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Love Is A Many Gendered Thing

button with the text "love is a many gendered thing"I saw this button on Pinterest a little while ago, and the slogan struck me.  Beyond obvious queer cutesiness, I started thinking about what it might actually mean.  “Love is a many gendered thing.”

Though it sounds flip, the slogan really resonates with me, because it reflects the way I look at gender.  I don’t ignore gender in people I’m attracted to, but at the same time I don’t tend to lump attractions by gender, or at least not by gender alone.  My tendency is to create more complex categories–“geeky fannish femmes,” “andro punk trans folks,” “playful trans women with awesome shoes,” “fat femmes that rock the retro chic look.”

Generally, we’re expected to group the people we love into gender clusters, and even in the case of bisexuals or pansexuals, I think there’s some expectation that your “type” will depend on the gender you’re thinking of at the moment.  When we talk about multiple genders, or gender being less important, then it becomes this big incoherent blob of “gender has no meaning” or “we can transcend gender.”  But I think that individual genders do have meaning, insofar as they shape the people that claim them.  And I think that an individual’s gender experience can be sexy, and sometimes I fall in love with the way a particular person experiences their gender.

What do you think?

Radical Reading: What You Really Really Want

For this Radical Reading column, we’re doing something a bit different.  I was lucky enough to be part of the group that workshopped Jaclyn Friedman’s What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame-Free Guide to Sex and Safety.  This groundbreaking workbook takes the lessons learned about rape culture from the Yes Means Yes anthology and helps the reader take sexuality into his/her/hir own hands with practical guidance on sex, sexuality, and enthusiastic consent.  One of my favorite things about the book is how it breaks down our culture’s sexual scripts and encourages us to define our own sexuality–a skill that few of us are taught otherwise. I’ve invited Jaclyn, and some of the other folks from the workshop, to stop by Radically Queer on the WYRRW blog tour for a roundtable discussion on sexual agency and defining our own sexualities.  

 

Avory: Thanks so much for stopping by, everyone!  I wanted to start things off by just saying a little bit about my experience with using through the book to help define my sexuality, and hear where you’re all coming from.

For me, what was really useful in going through the exercises is they tend to be open-ended.  At one point, for example, we were asked to just list the things we do and don’t want when it comes to sex.  I ended up listing things I want that seem sort of inane, like being fed by hand, or having my hair petted, or a hand on my throat, and then listing common sexual things I don’t want, like having my breasts touched.  Coming up with that list from scratch was new for me because most of what I’ve learned about sex, even from comprehensive, liberal sources, is that there’s a straight script, or a gay script, or a lesbian script.  As a genderqueer person, no one ever gave me an appropriate script, so part of what I’ve done with this book is thought long and hard about how I define pleasure.  A lot of that has to do with things like food, and sensation, and power dynamics, that aren’t included in traditional “sexual” activities.  I’m still struggling with how to communicate these things to a partner, but it’s a big liberating step to climb out of the box of what’s generally seen as “sexual,” and often based on gender expectations.

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Wendy Shalit’s Return to Modesty

When I’m reading non-fiction, I often come across titles that are referenced as representative as “the other side” and end up curious about those books.  Wendy Shalit’s 1999 book, A Return to Modesty, was one of these, and when I found it on the bookshelf at work I decided to give it a read.

I don’t disagree with every single thing Shalit says, but I do think she’s missing a lot.  Two major “gaps” were evident to me in her argument, which is about things like modest dress and the the hookup culture.  One is that she quotes a few feminists who mention the heterosexism inherent in a “traditional” gendered view of female modesty, waiting till marriage, etc., and she never addresses this argument.  Queer women are completely erased in her book.  Perhaps, not identifying with the conservative movement herself, Shalit would just apply her argument to same-sex marriage and say that gay women should be modest to preserve their sexual allure before marriage, but she is so into gender roles that I’m not sure how that would work.

Second, Shalit talks a lot about modesty vs. prudery, framing modesty as being erotic in its sense of mystery and using that to make the no-sex-before-marriage argument, but she never talks about what happens after marriage.  She seems to me to lose a little credibility because she was, as far as I can tell, a 24-year-old unmarried virgin writing advocating abstinence before marriage.  Since Shalit had no experience at the time of writing of the glorious post-marriage sex she seems to be hyping, one has to wonder.

Certainly, there is some allure to be found in mystery.  Covering up can be sexy, I actually agree with that.  I also agree that if everyone runs around naked, nudity isn’t very erotic.  On the other hand, even beyond the “try before you buy” argument about having sex before marriage to determine compatibility, I just don’t see what happens to her argument about mystery when a couple marries.  So you have all the sexy anticipation, you get married, and… then what?  Mature sexual relationships, including those between married people, require some comfort with our bodies once they are naked, ability to communicate about sex, ability to explore desire, etc.  I’m not saying you can’t have these things if you haven’t had sex before marriage, but I think you need to consider them.

She talks about how nudity often turns people off because it shows people all the body types that exist, all the blemishes and fat and whatever else Shalit considers unattractive.  But those things exist, and it seems to me that Shalit’s argument basically encourages shame about any perceived bodily imperfections, rather than encouraging communication and openness about sex.

I also find Shalit’s argument about androgyny kind of funny.  She seems to think that modern sexualized society encourages women to be sexual and therefore “like men.”  It reminds me a little bit of websites and communities that advertise as “genderqueer” and rather cater exclusively to trans people.  Androgyny is not the same thing as masculinity.  Some of us do have a fairly androgynous approach to sexuality, and that approach isn’t to “have sex like men,” but rather to de-gender sexuality and focus on its elements on their own terms.  And, big surprise, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  When I encounter “womanly shame” or embarassment about sex, I don’t think, like Shalit does, oh, this is a sign that I should embrace female modesty and avoid sex.  I think hmm, this particular practice or partner isn’t something I’m ready for.  It’s time to be honest about that and proceed with caution–a fairly non-gendered response.

Blogging “Yes” Day 18: What It Means to Be a Sexualized Woman

For day eighteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Julia Serano’s “Why Nice Guys Finish Last.”  I have to admit that I had a lot of trouble with most of Serano’s argument, specifically her points about men and about nice guys versus assholes, due to my own experiences with men.  So instead, I’m going to focus on what she says about the sexualization of women and the virgin/whore dichotomy.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 16: The Not-Rapes

For day sixteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read Latoya Peterson’s essay, “The Not-Rape Epidemic.”  This was another of the most powerful in the book for me on first reading, and it’s informed a lot of how I think about rape culture and my own experiences.  Peterson, the editor of Racialicious, tells the story of her own “not-rape” and a later experience in finding herself at a later rape trial of her “not rapist.”  She also talks about the common experiences of young women with molestation, harassment, and statutory rape and the myth of the “cool older boyfriend.”

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Blogging “Yes” Day 15: Sex as a Competitive Sport

For day fifteen of the Blogging “Yes” project I read “Hooking up with Healthy Sexuality: The Lessons Boys Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Sexuality and Why a Sex-Positive Rape Prevention Paradigm Can Benefit Everyone Involved” by Brad Perry, who works in sexual violence prevention.  Perry’s essay includes the story of his own first 13-year-old attempt to have sex and some information he’s learned in working in sexual violence prevention about how effective sex education works.  What I found most interesting about the essay, though, was the idea of sex as a “game” that boys can win or lose.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 14: Envisioning a World of Enthusiastic Consent

This is day fourteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and today I decided to read two essays back-to-back because they have a common theme.  One was “Reclaiming Touch: Rape Culture, Explicit Verbal Consent, and Body Sovereignty,” by trans feminist activist Hazel/Cedar Troost.  The other was “An Immodest Proposal” by Heather Corinna, the founder of Scarleteen.com.  I picked these two essays to blog together because they both carry the idea of enthusiastic consent out to a not-yet-commonly-realized conclusion and consider what a world with normalized enthusiastic consent might look like.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 13: Linking the Discourse on Female Sexuality and Date Rape

Here we are at day thirteen of the Blogging “Yes” project, and Lisa Jervis’s essay “An Old Enemy in a New Outfit: How Date Rape Became Gray Rape and Why It Matters.”  Jervis is the founding editor of Bitch magazine and her essay is another that will contain concepts very familiar to most feminists.  It focuses on the idea of “gray” rape, which is an updated spin on the “date rape is not as serious” victim-blaming discourse that’s been around, well, probably as long as dating culture.  What I wanted to highlight here is the connection between the “gray” rape discourse and modern  messages about women’s sexuality.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 9: Submissive Sexuality and Fantasy

Today, day nine of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read “The Fantasy of Acceptable “Non-Consent”: Why the Female Sexual Submissive Scares Us (and Why She Shouldn’t)” by Stacey May Fowles.  I had mixed feelings about this essay, because on the one hand I definitely agree with the main point that BDSM-style negotiation can be far more liberated, far more feminist, and far less contributory to rape culture than vanilla sex.  On the other hand, I felt that there was a confusion in the essay between submission generally and con non-con scenes or fantasies specifically and that the heterosexual perspective wasn’t really explicitly pointed out enough.

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Blogging “Yes” Day 8: Sex Positivity as an Anti-Rape Tool

For the eighth day of the Blogging “Yes” project, I read one of my favorite essays in the book.  It’s called “A Love Letter from an Anti-Rape Activist to Her Feminist Sex-Toy Store” and it’s written by Lee Jacobs Riggs.  The piece is fairly autobiographical, focusing on Riggs’ experiences working both with a rape crisis center and at Early to Bed, a feminist sex shop.  What’s amazing about this piece is how Riggs articulates the importance of giving people the sex-positive language to enthusiastically consent to sex as an alternative to just teaching people about the bad stuff that happens and how to say no.  In this post, I’m just going to highlight some of my favorite parts of the essay.

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