Queer Purity and Gold Stars
Today’s post originates from an idea I wrote down literally five years ago, so it seems about time to draft the damn thing. I started thinking about it at an academic conference called Lavender Languages that I attended in 2012. The conference was on queer linguistics, but the papers presented covered a pretty broad range of subjects. One was about gold star lesbians, and another was about barebacking and intentional exposure to HIV risk in gay male communities–from what I remember of the latter presentation, there was a lot of talk about sexual transgression and what communities consider abject–how we view sex, “dirtiness,” and disease.
Those two papers kind of coalesced in my mind and I started thinking about community narratives of purity vs. transgression. Of course, most queers are up on the purity myth and don’t focus on the construct of virginity, or shame other queers for sexual transgressions. But I do think there are subtler messages at work within the community, and they come up especially in how we think about trans lesbian sexuality.
Here are some of the cultural trueisms I’ve learned at various points from the queer community and more mainstream sources
- Virginity refers to whether a penis has entered a vagina.
- Virginity might also refer to whether a penis has entered an anus?
- Virginity isn’t necessarily a useful concept to queers, but if you’ve never touched or had your mouth on someone’s genitals, probably you’re a virgin?
- Gold star lesbian means that you’ve never either kissed, or dated, or had sex with a man, depending on whom you ask.
- Lesbians do not like penises.
- Penises are dangerous/scary/threatening.
- Penises are the most likely body part to spread disease.
Obviously, a lot of that is bullshit, but taken together, I think it makes a telling point about the stories queer people learn and disseminate related to sex, “purity,” and transgression. While queer women don’t get a lot out of the concept of virginity, for example (and it doesn’t even make sense to queer sex), there’s still this idea of the gold star. And some queer women who don’t care about gold stars do care about women-only sexual space and community. Such space needs boundaries to exist–in other words, these spaces may not insist on “purity” but they do create a border that can be transgressed.
At least when I was hearing about the idea of the gold star, there was an assumption, like there is with women-only sexual space in many communities, that gold star means no penises. There might be women who claim the gold star label who’ve had trans women partners, and there might also be trans women who claim the gold star–in which case, awesome for those women–but that’s not how I’ve seen it used. I’ve always heard an undercurrent of concern about the threatening and/or infecting phallus in these discourses, which presumably excludes trans lesbians with external genitalia. (Of course, many trans women with external genitalia don’t have a penis, by self-definition, but this kind of discourse seems to be more about perception than identification.)
Anyway, I’m curious if any of these thoughts resonate with readers. I’m not a queer woman, and not active in a queer women’s community, so I’m really just speculating, but I have an interest in language and how our communities think about sexuality. And I’m especially interested in, and will continue to muse on, how we think about sexuality as dirty or transgressive or abject in contrast to some hypothetical “pure.”