Sex is a basic human instinct. It’s on the lowest wrung of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as one of the fundamental human experiences necessary to accommodate higher-order concerns, such as belongingness, self-esteem, and self-actualization.
It’s something we share with animals. Males and females have sex in order to reproduce. Simple as that.
Some species have sex for pleasure, but far and wide, its purpose is to carry on the genetic line for survival.
What I argue — and what’s born out of this whole frustration I’m reconciling with my family and “what I am” — is that to define a human experience by something as basic as sex limits the potential for growth, not only individually, but as a collective consciousness.
My mother and sister — and I’m sure other members of my family who are trying to “cope” with this “crisis” that is my sexuality — have verbalized that they “just don’t think I’m a lesbian.” So “what are you” is where this conversation ultimately leads. And each time, I say, “I never said I was a lesbian. I’m in love with a woman. That’s it.” Still, it turns to categorization and associated meanings with that terminology.
What does it mean to be a lesbian? There are the stereotypical attributes of adopted masculinity, Birkenstocks, flannels, and unshaven legs. On the opposite side of what’s allowed on the lesbian spectrum are the “lipstick lesbians” who can still dress pretty and embody what it means to be “woman.” But that complicates this whole idea of lesbianism, because what does it really mean to be “woman”? I suppose it can be defined as simple as “not man,” which then calls into question what it is to be “man.”
Judith Butler builds her phenomenological viewpoint of sex/gender in “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory” (1988) in part on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex which claims that ” ‘woman,’ and by extension, any gender, is an historical situation rather than a natural fact.” The distinction de Beauvoir makes is discussed by Butler as an underscore of sex; that is, a separation between “female” and “woman,” with “woman” operating as an historical situation, distinguishing “female” to be what Butler calls a “biological facticity.” Gender is a project to cultural survival, which calls to it a performance to survive “because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all.” To fail to do your gender right, according to Butler, would elicit punitive responses.
The punitive responses are the objectification and isolation of those who challenge their gender performance.
I am not performing according to my gender. Therefore I am being punished by rejection. Which throws off my quest to achieve self-actualization (which is going splendidly, really, because I feel I’m not reliant on the biological, physiological, and safety needs, and aside from the acceptance by my family — who insists they love and support me, and I truly believe them — the social and esteem needs of mine are finely balanced and fulfilled, purely and simply, through my healthy and mutually supportive relationship with Smiles).
In an interview with Rosi Braidotti and Judith Butler (can you tell I’m a fan of Butler?), Braidotti discusses the linguistic challenges that arise in discussing feminism and gender studies internationally. Braidotti notes that “the notion of ‘gender’ is a vicissitude of the English language, one which bears little or no relevance to theoretical traditions to the Romance languages. This is why gender has found no successful echo in the French, Spanish or Italian feminist movements.” What is curious to me — and will likely be a further point of research — is how this is reconciled in the scholarship of Romance languages.
Why does this have to be a bad thing? To not perform to my gender? To not be “woman” because I’m not in love with “man”? To, perhaps, be “less than woman” because I’m not in love with “man”?
Why does my person have to be defined by a romantic relationship? Or better yet, why does my person have to be defined at all?
The impetus for this entire post came from a conversation I had the other night when my sister and I finally talked about my “phase,” which, I pointed out, I hate labeling as a “phase” because it wholly minimizes the very real feelings I have for Smiles who is, officially, my “girlfriend.” I asked her how she felt when her fiance wasn’t readily welcomed into the family. She said it’s different because he’s a guy.
So it’s anatomy, really, that makes this such a difficult thing to grasp. Because although he did not meet our familial “expectations,” he allowed her to perform in accordance to her gender.
Which is perfectly fine.
As is my difference.
My mother has always instilled in us that people are born gay, which I’ve always accepted, until I started to think about the limitations even that puts onto people. That very notion maintains that there is no fluidity to the human experience. You’re born as you will die. While you may learn things along the way and grow as an individual, your fundamental core can never change.
And that I absolutely don’t buy.
As humans, we like to categorize things. We like our boxes. We like organization. We like order. Aristotle’s “The Polis” outlines what it is to be part of and apart from a society. To abide by social norms and expectations is to reside within the polis, granting those the protection and safety of the society. But to be cast out of that is to reside with the beasts — gods and godly figures — those who are apart from the rest of society, and consequently the benefits of being within a society.
We also know from ancient rhetorics that the ethos, pathos, and logos are fundamental aspects to appealing to an argument. The very word “logos” is derived from the Greek word “logo” which translates into “word.” That designation itself creates order. It creates organization. It categorizes what is and what isn’t.
So as much as we try to legitimize sexuality differences as genetic “mutations” and can — while still somewhat anecdotally — serve as indicators of homosexuality, such as the notion that lesbians’ ring fingers are longer than their index fingers (mine are, if that means anything to you) that order is still limiting. There can — and I’m sure are — lesbians whose ring fingers are not longer than their index fingers. Should they be cast out of the lesbian world, strewn into the streets of heteronormativity, expected to survive on rain water and toe nails?
What I have difficulty understanding is why this should matter to anyone. If, at the core of the polis, is the requirement and standard for morality and ethics, isn’t character what matters? For isn’t that what “ethos” really is? And aren’t the restrictions and limitations we place upon one another based on sexuality (or gender or race or socioeconomic status or shoe size) contradictory to a moral character?
While I was performing to the expected cultural norm of heterosexual conquests, I was confronted with asshole after asshole, but it was okay because they were men, and because I was fulfilling my gender performance role. I was living in accordance to the ethics and morals predetermined by my polis.
What if we allowed people to live to their own potential, without judgment or the minority placating the majority? What if we stopped defining a person’s character by their associations? What if we opened our hearts to see the potential for the expansion of our own experience by welcoming the experiences of others into our realms?
If the relevance of the human experience can be whittled to appropriating relationships with the asymmetry of gender/sex difference, I’m not entirely sure I want to be included.
But on the flip side, the Hegelian notion of the self/not-self is how I sleep well at night, acknowledging that my existence is allowing those around me to experience their not-self, if only vicariously.
That, and knowing I’m in love with the most beautiful woman in the world — who actually loves me back — helps me sleep at night and start each day with hope and conviction.