Monday, 30 May 2016

379. Wishes to sing a different tune

Exhibit A: Myself as a semi-dandy figure, enjoying the sunshine
Exhibit B: Some thoughts on not being born this way
I recently pulled a post-it note memory from my brain - a hazy childhood one, wobbled in crayon. It’s a ‘sexual’ memory of myself and a friend pressing together two naked Polly Pocket dolls (sound effects included). 10 or so years later my current brain, on remembering this incident, thought ‘how neat’, ‘how perfect’. ‘How easy it would be to prove my girl-loving status with this one memory’. Once upon a time a girl rubbed naked dolls together and now she rubs her naked girlfriend in a slightly more sophisticated manner. It’s a neat narrative but I reject it.

Why? 1. I don’t know if a ‘Ken’ style Polly Pocket doll exists, but I never had one. I was a resourceful child, acting out a sex scene with the dolls I owned and the gender identity of the dolls didn’t necessarily play a part in this. 2. Whilst I was the leader in this game, my friend was a willing participant. I have no information that indicates that this old friend identifies as anything other than ‘straight’. 3. There’s nothing to say that a sexual/romantic experience at age 7 is more definitive to understanding your sexual orientation than one at 17, 37 or 77.  4. Most importantly, no one action has to determine your sexual orientation. In fact, even a multitude of post-stick notes don’t have to determine your sexual orientation.

For the sake of explanation, here are some more of my post-its: I exclusively watch girl on girl porn. I crushed hard on a boy for the longest time in secondary school. I regularly read girl on girl erotica. I crushed hard, in a new way, on my now girlfriend. She is the only partner I’ve had. I crushed regularly on male teachers as a kid. At the age of 14, when an acquaintance asked me if I liked boys, I said something like “yes, but I might one day change my mind and like girls”. Yet I also willingly identified as straight throughout secondary school. Sometimes in bed I’d imagine I was Julia Roberts in the ‘Pretty Woman’ sex scenes. When I walk down the street I see people that intrigue me in different ways (I also sometimes think how sad it is that I’ll never have sex with all the street people. Who are they during sex?). And when I was a kid I rubbed naked dolls together.

Sometimes, for the sake of practicality, I order these post-it notes into neat stacks and compute them into the labels bi/pansexual. But personally, I’d like to think of the post-its littered amongst the messy desk of my brain. They can be lost, I can throw some out, I can take a highlighter pen to others and throughout the years I’ll add many more. And so, organising, ordering and defining can never encompass this ever changing sexuality. I use the word sexuality here as opposed to sexual orientation because sexuality goes much further than what gender(s) you are (‘nt) attracted to.  Though many of the post-its I’ve included above are gender specific, they also say a lot about what things, acts, experiences, characteristics and ways of loving that I’ve been drawn to in the past. The limitless, complex nature of sexuality is another reason why I prefer not to simplify the narration of my sexual orientation.

Yet as a bi/pansexual person whose sexual orientation is often up for question, double underlining that particular Polly Pocket post-it could have its advantages. It would give me a neat narrative, one that rationalises and explains why I like girls. It would enable me to safely (in the very literal sense of the word safety) state that my orientation is innate. If my orientation is innate it cannot be changed, which is a useful statement in a heteronormative environment that may attempt to change it in violent, subtle and unsubtle ways. If my orientation is innate I cannot be accused of being unnatural (or worse, perverse). If my orientation is innate, then I didn’t willingly choose to sin / put my life opportunities at a disadvantage / bring disgrace upon myself or others associated with me. If my orientation is innate, I couldn’t help it and it wasn’t mine or my parents or societies fault.

In the end, I don’t know if the incident with the Polly Pockets proves that my sexual orientation is innate or not. However I do know that neither position should make it more or less valid. I do know that I have no obligation to prove my orientation. I also don’t need my orientation to be turned into a blame-game because it is not inherently negative to not be heterosexual. There be no need for fault or blame. There be no reason for me to change my orientation and there be no reason for me to justify it either. Simultaneously, I recognise that this is the position of a privileged few, of whom I’m lucky to be part of.

I also know that I’m benefiting from the born this way narrative even if I don’t tell it. I know that parts of society are only coming to accept me because it is believed that I was born this way. I wouldn’t give up any of this acceptance over an ideological discrepancy but I do hope this acceptance won’t continue to hinge on the born this way theory. I also recognise that not everyone who tells the born this way story are doing so for the reasons I have rationalised above.  My own wish to reject this narrative is not more radical, progressive or valid though I will admit that I get wary when I hear narratives that correlate outstepping ones gender role with one’s sexual orientation (e.g. the idea that a boy playing with Barbie’s revealed an early sign of his gayness). 

Coincidentally, in a sexy book I recently read, Katherine Angel talks about her writing and narratives, stating ‘One can turn one’s nose up (and plenty of people do) at individual narratives. There are dangers in the language of the first person; the dangers, for instance, of taking an individual narrative as speaking for others, of obscuring or rendering invisible or illegitimate other narratives. Another motivation for suspicion of the individual narrative is on the grounds that is merely anecdotal, or too suffused with personal investment to be admissible into the ranks of knowledge.’ [1] She pretty much sums it all up well - all personal narratives have personal credibility, yet none must speak for all. What I mean to say is, if the born this way narrative can be the subject of a number one single then it must have some mainstream precedence. But if you don’t really feel like dancing to ‘Born this Way’, then know that I’ll be standing on the edges with my post-stick notes, writing about why ‘Born this way’ is not my queer anthem.
[1] Katherine Angel, ‘Getting Beneath: Sex and the individual’, in The Institute of Sexology, ed. by Sarah Auld (London: Welcome Collection, 2014) pp.20-25 (p. 25).

Exhibit C: A breather and some blossom. The blossom from my bedroom window is such a lovely sight.

Exhibit D: Some reflections

1. I wrote the piece above something like a year ago. Close to a year ago, Ingrid Nilsen made her youtube coming out video. By casual chance, I decided to watch it recently and I was struck by the way in which she talks about repressing her sexuality. What this all means, I don't know. But on an emotional level at least, I was struck. Listening to someone talking about the weight of being born gay is a reminder to me to respect that position and to never be blase about that narrative, even if it may differ from my own.

2. I would probably situate all of this within a number of other contexts now. I would think about 'political lesbianism' a little, about choosing a sexuality/position as part of your politics? I would think about how for some this maybe 'desexualizes' one's sexuality. I would think about Foucault (oh god, I'm sorry I went there....I'm really a theory baby!) and 'The History of Sexuality' and the idea that sexuality is not some autonomous drive, but constructed and contingent on history. I'm less interested in why one might identify as something, and  more interested in what certain identities may provide (for individuals and societies alike). I'm not sure where this will lead me.

Exhibit D: A final tumblr note of wisdom.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

378.Wishes to muse on

Exhibit A & B: Some moments of calm, before the writing begins.
I have recently been organising a 'theory' group within my university department. It's 50% a weekly meeting to discuss/debate selected theoretical writings, 50% a way to build a sense of community within my department, a chance for staff and students to have a drink and a chat (You ever noticed that university can be a pretty lonely place for some?). I enjoy theory group with an uneasy sense of elitism. Someone said to me 'astrophysicists are not expected to make their ideas accessible' (true true, the joke of rocket science). I'm not so sure. I never am. I have found that reading theoretical writings (and generally studying for a degree) has slowly got easier for me, and this is thrilling and frightening. I think I have become inbred in an academic language. Is that okay? Is it just like learning German? 

Accessibility doesn't ever stop at language though, there are far far more issues here. Time=Money, and reading just 10 pages of an excerpt from Satre's Being and Nothing (I know I know, probably a bad choice) can take a few hours, that won't earn themselves back. As a low income background, thus high income government grant student, the time=money equation never bites me. And this is an immense privilege. I do a lot of thinking about this. I do a lot of thinking about groups and organising and compiling reading lists and why why why and who we choose to read. I really liked Sara Ahmed's post about citational politics, and how she came to the decision to not cite any men in her new book.(here) She described citations like bricks, and her book like a house. I wonder which bricks do I want to build my mind on?
Exhibit C: Hannah Arendt speaking in an interview
in 1964. (here)
I think about this all in reference to writing. I thought for a while that I wanted to write professionally. Yet I still can't get past the idea that writing=defining. I still can't get past being told to write with a 'confident tone' (I am not unconfident, I yell. I am perfectly confident that nothing is fixed enough to write confidently about) I still can't get passed my endless drive's for nuance. I still can't get past the idea that writing=claiming a kind of authority. Do I have
such authority?  Do I really need to speak? (She says in a written blog post) If I don't write, what do I create? I very rarely paint or draw anymore. I know creating doesn't have to be 'artsy' and creating doesn't have to mean creating a material product. But for a long time in my life it has meant those things, and for a long time I thought this was an essential part of me. I appear to be empty these days, emptied out of all my my-ness. Creating in this way was part of me, but I am not interested so much in me these days. I no longer write diary entries. I do not know how much I want to
project myself anymore. 
I still love clothing. For a while I wanted to complicate clothing. To know it's histories, process, and politics. Less so these days. I know what I choose to wear and not to wear is always a political, tied up act. I can never separate it from that fact. But it's just as much pretty things and colors and shapes and textures. This is one of the only places were I seem to exhibit that kind of "artsy creativity". The other is in spaces. I have a (dreadful "bourgeoisie") penchant for interiors. It effects my mood incredibly/terribly to sit in a customised, coloured space and the process of curating a space is almost as exciting to me as curating my outfits. Exhibit D: Myself in one of many favourite outfits, in my living room.

I wonder if the internet is dead to me. If I don't want to project, is the internet dead? I can look at other peoples projections still, and I do. Yet I'm finding these projections are getting smaller and smaller. I'm filtering out so much. There's so little online that interests me, and this is sad. I am trying to fix this at the moment, trying to curate my online world in a way that is useful and exciting and stimulating and sometimes just happy. I am struck by the same questions though. What do I look at and why why why? Is it dangerous to be able to curate my own world in this way? Or is this a powerful tool? Who say's my online world is any less truthful, less real, than the 'real world'? Exhibit E: A few of the things that are making up my world  right now:

Blogs:                                                                                         Books:
  -Rosalind at Clothes, Cameras & Coffee                                   -Lisa Eldrige Face Paint 
-Bethany at Milk Teeth                                                                  -Jamaica Kincaid A Small Place                    -Aida at This Kid Is Alright                                                          -Toni Morrison Beloved
  -Sara at FeministKillJoys                                                               -Nella Larsen Passing    
      -Rose at Girl Fury                                                        -Earl Lovelace The Dragon Can't Dance
-Eline at perma pupa                                                                  -Sam Selvon Ways of Sunlight
   -Meagan at Naturally Dapper.                                              -Art Spiegelman The Complete Maus 
    -Lally at Lady Macbeth                                                          -Jean Rhys Wide Sargasso Sea
      -Kani at Velvet Girl                                    -Shereen El-Feki (and others) The institute of sexology
-Ragini at A Curious Fancy                                               -Allen Ginsberg Howl and Other Poems
Wishes, Sofie