Archive for the ‘bisexuality’ Category

Today is Little Richard’s 80th Birthday!  I can’t help but hope that Camille Paglia might be celebrating the occasion, with pinocalada and some old 78s. Because Good Golly Miss Molly! if the great ball of fire that is Little Richard isn’t a ‘sexual dissident’ I don’t know who is.

It has been well documented that along with Elvis and maybe even Gorgeous Liberace, Little Richard helped produce the strutting, preening, sequinned phenomenon of Glam Rock. But it’s not just skinny white boys that Richard has influenced. When a couple of years ago, I first encountered the amazing Janelle Monae, I wondered if he might have been her grandfather!

The echoes of Little Richard in Janelle Monae reflect the way that metrosexuality is not just a ‘feminine’ expression of masculinity. It is actually a breakdown of gender difference itself! And men’s increasing flamboyance is best understood in relation to women’s growing ‘active’ and sometimes quite ‘butch’ stance. There would be no Little Richard without Marlene Dietrich, no David Beckham without Suzi Quatro, no Morrissey without Elsie Tanner. Glam men are accompanied by and influenced by and reinforced by Punk Women.

Little Richard interests me for another reason. ‘Black Music’ for want of a better term has a reputation for being ‘macho’ and aggressive, an expression of ‘traditional’ (often meaning, especially in relation to hip hop, violent) masculinity. But thanks to pioneers such as Little Richard, there are some brilliant gender blurring R and B and Hip Hop bands and artists. Do I have to remind you of the narcissistic, sexually ambiguous, lame-clad Prince?

 Or what about the retro, yet metro Outkast?

When I saw Ice T’s great documentary about this history and  ‘literary’ culture of Rap Music, The Art Of Rap, I couldn’t help noticing how ‘self-loving’ a lot of the artists featured were, from their gold chains and nifty trainers to their colourful suits, coiffured hair and the way they courted the camera’s gaze. 

There is another reason to open the babycham, metro lovers and gender benders. Because finally, in 2012, the pathologising term ‘gender identity disorder’ has been removed from the American ‘Bible’ of psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Stastical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders. This news will hopefully please Juliet Jacques who has recently published her final column in her Guardian Transgender Journey series. Her writing has shown that far from being ‘weird’ or ‘sick’, trans people’s experiences, feelings and ideas can be representative of the human condition as a whole. I only hope that the DSM maintains this sensible streak and deletes narcissism from its statutes too. But the problem with narcissism is that it is not possible to separate it into a ‘separate gender’ (though I’d argue our attempts to do so with trans identities fail too). So if we admit that narcissism is not a problem, we are conceding that everyone, men and women and those who identify as neither, have a touch of the Little Richard about them.

And that is even to MetroAuntie, quite a scary thought!

I read two blogposts this week which deal with the subject of depression and seeking help for mental health problems. They probably struck a particular chord with me as I am currently seeing a (very good) counsellor/therapist.

The first piece is by Reese Rants where she encouraged her readers to ‘turn off the negative soundtrack’ that often accompanies us when we are beset by anxiety and unhappiness. The second is by Sue George at her blog, Bisexuality and Beyond. She discusses recent research which suggests bisexual people suffer mental health problems in greater numbers than others, and don’t seek help enough.

Whilst I have substantive comments about both articles, there was one ‘superficial’ thing I couldn’t help but notice and explore first. Both bloggers illustrate their work with a photo of a young (white), naked, woman, sitting in a  crouching position looking sad!

This reminds me of that meme that went round the internet recently, where someone had found a set of stock photos of women laughing alone with salad.

There are a number of possible reasons why Lucy Reese and Sue George chose the images they did. They are both women and so probably identify more closely with pictures of women looking depressed. But in relation to Sue’s piece, I would argue that bisexual men suffer more prejudice and biphobia than women (because it is less acceptable for men to experiment with same sex sex than for women. They immediately get labelled as ‘gay’).  So some photos of (cute, naked?) men looking sad would be appropriate here.

But as a blogger myself, sometimes we just go for pictures we like. Pictures that we instinctively feel will enhance our words in an aesthetically pleasing way. And cute naked women certainly do that, I think the whole internetz would agree! Even when dealing with the most serious subjects, we have blog hits at the back of our minds. One woman even wrote a whole book based on this concept, called ‘Marketable Depression’!

I am also reminded here of Chumbawamba’s album, ‘Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records’. It was a stark reference to what I have since termed concern porn. When covering sensitive, difficult issues such as poverty or depression, the western media often can’t help but relish in the ‘voyeurism’ involved in looking at vulnerable people. There may be a tad of that in Sue and Lucy’s choice of imagery.

As something of an ‘aesthete’ and a ‘voyeur’ myself, whilst I do have a lot of problems with concern porn, I can’t help but wish people would choose better pictures to ‘concern’ over! How about this painting by Egon Schiele entitled ‘Kneeling Woman With Head Bent Forward’?

Or Van Gogh’s evocatively named ‘Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)’?

You never know, paintings by accomplished artists might actually cheer some of us depressed readers up!

Maybe one of my ‘problems’ is that sometimes I treat mental health issues – my own and those of other people – in a flippant manner. I suspect my counsellor might call that a ‘coping mechanism’.

So this post is probably a window on my soul more than a proper criticism of the blogposts above.

However, beneath my facetious surface there lies some deep thought and struggle with issues of mental health and sexual identity.

When it came out earlier this year I criticised the Bisexuality Report that Sue refers to in her post. I was actually shocked that in 2012 bisexual people and academics were presenting bisexuality as somehow linked to mental illness! So under Sue’s post I made the following points:

‘I am not questioning the findings of the reports. But I am very unhappy with bi organisations promoting the idea that bisexual people suffer worse mental health than others.This is becausea) it falls into the ‘pathologising’ approach to sexuality that was so big in the 19th century when the ‘homosexual’ was presented as mentally ill.

b) it ignores how many people have same sex sex without ever recognising themselves as ‘bisexual’. What is their mental health like?

c) it makes out bisexuals to be a separate category distinct from gay, straight, trans, msms etc.
The thing I love most about bisexuality is it challenges the whole notion of fixed sexual identities

d) it is ‘depressing’! I am happy to campaign for better mental health services and access to services for bisexual people. But I am not happy to present bi people as prone to mental illness.

I myself do not identify as bi and I have had plenty of mental health problems in my life. But I dont have a ‘community’ to talk to. Not based on my sexual identity anyway.’

But please, if you think of me as providing a ‘negative soundtrack’ to the discussions on bisexuality and mental health, and if you want to respond to my points, don’t illustrate your response with a picture of a cute naked woman looking sad!

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/tearful-andrew-sullivan-praises-obama-father-figure-saying-im-fully-a-part-of-this-family/

You can’t have failed to have heard the news. Obama, who originally took a firm stance against gay marriage, preferring the traditional view that marriage is between a man and a woman, has done a U-turn. His recent statement in favour of equal marriage has sent teh gayz into spasms of emotion similar to a reanactment of Torch Song Trilogy.

Andrew Sullivan, who has also done some U-turns in his life, as he used to be a Republican but now is all over poor Barack, said, choking back the tears:

‘I do not know how orchestrated this was; and I do not know how calculated it is. What I know is that, absorbing the news, I was uncharacteristically at a loss for words for a while, didn’t know what to write, and,… there are tears in my eyes.

So let me simply say: I think of all the gay kids out there who now know they have their president on their side. I think of Maurice Sendak, who just died, whose decades-long relationship was never given the respect it deserved. I think of the centuries and decades in which gay people found it impossible to believe that marriage and inclusion in their own families was possible for them, so crushed were they by the weight of social and religious pressure. I think of all those in the plague years shut out of hospital rooms, thrown out of apartments, written out of wills, treated like human garbage because they loved another human being. I think of Frank Kameny. I think of the gay parents who now feel their president is behind their sacrifices and their love for their children.’

I think the ‘gay lobby’ and their media supporters have been very clever here. It looks to me as if Obama didn’t have much choice. The tide of opinion was growing in favour of gay marriage. To continue to oppose it would have lost him votes. But his basic political manoeuvre has been adopted and appropriated and turned into a huge victory for the gay rights lobby.

Not only that, they have transformed Obama from a quite cautious, traditional family man into ‘THE FIRST GAY PRESIDENT’! The photo of him on the Newsweek cover with a rainbow halo is nothing if not striking, and… gay. The conflict with Obama has been buried in a pile of rainbow dust and everyone is happy…and gay.

But I notice a few problems with this gay rhetoric. One of course is that speeches such as Andrew Sullivan’s above privilege ‘gay’ people and the ‘gay’ identity over all other minority gender and sexuality identities. If you are bisexual, or trans, where do you fit in to this big gay festival? Trans people’s rights are not prioritised in America. Murders and violence against trans people happen at a far higher rate than the ‘gays’ would care to mention. And some gay people are as transphobic – and biphobic – as any straight ‘homophobe’.

The second thing I notice is Sullivan, and Newsweek, are tying the knot with Obama in a quite sickly way. It is as if ‘gay’ politics are the only politics in the world. What about Obama’s healthcare policies? What about foreign policy? That is all swept aside for the Big Issue – gay marriage. The way Sullivan suddenly decides he is part of Obama’s ‘family’ is comical. As if now things such as ethnicity and racism play no part in American society (or indeed in gay politics which can be racist). They are all one big happy family, bro!

Indeed racial analogies have been used by gays in their campaigns for gay marriage a lot. The ‘back seat on the bus’ metaphor has been doing the rounds for a while, as has the references to ‘apartheid’. (click on image to enlarge)

http://www.queerty.com/newsweek-obama-americas-first-gay-president-20120513/

I think it’s pretty grim to be honest. And Obama may well be feeling a bit pressured by this group of white, middle class liberals (the gays and their allies), to perform to their tune. When he also has to woo black voters, republican voters, and… yes, homophobic voters! As I have said before the right have caricatured Obama as the metrosexual president and this latest move will have only made matters worse from their point of view. I would not want to be in Obama’s rainbow coloured shoes just now.

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One person who is keeping rather quiet about this turn of events is [redacted]. He has been vocal against gay marriage, though he seems to have softened a bit recently (not to the extent of Obama though). Back in 2008 [redacted] suggested that the gay marriage campaigns in America were ‘on the rocks’ so it could be that he just doesn’t want to admit that he has been proven wrong. Or at least that times have changed. Also there are some ‘gay politics’ going on in the UK that even I don’t understand. Maybe [redacted] has some juggling to do as well as Obama.

Me, I don’t welcome the news from the States. But I am not going to lose sleep over it either. I would celebrate with my ‘bros’ if Obama closed Guantanamo like he said he would. But I don’t think I have Andrew Sullivan or many liberal white gays on my side there.

The Sex Myth begins with an anecdote. Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) describes a phase in her childhood when she and her friends were in competition to discover the ‘truth’ about the naked body of the opposite sex. The girls were particularly inventive, and would look under cubicle doors in the boys’ toilets, craning their necks to get a glimpse of a fleshy member (p1-3). I found this story engaging, fascinating and not a little Freudian. For, as Magnanti states, one of the ‘sex myths’ of our age is that children are innocent and sexuality only develops with the onset of puberty in our teens. But Magnanti uses her childhood investigations of how not to do sex research. Now she is a grown up, a doctor (PhD), a scientist, she knows the difference between ‘bad science’ and ‘good science’. Or does she? This is the main question I had whilst reading her book. And, unfortunately, I think the answer has to be ‘no’.

Worryingly, I don’t even think Bagnanti knows the difference between ‘science’ and ‘social science’. Right at the beginning of the book she writes:

‘In recent years a large number of researchers have looked into areas of human experience previously assumed to be untestable. Questions such as whether porn is harmful, or how childhood is affected by sexuality, can now be examined in a way that is consistent with evidence-based reasoning. Not only that, people who study different disciplines are starting to realise the advantages of interdisciplinary study, with social science enriching the finds of quantitative methods and vice versa. [emphasis mine]’ (p5).

This suggests that ‘social science’ does not include ‘quantitative methods’ when in fact a large section of sociological study is based on quantitative (numerical) data. I found this to be a glaring error and a sign that this is a book by an academic with little interest in the complexities and value of social science. My reaction is borne out by the lack of bibliography in the book. Magnanti includes her references in endnotes, which, on close examination, reveal that she uses very few social science/theory books in her work. Most of the references are from scientific academic journals and the popular media. This is a ‘bias’ that should be acknowledged I think. For one of the greatest myths I know of in sex research is that ‘science’ is objective, rigorous and the best way to get to the ‘truth’. My experience has shown otherwise.

The most obviously ‘bad’ science that Magnanti uses is in her chapter one, where she sets out to debunk the myth that ‘when it comes to sexual attraction, men are visually stimulated and always interested in sex – and women aren’t’ (p9). To do this she uses the scientific ‘experiments’ of a group of American researchers from Northwestern University. The most well known of these is J Michael Bailey. He found his way into the news last year when he included a live sex show  in one of his lectures to students. The two adults involved were consenting, thankfully.  Serious ethical questions were raised however, over whether the audience were consenting, the value of the results from such a sensationalist method, and the effects of the media reaction on everyone involved.

But my concerns about using Bailey’s work uncritically are not limited to that one incident. You only have to google his name to find a string of controversies relating to him and his research. The most famous relates to his book The Man Who Would Be Queen: ‘The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism’. Even the title sets off alarms, with its use of such loaded terms. Basically, in this book Bailey used his ‘sex science’ (which includes hooking people up to penile plesmographs to measure their sexual response to viewing pornography) to claim that gay men’s homosexuality is genetic. And that trans women are actually gay men. Nice. Bailey was investigated by his university, NorthWestern, and was demoted. But he remains an academic at that institution. Whatever one’s views, it seems irresponsible of Magnanti to completely ignore the furore surrounding Bailey’s research, and to present it as solid, reliable ‘science’.

Another point about Bailey that Magnanti failed to mention is that only last year, he and his colleagues had to revise their theories on bisexuality in men. They were commissioned to re-do their experiments which back in 2005 had shown that bisexual men don’t exist! The penis plesmograph never lies, except sometimes it does. This latest set of experiments, surprise surprise, showed that bisexual men do of course exist. And that even ‘science’ can be wrong sometimes.  On reporting this news, [redacted] asked:

‘So why the turn­around by Bai­ley? Well, it seems the loud and angry protests from bisex­ual organ­i­sa­tions that Bailey’s 2005 find­ings under­stand­ably aroused has taken its toll -– and indeed one bisex­ual organ­i­sa­tion even funded this recent research.

They got the result they wanted, but I fear they’re wast­ing their money and merely encour­ag­ing more bad sci­ence. Some of course will hold these find­ings up as proof that this Heath Robin­son kind of bio-mechanical sex research can cor­rect itself. But they would have to be true believ­ers to see it that way. All that has been proven is that mea­sur­ing penile blood-flow in a lab­o­ra­tory is a highly reduc­tive and highly abnor­mal mea­sure of male sex­u­al­ity. Men are not just penises. They are also prostate glands. Per­ineums. Ear­lobes. Inner thighs. Brains. Nipples.

It also shows that you get the result you’re look­ing for In 2005 Bai­ley wanted to prove that male bisex­u­al­ity didn’t exist. In 2011 he didn’t. QED. Per­haps the worst thing about this new find­ing is that Bai­ley et al will now try to turn male bisex­u­als into a ‘species’ to be stud­ied and dis­sected. Bisex­ual men may quickly come to the con­clu­sion that they were much bet­ter off when they didn’t exist. Unless of course they them­selves have a bit of a fetish for penile plethys­mo­graph play.’

Could it be that Brooke just didn’t know about the controversy surrounding Bailey? Like I said if that is the case she failed in doing basic research, such as googling his name. But she blogged about his work in 2011, and both [redacted] and I tried to tell her about the problems with it. This is the reply I got from Dr Magnanti:

This is a sign that when ‘objective’ science that is not objective at all, is questioned, it and its ‘scientists’ do not stand up very well to scrutiny.

So the first chapter of The Sex Myth showed its methodology and ‘theoretical’ basis to be seriously lacking. I read the rest of it with a sceptical arched eyebrow. I also did not learn much that was new. As another reviewer, Heresiarch noted,

‘I find a lot of this yawningly familiar by now, but many people won’t and Magnanti’s book provides an entertaining compendium of tabloid myths, as well as a source of ammunition. Whether it can do much against the juggernaut of the Daily Mail, currently engaged in a crusade to introduce compulsory web-filtering, remains to be seen. ‘

The chapter on the false correlation between rape statistics and the increase in adult entertainment establishments was the best (p79-99). I had read some of it on Brooke’s blog before, but it stood up as a tight piece of research, in comparison to some of the less rigorous work in the rest of the book. However even in that chapter, and the one questioning the motives of people campaigning against the sex industry (p209-222), Magnanti was very vague about politics. An uninitiated reader of The Sex Myth might come away from it thinking Brooke was the first person to criticise ‘feminism’ and its views on sex/sex work.  This is of course not the case.

Magnanti fails to acknowledge the politicisation of sex workers, who have been campaigning for years against anti-sex work feminists such as Julie Bindel. She also makes no reference to Sex Positive Feminism which has too been going for years, and has posed a direct challenge to draconian ‘conservative’ anti-sex feminism.  And, even in the realm of science, Magnanti ignores the ‘skeptic’ movement and the critical approach to science and science reporting employed (often very selectively I might add) by people such as Ben Goldacre.

It seems to me as if Magnanti is trying to reinvent the wheel. And to stand alone as a unique ‘sexpert’ in the field of sex, science and politics. Well she is actually one of many women (and men) who has staked a claim as having knowledge in this field. I was particularly disappointed in The Sex Myth because I actually think Magnanti is a very able writer. Of all the ‘sex bloggers’ and sex writers I have read including Zoe Margolis, Susie Bright, Bitchy Jones and Hugo Schwyzer I think Belle de Jour was one of the best. I would have been happy for Magnanti to have continued from her childhood anecdote that she began the book with, rather than promoting herself as a scientist as she did. Especially since she has relied upon and peddled such bad science.

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I first heard of this brilliant acapella group, The Kinsey Sicks, via Dan. His great blog Overuse Of The Exclamation, now features a post about this wonderful quartet.  Dan calls them wittily,  The Chicks With Schticks! Of course, ‘Kinsey Sicks’ refers to the Kinsey scale, devised by Alfred Kinsey, aka  Dr Sex. ‘Kinsey 6′ indicates someone who is wholly homosexual. My favourite ‘dr sex’, [redacted], influenced by Daddy Dr Sex Freud, prefers to remain open to the idea that we are ALL capable of some ‘bi-responsiveness’. As do I. So I am not sure I really believe the number ‘6’ on the Kinsey scale represents ‘pure’ homosexuality.

But, regardless of numbers and who puts their schticks where, the Kinsey Sicks make me smile, and sometimes think too. This is what their fan Dan has to say about them:

‘Though The Kinsey Sicks clearly defy categorisation – it can be said for sure that they strive to do two things – push boundaries and cause offence. They do this both gracefully and very successfully, however, still attract a healthy population of left-wing, middle class Americans.

The majority of their songs are parodies of well-known tunes ranging from the hits of Britney Spears to numbers from the Broadway musical Chicago. The group sing acapella and so no instruments are to be seen in any of their shows. Below I have listed some of my favourite lyrics lifted directly from their songs on key issues.

Sexuality: ‘God Bless ye femme lesbians, may good taste you display. You don’t give up your fashion choices just because you’re gay. With baggy pants and baseball caps and shirts in disarray, there’s something inbetween a bimbo toy out of Playboy and dressing up just like a twelve year old boy’.

Politics: ‘Rent a homo for your party, it’s the something that you lack. For twice the price we’ll send a couple and make sure one, but never both, are black’.

Environmental Issues: ‘BP is creepy, drilling way too deeply. If you think the problem’s just Goldman Sachs and BP, there’s a walrus I can sell you in the Caribbean sea’.

Politicians: ‘I’ll send your kids into war, I just screwed an intern on the floor. I’m not a witch, I’m a corporate whore’.

Away from the playfulness and sharp wit that I’ve come to enjoy so much in the past months, there is something much more serious about the group. Dismissed, I assume, by many simply because they dress in women’s clothes, the political charge and strong message conveyed through their lyrics cannot be ignored. They stand up for civil rights, but most attractively they enjoy taking the piss out of themselves as four gay men. They’re politically incorrect and have yet to be crushed by the Gay Mafia.

Indeed they put the sin in syncopation, the chest in orchestration and the exclusive homosexuality into the Kinsey scale. They’re loud, they’re proud and they’re fantastic. I eagerly await the release of their new CD ‘Electile Dysfunction’.’

You can also find Dan on twitter.

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It Gets Better

The Marvellous Slope Show is back! Season Two of the story of superficial, homophobic lesbians Desiree and Ingrid kicks off with a poignant (but hilarious) episode called ‘Taking Space’

http://theslopeshow.com/2012/02/14/season-2-episode-1-taking-space/

This reminds me of the song: Space, by Pulp. The lyrics of the album version begin:

You said you wanted some space …
Well is this enough for you? …
This is what you’ve waited for …
No dust collecting in the corners …
No cups of tea that got cold before you drank them …
Tonight … travelling at the speed of thought …
We’re going to escape into the stars …

 

http://www.advocate.com/News/Daily_News/2012/01/30/Cynthia_Nixon_Being_Bisexual_Is_Not_a_Choice/

Cynthia Nixon, who I last week defended for stating her sexuality is her ‘choice’, has gone back on her word.

After a huge amount of hostility and pressure from gay activists and gay media outlets I might add.

Her revised statement reads as follows:

“My recent comments in The New York Times were about me and my personal story of being gay. I believe we all have different ways we came to the gay community and we can’t and shouldn’t be pigeon-holed into one cultural narrative which can be uninclusive and disempowering. However, to the extent that anyone wishes to interpret my words in a strictly legal context I would like to clarify:

“While I don’t often use the word, the technically precise term for my orientation is bisexual. I believe bisexuality is not a choice, it is a fact. What I have ‘chosen’ is to be in a gay relationship.

“As I said in the Times and will say again here, I do, however, believe that most members of our community — as well as the majority of heterosexuals — cannot and do not choose the gender of the persons with whom they seek to have intimate relationships because, unlike me, they are only attracted to one sex.

“Our community is not a monolith, thank goodness, any more than America itself is. I look forward to and will continue to work toward the day when America recognizes all of us as full and equal citizens.”

Whilst I am gutted to say the least she felt the need to revert to the popular and pernicious ‘born this way’ stance, I do have some sympathy for the Sex in The City actress.

The current atmosphere amongst gay rights groups means that bisexual people are treated as if they are either gay, straight or lying. In comparison to the pure states of Gayness and Lesbianism, bisexuality is treated as the poor, and unwelcome relation.

Note Nixon used the word ‘legal’ in her statement above. She may have actually been avoiding legal action here, I wouldn’t put it past some gayist organisations to try and make out that claiming sexuality is a choice is against the law. She also is an actress, and theatre and Hollywood I expect are pretty conservative when it comes to sexuality. She may have been advised to couch her feelings in safer terms to avoid being penalised in her acting career.

The UK Daily Mail joined in the gloating about her change of tack, saying that bisexuality is a fact. Well, yes. But it is a fact we do have some agency over in our lives. Who we have sex with is still up to us as individuals.

The Advocate online magazine illustrated their update with a photo of Nixon bald, when she had cancer treatment. I can’t help but feel they were aiming to humiliate her just a little.

I still defend Cynthia Nixon but I am deeply saddened that she felt she had to go against her own instincts about her own sexuality to please the gay establishment.

A recent New York Times interview with Sex In The City star Cynthia Nixon, has caused a bit of a furore amongst mainly American gays. I first read about the story in Queerty, which is itself a VERY gay website. But I appreciated them running  it, and quoting Nixon at length and opening up the discussion to the commenters below the line.

Other publications/individuals have not been so generous, and have railed at Ms Nixon for what? For having the audacity to suggest she has some agency in her sex life and her love life? How very dare she!

One of the main criticisms from Teh Gays about Nixon’s statement is that she is playing into the hands of the religious right in America who claim homosexuality is unnatural, against God, and a sinful ‘choice’. One supergay article suggests:

‘she needs to learn how to choose her words better, because she just fell into a right-wing trap, willingly.  When the religious right says it’s a choice, they mean you quite literally choose your sexual orientation, you can change it at will, and that’s bull.’

http://gay.americablog.com/2012/01/dear-cynthix-nixon-hurting-your-own.html

Another gayist piece states quite baldly:

‘ the issue here is not the legitimacy or source of an individual’s sexuality. It’s a question of strategy. ‘

http://www.readability.com/articles/lfxvzpqn

This concept of ‘strategy’ relates to a theoretical term called strategic essentialism.

‘The term was coined by the Indian literary critic and theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. It refers to a strategy that nationalities, ethnic groups or minority groups can use to present themselves. While strong differences may exist between members of these groups, and amongst themselves they engage in continuous debates, it is sometimes advantageous for them to temporarily ‘essentialize’ themselves and bring forward their group identity in a simplified way to achieve certain goals.’

I oppose ‘strategic essentialism’ because I think it fails in its own goal of uniting ‘oppressed’ groups who have a common ‘enemy’ or oppressor. It serves to privilege (yes I can use that word too) one group’s identity and needs over other, less powerful ones.

In the case of the backlash against Cynthia Nixon, it is clear to me that (usually white middle class and often male) gays are outraged that their worldview and their sense of self, and how they were born this way, is not being prioritised. If sexuality is, to some degree, a choice, as Cynthia says it is for her, (note she is not generalising about other people), then gays lose some of their ‘victim status’ as these poor, beleagured people who are forced to live under the shadow of the heterosexual dominant group.

One of the comments that I found most troubling was this one:

It seems to be suggesting that bisexual people ‘choose’ their sexuality but gay people don’t! Apart from this not even beginning to make sense at a ‘scientific’ level – how are bisexual people ‘made’ so that they have the ability to make choices and gays are not? – it is politically quite worrying. I think what it is really saying is that bisexual people are ‘liars’. If sexuality is innate then people who ‘choose’ to go against their ‘natural’ sexual orientation, be it straight or gay, are a) lying and b) oppressing the people who stay in their ‘natural’ boxes by making sexuality look like less of a destiny.

One of the comments by Nixon that stood out for me was this:

‘I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but I also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.’

http://www.readability.com/articles/lfxvzpqn

My ex was/is bisexual. Though he rarely used that word to describe himself. Sometimes he took the Freudian label and called himself ‘polymorphously perverse’. And sometimes I have worried, since we broke up, that he might have ‘gone gay’. This has filled me with a sense of loss and rejection, because if he is now ‘gay’ then what does that say about our relationship that occurred (with some hiccups) over a period of over ten years?

I expect my ex doesn’t identify as gay, now. He was more Anti Gay than even the author of the book of that title. He taught me, long before I had heard of Steven Zeeland, that ‘sexual identity is a joke’.

But it’s not a very funny one. And I think people’s reactions to Cynthia’s open discussion about her own sexuality, are a sign of how we still haven’t reached ‘the end of sexuality’. Maybe one day, eh?

_______________________

 

http://www.somarts.org/manasobject/

I have written before about my frustration with The Myth of the Female Gaze.  And it seems to be rearing its ugly head again. According to the organisers of this forthcoming exhibition – Man As OBject, the female gaze is alive and well and – shock! – turning the tables on men and looking at them. They say:

‘I’ts man as object – reversing the gaze. So the male gaze is about active men looking at objectified women. We’re reversing that gaze, it’s women artists portraying men in exactly the same way as has been done throughout history.’

We all know of course that Mark Simpson has been demonstrating for years, how men have become ubiquitously objectified in our culture, for the pleasure of men, women and everyone in between. So, I am wary of the premise of this exhibition for a number of reasons.

1) It reinforces the idea that it is women, not men, who are mainly ‘objectified’ in culture. I note how the blurb on the exhibition states that the ‘male gaze’ is about ‘active’ men looking at ‘objectified’ women. It does not use the word ‘passive’ because to draw attention to the dynamic between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ aspects of gender/looking/sex, we might end up, as Freud did, and as Simpson has done, considering how men too can be ‘passive’. What about homos? What about gay porn? What about metrosexuality? etc etc.

2) It reinforces the gender binary, the idea that the complex act of looking and taking pleasure in looking can be reduced to two poles – man/woman, male gaze/female gaze. As I said to the lovely Matt Lodder, art historian and self-objecitifier extraordinaire who sent me the link, ‘the gaze is not a truck that goes into reverse, it is panoptic’. So the exhibition does not consider groups looking at groups, or men looking at themselves or each other. I doubt it would include images such as this 1966 Japanese photo, of men voyeurs ‘gazing’ at couples making out in a Tokyo park for example, because it is too ‘complicated':

3) It ignores bisexuality and how bisexuality proves the ‘panoptic’ nature of looking. As I said in a previous post about the myths of the male v female gaze:

‘Simpson’s writing also brings into focus how we forget, when talking about looking, and desire, the existence of ‘bisexuality’. If some people are attracted to both men and women, surely ‘all’ porn is for them? And if some people are able to watch all kinds of porn, surely … er… anyone can?’

I have had this argument too many times now. I have had it with the editors of a magazine including ‘porn for women’, I have had it with the kinkster and feminist Kitty Stryker. I am a bit bored of it to be honest.

I am sure there will be some nice pictures in the exhibition but my response to ‘Man As Object’ is a shrug, and a slightly dismissive ‘ORLY’?

http://visualcultureblog.com/2011/10/voyeurism-and-appropriation-in-kohei-yoshiyukis-the-park/

Thanks to @mattlodder for the tip.