Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Why not just STFU and get on with it?

A friend of mine commented, regarding my post on [a]sexuality and self-identification, that ey thought the world would be better all round if people spent less time banging on about What They Like To Do In Bed (or similar), and more time just doing it.

Ey has a point. It prompted me to wonder why so many of these self-identification labels do revolve around What People Like To Do In Bed (bisexual, asexual, "sexual", pansexual, panromantic, aromantic, polyamorous, monogamous, sex-positive, kinky, vanilla, heteroromantic, gynesexual...). Why should What One Likes To Do In Bed be of anyone else's concern apart from the other person[s] in the bed?

The ones that don't (genderqueer, transmasculine, butch, femme, neuro-atypical, cisgender, feminist, neurotypical...) seem to have the broadly unifying characteristic of describing What You Are Like (stop me if I've missed something here). Presumably, if these labels describe What One Is Like, one spends most of one's time being like that - so why should one need to wave around a label proclaiming that One Is Like That?

Maybe there's a label to describe what the people are like who spend most of their time using labels to proclaim what they're like. That would be enjoyably meta.

The answer I came up with:

Actually, the sexuality labels don't just tell you what the person likes to do in bed. They tell you how ey negotiates some of the most intense and complex relationships someone can possibly have with [an]other human being[s]. They tell you, through eir choice of label (pansexual over bisexual, gyneromantic over homoromantic, "sexual" over "but... I'm not like that...!"), how ey views these other human beings, on what levels ey chooses to interact with them, and how ey responds to the ways eir sexuality is perceived in society at large.

In short, they tell you an awful lot about the most intimate facets of the person's character. In this way, they're just like the What You Are Like labels. If someone chooses to identify as genderqueer, ey's making clear the angle from which ey approaches interactions with other people, the way in which ey responds to the pressures and perceptions of society at large. If someone identifies (positively) as cisgender, ey's sending a message to other people that ey recognises the diversity of human experience and identity, and is willing to engage with them on a deeper level than would, say, Simon Hoggart.

It's funny that these issues of (largely) gender and sexuality are, essentially, the last great taboos* - in that even in These Enlightened Times TM, the vocabulary to describe them is mushrooming year on year, as people finally find the courage to try and express who they are. And, no, they shouldn't need to, it should be obvious from "what they're like". But it's not. If people don't stand up and wave their labels around, their true personalities will be ignored, drowned out by the default white noise of Everyone Is A Monogamous Heterosexual Man/Woman Who Behaves Exactly Like This [In Bed].

Sure, it saves time and effort. You're more than welcome to go with it. But personally, I prefer my interactions with other human beings to be more intense, complex, and rewarding - cos, y'know, people are fascinating!

And that's said as a true a-romantic. :)

*Okay maybe they're not I don't know I hope I haven't horribly offended someone with my sweeping ignorance please don't flame me :S


  1. I like that answer. I hadn't thought about the question you were asked - why does anyone need to know - until you mentioned it, and I don't think I'd've come up with such an articulate answer easily. I think I'd've just seen the answer that goes 'it matters to me, I want to find a word for myself to understand myself', and that's much less convincing than your one!

  2. "Actually, the sexuality labels don't just tell you what the person likes to do in bed. They tell you how ey negotiates some of the most intense and complex relationships someone can possibly have with [an]other human being[s]."

    My friends know I'm bi* and, um, tend to ask "do you prefer men or women?" My stock response is along the lines of "I am _more likely_ to choose a relationship with a ciswoman, a genderqueer person, or a trans person of any gender than a cisman because being non-cis or non-straight practically guarantees that you have to have thought carefully about things like relationships, value-in-difference, what it means to be human ..." Apart from being things I'm passionate about, if you've thought those things thru it's likely to heighten the quality of any relationship. :) But that's not an inherent characteristic of being anyone-but-a-hetcisman; rather, a non-het/cis identity is just a flag for 'person I'm reasonably likely to have common values and common ground with'.

    M x (oh, now, look. If I changed my title I'd get it confused with my signature. Sincerely, Mx M x. ... I suppose you'd never sign with a title and a kiss at the same time, though.)

    *Rather, to pinch another friend's expression, "pansoppy and [more or less] asexual".

  3. Heh, thanks both. @querything: of course, the "it matters to me" argument can be very convincing! -