I considered using this space for a brief introductory post, but instead it seems appropriate to get straight to the content. If you are curious as to the blogger’s background, please feel free to visit the About page for some information.
Why do we define sexuality with reference to sex and gender?
Simple enough question, I suppose. I started thinking about this the other night, as I considered my own explorations and vague dissatisfaction with terms like “gay,” “lesbian,” and “bisexual.” For the record, I use “queer,” mostly for reasons outlined in this thought process.
Feminism 101: Gender and sex are not the same thing.
Fair enough. I think most people who stumble upon this blog will be aware of that distinction. But there is at least some connection, no matter how arbitrary, and that is the point from which I begin.
Even if there is no inherent connection between “pink” and “girl” or between “blue” and “boy,” the characteristics that we lump together to create an understanding of gender are obviously grouped around sex. Over time, we’ve developed a set of traits that apply to the “masculine” or “feminine,” and those things are pinned onto the biological sexes “male” and “female.” It makes sense, then, that if we have these pools of traits, and we have at least a fairly large group of people for whom most of the gender traits match the biological sex they’re supposed to go with, then most people would consider gender to be a reasonable way of defining sexuality.
Of course, there’s no reason that gender is the most determining factor when it comes to how we name our sexuality. There’s no reason that sexuality should be based on a single factor in the first place. And if it is, there are any number of other things we could base our sexuality words on, whether it’s the degree of kink you enjoy in bed, the degree of monogamy, the specific sexual acts you prefer, etc. Sex is about many, many (glorious) things, and gender/biological sex are only two of them.
So the thing about gay, straight, bisexual is that those terms require the person claiming them to name their own gender, as well as that of all potential or current partners.
You could argue, I suppose, that biological sex is the determining factor, rather than gender, which for me would be less problematic in naming myself because I know and am comfortable with my biological sex and with my sex organs and how I use them. (Of course, for a lot of other genderqueer people, that’s not true. I speak only for myself.) But if that’s the way we define gay, straight, etc., we still have a problem because there’s the danger of mixed signals. Let’s say you have female sex organs and you only sleep with those who have female sex organs. And then let’s say you sleep with a trans man who has not had gender reassignment surgery. It doesn’t really make sense, at least in our current vocabulary, to define that sex as “lesbian,” and in fact it’s downright mean and oppressive (I think) to define sexuality in that way and insist on it, because you’re negating said trans man’s decision to identify as male, which in our culture doesn’t go with the word “lesbian.”
So let’s say we’re going with gender as being the important factor.
Of course, there’s the term “pansexual,” but I don’t find that term to be accurate to my sexuality because I don’t have any interest in sleeping with someone who views our relationship or the sex we have as heterosexual. In fact, as I’ve mucked around through the sexual waters, trying on pretty much all the usual orientations on for size and being utterly convinced each time that they were “correct” for me, that’s the one big conclusion I’ve made: I don’t want to sleep with someone of the opposite biological sex who views my gender as matching my biological sex and views this opposite-sexness of us essential to our sexuality. No, thanks.
Of course, no way of defining sexuality can be all things to all people. But for me, “queer” is sort of a blanket term I use because I realize that gender just isn’t the most important thing to my sexuality, kind of like I use genderqueer because gender isn’t the most important thing to my understanding of self. When I think of how I want to define my sexuality, terms like “submissive” and “poly” and even “playful” or “exploratory” or “communication” come to mind before gender-based terms.
Deep thoughts for a Friday. Come into my blanketfort. We’ll have tea.
This post was originally published on the blog Sex Positive Activism, which has now merged to become the sex & relationships section of Queer & Now.