Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Even More on Craig

Also on the Q-Study list was this response to Andrew from Julian Carter. I've pasted the full email in:

Andrew,I found myself startled by your post; you seemed so angry and dismissive of claims that seem to me to be ordinary descriptions of social reality. But since email is notorious for miscommunicating tone, I thought it might be interesting to respond to some of your points, and invite you to explain how & on what grounds you see things differently.> Tell a het person that to be het is really a misleading misnomer > and see what kind of reception you get.Over the years I've had conversations with dozens, maybe hundreds of straight students (mostly white but not all) who have told me that they don't in fact have strong "heterosexual" identities. In the absence of a good reason to develop a strong sense of sexual identity, many people go through life assuming that what & whom they find erotically appealing is more or less irrelevant to their social presentations. Many say that they think of themselves as "normal." More recently I've had straight people describe their sexuality in terms of tastes, e.g. a woman might say she's "into big guys." In any case, my unscientific observation has been that straight people generally don't identify with the "official" name for straightness in any very deep way, and that one of the side effects (or maybe it's a symptom?) of their heterosexual privilege is that they often don't feel solicited by sexual identity-categories in any very deep way. To put it in Jr. High school terms: they seem to feel that anybody who's not queer is just normal. I see your frustration but I think that lack of symmetry in naming practices vs. identitities reflects the historical fact that normative heterosexuality has been constructed so asymmetrically with various queernesses--not necessarily the inaccuracy of the claim that sexual identity doesn't map easily on sexual activity.> The fact remains that, despite exceptions, the rule still largely > follows that sexual behaviour and identity are very closely linked.Well, facts are tricky things--there are so many of them. All the historical and sexological research I know about suggests that that depends on when and where you are talking about. For educated white adult men in urban parts of North America since the first World War, sure, it's been fairly difficult to engage in regular same-sex contact without wondering a little about whether this might mean you have some homosexual tendencies. At least through the 1980s, though, young rural white males could engage in such acts with no expectation of identity consequences . In many Latin American & Mediterranean cultures masculinity is far more significant to identity than gender of sexual partner, so that it's quite common for masculine men in these cultures and their diasporas to assume that as long as they are the insertive partner they are masculine and ergo not faggots or maricones or whatever term they reserve for effeminate men.> It is ever (and unfortunately) incumbent these days that gays (as a > category) must be amenable to submitting themselves to a queer > rubric because their identity is, somehow, not commensurate with > activity.>The observation that sexual identity does not map easily onto sexual activity is actually not a queer-theoretical innovation. It's an empirical description derived from anthropological, historical, and sociological analysis of the really-existing range of practices and identities. George Chauncey's mid1980s essay "From Christian Brotherhood to Sexual Perversion" is the classic illustration of that range as it existed in the NE U.S. in 1913. Liz Kennedy and Madeline Davis' *Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold* notes that the lesbians they interviewed who had been active in the midcentury bar culture were divided on the question of whether femmes were lesbians, or only butches. My own (admittedly more queer-oriented) research on women who have sex with women without acquiring lesbian identities suggests that lesbian identity has followed more or less automatically from lesbian sex only since the 1970s, and then only in some contexts.Even in the contemporary North American urban white gay context, activity doesn't effectively secure sexual identity. For instance, some of us know the name(s) for how we are "different" long before we locate or seduce our preferred sexual partners. Does that mean our sexual identities are imaginary? If your lover is too sick to be erotic for months on end, does that mean you are no longer lovers? If he dies and your mourning makes you uninterested in sex for an extended period of time, does that mean you're no longer gay? If your girlfriend begins the transition from female to male, does that mean you're suddenly a straight chick?>> For as long as society denies us the chance to > sexually seek >> each other openly--as heterosexuals do--these places will > > > > >> continue to exist. They are the sexual equivalent of the hidden >> places of > > > worship Christians and Jews were once forced to have.>> This is a rather unfortunate analogy.I kind of liked it, because it made me think about the ways in which a dungeon culture that was once very important to me resembled a religious community. In what respect does the analogy strike you as being unfortunate?>>> L/G/B/T people out of the closet who live in places with>> organized L/B/G/T communities do not need to frequent these locales.>> I live in Toronto, the third (or fourth) largest metropolitan city > in North America. I know a good deal of gay men who do frequent > such locales. Wherever did you get this misinformation?Perhaps men with different kinds of community/social/identity resources use tearooms in different ways.>>> (3) Though Craig's Republican bashing of L/G/B/T peoples makes me >> detest him, at>> the same time I feel pity for the man. It must be horrible to >> reach your 60s in>> a condition of hypocrisy and personal underdevelopment.>> What was once called "internalized homophobia" is now called > "personal underdevelopment"?I'm curious to know whether you think the two names are in some sense oppositional to one another. To my ear, "personal underdevelopment" carries a stronger ethical charge, holds the person in question more accountable for (in this case) his self-awareness and his ability to conduct his social and political relationships in a responsible and compassionate manner.>> Arguments like these continue to undermine the (political) > positions of those who freely identify themselves as gay men, or > lesbians.Maybe this final statement was where I got the idea you were angry or feeling threatened. But I don't feel remotely undermined; arguments like these are the foundation of my politics. To me they seem culturally inclusive and compassionate. So I'd like to hear more explicitly how you see arguments "like these" as dangerous?Thanks so much,ian

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