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.