Tag Archives: sexuality

Names, Not Labels

31 Jan

I love words. Obviously. I’m a writer. “Love words” is kiiiiind of in my job description. Words are lovely, useful, wondrous things with a great deal of power. And I understand that it’s important for people to have words, to have specific terms with meaning, they can use to describe themselves. To understand themselves.

But all the same, sometimes I wish we didn’t use some of the words the way we do. Because as important as naming terms are, there can be a lot more damage done when they get turned into labels. When a word is no longer purely an identification but a categorization. Identifications expand an existence. Categorizations shrink them.

I wish that certain words would describe but not delineate. Specify but not separate. Define but not divide.

Words like trans, male, gay, butch, woman, and straight. Words like disabled, elderly, mentally ill, druggie, cutter, and poser. Words foreigner, Democrat, GOP, Libertarian, celebrity, homeless.

These words are not an evil unto themselves. But too often we – you and me, people – use them to draw a line between us, the “people,” and the others. By calling someone a label that we don’t share, we push them beyond the realm of the experience we have in being human. By carving humanity into little boxes of likeness, we lose sight of the fact that we are all, in the end, human.

And inevitably, some – even ourselves, even if unwittingly – are bound to assign a “naturalness” to one of the terms out of a group. “This is what’s normal, this is what the null hypothesis looks like, this is the ground state of humanity.” And the ones who don’t fall under that term become something strange. Something different from that which resides within us. We deny full legitimacy to those without our particular label and come to understand them only in terms of deviation.

Thanks to The Lazy Yogi for the image.

Thanks to The Lazy Yogi for the image.

But what if we didn’t look at all the ways humans can exist as deviations from ourselves? What if we recognized each as a fully true expression of all the possibilities of what humanity looks like? What if we viewed the human condition not as bound and filed in a dictionary but as interwoven with no particular hierarchy into a novel? What if we stopped categorizing all the words we might type out of those four keys in our DNA and started seeing how they all fit together to make a larger sense? What if we gave ourselves names, instead of mere lists?

I’d like it if human thinking as a whole could move beyond trying to force us all into our separate encyclopedia entries and started using all the words we’ve got around to describe, not prescribe, instead. I want an identity, not a categorization.

You can get more information out of a narrative, anyway. Encyclopedias and dictionaries have always been so limited in what they have to tell you.

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It’s a big wide world out there.

9 Dec

 

Especially when it comes to sex.

multiple sexualities

Today, I came across this awesome comic and decided to read through, given that while sure, I had heard about and had a vague understanding of the sexual label it was talking about, I still wasn’t entirely clear about the details or what people who identify with that particular label experience culturally right now.

Over and over again, I’ve found that people tend to have a vaguely hazy idea at best of what certain terms about sexuality mean. And while in they end they are only labels and word usage can change and shift over time and cultures, it still is helpful to understand how others that are not you might think of themselves, in their own terms. It’s easier to accept and make connections between you and another person when you speak the same language. So, while some of you may be going “definitions, eeewwww” right now, I’ve decided to throw out a post defining some of the sexual orientation labels that are out there right now.

Now, before we start, let’s be clear about something. Sexual orientation refers to how a person experiences sexual urges. The categories associated with sexual orientation generally correlate with how a person finishes the sentence “I enjoy having/want to have sex with [blank].” While commonly lumped in with sexual orientation, something else called romantic orientation is technically different. Falling in love with someone is not the same as falling into sexual attraction with someone, though the two do often occur together. Along with sexual and romantic attraction, there’s also a third general type of attraction sometimes called filial attraction, which is basically the sort of liking that happens between friends.

One more thing to clear up before we get on to those definitions y’all are waiting for – sexual, romantic, and filial orientation/attraction are NOT the same thing as gender identity. Gender identity is how one thinks about one’s self in relation to general female/male/neutral-ness, to put it very briefly. What’s more, how a person may choose to display their physical assets may or may not be tied into their sexual and gender identity. “I like when I look this way” is a VERY different statement from “I want to have sex with [blank]” or “I feel inside that I am the gender [blank].”

Now, as for those definitions:

heterosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the other.”

Most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the other cisgender binary. However, this can also include attraction of a cisgendered person to a transgendered person of the other gender binary.

So, some examples of heterosexual relationships would be those between:

– a cisgendered male and a cisgendered female

– a cisgendered male to a transgendered female

– a transgendered male to a cisgendered female

– a transgendered male to a transgendered female

 

homosexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to the same.”

Again, most commonly, this means attraction of a cisgendered person to the same cisgender binary, but can also be applied to attraction of a transgendered person to the same transgender binary.

So, some examples:

– a cisgendered female to a cisgendered female

– a cisgendered female to a transgendered female

– a transgendered male to a cisgendered male

 

pansexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to all.”

And by “all,” pansexuality is still usually a term meaning sexual attraction to all within a given species. So, pansexual generally means that a given individual isn’t attracted to one particular set of gender/sexual identities, and any pairing could happen. Cisgendered to cisgendered, transgendered to transgendered, cis to trans and trans to cis, same gender binary to different gender binary, same gender binary to same gender binary – the individual finds themselves capable of being sexually attracted to pretty much any form of human expression. Often, those who identify as pansexual will describe their sexual attractions as depending on a certain person, not on a certain mold.

asexual – briefly, “sexual attraction to none.”

Yes, it is that simple, and that complex. Those who identify as asexual just generally don’t find the idea of their genitals mashing up against someone else’s genitals all that attractive. It doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t still like hugs, or that they can’t still fall in love, or that they don’t want friendships. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t occasionally have sex. Sometimes, for example, an individual who identifies as asexual will still have sex with a partner who doesn’t identify as asexual in order to gratify that partner sexually. Now, some of you may be going, “Well, if they can stand to have sex sometimes, are they really asexual?”

Yes. They are. Sexual orientation is a descriptor of what you’re sexually attracted to, not what you will do sexually over the entirety of your lifetime. And think about it. How many people have done the dishes or taken out the trash for their partner, or given their partner a foot rub, because they know the other partner would really appreciate it, even if the person themselves find it mortally boring to do the dishes, or intensely disgusting to take out the trash, or really gross to rub another person’s smelly toes? People venture outside of their comfort zones to show love and affection, no matter what sexual orientation they are. For a really good description of the asexual orientation and the discrimination they do unfortunately face in today’s culture, check out the comic I linked above.

Phew! That was long. Hopefully, some of you learned something. Or had some thoughts sparked. Or raised some questions in your brain that you want to go find out more about. And while I know that with every letter I type this is getting even longer and I’m keeping you all staring at even more of my rambling, I’ve got one more point I’d like to make.

Some of you, maybe, didn’t like this post. Not because it’s about sex, but because of what I’ve said about sex. Some of you may be objecting to the fact that I talk about types of sexual orientation falling outside the heterosexual paradigm and seem to be doing so as if they are all right and real and natural and valid.

Well, it’s because I think they are. I won’t go into the thought and deliberation and experiences that have brought me to that opinion, but it is my opinion nevertheless. You may have a different opinion. I am not going to tell you that you should not, that you should have my opinion instead. But I am going to tell you that however you think things should be, that has no bearing, in this moment, on how things are.

Whether you think sexual orientation should only occur under one paradigm or not, the reality is that there are people who experience sexual orientations of multiple types, and regardless of whatever religious or political laws are in place, are going to keep feeling their sexual urges and doing their sexual acts. And yelling at them or telling them that they are wrong is not going to make them or their urges or their acts go away. It is only going to make you feel uncomfortable and make them feel shitty.

We have to learn to deal with the world that we live in. Just because I think that hey, I live in Southern California, and it should not be anywhere near this cold is NOT going to change what temperature it is outside. And if I go outside in shorts and a t-shirt because I don’t want the world to be the way it is, it’s only going to result in  my being unhappy. The coldness isn’t going to go away one bit.

So, even if you disagree with the idea that there could be multiple sexual paradigms, the fact is, people are going to keep feeling and acting as if there are. The world will become a lot less frustrating if you learn about what this means and how you can be a reasonable person and deal with it. Go ahead, put on a coat. Yelling at the cold isn’t going to make it go away.

But learning to be okay with shaking its hand and treating it as just as much of a person as you are does have the potential to make this place a whole lot warmer.

——

Like this post? Whatever your sexual orientation and practices, comic artist Erica Moen over at Oh Joy Sex Toy has LOTS of information on how to make your sexual experience safer and more fun!

A Line of Paint

6 Dec

Because of my hesitant sort of love affair with using paint as a medium.

paint mug rings - edited

A Line of Paint

There is something

about the glide of a brush across a canvas,

the smooth glide of creation

where there was nothing before.

An indelible mark easily smudged

by the mere wipe of a rag corner

changeable, as easily a glaring retribution

as a wet, glistening line

where your mind has kissed the canvas

and run its tongue along the bare back

where possibility lay.

The sensual embodiment of a thought

in the mere stroke of a hand,

The shiver down a spine of bristles under paint –

that’s a touch that’s hard to prepare for,

that leaves you burnt and angry when you can’t do it right.

Why This Is Still Not Okay

9 Aug

I’ve gotten on my soap box about eating disorders and beauty and feminism and whatnot before. I’ve ranted about today’s standard of skinny, raged about how for women, apparently beauty is now inversely correlated with the number of inches in your waistline. That spiel is nothing new.

Then today I found this:

Or more completely, I found a whole website: http://www.functionalps.com/blog/2013/04/20/women-vintage-weight-gain-ads/

Now, my split-second reaction to this was to think “Wow, I thought we were supposed to have progressed since the 50’s. If only we could go back to the good ol’ days when a women’s body was actually appreciated!”

Then my brain kicked in.

Screeeeeech! Hang on a second. Let’s back up here. This advertising scheme – it’s not really any different from the infestation of diet commercials and “slimming secret” ads that we’re bombarded with nowadays. Sure, the ads may be touting a body form that’s closer to average, but the message behind these weight-gain ads is exactly the same as today’s weight-loss ones.

“Don’t look like this? Then you are not good enough. You are less desirable. If you use this product then it will fix you.”

Hell, these weight-gain ads are even more aggressive in their body-shaming than most of today’s propaganda. Take the ad I pictured above. Let’s tease out some of its messages:

1. If you are skinny, then you have no sex appeal.

2. Apparently it’s okay to use two stereotypically-bodied males demeaning a female passerby as a marketing technique. And according to the ad, it’s the woman’s fault for being “too skinny,” not the males’ faults for being a couple of assholes who talk out of their dicks and reverse cat-call at women who haven’t asked for their opinion.

3. Woman-to-woman support comes in the form of woman A telling woman B how to “fix” herself in order to conform better to society’s body ideal, rather than reaffirming woman B’s intrinsic worthy and beauty or – better yet – going out and punching our two assholes for treating a woman as nothing more than a sex object.

Ugh. And those are just the top three things I noticed right away.

And while that particular advertisements features a couple of empty-headed Romeos in its cast, guys weren’t safe from this pounds-equal-pleasure campaign either:

Poor guys. Seems they’ve had to deal with the biggerbetterstronger deluge for even longer than a lot of us realized. More brawn! More biceps! More abs!

Are you hitting your head against the desk yet? I have the urge to do so. Repeatedly.

Oh, and let’s not forget the fact that all these advertisements happen within a heterosexual paradigm. The ads are all about making women desirable to men and men desirable to women. Forget any of the other flavors of sexual attraction. I mean, I guess this was the 50’s after all. I’m not sure their dictionaries even included the word “lesbian” yet.

So, some of you may now be shaking your heads at me in bemusement wondering, “between thin-shaming and fat-shaming, is there any way to win with you? What do you want us to look like then?”

But that’s the point. I don’t want you or them or her to look like anything in particular. Nobody need give a damn about what my ascetic preferences are, and I frankly am the only one whose opinion of how I look matters. Well, I might give my boyfriend’s opinion some sway, but that’s a freely given concession, and in the end, I am the one who has the final say.

Between thin-shaming and fat-shaming… can we just cut out the shame? Can we stop with product-pushing that tells us that no matter what we look like, our bodies are not good enough? No matter what we do, there will always be another pound to lose or pound to gain, another wrinkle to smooth, another lash to make luscious, another patch of cellulite to laser away. No matter how close to “good” you are, there will always be something more.

Because guess what? Our bodies weren’t fucking supposed to look like they got mind-jizzed out of photoshop! Wrinkles and cellulite and fatterness and skinnierness have always been there! Nature or God or whomever you assign creative power apparently didn’t think it was a problem. Seeing how, you know, through years of evolution and biological selection and wraths of God it’s all still here.

Society, usually the patriarchal sector, was the one that decided all these things were apparently a “problem.”

Yeah. Turns out that’s all bullshit. They’re not.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate beauty. But molding our economy around a sales line of pandemic insufficiency is NOT in any way a celebration of beauty. Prettiness and handsomeness and sexiness and ugliness are subjective. They change with the decade and with the person. If you see something you like in someone – and this goes beyond their assets at the dermal layer – then please, go ahead and tell them. But make sure you are praising someone for what is there, instead of criticizing them for what is not.