Friday, October 19, 2007

Identity Politicking Part II: Who am I and why should I care if you know?

All the reading I’ve been doing got me thinking further about how things would have been different if identity hadn’t been set up around sexuality. What if queers hadn’t been forced to create our own subculture in reaction to being classified as perverts? How would humans relate to each other sexually then? Would it be more free flowing with people acting on their attractions without identity crises since who or what you did wouldn’t define you?
All musings on sexual utopia aside, I’ve thought about this before of course. I am well aware of how segregated our social networks are and how identification can be limiting even as it is liberating. It’s so easy to give in to the pressure to de-emphasize or deny parts of yourself that do not fit within given rubrics. Or you have to advocate for a new identity or way of being known so you don’t feel invisible or unknowable, outside the matrix of intelligibility, if you will.
I had all this in my head as I was talking to a close friend of mine about how he seriously has to start consistently using male pronouns with my partner. This wasn’t something we had strongly emphasized until recently. Over the summer I introduced him as my girlfriend after a discussion of what terms we would use and we gave folks the option of using whatever pronouns they want. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, a few people switched between male female and gender-neutral pronouns, but mostly they just defaulted to female.
My friend G. conceded that he realized his fuck up when he said “Goodnight, ladies” and saw the look in my partner’s eyes. Oops, shouldn’t have done that, he thought, but it was too late and would have been socially awkward to apologize at the moment.
G. went on to say that it was complicated for him and the other Conchitas*, which is not to absolve him of responsibility by any means, because even though they can see my partner is a boy, “He certainly looks like a boy, a gay boy.” G. says, he’s with me and the Conchitas see me as a dyke. So it seems my dykeyness is canceling out my partner’s faggyness. How’s that for a brain twister?
G. and I spoke further about my identity and my partner’s identity and how the perceived relationship between the two generates a variety of confusion for folks as we challenge existing concepts of gender and sex. I tried to explain to G. how my partner felt left out that evening and that, no matter how we look to them, we are not lesbians. I think he got most of it. At least I hope so. But then he asked a question for which I did not have an answer, not least of all because I am loathe to explain someone else’s identity – I don’t kid myself into thinking I know exactly how it feels to move in the world in another’s skin, even my lover’s – G. said, “I understand that you’re not lesbians, but why does he want to be a fag like us when he can be his own special thing?”

My love and I have had quite a few conversations now as to how to maintain queerness in our relationship as his transition progresses and more people start to see him as male. We’ve tried to anticipate how this will affect how we relate to each other. Will I want to be less affectionate with him in public as people start to identify me as an object belonging to some man, as they are wont to do when a guy has his arm around a lady? Will I have an increased need to assert my autonomy in public as people try to ascribe traditional gender roles upon us? Will they hand him the check? Acknowledge him first? See me only as his property? And though it will be less stressful not having to worry so much about anti-queer violence – we don’t want to lose our queerness. We may lose the hostile looks on the street – but what about when we lose the friendly conspiratorial gay eyes as well?
We came to the conclusion that what was most important was our friends. I assume the folks that know and love us will know who we are and see us as such, in all our lovely complexity. We will still be living in a very queer world. We are both adamant about not being absorbed into some sort of heteronormative existence. I think the most issues will arise in public spaces and from meeting new people. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little anxious and scared.
Even though I’ve passed as straight out of fear during various intervals of my life, I really hate being seen as straight. Having been in relationships with straight identified males, I remember well the claustrophobia, that feeling of being completely cut off from myself as my identity was absorbed into another’s. As heterosexuality was assumed and my partners pressured me to stay silent and straight lest their family and friends think I was sexually depraved and socially and emotionally maladjusted, (Just for kicks, I recommend trying to think up all the bisexual characters you’ve seen in pop culture and see how many you can name that weren’t slutty or half crazy.) I literally felt like I was dying. It’s a god-awful feeling, being forced to hide who you really are. Disassociation ensues as you wonder if these folks who fawn over you and tell you how great you are for their son would feel the same if they knew you. You begin to feel like they are praising someone else even as they look into your eyes. You wonder, what do they see? You get scared – am I a disgusting freak? A monster? Someone who has to hide their obscenity from decent god-fearing folk?
Thus the importance of having community support. Being perpetually surrounded by heterosexism distances you from yourself and you start to forget, or at least I do, that you are worthy of being loved for who you are. And nothing will ostracize you faster from your queer community than a soul-sucking straight boy who demands all your time. Having said that, I am happy to say I don’t have to worry about that with my partner, as he is a queer identified trannyboi. Oh lord, never bioboys again. I could do a thousand joyous jumping jacks just thinking about it. Anyway, my love and I have no intention of leaving the community that has nurtured us and makes us feel at home.

Not long after all these discussions, the boi and I were talking on iChat, when one of my coworkers looked at my computer screen and asked, “Oh, is that your boyfriend?”
Without hesitation, I answered yes. I looked back at the screen and my partner and I grinned at each other. The self-confessed nosy girl kept looking over at my screen throughout our conversation, even interrupting to tell us that she thought my lover looks like one of the characters from that 70’s show. It was the first time I had been read as straight in a long time and I still haven’t unpacked how it made me feel. I wasn’t bothered by it per say. Though I did get a little nervous fearing that one of the Conchitas would stop by and use the term girlfriend or make a gay joke at me. Thereby promising a particularly awkward scene with this girl with whom I have to sit at a desk once a week for four hours a minimum of two months more at least.
I have to say it was weird though – because once I logged off of iChat, having now seen proof of my boyfriend and hence my heterosexuality, she proceeded to bond with me over her own dating woes. I notice this rarely happens when I am seen as queer, as if I could not relate otherwise. This has always been odd to me. But then again, any investment in maintaining sex difference always has.
*The Conchitas are a group of gay men with which I hang. I, of course, am a "Conchito."

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