Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What am I?


I've gotten a whole bunch of emails lately that read like the following (with various combinations of gender/orientation/activity):
"Hi Holly, 
I'm a man who considers himself straight, but sometimes I imagine being tied up and sucking other men's dicks.  I don't want to date them or have sex with them; I just want to get tied up and suck dick and that's all.  Does this make me gay? Does it make me bi?  Does it make me kinky? Does it make me submissive?
Help me, Holly: what am I?"
So I'm going to answer these questions in one fell swoop here:
You are what you are.

You're a straight man who fantasizes about being tied up and sucking men's dicks.  What else is there to say?  What would a label add, what would it clarify?  Whether you'd like this in reality or leave it in the realm of fantasy, or whether you'd like to do other things with men or with BDSM, can't be answered with a label.

I'm not just telling you that I can't extrapolate from a letter.  (Although, seriously, I can't.)  I'm telling you that most likely you can't extrapolate.  Sexuality isn't symptoms that give you clues to your syndrome; sexuality is the symptoms.

I don't think words like "straight" and "gay" and such are completely useless.  But they're only descriptions.  If you're a man and everyone you've felt attracted to has been female, eh, you might as well call yourself "straight"?  But that doesn't "make" you straight.  It doesn't tell you anything about which women you'll be attracted to, or give you a guarantee you'll never be attracted to any men, and it sure as hell doesn't mean that you "should" be attracted to women.

The people who write me these letters seem very aware of what their fantasies, desires, and actions actually are--much more acutely aware, it seems, than most people who simply have a label.  Frankly, I'd hate to see them trade in this awareness for "I'm a kinky bi man."

---

I don't mean to just give this as advice from on high; it's something I'm wrestling with myself right now.  I've been trying very hard lately to hold the lines of:

-I play because I want to, and this makes me kinky; I don't make myself play because "I'm supposed to be kinky, better live up to it."

-I play with people besides Rowdy sometimes, and this makes me non-monogamous; I don't make myself play with other people because "what kind of crappy non-monogamist am I if I don't fuck this dude?"

Both of these have been struggles. Once you establish the persona as this kinky poly super sexy sex person, it's hard as hell to violate that and say "you know what, I'm just not feelin' it."  The pressure to live up to your labels is both internal and external.  There are times when I really want to relabel myself "kinkyfluid" and "polyfluid" or something, just to emphasize that these are things I do sometimes in some ways; they're not things I've made some sort of commitment to doing.

Fixing the label isn't the real solution, though.  The real solution is to fix the expectation that the label can ever speak for me.



I'm a person who sometimes likes some kinds of kinky play (list available on request) and sometimes likes to play with certain people who aren't my boyfriend (now accepting applications).  That's what I am, and trying to figure out what that "makes me" isn't a recipe for happiness; it's a tragic oversimplification.

72 comments:

  1. Thank you, so true. People love their labels.

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  2. This is probably very niche, but I think the pressure to be "label-less" can also be coercive, especially when applied to women who exclusively want to be with women. Here's an interesting discussion on this: http://bananapeppers.tumblr.com/post/13856425666/fuck-queer-im-a-lesbian

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    1. I think you have to be careful to not frame those who chose labels that fit them as unenlightened fuddy-duddies. When the culture at large doesn't want you to stand up and say "I am definitively not heterosexual, I am in fact gay," and when you have to fight tooth and nail to be who you are, it can come off as condescending to tell them their identity is too simplistic.

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    2. I think in political terms, trying to be "label-less" can be a little too utopian. It would be nice to say "I'm not gay/trans/kinky, I'm a person with a very complicated gender and sexuality," but unfortunately in current society the unqualified "person" is too often synonymous with "straight/cis/vanilla."

      I guess what I'm talking about here is more self-discovery.

      I think labels are an unfortunate necessity in the realm of public discourse (and I do call myself kinky and poly, and am not planning to stop), but internalizing and trying to generalize from your own label can be painfully limiting.

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    3. I take your points about labels often being prescriptive and limiting and I agree. I should probably rephrase mine. Talk to any lesbian, and most likely she'll be able to tell you about how when she tells people she's a lesbian she's met with "no, you're not," or "women's sexualities are actually more fluid, so you'll probably change." Essentially, "I know your sexuality and mind better than you." So you have to keep that in mind when you critique labels, as some less-than-progressive forces would be delighted if we gave up calling ourselves 'gay' and 'lesbian.'

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    4. Ugh, yeah.

      I should also add (not that anyone really disagreed here, but just to be clear):

      Getting away from labels does not mean that you have to be "a little bit of everything." A woman's totally open-minded, label-less self-assessment may be that she's attracted only to women and never to men. That does happen sometimes.

      "Lesbian is just a label!" should never be a pretext for "so I bet you really want to sleep with guys sometimes."

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    5. Fo sho. Great post Holly!

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    6. On the other side, I got a lot of ” you aren't really bi, eventually you'll come round and admit that you're lesbian.” Which is equally obnoxiously claiming to know me better than I know myself. But maybe that was a moor common attitude to encounter in the early 90s?

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    7. Did you get that from gay people or straight people? Nowadays I find both groups tell me that I'm actually straight, and bi dudes are actually gay. Errrybody wants dick I suppose. Blegh.

      I don't know if some admittedly unfortunate gripping within queer communities about bi people (and I say this as a bi woman) is comparable with the overwhelming societal pressure on lesbians to shut up and hop on a dick already.

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    8. I got it from lesbians, but then I was at a very liberal college with a (proportionally) large gay community that was pretty bi-hostile at the time.

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    9. As a queer woman, I have mostly gotten from lesbians that I'm not really bisexual/queer/whatever because my primary partner of 10 years is male. (Sometimes with a side helping of 'sure, maybe you fuck them but you're not emotionally invested in them so that makes you not queer', which. wat.)

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  3. I think this is good. There's far too much emphasis on being something (identity) and not on doing. Personally it messed me up quite a bit when I couldn't figure out which of the prepackaged identities described me. That's why I like 'queer', because all it implies is a rejection of compulsory heterosexuality and gender roles, with a lot of room for fluidity beyond that.

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    1. I am not a native speaker of english, but I hate when people conflate queer with "someone who is not trying to force others to live in heteronormative ways". I can't call myself queer because my little non-standardnesses aren't big enough to get opressed enough for them, so claiming that "they hey hey, I am queer too!" would be like trying to steal the street cred without getting any of the suffering. But when you talk like the only possibilities were to be queer or to be "a mindless slave of compulsory heterosexuality and gender roles", instead of "someone whose gender and sexuality happen to more or less conicide with those norms", then you leave no place for people like me.
      It's simply not fair to use queer as a synonim for non-asshole.

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    2. I'm with anon. Dan Savage had a column guest-starring Kate Bornstein a while back, and she informed an LW that because he was heterosexual, open-minded, and pro-gay, he shouldn't call himself "straight." Statements like that really rub me the wrong way. "Straight" and "gay" should describe simply your preference in partners, not your political leanings. To unequivocally characterize all open-minded heterosexuals as "queer" is to conflate "straight" and "bigoted."

      It's similar to people who adopt a genderqueer identity based not on dysphoria or desire for opposite-sex physical characteristics, but on desire to behave in ways traditionally associated with the opposite sex. I know many, many female-bodied people who say things like "I enjoy wearing boxers, and I'm dominant in bed, so I must be genderqueer, because I can't be female." They're implying that possessing feminine characteristics equals BEING female, and that without the one they cannot be the other. As the trans spectrum broadens to include anyone who behaves contrary to what their gender would suggest, the term is seriously diluted, and the struggles of people who experience daily dysphoria are sometimes put on the back burner. Gender stereotypes are also reinforced, as people imply that it is style of dress, athletic proclivities, physical mannerisms, etc. that define a man or a woman.

      Essentially, it all boils down to letting external factors determine your identity for you. Being open-minded doesn't MAKE you queer, and wearing men's clothing doesn't MAKE you trans. Sexuality and gender identity come from inside you, and I cringe a little when people put it all down to societal perception.

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    3. For clarification: I mean "societal perception of the acceptable bounds of one's gender/sexuality." I'm not trying to stomp on anyone's transgender identity, but rather on the assumption I've noticed among some genderqueer people that they must be genderqueer because they're not feminine enough to be a woman or masculine enough to be a man. Fuck that shit. "Man" and "woman" can mean whatever we want them to mean.

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    4. Orgasmia - What does make a person genderqueer then, though?

      I identify as genderqueer because I'm female but have many masculine traits. I accept that someone could be the very same as me and identify as cis female, and I wouldn't question her, but I'm uncomfortable hearing that I'm using my gender identity for the wrong reasons.

      Being told "your gender identity is only valid if you have it for a good reason" is not okay with me. If someone wants to say "I identify as genderqueer because I like oranges," I'd rather accept that, silly as it may sound to me, than be in the position of saying "no, you're wrong about your gender, I know it better than you."

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    5. Holly - I'm speaking more to pressures I've noticed. Like Kate Bornstein dubbing people queer, I've noticed that certain masculine females are dubbed or assumed to be genderqueer without the label necessarily coming from them, because some people assume that masculine women MUST be trans. Does that make more sense?

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    6. Orgasmia - Okay, that does make more sense. If someone wants to call themself queer or genderqueer for reasons that don't please me, that's their prerogative, but if someone's going around telling other people how to label, that's some big ol' bullshit.

      Especially when it's taken to the extreme of "if you're not actively homophobic/transphobic, then you're queer," yeah, that's... that's not really how it works.

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    7. Co-signed. "Queer" is a reclaimed SLUR. If it hasn't been used against you, you have no claim to it. The recent usages of queer, in the sense of "anyone open-minded is really queer" or "queer just means non-normative" tends to be really alienating to older LGB folk, whose history with that word tends to be very brutal. I'm also hesitant to use it as a LGBT umbrella term, as lots of straight trans people don't identify with it or the community, and it's pretty icky to force people under that term without their consent.

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    8. "genderfluid" always makes me think of some kind of liquid you use to keep your gender lubricated...

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    9. A friend of mine sometimes refers to himself and/or his relationship as "differently straight": he's heterosexual, and in a long-term committed poly triad with a woman and another man (also heterosexual). So, "straight" because he's entirely heterosexual, but not fitting the default/normative pattern relationship pattern: all three of them consider themselves married to each other.

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    10. I see a lot of bullshit about the use of the word 'queer' for asexual folks. (You can't be queer! You're not oppressed enough!) As someone on that spectrum whose rape was explicitly corrective in nature for my aceness, I want to scream and shake anyone who says that.

      I also admit I have NEVER run into that genderqueer pressure you describe. Then again, I tend to avoid scenes like the plague.

      --Rogan

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    11. i think kate bornstein is using queer as it has been defined in academic circles. that is, queer stands in for non-normative, but is also a political identity label because being non-normative in any way is already deeply political. so a person who is a straight-ally can be both queer & straight, as someone who is non-normative based on, well, not being a homophobic asshole. unfortunately, that is what is considered normal.

      anyway, i definitely agree that no one should label anyone else ever.

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    12. nichole - that's exactly why I, as a straight, cis ally, do not identify as queer. I refuse to let homo- and transphobic assholes define normality. Being kind to people of different sexual and gender identities than one's own should not be non-normative. Not calling myself queer is a humble attempt to normalize non-bigoted hetero- and cissexuals. (Not that you personally are undermining that.)

      Also, if all "queer" means is "non-normative", that kind of dilutes the term's power, because every single person is non-normative in some way or another. Hell, Mormonism is fairly non-normative - does that make Mitt Romney queer?

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    13. orgasmia - "that's exactly why I, as a straight, cis ally, do not identify as queer."

      Me too. I've been told that as a kinky person, I should identify as 'queer', because it's a non-normative sexuality and 'kinky people are oppressed too'... but seriously, fuck that. I don't have to put up with anything like what non-straight, non-cis people do, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise.

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  4. YES TO THIS POST.

    Labels and the preconceived notions people have about them can be very limiting.

    I think about this in the context of kink a lot. There is such a huge range of sexual activities & relationships that people do/have that fall under the umbrella of power exchange, and those can take drastically different forms. But people so often assume that being the dominant means X, Y, and Z, and being a submissive means A, B, and C, so if you know who the dom is and who the sub is you know exactly what that relationship looks like.

    Another way I think about it is in the context of what you do vs. what you are. I know these may seem like silly semantics, but I think the fallback terminology of "I am a submissive" vs "I often take the submissive role in sex" is a worthwhile thing to think about. Not that identifying as a submissive (or any other thing) is wrong, but I think that replacing the "what you are" label with a "what I do/like to do" label can be really helpful in untangling this stuff. You can stress out about whether you count as a "real" switch, or you can take a deep breath and say "I usually take on the submissive role, but once in awhile I like to take on a dominant role" etc. etc.

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    1. This, so much. When all you say is, "I'm a dom" or "I'm a sub," that really says very little about when or how you like to dominate/submit? Only during sex? During day-do-day activities, but never during sex? Both? Is bondage involved or not? How about other forms of role-play, like "doctor/patient" or "supervillain/henchman?" Body fluids of any kind? Food? Feet?

      WE DON'T KNOW. The unfortunate consequence is that people who hear the label assume that anything they've ever heard of any dom/sub liking, ever, must be something ALL doms/subs like. That's a stupid thing to assume. :(

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    2. Reframing it as a statement of "I often take a submissive role" was enormously helpful to me when I was trying to come to terms with the question of "am I kinky?"

      I realised I had very fixed notions of what a submissive was and those connotations (weak, people-pleaser/doormat, cowed/fearful little girl) did not descirbe my experiences and preferences at all, and were most definitely what I did not want to be. I wanted the roles to be something we deliberately and consciously engaged in *as equals* and the terminology/ideas I picked up from the mainstream didn't meet that at all. I experienced taking on a submissive role as hugely sexuallly liberating, and found it encouraged me to really start to figure out and *make known to my partners* what I did and did not want.

      Doing something that requires you as a matter of safety and enjoyment to say things like 'I want to be flogged like this', 'please don't tickle me', 'don't use those weighted nipple clamps again' or 'I want to do an interrogation scene that goes on until I break down and cry', is so out of the norm it really helps you to grow.

      So yeah, don't get too hooked up on whether or not you match a particular label! Use them if they're helpful personally or politically, but otherwise, what Holly said. :)

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    3. > Another way I think about it is in the context of what you do vs. what you are.

      Not silly semantics at all, I think this is an important part of what Holly is talking about.

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  5. Actually, I think that all people deep inside know they are more than just any of the possible labels. In heteronormative culture the only label to speak for each and every person's sexuality is hegemonic masculinity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hegemonic_masculinity
    Which is so bloody against everything I cherish in human beings - freedom, creativity, spontaneity, curiousity and many I can't think of at the moment.
    The problem is - that no label no matter how alternative, non-mainstream is protected against becoming what you call a tragic oversimplification.
    many thanks for one more awesome entry
    and best wishes from Lithuania

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    1. oh thank you. I was living my life naively supposing that me only liking one set of people means I am x-sexual. But wwith your comment shining light in the depths of my soul, I can now recognize the REAL truth about my orientation: that I actually like not only x-s. Hooray! The world needs more condescending assholes like you!

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  6. I think this post is right that a specific idea of what you want is always going to be better for you than a broad label.

    That said, if you're a straight guy with occasional gay fantasies, and you want a quick way of being publicly, but vaguely, open about not being completely heterosexual, I can suggest the phrases "mostly heterosexual... mostly" and/or "Kinsey 1". Speaking from experience, sometimes it's nice to publicly acknowledge not being completely heterosexual, just as a form of honesty.

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    1. Agreed. I often identify as "mostly straight," and find it to be useful short-hand when I want to not be 100% hetero-normative but also not launch into a speech along the lines of this entire (fabulous) article. I also like the term "heteroflexible" for convenient short-hand.

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  7. I have typically used the 'bisexual' label since I was about fourteen (about eight years now). This is the simplest term and the closest term I can find to describe me, even though it still feels incomplete. In typically hetero spaces I typically say 'bisexual' if somebody asks; in queer/LGBT spaces I may go with 'queer,' 'dyke,' 'bi,' 'lesbian,' or just shrug and say something non-committal, all depending on my mood. If nobody asks and it somehow comes up that my last ex was female (I'm a cis-woman), I usually get the understanding "Oh, you're gay, I get it" nod, which I may or may not correct depending if I'm trying to have sex with someone there, and if so, who. I don't know why, but at one point in my life a lot of people would ask if I preferred men or women, and I would joke that it would depend on what side of the bed I woke up on that day (although there is still some truth to it, my preferences may change day to day).
    I suppose some point to my rambling is that my own labeling can be context dependent, on the space and the time I'm in. Can anybody else relate to this?

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    1. Given that it was unpopular to ID as bi in the community I was in, in my late teens...well I did loudly, got harassed, and clung to that label the tightly because I was being told I couldn't or shouldn't be that. Now I'm more likely to just say queer, and might get taken for gay or het depending on who I'm with.
      And it's not so much men vs women; attraction for me just isn't primarily about gender, or what shape your sexy bits are. If I'm into someone who returns that interest, we can find fun things to do with whatever is in their pants.

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  8. This post reminded me really strongly of the Human's Guide to Words, and in particular How An Algorithm Feels From Inside -- even when you ask and answer all the direct, world-facing questions there are to ask, your brain still wants to ask this one, extra question -- is it an X or isn't it?

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    1. That was highly relevant, thanks! (Original post, also awesome)

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  9. I like labels. I think it's because I am 'Lawful Stupid' in my mindset (I wont cross a road at a pelican crossing until the green person is showing. Even if it's 2am and there are no cars, gotta wait for the green person!), so if I have the label of 'Stephen King fan' then I have 'permission' to hang out with the other Stephen King fans and all is well.

    Unfortunately, when it comes to sexuality/gender, this is a problem. I don't have a label for these, and I want to know what is going on. Unfortunately, I feel that to get into areas where I can discuss this, I need a label. But I don't know my label, and want to discuss this, but I can't get into places where people who know this stuff can help me without the label, but I want to know where I stand and if you're hearing carosel music at this point that's kind of what's happening. Except instead of pretty carved horses going round and round, it's stress, anxiety, and copious amounts of headache pills.

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    1. Adapting, discovering, and undecided are all valid labels. Most queer and alternate sexuality support structures have resources and groups you can use, and some have workshops and groups designed specifically for figuring out your sexuality.

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  10. I just want to feel less like an alien all the time.

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  11. Thank you. I've lately spent some energy on trying to find a label for my sexuality, or lack thereof. I now use "gray-a" (in my head) the same way some people use "queer", but mostly I've accepted to identify as "a person with low libido who only feels sexual attraction in combination with a very specific type of emotional bond, generally involving a lot of previous non-sexual physical closeness". Of course, that doesn't even say anything about gender identity, or gender/sex preferences, or kink/vanilla... but I fit into boxes more easily for those.

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  12. I get this way about gender ever since first venturing into trans* spaces. Because the correct definition of gender is, as far as I can understand, what you feel you are? But I don't feel I'm anything. Like, I don't even feel like I can identify as agender because I don't strongly feel that I *don't* have a gender, I just feel... whatever? That my gender function doesn't return 'male' or 'female' or even NULL, just... it's void type. Doesn't do anything. I'm not even sure why it's there, it's like, legacy issues or something.

    I'm flirting with an algorithm for it - like, "Are you ok with your assigned gender?" and proceed from there. But I'm not, or not entirely... but can that really be separated from the sexism inherent in society? In a perfect world where my gender, if it exists, said nothing about me and shoved me into no boxes, would I give it the slightest thought? Probably no. And what the hell does *that* mean?

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    1. I feel that way about gender too.

      Currently I'm at about "it's okay to call me a woman, but it's also okay to call me a boy, and I wear men's clothes, and sometimes I want male parts but I don't mind my female parts and honestly most of this has surprisingly little impact on the way I live my daily life."

      ...I don't think there's a compact way to say that.

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    2. I feel pretty much this way, too.

      If asked, I guess I'd call myself "a chick by default" - as in, I have a vagina and boobs, therefore I know most people will refer to me as "she" and "her," and when it happens I don't correct them; I don't hate being seen as female, and anyway it's easier. Plus I don't know what else I'd want to be called anyway so meh.

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    3. i sometimes fantasize about a future where we have technology that can let us change sex at will. you could wake up in the morning and think "today i feel like having male genitals" and zap, you'd have them, and the next day you could decide to be female and so on... i think that'd be awesome.

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    4. It would be totally awesome. I fantasize sometimes about being able to switch up sexes at whim, including fun mix and match styles, or both at the same time!

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    5. I think about that Asimov story, "The Last Question", sometimes, in regard to this. Until I've been the other sex, how can I know that I'm currently the right one? I'm missing so much data. It's not something I need to do, I'm not body dysphoric to a great degree, but if, in some future, it's easy to try - I definitely would. This is a big part of why I'm so interested in reading transgender folks' stories. More than anyone, they're able to say what's internal, and what's external to their identity. Which bits are just being glued onto them by society, and which are fundamentally a part of them, not the labels.

      Online, I try for neutral - most things I say are not predicated on my gender, whatever it happens to be. It's a little frustrating that this is one of those core pieces of information about a person that it's important to know. Anonymous strangers can be either (although on most of the Internet they're assumed male), but when you get to know someone there's a lot of pressure to commit one way or the other, if only so you don't have to deal with awkward neutral pronouns. I like they/them, but it's an upward battle against years of education to actually use those in reference to only myself. It doesn't hurt me if I'm referred to as a man or a woman, but I don't like that it matters, and that it's preferable to guess than to just not know.

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    6. Yeah, if science could hack it I'd totally be a shapeshifter.

      I'm similar to Holly and perversecowgirl, although I *do* prefer to be seen as male if I can be.

      I've started referring to my sexuality as "yes"; maybe my gender should be "no"...

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  13. What you're saying in other words is that labels should be *descriptive* instead of *prescriptive*. And I agree wholeheartedly. For the record I consider myself MtF transgendered and probably pansexual, but I consider those more as not-quite-completely-accurate *descriptions* rather than prescriptive categories that I fall into.

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  14. THIS THIS THIS.

    I've got this saying posted where I can see it all the time: "You are NOT responsible for other peoples’ fantasies about your life." Not sure where I first saw it, but it ties into this idea of being somehow accountable to your labels. I have been struggling with this for a long time, this sense that I should, if I ID as kinky/queer/poly/etc., be kinky/queer/poly-ING all the time, with anyone who wants.

    So I guess the more useful recasting of that sentence would be "You should dismantle your own expectations around the labels you use to describe yourself."

    I struggle particularly right now with "queer." Though it's supposed to be all fluid and mean what you want it to mean and so on, I always worry that I'm somehow not queer ENOUGH. Do the many random quirks that make up my gender identity and sexuality equal queer? And if it's big enough to hold me, then why do I STILL feel guilty that I'm not really that interested in women anymore?

    So yeah. This post! It helps. It's right where I'm at. Thanks - you've been really talking about stuff I've been chewing on in my brain.

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  15. It's an issue for everyone.
    It's obviously hugely frustrating for anyone who's sexuality doesn't even come close to the labels we've come up with so far.

    But it also sucks if your sexuality does lie *close* to a label. I'm straight...in so far as every person I've dated or slept with so far has been male, and I've not up until this point been attracted too or had fantasies involving other women. But since I wouldn't necessarily rule women out if I did one day find myself attracted to one...should I be indentifying as bi? or bi-curious? and will people who are more legitimately bi-sexual see that as silly?

    And though I've experimented with some things that lots of people would see as kinky, and things that would fall into the BDSM section of a porn site, but to be honest, the thought of actually *identifying* as kinky terrifies me. Because then I would feel like then I would have something to live up to. Like I wouldn't be able to have vanilla sex much anymore, and like I would have to justify only being a little bit kinky to any super kinky people I encountered. And then there would be men I would meet who would hear the word kinky and assume that was a green light to try out whatever taboo no other girl has let them before. I feel like I would be setting myself up to say "No, I'm not into that" more often than being vanilla and saying "Well actually, I do kinda like this".

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    1. Hmmm, you sound like a female version of me. :)

      For what it's worth, I identify my sexuality as 'basically, straight*'
      *(but possibly open to experimentation in future, wouldn't want to rule anything out just yet.)

      As for the kink thing... yup. It took a while before I was even prepared to identify to myself as 'kinky'. I'm still too afraid to identify as such to anybody else, because of all the expectations that go with it. But, you know, one day, with the right person...

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  16. This is a good post and a good point to make. I'm not a big fan of labels because I find people get stuck with them and things are expected of them.

    I only talk about my sexual preferences with very few people just because it's hard to explain to most people because they want labels. Most people assume I am straight because I am dating a guy and have only dated guys.

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  17. I think of these kind of labels as useful crutches that are necessary right now, but may not always be. It's important to have some kind of name for them in order to talk about them, but if we can ever get to the point where homosexuality, kink, etc. are accepted as perfectly normal with no moral judgements, then we will find those labels limiting and unnecessary. The use of labels to describe people's sexuality should be a sort of transitional phase while we tear down all those sexual hang-ups imposed by religion.

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    1. Religion isn't all of it. (Also, saying "religion" is problematic when you mean "conservative evangelical American Christianity." I've never had a Unitarian Universalist or a Buddhist or a Wiccan give me any guff about my sexual choices...)

      Bias against sexually/gender-ically "deviant" people exists in its own right, and scapegoating religion doesn't get to the real problem.

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    2. "conservative evangelical American Christianity."

      Or, in some cases, Orthodox Judaism, and I'm pretty sure some strains of Islam. It's all in where you live.

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    3. Although of course it's more than just religion. Few things get me to grind my teeth faster than the Common Asshole Atheist, and I'm an atheist (well, agnostic) myself - plenty of them are against equality for women / minorities / QUILTBAG folk, because apparently "skeptic" for some people means "smarter than anyone, so don't you dare try to make me question the stuff I know is right!" /sarcasm

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    4. Some, perhaps you could say many, religions don't judge people about their sexuality, but the ones that do seem to be at the root of the problem.

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    5. @ Holly re: Wiccans: maybe you personally haven't, but it does exist out there, e.g. the Dianic Wiccans at PantheaCon last year excluding trans women.

      There are assholes everywhere.

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  18. Hershele OstropolerApril 18, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    This lines up a lot with what I think about labels, that they're convenient capsule descriptions, but no more than a starting point. "I am a(n) X" is the first step in describing yourself, not the last.

    Labels, then, are (or should be) provisional; they are (or should be) approximate, they are (or should be) broad; they aren't (or shouldn't be) orders; they aren't (or shouldn't be) restrictions.

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  19. I immediately thought of Eddie Izzard, whom I admire a great deal for being so open and also seemingly easygoing about himself. To quote Wikipedia: "In his show, Dress to Kill, Izzard describes himself as an "executive", "action" and "professional" transvestite, as "a male tomboy" rather than a drag queen or a "weirdo" transvestite (he cites J. Edgar Hoover and Hermann Göring as examples of the latter). He regularly cross-dresses both on and off stage and makes it clear that cross-dressing is, for him, neither a part of his performance nor a sexual fetish. He remarks in his show Unrepeatable, "Women wear what they want and so do I". According to Izzard, "Most transvestites fancy women".[27] He dismisses claims that he is a male homosexual, saying he is "a straight transvestite or a male lesbian".[28] He has also described himself as "a lesbian trapped in a man's body",[29] transgender,[25] and "a complete boy plus half a girl".[28]"

    Talk about re-defining labels :-)

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  20. It you had a label it would be perfect.

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  21. Thank you :) This goes beyond anything sexual to any label applied to people. I am a dancer because I love to dance and feel unfulfilled if I don't; I don't dance because I'm a dancer.

    Also, this makes me think of this song: http://soundcloud.com/nit-grit/what-am-i

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  22. "There are times when I really want to relabel myself "kinkyfluid" and "polyfluid" or something, just to emphasize that these are things I do sometimes in some ways; they're not things I've made some sort of commitment to doing."

    I look at bi,poly,kinky,switch as things that give me more opportunity. I have it written into the labels in my head that it that it means that I have options for when I feel like them so I never have to live up to anything.

    I see your point about not getting bogged down in labels but on the other hand they are so helpful. I have only recently found out that ace was even a sexuality and having a term for it seems to make it so much easier for many people to just tell others what is up and have it taken seriously. Before not having interest in sex was always seen as a disease or something.

    And take this for example, one of my friends works like the poster above

    "I've accepted to identify as "a person with low libido who only feels sexual attraction in combination with a very specific type of emotional bond, generally involving a lot of previous non-sexual physical closeness"."

    I've seen people use demi-sexual for that and it is handy both to have the short hand and to see that other people work like that too.

    The trick I think is to not go backwards and try to make yourself match your label, it should just be convenient way to describe yourself. Also if there isn't a label that fits you have to use more words.

    I think the point you were making is that no matter what the label a person is still the thing described and not the description, so agonizing over which word they are is missing the point.

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  23. Thank you for posting this post, and thanks to the commenters too! It's all full of useful brain chow.

    I'm going to be moderating a discussion on this very topic for my local kinky educational group next month. I expect it shall be a very lively evening. :)

    I see a lot of people on the internet talking about WIITWD, or gender or any other issue of identity, and *constantly* falling down the "prescriptive" rabbit hole.

    The "If I identify as "x", that means I must do "y", even if I don't want to." thing makes me crazy.

    Role or Gender essentialism makes me crazy.

    I identify as Polymorphously Perverse. I do what i like, consensually, with whom I like. End of story.

    If you want to know what I like, just *ask*, I'm not very shy.

    Although the answer a lot if times is: "Well, it depends on my mood, who I'm with, and where I'm at." :)

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  24. "Slowly all the roles we act out become our identity, and in the end we are what we pretend to be."

    Jerry Cantrell

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  25. I do think labels can be handy, as long as they're not limiting, or, as you said, used to tell people what they should do or have to do. Someone wrote into Dan Savage awhile back advocating that all non-sexually-normative people unite under the banner of "queer," and he pointed out that it makes it almost meaningless. It's great to have solidarity, but if we're all queer, you still have to ask "what kind of queer?"

    It's important to remember that the same label can mean different things. My partner and I are working out how poly will look for us and discovering that we each mean different things by "being poly": I would like to have one or more other people who are part of our relationship on an ongoing basis, and he would like to sometimes sleep with our friends. Those are both okay, so we're working on how we work it in practice and how to feel okay and not judge each other.

    And thanks for having a cool space where I can share things like that to help me work thru how I feel about them!

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  26. It's so true, I feel like this is one of the most accurate labeling arguments I have ever heard. Sexuality has always been and will always be fluid. A person can identify as straight or gay or other, but that doesn't make them that way forever. These kinds of labels are useful for people trying to identify with other people questioning their sexuality or who identify with sexual minorities, but for serious personal identity one must remember that nobody can label you but yourself. And that you should not feel determined to stick to that label once given if your attraction changes.

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  27. If someone asked me about my sexuality, I truly wouldn't know what to answer if I had to be honest...

    I could say "bisexual" but I've only had sex with a guy once, and I've had way more sexual relationships with women... and yeah there's the whole kinsey scale thing, but my placement on it kind of depends on my mood - some days I feel more attracted to guys, some days I feel more attracted to girls... and sometimes I fantasize about sex with intersex people with both genitals.

    I guess I could characterize myself as some kind of pansexual? But I don't know if that's totally accurate either...

    What I really hate is how the society seems to want to put everyone in neat little boxes, ie. you're either gay or straight, you have to "choose" and there's no in-between. On one hand there's the whole heteronormative narrative, and on the other side there's the whole "coming out as gay" narrative - if you ask popular culture, those are pretty much the only options - anything in between plain doesn't exist. And I can tell this caused so much confusion to me when I was younger... I kept trying to classify myself as either gay or straight, even the idea of being bisexual somehow felt like "cheating" - even though rationally thinking that's stupid, but social conditioning and all that. Even now, I sometimes feel a sort of pressure to "choose" which camp I'm in, or that I should make some kind of decision about which gender I like more... even though it makes no sense.

    I wish I could have read a blog like this when I was young...

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  28. What else is there to say? What would a label add, what would it clarify?

    I struggle with labels from time to time; it's a relief to see that I'm not alone. (For the record: straight-lesbian-bi-lesbian-whoever I want to do-not kinky-kinky-kinky only when I feel like it.)

    I'm with you in that labels are merely descriptions, like guidelines: in all likelihood, a straight man has most experience of having sex with women/romantic attachments to women, BUT that doesn't mean he's tied onto that category/definition for the rest of his life, or that he hasn't ever had any other kinds of experiences. The same goes for polygamy, and monogamy, and gender, and... you get my point, I'm sure.

    Labels are stupid in the sense that most people think they are written in stone. (You can guess how many times I had to explain my preferences to my friends when I "went" from lesbian to bi.) If only people started paying attention to what other people like instead of what they have done in the past or are expected to do, we'd all be happier, I bet.

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  29. I'm not even sure whether this topic is in the same category, but just lately I've been toying with the ''asexual'' self-definition.
    In the past I've identified somewhat precariously as gay, whilst at the same time lacking in any serious interest in the field of sex and relationships that went beyond aesthetics, platonic attachment or curiosity. There are other slightly awkward contributary factors though - I have Asperger's, a series of weird social and touch phobias, and very limited experience. One of the really tempting benefits of calling myself asexual, I think, is that it would serve as an effective method of dealing with people who continuously ask about my ''love life'' despite always getting the same response - ''I'm not really interested in having relationships, but we could talk about yours if you want/could we talk about something else?'' or words to that effect. I'm aware that this makes it a convenient, not-entirely-honest term though, and leaves a lot of details to hash out...

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