liv: Composite image of Han Solo and Princess Leia, labelled Hen Solo (gender)
[personal profile] liv
So there's some pushback against using the term bisexual in that the bi prefix implies that there are exactly two distinct sexes / genders, and therefore excludes people who don't fit neatly into either box. Julia Serano, one of my favourite writers on trans* issues, recently made a very thoughtful and informative post about this issue. Among other astute stuff, she points out that it's no more assuming a binary system of gender to say that I am bisexual (ie attracted to both men and women), than it is for another person to say that they're straight (ie attracted to people of the opposite sex to themselves, assuming that these categories are obvious, and, well, binary) or lesbian (attracted exclusively to women, sometimes with a fairly narrow or even transphobic definition of who counts as "real" women).

For me personally, I'm pretty much happy to call myself bi(sexual) or to use an alternative term. The trouble with pansexual or omnisexual is that they really do seem to carry the connotations of "will fuck anything that stays still long enough", which is really not how I am at all. I'm extremely picky in my attractions, and even more so in whom I'll actually enter into a sexual interaction with. In fact, compared to a lot of people I've compared experiences with, I am attracted to a very small proportion of the people I encounter, I guess maybe about 1 or 2%, and even then mostly people I know quite well. I've seen people who seem to experience attraction the way I do, as a rare thing and one that depends on the context of interaction with the person, describe themselves as demi-sexual or grey-A; that would be completely the wrong term for me, as I have a high sex drive, just a relatively narrow field of potential partners I want to express it with. But gender just isn't a very big factor in who's included in that small group; I probably have stronger preferences about somatotype and colouring than gender.

And even then, the main common characteristic among people I'm attracted to is a certain kind of very visible intelligence. I have considered identifying as sapiosexual, but there are several problems with that. First of all that it's a rare and specialist term, few people really know what it means, so I have to explain. And it doesn't clearly identify me as part of a group for political purposes. Also it feels kind of pretentious! There's also a more serious problem, which is that using sapiosexual as an identity term may contribute to a different oppressive system, the one which values people who are fluent in the dominant language and knowledgeable about prestige domains and good at abstract reasoning over people from cultural minorities and people who lack access to education and people with intellectual disabilities. I'm not sure that being attracted to intellectual types (regardless of what their body looks like) is much superior to being attracted to thin, blonde women with big breasts. As a personal preference, whatever, like most people I fancy some people more than others, but as a political or identity stance, not really ideal.

I think part of the issue is that identity terms with -sexual in them are generally not great. Because it makes it sound like who you are is some trivial matter of sexual taste. And it's not really done to keep referring to your sexuality in the public arena, it's at best making a big deal out of something private and personal and in the big picture not very important, and quite likely distasteful or inappropriate. There's a reason why a whole lot more people are happy to call themselves gay than homosexual, straight rather than heterosexual etc, and even terms like Ace are gaining ground over asexual, trans or trans* over transsexual and so on. Bisexual can at least be shortened to bi, but it still sounds like it's what I do in bed, rather than a facet of my personal history and experiences and identity.

And then there's Queer as a catch-all term. Again, in some contexts I'm happy with it, in others not so much. For one thing it's a reclaimed term, which means that many people do still perceive it as hurtful. For someone who has had that used against them as a term of abuse, it's not great for me to keep reminding them of that experience. Also, it's possibly just a bit too non-specific. There are contexts where I want to mention that I am in fact bisexual, not just in some generic way different from the heteronormative default.

For me personally, biphobia has never been a big problem; I've rarely met anyone who had a problem with me being bi who wasn't already homophobic anyway. And I've not really had much to do with exclusively gay people who think that being bi means I'm actually a lesbian but just too scared to come out, or I'm a traitor to the cause by sleeping with men, partly because I tend not to be involved in that kind of very politicized, quasi-separatist scene. But I know that biphobia and bi invisibility are real problems for some people, so there may be some positive benefit in calling myself bi rather than just Queer. Especially since I am a mostly cis woman in a very visible, socially sanctioned relationship with a cis man; I suspect most people I interact with casually think I'm straight.

I definitely want the world to be a better place for non-binary people. I am greatly in sympathy with people who have non-standard gender identities; I'm on the edge of considering myself part of that group, and I hesitate mainly because my differences from being a woman in the most conventional, default, binary sense of the term are really tiny and I don't want to appropriate anyone else's struggle or identity. And I recognize that as far as the GSM spectrum goes, I have a pretty easy life, given that most people perceive me as a conventionally gendered cis woman, and anyone who's likely to be casually homophobic will probably assume I'm straight unless I choose to tell them otherwise. But hey, that's why I have a blog, I can write long essays about identity labels, rather than just saying "I'm bi" and letting people make possibly wrong assumptions about my views of gender and sex.

And while we're on the topic, a thoughtful piece by CN Lester about whether the term non-binary may itself reinforce binary assumptions.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 11:52 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Ooh, that's really interesting.

I have considered identifying as...

I found that interesting, because I think it'd be better to say, you know exactly how you identify (basically, what you use "bi" to mean, attracted to men or women or people who are more complicated than that), you just don't have a name to use for how you identify.

And yes, I don't have a good answer. The problem is, bisexuality is still marginalised enough people who use the term aren't eager to start over with different terminology, even though the terminology has slightly unfortunate implications about non-gender-binary people, but obviously non-gender-binary people are often even more marginalised from the discussion, and rightly feel other people owe them the respect of respecting their terminology.

But I don't have any suggestion for a better term.

Dichotomies

Part of the problem seems to be that in mainstream society, people generally want a pigeonhole, commonly "straight", often "gay", now "bi" is becoming more common, but anything more complicated is probably just going to confuse people.

But in the socially progressive scene, you want to be more accurate.

It's also the case that there's a difference between:

1. "orientation as an outside label", ie. everyone who is perceived by mainstream society as gay-ish (whether gay, bi, straight-but-trans, etc) have something in common and in terms of societal acceptance, may sensibly band together in mutual self-justification under some label. And

2. "orientation in a personal social interaction context" as in "oh, hey, you're cute, do I fall into the set of people who should flirt with you?"

That's not quite the same as mainstream vs. scene, but it's a similar dichotomy that the identification is on different axes for different reasons.

Bisexual vs something more inclusive

It's also the case that as you get more specific, you get more personal. In many circles all over the spectrum from mainstream ones to very activist ones, it's implicitly accepted that sexual orientation is public -- someone saying "actually, I'd prefer not to say" would be assumed to have an stigmatised sexuality, or be asexual somewhere that's less accepted.

If someone is choosing between describing themselves as bisexual, or omnisexual, we probably don't want them to sit down and consider, "am I genuinely equally commonly attracted to intersex, trans, femme men and butch women, people who identify as neither gender, etc, etc as I am to stereotypically cis men and women" before deciding?

I think many people may actually not be, simply because their sexuality is shaped by the gender roles of the society they live in. And people who refuse to expand their horizons may be being jerkish -- "Oh, I'm slim-shaved-big-breasted-sexual" is considered a jerk comment for a reason. But people can't automatically retune their sexuality overnight to become what they think it would be more polite to be even if they have a good reason to do so rather than a bad one.

So there may at any time be people (probably most people) who can't honestly say that omnisexual is a better description that bisexual (or straight/gay), but would rather have a word that says "I'm potentially attracted to anyone in this spectrum, regardless of whether I lean mostly towards men or women, or towards cis or trans, or some other more specific inbuilt preference."

Postamble

The trouble with pansexual or omnisexual is that they really do seem to carry the connotations of "will fuck anything that stays still long enough", which is really not how I am at all. I'm extremely picky in my attractions, and even more so in whom I'll actually enter into a sexual interaction with.

How about "connoisseuxual"? :)

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 12:06 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Or, come to think of it, anthrosexual, anthroposexual, or humansexual. That carries a bit of the connotation of "omnisexual" but possibly less so, since it's less "everything" and more "human". Admittedly, this will cause problems when we have intelligent non-human life that people may or may not want to include, but probably that won't be soon.

It also sounds very clunky which means I can't honestly advocate it as a good day-to-day term.

If I'm right, "anthropos" is now commonly used to mean simply "human", not confused with "man", but it's original etymology came from the same root as "andros"? But it's better than most other terms.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 12:48 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
There isn't a good word for saying, I'm attracted to a very small number of people I'm friends with and gender doesn't really come into that.

Oh, that too, but I actually meant, just "attracted to people regardless of gender", which is what you mean by "bi", and what some people mean by "pansexual", and the obvious umbrella for lots of people even if they could also be described more specifically, but we don't have a word we can agree on.

In fact, now I say that, I wonder, even though "pansexual" is somewhat misleading and non-mainstream, is it worse than "bi", or just less traditional?

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 02:21 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
There was a big controversy on LJ a while back about adding "prefer not to say" as a gender option, because people who positively identify as something other than "male" or "female" didn't want to be forced to act as if they were hiding something.

Yeah, I'm not sure what's ideal. I think having "other" with an optional text box and "prefer not to say" is probably the best compromise[1], although I don't entirely like having to choose between "other" and "prefer not to say", or leaving trans people unsure whether they need to check "other" as well as "M" or "F".

[1] Or just leaving it entirely optional. Or leaving it off entirely, if you don't actually need that data, although it seems most companies later regret not having it. Or just having "preferred title" and not "gender", although that blows up when (inevitably) someone segments advertising on presumed-gender.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-23 02:26 pm (UTC)
khalinche: (Default)
From: [personal profile] khalinche

How about "connoisseuxual"? :)


Oh, I love that! I am so stealing it.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-23 03:49 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
*hugs* Thank you!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 11:55 am (UTC)
hoarmurath: re-colored Jaheira portrait from BG1 (Default)
From: [personal profile] hoarmurath
Hello, I am a random internet stranger. I also have an issue with bisexual myself, since I am one, but it feels a bit narrow.

On the other hand, I really dislike straight as a definition for heterosexual people, since for me it's always come across as judging other sexualities. Or something.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 12:44 pm (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Yeah, I think straight is an unfortunate term, but it's so widely used, and that "bent" has been in some places somewhat reclaimed, that it's better to live with it.

I agree "het" is better because "hetero" and "homo" are reasonably objective and not defined in terms of "normal" and "abnormal", although I think it would be even better if they were defined in terms of target-of-attraction, without reference to your gender.

there seem to be a lot of people who are absolutely up in arms about being described as cissexual

I sort of grok the uncomfortableness with having a new word applied to you, even though I agree it's bizarre, and that "cis" is fine and I'm used to it.

I think it's partly that being classed as anything other than "normal" can be seen as an implicit criticism, somehow, as if if I'm "normal" then that's obviously ok, but if I'm pigeonholed in "only likes X" I feel like maybe I should actually have thought about that and not just accepted it..???

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 06:09 pm (UTC)
hoarmurath: re-colored Jaheira portrait from BG1 (Default)
From: [personal profile] hoarmurath
Nice to meet you! I've been lurking for well...a long time.

I personally just say hetero people, but that's kind of binarist too, isn't it? But yes, I was definitely thinking that saying straight would imply everything else is bent and/or crooked, which is kind of terrible. Of course, in my case, I do not much consider the majority in such things because it leads to bad mental times as I have a lot of "will I have to police everything people say wrong" anxiety.

As to gender itself, I find cisgender to be more accurate, because cissexual reminds me more of "person who prefers people who are cis regardless of gender" and is in that way terribly exclusionary. And ridiculous, because how does that even work? Rhetorical question, of course.

Half-asleep reaction after half-reading

Date: 2012-11-22 12:51 pm (UTC)
dglenn: Female (Venus) symbol, with a transistor symbol inside the circle part (TransSister)
From: [personal profile] dglenn
Not awake enough to go through whole thing yet -- will do so in a few hour -- but initial thought on the beginning: would 'ambisexual' be better than 'bisexual', by connoting attraction to folks on both sides of a presumed F-M continuum instead of both of only two possible values for gender? Not a 100% fix because it ignore the middle as an orientation, and likewise ignores anyone whose gender isn't on a F-M line somewhere, but perhaps a partial solution and close to existing terminology.

More coherent reaction later ...

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 02:17 pm (UTC)
mathcathy: number ball (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathcathy
Really? I'm sorry to completely disagree, but there is a tiny minority of people who don't have two genes, either XX or XY. Therefore, almost everyone is either male or female by the biological definition that I think is completely fair and unbiased.

If people make life-choices to live as the other gender or if they have different sexual preferences or inclinations then that is all well and good. It doesn't, however, change the hard fact that there are only two biological genders.

I think that even those rare genetic mutations are still group associated with one or other of the two genders.

So I don't think it's about gender, it's about something else, of which there might be many.

For me, the label isn't really important, either. There can be as many labels as there are people when you're talking about sexual preference. Everyone is different. I find it somewhat ego-centric for people who consider their sexual preferences to be especially different to go hunting for terms to make their point. Of course, saying that could lay me wide open to accusations of homo-phobia, but it isn't that, it's just saying that heterosexual people could find a myriad of words to describe their preferences too. For me, it isn't necessary as sex is an exquisitely private thing which needs no public labels.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 02:36 pm (UTC)
atreic: (Default)
From: [personal profile] atreic
Hah, this comment is making me smile wryly, because I might have written it 10 years ago. I can't tell if my changing opinions are because I've been educated or brainwashed by the LJ-Dreamwidth gang, but it is very interesting to realise how much my views have changed!

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 02:40 pm (UTC)
mathcathy: number ball (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathcathy
I like that it makes you smile :)

I figured that the majority of people I know would more or less agree with this, so this view belongs somewhere in this debate.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 04:05 pm (UTC)
ptc24: (Default)
From: [personal profile] ptc24
It's true that having chromosomes other than XX or XY is pretty rare

Note, incidentally, that there are at least two intersex conditions where people have XY karyotypes, and yet they are born with female genitalia, look female, feel female, are treated as female by themselves, their families, society and the law - in short, they're female, and this has presumably been going on since the dawn of humanity or even before. Furthermore, the genetic mechanisms in these two conditions are completely different.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 04:15 pm (UTC)
mathcathy: number ball (Default)
From: [personal profile] mathcathy
Straight women, for example, aren't attracted to "people with XY chromosomes," they're attracted to people who look male to them.

I think that this may be an over-generalisation. I'm really not convinced that trying to label every different way of feeling attraction is productive, particularly not when it results in comments like that one. I doubt that every straight woman has the same kind of mode of attraction, or would define herself as someone who is "attracted to people who look male". There's much more depth to attraction than that, else it would be a very shallow thing which draws people one to another.

I'm also not convinced that "gender" and "identity" are the same thing at all. I wonder if maybe the definition of "gender" that you are using is far removed from my understanding, and perhaps there should be a new word given the very distinctly different meaning which I think is being forced into the word here.

Gender being black & white, male & female in all but the very rarest of cases isn't really a position I can be challenged on. It does seem like you're talking about something else, something closer to "identity", something more like "masculine" and "feminine" than "male" and "female"; something more like "having the characteristics which are traditionally associated with male and female genders". People considering themselves not to be male or female is all very well, but doesn't change much about their genetics. People considering themselves not to be exclusively masculine or feminine is pretty normal.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-22 06:54 pm (UTC)
monanotlisa: Diana as Diana Prince in glasses and a hat, lifting the rim of the latter rakishly. HOT! (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
As ever, this is resounding for me. Thanks for sharing.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-23 02:40 pm (UTC)
khalinche: (Default)
From: [personal profile] khalinche
I quite like the explanation of the term 'bisexuality' which states that bisexuals are attracted to people who are like them and people who are unlike them, unlike heterosexuals who are attracted to people unlike them and homosexuals who are attracted to people who are like them. 'People who are unlike me' covers quite a lot of different varieties of gender expression. All the same, I've gotten more comfortable with just saying 'queer' as an umbrella term for type of people I'm attracted to plus things I like to do plus relationship model plus slightly po-mo approach to things like gender identity etc etc.

The sapiosexuality thing is a funny one - I agree that it's pretentious but it's also oddly specific as a trait to define your attraction by. Possibly not so odd in a case where you are attracted to a small number of people and their common feature is their intelligence, but there are other people who are only attracted, eg, to people of their preferred gender(s) who are very fat or very thin or have some other physical or personality trait, and I wonder if they would describe themselves as 'adiposexual', or use the time they might have spent thinking up clever words to actually go out and pursue people they fancy instead :-) For my part, intelligence plays an important role in whether I choose to spend time with someone and develop a relationship with them, but I can still be sexually attracted to people whose most salient characteristic is not their intelligence.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-12-16 10:55 pm (UTC)
blue_mai: (Default)
From: [personal profile] blue_mai
The description/explanation of bisexuality you give is kind of nice and clever, but after about 2 seconds I think - but 'People who are like me and people who are unlike me" still implies that the gender thing is important, and is somehow the point of the attraction, whereas something I feel about Liv's idea is that gender is basically incidental to attraction. I think that's how I feel anyway. I still use 'gay' and 'queer' in a fairly general sense, I also use 'straight' both as slang for heterosexual and as slang for mainstream/conventional/square.

I basically agree with the second half of your comment. The 'sapiosexuality' idea is reaching for a label which just leads to me to think about whether it would be helpful for everyone to label their own preferences, is there a precise word for a preference for skinny people, dark-haired people, fast-walkers, must-be-musical etc (whether or not also gender-defined) and would it in any way be helpful or constructive..? I think not, or at least, not for me and my world.

I was also thinking (and this is not really a response) about this thing that happens when a straight or gay person meet a devastatingly attractive person of the 'wrong' gender, or someone who ticks all of their boxes bar gender, and the conflict and confusion is really palpable, especially if the attractor looks passingly like the other gender.. and I always think it is sort of strange.

Liv - I was not logged in, and I just had to think terribly hard about your number series captcha :/ I think I have failed your 'attractive intelligence' test...

(no subject)

Date: 2012-11-25 11:14 am (UTC)
electricant: (Default)
From: [personal profile] electricant
Not too long ago I came to the conclusion that all existing sexual identity labels were describing concepts that simply were not part of my own experience or identity, for many of the reasons you mention.

I'm done feeling like I have to justify or explain myself and my attractions using language that doesn't bear any relationship to what I know about myself. Either it's none of your business, or else you deserve the full and accurate version, not an irrelevant shorthand.

(no subject)

Date: 2012-12-16 04:42 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I've only got a couple of minutes but I wanted to throw a mini-thought out there.

A bicycle has two wheels, but in no way does it preclude the existence of a unicycle or a tricycle. I suspect that mono-sodium-glutamate does not, by virtue of its name, exclude the possibility of a bi-sodium-glutamate (although the laws of chemistry may, I grant you).

I think a different way of describing bisexual is the simple etymology of the word: attracted to two sexes. I don't think it precludes attraction to more than those two i.e. however many you feel there are, bisexuals are attracted to two of those sexual identities. Pan/omnisexual does imply to me on some subconscious level that ALL genders are attractive, which if it's true is fine but most of the time it isn't!

Michelle (LJ illusive_shelle)

Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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