April 27, 2010

Eric Fürst

[In addition to all of our awesome visible and identifying columnists, we also have some awesome anonymous columnists that for one reason or another must use a pseudonym (and pseudopic?). Details on anonymous columnists here.]

I tend to squirm uncomfortably in my seat when someone inquires point blank about my sexuality, and not because I’m bashful. It’s just that I have to make a quick decision, and it usually depends on: how drunk I am, how long I want the conversation to last, and the hotness of the person asking. In some cases I’d rather be seen than heard. So yes I can be a Big Fucking Hypocrite. But beyond it all I’m trying to avoid using a word I find most unsavory—bisexual. Primarily, it wrongly supposes two standards of sexual expression apart from this intermediary. And then there’s that annoying idiom, that bisexuality is merely a way station for gayness. I heard a friend (entirely oblivious to my recent sexplorations) parrot this belief, and made a mental note to postpone any divulgence of the kind. And in my flirtations with the periphery of Duke’s LGBT community, I’ve been surprised to observe the wariness with which the “B” is tolerated; I sometimes feel that it’s given obligatory lip service for the sake of community but not necessarily true solidarity. I guess it’s difficult to embrace a sexual category comprised of participants who embrace categorical uncertainty.

This perception of bisexuals can be expressed in mainstream terms: straight people think they’re hiding something and gay people view them skeptically for not fully fulfilling (or maybe half-rejecting?) their gayness. If a straight man has sex with a man he is commonly considered gay, closeted, or bisexual. If a gay man has sex with a woman, is his sexuality questioned so?

I’m going to take some stabs at deconstructing this rationale. Kinsey may be an easier starting point but I think it’s a misunderstanding of the more complex social construction theories that lost popularity in the last two decades, as the gay rights movement surged and activism was badly needed as the AIDS crisis emerged. The threat that these views posed was misinterpreting sexual orientation as mere “preference.” If this was the case, the conservative opposition could dub homosexuality a choice. Then, what’s wrong with asking someone to choose different, especially if this gay option is so strongly correlated with the frightening emergence of a new disease? This idea of preference can be especially pungent when applied to bisexuality. One might assume that most bisexual men would rather—if their sexuality really was so subjective—spend their lives in a monogamous heterosexual relationship—the kind that allows identity conformity, minimized discrimination, greater sexual health, and of course, the possibility of natural procreation.

With subversion a more enlightening (or at least more daring) end than conformity, I’d probably be interested in a sexual regimen more strictly homosexual than heterosexual. But as it is, I’m happy to traipse through the nebulous grays, confusing some and delighting my own ADD tendencies. Still, it’s easy to envision adopting some monogamous gay lifestyle characteristics. I can think of several male friends with whom I wouldn’t mind signing a lease, and—perhaps unsurprisingly—I don’t exactly subscribe to the notion of heterosexual couples as the gold standard of child rearing. Yet, the thought of homosexual monogamy, from my point of view, is more restrictive than heterosexual monogamy is boring.

Anyway, construction theory doesn’t really discredit the validity of these singularly-oriented referents insofar as individuals derive personal meaning and community from them; it merely challenges the notion that this language actually defines something intrinsic in the way that physical characteristics are thought to be an expression of alleles coded intrinsically in one’s DNA. To me, sexuality hardly makes sense as a phenotype. Sexuality in its essence must account not only for intrinsic desires and orientations but also choices made on the basis of free will, which ultimately has a large stake in the gender of partners whom we seek to bed.

I would further counter that by discrediting this theory, you are not only embracing the mainstream gay rights movement, but also the rote categorization by which people dismiss, abuse, and misunderstand the deeds of others. It may be contrary to the simplicity of mantras like, “We’re here, we’re queer!”, but I think there’s an importance to understanding unconventional sexualities and resisting the compulsion to categorize. Even if one’s experience isn’t specifically covered by the LGBTQAI (etc) umbrella, in the end, it’s going to be phobias regarding otherness that drive policy and retard progress more than any pragmatic concern for the individual, or disease, or equality. For me, it’s an important exercise in unlearning the illusory differences and embracing a more dynamic conception of “self”—an exhilarating and exhausting work-in-progress with no foreseeable end.

So forgive me if, the next time I’m sitting with you in a bar, I try to avoid the word vomit above by just saying “I’m not straight”...it might mean that I think you’re cute.

—Eric Fürst

P.S. Please disagree with me. I’ve assumed an annoyingly didactic tone that I wouldn’t typically use in real life, in an effort to stoke some dissent.

5 comments:

  1. Haha this didactic tone comes off extremely cocky and arrogant actually, yet i must say it definitely intrigues me to continue reading.

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  2. P.P.S. You hopefully read the "note on anonymous columnists." I'm not trying to be particularly covert. If you really do want to meet me in person (or get coffee, or punch me in the face, or demand I not divulge details of sex we've had) ask the blog editor and he should be able to connect/introduce us.

    —E.F.

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  3. hey there! thanks so much for writing about bisexuality. I've had to think about it a lot lately because 3 of my really close friends this semester at Duke have come out to me as bi, and a lot of them reiterated your same comments of finding a balancing act of where you fit in various communities.

    It makes me sad to think that anyone, especially someone who was LGBT, would not feel at home in the LGBTQAI community. I just think of the people who I know who identify as bi, and I think of how amazing they are and how much YOU give to the community, even if you feel like the community may not give that back to you.

    I was reading an article a while ago about bisexuality in one of the Center magazines that basically made two great points about bisexuality. The first was just a statistic: the magazine stated that B makes up the largest portion of LGBT. I'm sure that depends on how you define bisexuality, and will vary on who you talk to, but I think that stat just brings to light what we should have known all along: the B is a large, important and vibrant part of LGBT.

    The second point it made, was why queer women should care about bisexuality. It basically said that they care about bisexuality because they know that bisexual women are not just a statistic; they are the women who make up their community, girlfriends, relationships, lovers...the list goes on. That’s not a revolutionary idea, but I think when you start to put faces to something the phobia really just starts to fade away.

    I know this is long, but thanks so much for your post. =)

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  4. I enjoyed your post.

    With regards to bisexuality, however, I think the only way we're ever going to get anywhere toward the end of reclaiming the term or rescuing it is to have people courageous enough to throw their support behind it. It's one thing to attach stereotypes to bisexuals, but when someone you know identifies as bi, it does a lot more to attach positive things to the name--every person you know can act as an advocate for the name, depending on how convincingly you own it.

    I kind of hate to get into a rant, but how many words are we really going to have to abandon because of an idiot here or there? Just because someone who identifies the same way as you makes a fool of himself doesn't mean that we should all jump ship to queer. Yeah, lesbians don't have the greatest reputation these days but avoiding the identification doesn't do anything besides confuse people.

    And yeah, I think it's generally good to open peoples' minds up to this sexuality spectrum idea and that nothing's as fixed as we'd often like it to be, ...I don't know. For me, there's certainly a comfort in being able to easily identify and explain. Frankly, I feel like I have to do more explaining on behalf of the Catholic Church than I do for the gays. But I think abandoning these groups on behalf of unsavory word associations is cowardly.

    No term is perfect for describing something as complex as sexuality. For me identifying as X or Y is about finding the closest match and using it, being cognizant of how I differ from what most people perceive X or Y as being and being able to explain them as necessary. It at least tells people something helpful about you, even if it's not all true.

    /shrug.

    Happy LDOC everyone!

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  5. Matt,

    I see your point, however I'm curious as to the need to express any form of identification. If people put the effort in to read other individuals and get to know the people they were talking to, you could easily get to know their intentions (sexual or other). I see how it can be helpful to know someone's sexuality when getting to know that person, but I feel that more people than not use that knowledge to form an opinion, positive or negative, before actually knowing the person. It's just another aspect to first impressions that can cause a potentially unfair assumption.

    Another negative with labeling is the fact that even when presenting a label for others to read you on, you still suffer inequality from it (obviously). My thoughts always go to the fact that no one ever has to come out of the closet and confide in friends and family about being heterosexual; why is there a need if classifying oneself as "other"?

    I understand the pull to the defined; people don't really like gray areas. But I think our society's obsession with naming everything is kind of tough to live up to. Even once something is named (like bisexuality) it seems people aren't necessarily satisfied due to the potential obscurity of the identification.

    I guess I'm not really sure what I'm driving at, I only know that forcing people to categorize themselves opens them up to potentially being judged and these labels can cause problems with self-awareness and self-identification; just as much or more than just leaving it be and living without labels. However, even with my standing opinion towards these ideas, I still declare myself "pansexual" I guess; a label attempting to live label-less, which is kind of a fail on my part.

    I rambled and I'm sorry; this article struck a chord with many debates I get into with friends and I found it very interesting.

    Will

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