Category Archives: sexuality

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.  

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!

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

Queering Immigration

a group of people holding signs stand behind a Queers Without Borders bannerWith everything in the news lately around the Muslim ban and other potential disastrous pieces of immigration policy in the U.S., I keep thinking about what it means to queer immigration—how can we queer the narratives, whether “left” or “right,” that we hear about immigration in the mainstream press?

Queering, as a verb, is all about disrupting narratives and shifting perspectives. It’s about questioning the premises of an argument, not just arguing the “opposite.” It’s a lens that leads me to think less about gradual immigration reform and more about the very concept of states and borders in the first place. What do the stories we tell about immigration say about us and our values? How are immigration arguments used to normalize settler colonialism, slavery, heteronormative family structures, and white supremacy? These are some opening thoughts, but I expect I’ll have much more to say on this topic as the great fascist Amerikan state keeps rolling on.

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Radical Reading: Dirty River

Confession time: I’ve actually had the book reviewed below for quite a while, and with apologies to the Arsenal Pulp folks. I spent so much time thinking about it and how to write about it that this blog has been stalled out for a while as I go through that process. But hopefully, better late than never, as it’s a volume I think many of you should absolutely pick up.

cover of Dirty River, drawing of a brown femme with a flower in her hair, leaning on a cane next to train tracks with industrial buildings in the background and a river flowing from themOne of my favorite poets, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, recently released a memoir that is somehow both a gut punch and a sweet femme-of-color lullaby, telling a story that is neither completely linear nor what you might expect from what frames itself as a survivor’s tale, but bursting with sense memory and relevance—particular for QPOC and migrant readers. Dirty River (published by Arsenal Pulp Press) focuses mainly on a period of Piepzna-Samarasinha’s life in the late 90s where she lived in Toronto struggling with both poverty and relationship abuse, but it is neither a sob story nor a clichéd “overcoming adversity” narrative. The complexities of the story are conveyed with a tight relationship to geography, the confusing nature of memory, and a sense of celebration for queer brown crip femme survival.

Like many great books, particularly those by women of color, this memoir made me think about the nature of storytelling. The path to healing is often not very simple, and this story wrestles with that. It’s a narrative complement to all the great radical books on violence in the context of racism and colonialism published in recent years — with all the references to Courage to Heal in the text, I actually found myself thinking much more about how Piepzna-Samarasinha’s story lines up with the lessons of The Revolution Starts at Home. 

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What is #dataqueer?

          dataqueer

          1. A queer-identified person who is geeky about data and shares an affinity with other queer data geeks.

          2. A philosophy or orientation towards data that focuses on (a) challenging the norms of a data-driven culture or the data industry and (b) approaching data collection, use, and maintenance a way that may seem counter to generally accepted principles

At a recent conference, I only half-jokingly encouraged people to Tweet about my talk with the tag #dataqueer because I kind of wanted to make it a thing. I’ve been thinking a lot about dataqueerness lately, and what it might mean in relationship to my work.

As someone who works in data with other queer people, and enjoys geeking out about data with fellow queers, sometimes just being queer and being into data is a social affinity that I can happily share with others. But I’m also thinking of dataqueer as an orientation or approach to data. Smushed with a prefix this way, queer is often used to imply critically challenging norms, destabilizing or decentering hierarchies and binaries, and applying creative redefinition to a particular area of focus. If we think of it this way, dataqueer could be an identity that signals a particular approach to data.

What Does It Mean to Queer Data?

One possibility is that dataqueerness is simply about questioning the central principles of a data-driven society or industry. In business, this could mean looking at how we can use data for something other than increasing profitability and revenue or reducing risk. In academia or policy or the technology industry, we might think about how we can both be data-oriented and also question the value of a data-driven society. Rather than thinking about privacy as an afterthought or an extra layer, following the core assumption that More Data Is Good, dataqueerness might mean always asking why we need data as a first principle rather than just how to collect more.

Being dataqueer might also be about focusing on data that is messier or less obvious to analyze, spending time on the unusual data points or outliers. It might mean thinking critically about established categories and instead looking for new and different ways to slice information. Why, for example, is it always 18-35? Why are gender categories in marketing data always male and female? (What is the value of gender as a marketing demographic in the first place?) Someone who is dataqueer might take risks in going beyond how the standard data professional would approach data, and instead think creatively, applying different values or looking for different outcomes. A dataqueer person might even use data to show the harms of collecting data, or work within data with the aim of destroying or complicating data.

These are just some nascent thoughts, of course. What does #dataqueer mean to you?

How Do You Determine What Polysaturated Means for You?

conversation hearts read "I love you" "and you" "and you"So, readers, I’ve gone through a lot of relationship changes in 2015, and thus a lot of personal introspection. My local partner (I’ll call her the QA, as I do on Twitter) joked just the other day when I was trying to figure out some things about my own sexuality, “you should probably take your own Workshopping Your Sexual Orientation class.” And it’s true—do as I say, not as I do. But of course, deciding what one wants out of romantic (or any other kind) of relationship takes time in practice, and also changes over time. Personally, I’ve realized that what I want in a relationship has fundamentally changed, particularly in the last 6-9 years or so, and I thought a little post about how I’ve been thinking about these things might be helpful for others, particularly other poly folks. (And if you think your community group, conference, etc. could benefit on a class that helps participants clarify their thinking around this topics, just shoot me a line.)

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Birth Assignment and Being Seen

art by alphabonesoup, a femme-presenting person being called male and neutral termsA few things have come up recently that have me mulling over this particular topic:

  1. Some discussions a couple of months ago on Tumblr and Twitter challenging the emphasis on birth assignment in discussion of trans experience
  2. Philly Trans Health being super bro-y, and my own experience of feeling really terrible about myself at a trans conference that’s supposed to be about affirmation
  3. I’ve personally been getting “Sir”-ed a lot lately, and have been experiencing more intense dysphoria than usual.

In recent years, I’ve pretty much stopped referencing my birth assignment, except in private with close friends. What medical transition steps I have or have not taken are basically none of your g-damned business. Sometimes I’m not 100% sure about this, because there are some spheres where birth assignment could potentially matter (what I feel dysphoric about is sometimes related, and also the fact that trans women are far more likely than men to experience violence and other negative outcomes of being trans probably also applies in some cases to AMAB genderqueer folks—the recent discussions by Merritt Kopas, Tobi Hill-Meyer, and others around how “gender weirdness” is policed when AMAB are particularly chilling). But generally speaking, it’s often possible to talk about trans experience while focusing on actual gender, rather than birth assignment, and often better to do so.

What I find interesting is that as a non-binary femme trans person, I default to taking “Sir” as a compliment. I then feel kind of unsettled about it, but gendering me male, as a person who presents femme, is pretty much the only mainstream way to acknowledge my queerness in public—and being acknowledged as queer in public is very important to me. While “Sir” and masculine language doesn’t fit me at all, when I’m presenting femme, I have a sense that it acknowledges at least some difference, however backwards that is.

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