Author Archives: Avory

#whyqueer 3: Decentering (or Expanding) Gender As a Relationship Axis

One of my favorite reasons for identifying as queer is all about fucking with how we center our understanding of relationships and attraction. In the last post, I covered how other terms don’t work well for me because they’re clunky to use as a non-binary person. But also, I don’t find terms that relate to gender to be particularly useful for describing those to whom I’m attracted. Gender just isn’t my main focal point for classifying my relationships and attractions, and I find it strange that a single trait would be so central to how almost everyone talks about these subjects. Even terms like “pansexual” are implicitly about gender–they just mean “all of them.”

Personally, I use other sorts of categories to vaguely describe the pool of folks I’m interested in. I’m attracted to queerness, dominance, and (with some notable exceptions!) femmes. I suppose I could come up with specific terms for these attractions, but I like “queer” as a way of saying “hey, you might want to ask me some more questions to understand my sexuality.” I can then describe my attraction in sentences and paragraphs, and that’s more likely to lead to a connection anyway.

#whyqueer 2: Because Other Terms Don’t Account for Non-Binary Subjects

sketch of a person with a punk asethetic, text reads "are you a boy or a girl?" "no."In the last post, I talked about queer as a term that is inherently intersectional. Today I’ll cover one of the reasons that queer specifically makes more sense to me than any other sexuality term out there. This one is pretty simple–it’s because other terms, in my view, all have at least some reference to the speaker’s own gender, and those terms only awkwardly account for non-binary people like me.

Although I do occasionally joke with one partner that we’re in a heterosexual relationship because she’s a woman and I’m not, that’s not usually how terms like straight and gay work. What does gay mean for a non-binary person? What does straight? Certainly there are non-binary people who claim those terms, and they have every right to do so, but they don’t work for me. Similarly, while I’ve heard bisexual used to mean “both my gender and different genders,” it doesn’t have resonance for me, and I don’t know that any of these terms would be legible for cis folks–in fact, they might lead some cis folks to incorrectly assume my gender.

I like that “queer” doesn’t actually tell you much of anything about my preferences. Instead, it invites you to ask.

Monoganormativity: An Opening Salvo

two people embracing on a sofa, with one person holding hands with a third behind the second's back

credit: Getty Images

People in meatspace keep looking at me funny when I use the term “monoganormativity,” so I guess it’s time to talk about it.

For a long time, I’ve noticed similarities between queerness and polyamory when it comes to the trajectory of each movement and the focus on more normative versions of a given identity. In queer-land, this is the tendency of large LG(B)((T)) organizations to focus on same-sex marriage, adoption, and other priorities and messaging that support a “just like you” framework. We call these tactics, as well as relationships that default to assumptions about how relationships work that come from the straight world, “heteronormative.” Monoganormativity is the same idea, just a corollary that springs up in poly-land.

monoganormativity: culture, practices, and behaviors that mimic those considered “normal” among monogamous people within the context of a polyamorous culture or relationship.

For example, when the default focus in conversations around polyamory is jealousy or relationship hierarchy, I consider that focus monoganormative because it’s aligned with the monogamous culture norm that partners should be jealous of and need to be more important than others, despite the fact that the context is polyamory. I’d also call the tendency of a lot of (but certainly not all) newly poly folks to focus on one couple as a foundation and write relationship rules springing from this baseline, rather than rethinking possible relationship styles, monoganormative–and the same goes for media coverage that focuses only on triads and couple-plus structures when discussing polyamory.

This isn’t intended to be an indictment. Most of us grow up in a context where monogamy is the norm. Even typing “monogamous culture” felt funny to me, probably because like white culture, it’s unnamed and pervasive. No one ever asks “when did you decide to practice monogamy?” just like no one ever asks “when did you realize you were straight?” It takes time to defeat internalized monoganormativity, no matter how proudly poly you are. I’ve heard so many folks who practice radical, non-hierarchical poly express guilt when they realize they “just want to be the most important!” in a situation, despite their fundamental commitment to egalitarianism.

So I don’t want to condem anyone who feels these feelings (myself included), but I do want to suggest an awareness of monoganormativity both in culture and in how we conduct intimate relationships. It’s okay to be jealous, it’s okay to practice consensual relationship hierarchy, it’s okay to have moments when you want to be the only one. It’s also okay to be monogamous. Let’s just stop pretending that monoganormativity doesn’t exist.

#whyqueer 1: Intersectionality

drawing of black and brown folks with different gender presentations holding a house with a rainbow flag, captioned "We live here!"Since the vast majority of folks who find this blog through a Google search land here on some variation of the question “what does queer mean?” or “what’s the difference between queer and gay?” I thought it might be fun to do a short series on why I use the term “queer” as an identity and what it means to me relative to other possible labels.

One of the biggest reasons I use queer is because it’s inherently intersectional. Queer has a political meaning to a lot of people, and wrapped up in that is the importance of considering policies and human rights issues that go beyond those narrowly focused on sexuality like same-sex marriage or the rights of gay and lesbian folks to serve in the military. Not all queer issues have an obvious connection to gender or sexuality, but they do all impact queer people’s lives, because no queer person is just queer.

In my experience, queer communities are particularly likely to recognize the importance of prioritizing issues that affect our most marginalized members–issues around poverty, immigration, prisons and policing, sex work, and racial justice to name a few. These things don’t just affect queer people, but they do affect queer people (and especially trans queer people) in unique and compounded ways.  

Pinterest as a Social Justice Tool

pinterest logoYou might be surprised to learn that I’m a Pinterest early adopter and still a fairly frequent user. Pinterest gets a reputation as a place that’s mostly for planning weddings or posting unrealistic food porn, but that’s not the only thing it’s useful for. While I’m also pretty into fannish content and nail art, I primarily use my Pinterest as a social justice curation tool.

The nice thing about Pinterest is that it’s heavily geared towards curation. I find that when you get creative about the theme of a particular board, it can be a really good way to assemble a collection of activist messages, or find inspiration from images of marginalized bodies, or make a statement with a kind of curated art project. For example, one of my favorite boards is Gender Expressions, which is really just a bunch of images of people, but the point is that gender expression is incredibly diverse. On a series of “Education” boards, I’ve tried curating interesting pins on one particular topic, such as this one on Radical History and Geography. And of course, there’s a Radically Queer board that mixes thought-provoking words with simple representation in images.

Even if you’re not explicitly using Pinterest for social justice like this (and I wish more people were!), you can also do some sort of guerilla activism by simply focusing on representation in your boards. For example, I have a couple of dance boards where I try to keep images of thin white women down to less than half of the content. I don’t think this kind of thing is likely to disrupt Pinterest’s core market, but I would love to see more activism happening there–self-care in an age of Trump boards, anyone?

What’s So Bad About Phases?

rainbow button reading "it's NOT just a phase"In activisty Pinterest-land, I keep seeing memes about how queer identity is “not just a phase.” I get that impulse, and I do think there are places for the argument–when people assume that queerness is a phase, especially in the condescending way adults often do with young queer women, it’s just obnoxious. But also, I’d like to question why we’re so negative about phases in the queer community. In other words–what if an identity is a phase?

I think it can be really scary to claim one identity and then change your mind. Particularly if the change is towards an identity perceived as “less queer” (which, for the record, is not a thing) you might get written off and excluded from communities that meant a lot to you. Lesbians can be pretty cruel when one of their own decides she’s bisexual or pansexual, and trans folks aren’t always the nicest to someone who decides that transition isn’t for them, or who first comes out as a trans man or woman and then realizes non-binary is more correct. I used to be terrified that this might happen to me, but then I started thinking, so what if it does?

Fun fact: people change. And our access to rights, or community services, or recognition, shouldn’t require that we have a bone-deep permanent understanding of our sexuality or gender identity. You can identify as something for right now. You can try something out and see how it feels. You can even be pretty sure about an identity for ten years and then watch as it shifts and surprises the hell out of you. Some of my favorite things have phases–project management, the moon, human lifespans. So while it’s not “just a phase,” it might be a phase, and that’s okay too!

How Ingrained Biases Show Up in Data Management

colored squares arranged to read "DATA"One of the little ways I try to apply an equity lens to my work is by being very aware of my own biases, especially around race. This comes up as a practical matter more than you might expect in data management, especially if you’re working with data sets focused on individual people.

I’m sure there are more egregious examples, but one thing I’ve seen and found particularly jarring is the abbreviation “BG” in front of an ethnicity. What does BG stand for? Best Guess. In other words, whoever collected the data or set up the database structure to include these value options decided that having ethnicity data on a person was more important than their own racial/ethnic identity. This insidious little practice takes away individual autonomy and conflates ethnicity with skin color, erasing actual identity in favor of having more complete statistics.

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Gatekeeping

Here’s my current theory of how the medical establishment thinks about gender identity and transition:

  1. Gender is pretty abstract. It’s more of a decision to group oneself in a certain way than a concrete provable fact. This is a problem.
  2. We can’t just let anyone who wants to medically transition. How would we know who “qualifies” if we just let anyone who believes themselves to be male or female access medical care for that gender? Transition would be rampant! (Or something.)
  3. Since we need a requirement to access medical care, masculinity or femininity might as well be the requirement. It’s easiest to quantify your gender in medical terms if you present as masculine or feminine. Femme trans boys and butch trans girls are just confusing.
  4. Don’t even get us started on those genderqueers–especially those who aren’t interested in a more androgynous. What do they even want? What kind of dysphoria could they possibly be experiencing? There is very little to be sympathetic to, here.

Now I know there are empathetic medical professionals, professionals who understand the difference between identity and expression, and those who don’t think of trans people as requiring a certain level of tragedy and pity to medically transition. But sometimes, it feels like the profession is stacked against us.

Why Won’t the Media Listen to Non-Binary People’s Actual Words?

screen-shot-2014-03-28-at-2-15-18-pmThis is another post that is so five years ago, but it’s about a bit of media coverage that’s still annoying me in 2017. Specifically, it’s about the mainstream media coverage of model Andreja Pejic back before she came out as a woman and was being intentionally vague about her gender in interviews. Throughout that year or two of heavy coverage, the media was completely obsessed with its own invented idea of Andreja as terribly androgynous and the fun of a tired old “surprise, it’s a man!” storyline, while completely ignoring what was revolutionary about Pejic: the fact that she openly talked about a non-binary identity in interviews and asked mainstream readers to question their understanding of gender.

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Queer Purity and Gold Stars

gold star sticker on ruled paper with a handwritten note "well done!"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. Read the rest of this entry