknowledge them and try to change them. But, fair warning, someone will call you on your assumptions even if you address them. I still have flashbacks at the ugly attack of some people who asked how I presumed to look at issues of race in my dissertation when I am a white woman, despite the fact that I spent an entire chapter positioning myself in terms of my topic and that was the whole point anyway). Ugh!

  • Like Lisa, I believe we do naturally label things. And, as a species, labelling/identifying certainly helped us survive. We wouldn’t have lasted long if men couldn’t tell the difference between a mastondon and a woman. Assumptions are something else, and they usually involve judgement. That’s when we get into trouble. And sexuality and sexual identity are such recent topics of discussion. We are still in our infancy as to understanding them.

  • Tori Nelson says:

    You win Honesty, ma’am. I have (too many times) pigeon-holed and categorized people based on very superficial observations. To look back at those assumptions is embarrassing but provides a HUGE opportunity for growth. Kudos to you for being able to evaluate yourself!

  • Lisa says:

    A friend of mine just posted a link to this blog on Facebook http://borngaybornthisway.blogspot.com/ and it made me think of your post. Now, obviously I support the idea of celebrating the fact that sexuality is something you are born with. But the blog itself disturbs me a little, in the premise that you can label based off of how a child dressed, looked, acted. You are discussing the concept that cross-dressing does not mean someone is homosexual. But in this blog, they encourage people to post pictures that are “reflecting memories & early beginnings of their innate LGBTQ selves”. Does this mean that we wear our sexuality on ourselves in obvious ways, or that the assumptions people make based on appearance help us create our own assumptions about sexuality? Couldn’t a child who likes to dress up, simply be a child who likes to dress up?

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