Asking and telling

I’ve got about an hour here to write, so likely as not this’ll be a fairly short post. I had some thoughts this morning I wanted to write about, based on some random Wikipedia reading. The category I ended up in was “Changing sexuality,” via Norma McCorvey (aka the “Roe” in Roe v. Wade), who declared that she was no longer a lesbian when she converted to Catholicism. This, in turn, led me into reading about the ex-gay movement, homophobia, AIDS, Ryan White, and a host of other sexuality-related topics, but mainly my thoughts were on this idea of changing sexuality; according to the category’s guidelines, it also includes articles about the potential fluidity of sexual orientation.

And I was talking to Ashley about how sexuality is such an interestingly important part of your life: it determines a lot about what (and who) you pursue, how others view you, etc., but it does not by itself define who you are. It’s one of many aspects of your identity. But everyone has a sexuality, even if they identify as asexual, since that’s a kind of sexuality, too. And so this big question is, how is it determined? Judging from the research done so far, it looks like it’s a complex convergence of many factors, genetic and environmental. And this makes me think about a lot of things: for example, consider typical homophobic retort that, oh, well, statistics show that homosexuals have more abusive relationships, more of them are drug addicts, more get AIDS, are promiscuous, blah blah blah, so therefore homosexuality is evil. And it’s such an ignorant claim because it seems to pretend that if we have two identical human beings, except that one is straight and the other is gay, and each of them grow up in a Skinner box, then solely because of this one difference, the gay one will go on to become an HIV-positive heroin addict who sleeps with a different man every night.

And of course this is total bullshit, because of environmental influences. I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, but it just seems obvious that when you’re gay in a society (e.g., the U.S.) where your sexuality has been a mental illness, a crime, or both for all of history up until the last, say, 40-50 years (hell, Lawrence v. Texas was only in 2003!) – I mean, I think I’m understating when I say these are not exactly sterile laboratory conditions. There’s a huge albatross around the neck of every American (hell, every human being on earth, more or less); a huge shadow being cast by a long, long history of institutionalized homophobia.

I think a lot of the ignorance here follows the same logic as another easy example: let’s say that black, or hispanic, or Native American communities in major U.S. cities happen to have higher rates of crime and poverty than elsewhere. I’m not citing any statistics or claiming this as an absolute truth; this is just hypothetical. Is the answer clearly that they just don’t work as hard as white people, and they’re more inclined to crime? Or is there a slight chance that the centuries-long legacy of racism, and the subjugation of other races by whites, is coming into play in the present day (not to mention racism that persists, in part because people swallow such ridiculous fallacies)?

My point is that yes, each person is their own person and no, there are (duh) no inherent tendencies toward laziness, illiteracy, or violence in gays, blacks, etc., but the simple fact is that centuries of history are very difficult to undo, so of course society and the government still have lingering elements of racism and homophobia from all the years when these institutions fully endorsed all the hatred and ignorance. And so naturally this is going to have a negative effect on minorities, who start out at a disadvantage largely because of this historical baggage. Of course, this brings up yet another kettle of fish, but fuck it, that’s not what I’m here to discuss. My point was to touch on people misinterpreting the effects of institutionalized homophobia.

I’m reminded of the “Heterosexual Questionnaire,” a great little exercise we did in my intro WGST class. This kind of ties into Ashley’s “Corrective Rape” posts in that it’s another (albeit less horrifying) sign of the stupidity and intolerance that continue. And continue. And continue, to affect personal choices, policy decisions, and the way life is lived all over the world. To quote Rodney King, “Why can’t we all just get along?” I just glanced over Wikipedia’s page on the inane “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy the U.S. military has had since 1993; interestingly, I just learned of Lt. Frederick Gotthold Enslin, who in 1778 was apparently given a dishonorable discharge for attempted sodomy. This is interesting to learn about, and I want to explore his life in greater detail at a later date, Internet research permitting. I’m also reminded of a video I watched for Digital Storytelling last spring called “Last Time“; here’s how I described it in my posting for the class.

It tells of a queer black woman’s decision to leave the military after attending a meeting discussing social justice issues. Feeling supported by a community, she is finally able to take a closer look and speak out about how those issues impact her life.

Human beings are so complicated, unpredictable, and dynamic; it really is just a shame on so many levels to put them (us?) into boxes. You are [attribute], therefore you [action] – like yesterday hearing the sentence, “But I thought women liked it when you’re sensitive…” to which I immediately replied, “Different women like different things.” Duh.

Tammy (Jessica Campbell) and Paul (Chris Klein) in Election

This subject ties in with a movie I wanted to mention briefly, Alexander Payne’s 1999 comedy Election. It’s a really dead-on satire that brings to mind, one of my favorite books, Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run?, which really deserves its own post. Like the book, Election is the story of a man (Matthew Broderick as a neurotic civics teacher) who watches as a quasi-sociopathic bundle of raw ambition (Reese Witherspoon as the pinch-faced, tight-strung high school student Tracy Flick) schemes and drives toward success… and eventually decides it’s time to put a wrench in the works. It’s a film built on strong characters – there’s the briefly appearing Dave Novotny, a teacher whose career and life are ruined by a dalliance with Tracy; Paul Metzler, an empty-headed jock who blithely runs against Tracy in the school election; and then there’s Paul’s anti-authoritarian sister Tammy, who ties the movie to the topic at hand. As Tammy claims early in the film (each of the four main characters get a chance to seize the POV and make their case),

It’s not like I’m a lesbian or anything. I’m attracted to the person. It’s just that all the people I’ve been attracted to happen to be girls.

And Tammy, played by Jessica Campbell as a braces-wearing anarchist, is a delightful presence in the film, as well as a small LGBT representation; her hilarious speech to the student body (“Or don’t vote for me… who cares? Don’t vote at all!”) even caused Witherspoon to initially pursue her role. Ultimately, Tammy gets exactly what she wants (even if it does inadvertently fuck things up for other people), and it’s a very satisfying turn of events. I really liked Election, and I recommend it; it’s got great interplay between well-defined, dysfunctional characters and makes a droll statement on the nature of ambition.

That quote from the movie also makes me think a little more about the stigma against the word “lesbian” itself. Ashley and I use both it and the word “dyke” in a totally neutral, descriptive sense, and I think it’s disgusting that schoolchildren still use it along with gay, homo, etc. as an insult. As I once noted: the word lesbian, besides being just fun to say, is derived from a gorgeous Mediterranean island that was home to a great ancient poetess. It’s also the location of Mt. Olympus, the dwelling place of the Greek gods. What better images could a word conjure up than the sun striking the blue waves as a mountain towers over trees that line the coast? I seriously think lesbian should be used as a compliment.

Mt. Olympus on the isle of Lesbos

8 Comments

Filed under Cinema, Politics, Sexuality

8 responses to “Asking and telling

  1. Eli

    This just showed up randomly in a possibly related posts link… but I think you make a lot of wonderful points and are a very intelligent and interesting human being. I felt I should let you know.

    Elizabeth (ladyjunebug.wordpress.com)

    • Andreas

      Wow, this is possibly the sweetest, kindest blog comment I’ve ever received. I am just blown away. Thank you so much for saying that, and for reading, and please do so again in the future!

  2. infamousqbert

    i really like this. it gives a good overview of a lot of issues that people tend to gloss over when talking about oppression and society.

    if you don’t read it already, you should check out shakesville: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/

  3. Sarah Robison

    excellent post. Very well written and I agree with a lot of what you have to say. Our culture is so whack when it comes to homosexuality. People are ignorant and need to become educated before they start running their mouth. Just my view. Keep writing, this is good.

  4. I love the way you write. But I would like to share my opinion if you don’t mind. The only difference I would say between being black and being a homosexual is that one side has a choice and the other does not. I myself am a black male and had no choice in that. I was truly born this color. However people I believe choose their sexual preference. They may be raised a certain way, experience many different things, but in the end it is their choice. Now again my belief is that the choices you make affect the outcome and I am a firm believer that the choice for a homosexual lifestyle is out side the perfect will of our God. He made you female, and made you who you are for a specific reason and for a specific purpose. One of those is obviously to be a writer, because that you are great at, and the others the world is yet to see.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, keep seeking the truth, and it will surely make you free.

  5. Very interesting read! Thanks for posting. I’m glad you brought up institutionalized racism…it’s something that isn’t given enough “airtime” and not enough people understand or even realize that it exists. I want to see Election now too. :)

  6. Andreas

    To everyone who commented: thank you very much for the input; I’ll do my best to go deeper into some of these same issues in the future. I’ve read Shakesville before and found it both humorous and enlightening.

    Lance: I appreciate your comment and politeness, and I admit that there are significant differences between race and sexuality (though they do interact in many parts of life). However, I think it’s debatable to consider homosexuality a choice; for example, I don’t remember ever specifically choosing my heterosexuality, and Ashley never explicitly chose to be queer. A lot of factors go into individual sexuality, but I think it’s oversimplifying to put it all down as personal choice.

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