Note: this article was originally written for the fabulous website Autostraddle in reaction to an article and the comments that followed about Pro Basketball player Sheryl Swoopes. They decided not to publish on the site directly, (but rather link to it.) Given the hot button aura (that apparently) surrounds this issue, they wanted me to list some other sources and opinions. I declined, given that this was intended to be a lighthearted commentary and not a thesis project. But as I stated before, I completely love and respect those women over there. Maybe one day I can finagle my way into writing a once monthly hot button column for them called
The Queen Bitch The Devil’s Advocate.
Strap yourselves in ladies, you’re about to get a lecture from a lesbian big sister. All youngsters must hear these lectures at some point in their life. Usually, they come from your grandparents or parents (mostly hetero-centric in scope,) but this time it’s coming from a member of your extended gay family. It comes baked into a big gay cake with a dose of humor, a few dashes of sarcasm and a whole lotta love. Take all of this with a grain of salt and a sense of humor, and with the knowledge that you can still disagree and we can simultaneously respect one another (unless you’re Ann Coulter, in which case you can fall off of a high building.)
Let me start with these – my Tweets in reaction to the Sheryl Swoopes article, or more particularly, the comments that followed. I confess, I got a little carried away, but I was trying to make a point in 140 characters or less, which is difficult to do.
Before going on some rant about my clear bi/pan/omni/cotton/a/fluid-sexualphobia, please hear me out.
First of all, I love Autostraddle. I love the writers on Autostraddle, I love the content, but mostly, I love the community. There’s a genuine respect that keeps this place floating above all others – as someone who has been immersed in the online LGBT community for almost 5 years, that’s a rarity. What I appreciate most is the intellectual discourse. The trite sarcasm that eventually seems to overtake most forum based sites is delightfully absent here. AS is gathering place for women I’m certain that I’d love to share a beer with.
Now that I’ve buttered you up with some genuine butter, may I just say one little thing without a visit from the PCP? (politically correct police.) Some of the “label” discussion really gets on my last gay nerve. I have two distinct issues, the first is over-extension of the alphabet soup. While I’m all for accurate identifiers, I also believe we’re getting a little overly inclusive in this quest, and that it perhaps isn’t helping in the overall sense of the community in the world. The second issue revolves around the rejection of the labeling system as a whole.
The alphabet soup – LGBT. It started with gay, then we added lesbians, bisexuals and trans folks. Now we have a seemingly endless list of identifiers, and everyone wants their letter added – asexuals, questioning, genderqueer….Here’s where the age difference will probably rear its ugly head, but I gotta tell you, when I watched a 15-year-old girl proclaim her pansexuality on Dr. Phil, I laughed. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s utterly fantastic that kids can now come out as pansexual at 15. I laughed because I highly doubt if a 15-year-old can even fully grasp what that means. My personal experience tells me that a kid can feel all sorts of feelings and attractions, but declaring yourself pansexual at 15??? Mmmmmmk.
So Pam wants to be able to declare her pansexuality and not be teased. (Insert big sigh here.) I’ve have seen an incredible change in society’s attitudes towards LGBT folks – partly on the backs of my generation, but mostly on the generations that came before me. Now we have this new class of kids who were born into a VERY different world than we lived in, and the demand for their modified sexuality to be included in every single discussion is getting annoying.
Am I claiming that pan/bi/omni/fluid/whateverthefuckelseyouwant-sexuality doesn’t exist or that you don’t have the right to claim it? Not at all. I, like most of the readers here know that sexuality/gender expression does exist on a continuum. The difference is, I also happen to have a few more years of life experience that has shown me that most people usually settle into one of the dreaded boxy claustrophobic LGB or T labels at some point in their life.
So here’s where we can get into all kinds of discussions, similar to what people wrote in the comments. But what if a lesbian has fantasies about men? What if a formerly bi-fluid transman suddenly decides he’s now mostly hetero but still craves cock? What if, what if, what if…
Many of the people in my LGBT circle (there are many, and most are over the age of 30) label someone based on the reality of their current life, not what is contained in their fantasies or what they want or could be doing. Once you get to a certain age, (and I can’t believe I just wrote that, but I have after all, been out for almost 2 decades now) your focus shifts from finding your sexual identity to finding the person you want to spend your life with. Yes, I’m going to say it: most of these nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs usually start to disappear after the age of 25, and the vast majority of us will land squarely in the common definition of LGBT-land or like Sheryl, Swoope (back) into Hetero-land. Sorry, couldn’t resist that one!
This isn’t about judgement, it’s about having a language that allows you to effectively communicate with the world about who you are. We have finally gotten to a place where most people understand the general meaning of LGBT. Now we have to throw all these other labels into the mix lest someone feel left out or disrespected.
“I’m a lesbian identified bisexual currently in relationship with a man but strongly attracted to trans or non-binary leaning pansexuals.”
I’m sorry, what?
Really folks, if you boil down the above quote, the woman is bisexual, the rest, I don’t care to know. Unless I’m directly propositioning you, an in-depth explanation of your sexual desires (that may or may not deviate from your current partner) is both irrelevant and unnecessary.
A word on labels in general. You (and perhaps I’m only talking to a couple of people here) may personally feel that your own unique sexuality cannot possibly fit into a “label,” a concept which I find just a little bit arrogant btw. But fine, let’s play along. You and your special-ness feel contained by those pesky little labels, and so you make it your mission in life to not only live outside of that label, (which you’re really not – everything that you’re feeling and doing has been done a million times since the dawn of humanity,) but to also insinuate, in a plethora of condescending ways, that others who prefer or appreciate the labeling system for whatever reason are somehow less evolved than you.
Learn your gay history. We started to become liberated as a community precisely because we labeled ourselves. Without labels there can be no visibility. Without labels there will always be a heterosexual assumption. Without labels we are back where we were in the 1950’s – the spinster aunt or the bachelor uncle who lives with their “special friend.” Without labels, (which are just descriptive words and nothing else,) we wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone, inside or outside of our community, about who we are.
We can all pretty much agree that the walls really started to come down back in 1997 on a societal level when Ellen came out. She labeled herself a lesbian. LABELED. Then one after another, more actors and singers came out and said yes, I too am gay, lesbian, or bisexual. LABELS. Then politicians joined in, clergy, people in the middle and southern states started to get bold, and they LABELED themselves…to be counted…to be visible. This is why things started to change. This is why over the last decade gay marriage has started to become a reality. Why DADT has been repealed. Because we came forward as a people and LABELED ourselves to our family and friends. “WE’RE HERE, now stop treating us like second class citizens!” And you know what, it’s working!
But back to you, the undefinable. So fine, you can’t be labeled. But some of us can, and rather prefer the labeling system, as it gives us some idea of who we’re dealing with. Yes, that label may change over time, and perhaps it’s not all-encompassing, but it’s a place to start. I’m voting for queer to become to the new catch-all descriptive for those who don’t like more specific labels. Queer works. It’s descriptive but not defining. And why exactly are labels so bad? They just give us a common language and understanding with which to relate to another person. Just because you create a box around a label doesn’t mean everyone does. Define your label however you want – own who you are and no label will confine you.
What I don’t want is a further watering down of our current labels. And yes, that means as far as I’m concerned, you are not a lesbian if you’re in a relationship with a man. I seriously fell off my chair when I read the comment about how we’re being heterophobic by stripping Swoopes of her lesbian label.
I’m sorry, what?
I am one of those (proudly, yes, proudly) gold star lesbians who gets HIGHLY annoyed at bisexuals mislabeling themselves. “Ava” pretty much covered this, brilliantly I might add, in her comments, so go back and read if you’re confused.
And as far as “bisexual” actresses go…(insert another big sigh here)
I may decide this next week to declare myself a one-eyed one horned flying purple people eater. I may, in my heart of hearts, believe that I am a flying purple people eater. But I feel like you are under no obligation to take this seriously unless you see me flying around and eating people. I guess I’m in the camp of old jaded people who sees a blatant grab for a die-hard fan base. Good on you if you’re in the camp that just takes people at their word – I’ll be expecting you to kiss my ring next week when I declare myself The Queen of England.
So while you watch the next bisexual actress du jour stroll down the red carpet with her boyfriend/husband/boytoy of the month while safely declaring her love of women in interviews, I’ll just continue to laugh and wonder how many years it’ll take for everyone else to catch on.
But I digress. I felt compelled to write this article because I’ve started to notice a little bit of a divide within our community, and I wanted to address it. I love that the younger generation was born into an age of “It Gets Better” and GSA’s in their public high schools. What I don’t appreciate is the dismissal of the older generation by said youngsters. We found our power in coming out and labeling ourselves, and until every single person in this country has full and complete equal rights, we still need to be counted. That means slapping a big old QUEER label on ourselves so that people know we’re here. Just don’t get too carried away with your label. We older gays are too busy getting married and serving openly in the military to look up the definition of pansexual.
And with that, your lesbo big sis gives you a big hug and smack on your ass. Now go be yourself.
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