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And now for something completely different

I flew to North Carolina last weekend to visit my sister. It was a great visit. She showed me around Chapel Hill, including a really great comics store and a used book store with (of course) two live-in cats. We cooked and baked and ate to our little hearts’ content. We stayed up late talking our our jammies. It was a near-perfect vacation…bookended by travel I was extremely anxious about, thanks to the TSA’s new menu of cancer or molestation. I ended up getting lucky, and managed to go through metal detectors going through security in both directions. (“They don’t tell you which line to go through unless you’re brown” my sister’s roommate told me, when I asked about security at their airport. Ugh.) But I spent a lot of last week thinking about the new regulations.

I’m pretty well-positioned to not have whole body imaging be a big deal, relatively speaking. I’m cis (and not even really visibly queer, when it’s straight people doing the looking), and white, and currently able-bodied, and not a rape or abuse survivor, and I don’t have religious rules about modesty to deal with. I don’t even have terribly much modesty; the idea of strangers seeing me naked isn’t all that troublesome to me.  But that lack of concern most decidedly does not extend to being touched without my consent. The idea of submitting to an “enhanced’ pat-down makes my skin crawl. And there is a history of both skin cancer and breast cancer in my family. The TSA (of course) claims the imagers are perfectly safe, but independent scientists have raised questions about whether that has been tested thoroughly enough, and whether a dose that would be safe if it were absorbed evenly throughout the body might be dangerously high when absorbed mostly by the skin. My concerns about both the cancer risks and being felt up against my will are serious enough that, if I hadn’t been promising my sister for a year that I would come visit (and if I didn’t have to be a bridesmaid in my childhood best friend’s wedding in March) I probably wouldn’t be flying for a while.

Since I was determined to fly, I did some research. I learned that it’s the backscatter X-ray that’s the unknown cancer risk, and that it seems pretty well agreed that the millimeter wave machines are safe. I also learned that the TSA seems to be using the terms pretty interchangeably, so it’s not always clear which machines are in use — and, while Googling can tell me which airports have whole body imaging (it’s even in the TSA’s FAQ), it won’t tell me which of them are using it as primary screening, let alone which terminals the machines are in or which type of machine they are. (I spent a significant amount of time trying to turn up that last bit of information). I also learned from friends who’ve travelled that even  most airports that have the scanners have security lanes with metal detectors as well, and that often being carful to get on the right line sidesteps the problem. After much thought I decided that, if I didn’t have the option of a metal detector, I would ask which type of imaging was in use. If it was millimeter wave I’d go through it.

After contemplating just stripping at security to show my clothes weren’t hiding anything (it’s been tried, though I can’t find those links again right now, and while it should serve the same pupose, it seems policy is policy and people have been ordered to put their clothes back on and go through the machines), I reluctantly decided that if it was backscatter, I would opt out. I also decided that I should call my grandmother, a breast cancer survivor who will be traveling by air soon, to make sure she knows about the new security measures and can make an informed choice (even if the idea of advising my grandmother to consider getting patted down horrifies me more than going through it myself.)

I was actually so anxious on my way to the airport last Thursday that I got off the bus at the wrong terminal. I then went inside and tried to check in at the wrong airline. I didn’t realize I was in the wrong place until after I started to panic when I swiped my credit card and the self-check-in machine told me it didn’t have my reservation.

As I said above, I ended up going through a metal detector, rendering all of that anxiety moot. But what I couldn’t stop thinking as I researched security and tried to figure out how to avoid it (or parts of it) is that at that point, the process has already failed. If passengers with nothing pertinent to hide and no goal other than to arrive at their destination are dreading security and trying to figure out how to get around it, or at least trying to figure out in advance exactly which parts they’ll be subjected to…that’s absurd, it’s a clear sign that screening procedures have gone too far. And it sets up an unfortunate adversarial dynamic between the TSA and the flying public that seems more likely to keep the TSA busy dealing with protesters and other non-terrorists trying to get around the regulations than to keep anyone safer.

The TSA has also been claiming that their goal, with this change and in general, is to get passengers through security quickly, safely, and conveniently. (Again, I can’t find link to this, because I read so much and saw it referenced so many places that I can’t remember specifically where I came across it.) As I packed my carry-on bag to avoid the $25 checked bag fee, it occurred to me that if they were serious about that goal, pressuring airlines to stop charging for carry-on luggage would be a great place to start. I can’t imagine how many more bags they have to examine because people are reluctant to pay to check bags, and are packing to avoid it. (I know I do, whenever possible. Read: on any trip for which I need fewer than four pairs of shoes.) And that means not only more bags, but also people testing the line of which items they can get away with packing in carry-ons, when they would normally check them. That has to slow security down considerably, between the extra bags and the extra scrutiny for questionable items. I can’t believe that the TSA doesn’t have the clout to make airlines seriously reconsider charging to check bags, now that the gas prices they used as an excuse have come down from highway robbery to merely outrageous. I find it difficult to believe in their commitment to “quickly and conveniently” until they do so. And disbelieving that claim contributes to my general distrust, and disbelief of any claim they might make.


Closing some tabs

Things that have been open on my computer for a while now waiting for me to write quick posts about them:

In response to a lawsuit, EHarmony is merging its straight and gay dating sites (and, of course, the latter was itself created to settle a lawsuit). I’d already speculated, as had Girlfriend, Esq, about whether bisexuals needing to join twice and pay twice would become an issue. Guess so. I still don’t think much of EHarmony, but I’m always glad when people have to acknowledge bisexuals and treat us better.

I’ve been meaning to go through this list of queer women writing SF (in this case SF seems to mean speculative fiction rather than science fiction) for my own library list, but here it is in case you’re interested, too. (Edit: link fixed.)

The proposed sexual and gender identity disorder changes for the DSM-5. Which I haven’t read yet, because I’m a delinquent.

Heather Corinna is doing research on multigenerational experiences with and attitudes around casual sex. If you’re interested in helping.

More research, on being a transgender or gender-variant person. I haven’t yet taken either of the above surveys, so I can’t comment on their quality, but as for the first one I have certainly thought well of Heather Corinna’s work in the past.


What’s loyalty got to do with it?

There are a lot of flaws* with this piece from momlogic about bisexuality. It tries, and makes some good points, but I’m not sure about it overall. Here’s the sentence, though, that really grabbed me:

The truth is that sexuality occurs along a bell curve — that is, the number of people who are 100% gay and 100% straight is relatively small. “Gay” and “straight” are defined as being loyal to same-sex or opposite-sex in both behavior and fantasy.

I mean, the definition is clearly problematic in and of itsef. Claiming definitely that *anything* is the definition of “gay” or “straight” is problematic, and it’s awfully strict and possibly circular to describe them this way. Not to mention that the bell curve is a speculation, and it’s stated here as if it were some kind of scientific fact. But the word “loyal” just jumped off the page at me here. (I know, I’m persnickety. I hang too much on a single word. But I think the words we choose say a lot not only about what we’re trying to say but also about what we’re thinking.) Defining people as being “loyal” to either homo- or heterosexaul fantasies and behavior has a lot to say, implicitly, about bisexuals. And thanks, but I’m not interested in being defined as disloyal. I’m quite loyal to my bisexuality — and what exactly about a sexual orientation requires loyalty, anyway? What happens, who’s hurt, what are the consequences, if I “stray?” If I’m “unfaithful?”

What does that even look like? Is the implication here that bisexuals bounce back and forth between homo- and heterosexuality? ‘Cause we already know what I think of that one (though my inability to quickly find a link maybe means it needs its own post.)

Obviously if it were just this one article and word choice, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. But this feels like it ties in to a lot of other ideas of bisexuals as prone to disloyalty and fickleness. Gay and straight people know what they are and are loyal to it, while we can’t even make up our minds! And that doesn’t work for me at all.

*My other major problem is the implication in the last paragraph that trying sex with a woman once will tell you if you like it. Rather than telling you whether you like sex with that particular woman, or even just reminding you that first times are awkward and often don’t tell you very much about what you like. But, you know, points for noticing the different receptions male and female bisexuality are getting right now. And for setting out to write an article about how it’s ok to be bi, and to try it and find out if you’re wondering. Even though the way that’s handled reminds me that I want to write a post about how “open-mindedness” as a goal and a way of framing things just isn’t working for me anymore.


Why I use “cis”

My usual strategy with the words cisgender/cissexual/cis is simply to use them, maybe with a link to the Wikipedia entry, and not explain further. I think this is a useful approach, as it allows people to educate themselves if they’ve never seen it before, but takes for granted that it’s a sensible word to choose and doesn’t seek to validate its place in the language — sometimes, I think, acting as if something is perfectly normal has more power than arguing for its place.

But I was having dinner with Kate Bornstein (!!!) a few weeks ago and discussing why the word is useful enough and enough of an improvement to justify trying to convince people to use a new, made-up word, and I wanted to get some of those thoughts down here. Particularly with all of the discussion that’s been happening lately in blogs and on Twitter about the topic. (links so not in chronological order, even when responding to each other. Sorry. Some older posts I think are terribly important, and which have definitely shaped my thinking on the subject: Julia Serano — whose book “Whipping Girl introduced me to the term and has influenced me hugely in general, Questioning Transphobia, eminism. I could swear there was something on Taking up Too Much Space, too, but I can’t seem to find it right now. [EDIT: this one. Thanks, Cedar.)

I have the usual reasons, which I’ve read and talked about ad nauseum. Mostly that I think the alternatives are so bad. “Non-trans” is best, and even has some appeal for the way it centers trans experience and makes it cis folks who are “not” something. I sometimes use it as well. But all of the “bio” and “genetic” is really problematic. I like to say “We’re all made of biology, thanks.” We all have genes. To use “bio” and “genetic” to draw a distinction between cis and trans people implies that trans people are biologically, genetically (really) something other than their authentic genders; describing someone as a man who is genetically female undermines his maleness. (And besides, how did you know? Have you looked at his genes?) And, as Cedar points out at Taking Up Too Much Space, describing bodies as male or female based on biology also requires picking and choosing among the facts to support one’s conclusion. Ditto “female-” and “male-” bodied, which give the sense that this person is really, underneath everything, the gender they were assigned at birth — and is equally choosy about its facts. And I hope the problems in describing cis people as “natural” men or women are obvious — describing trans people as “unnatural” is one of transphobia’s favorite moves. The subtext of all of these pairs of words: “bio” and “trans,” “genetic” and “trans,” “physical” and “trans,” is “real” and “less real.” Using “cis” and “trans” describes different experiences and leaves them free to be of equal value.

What I found myself articulating about “cis” to Kate is not only that I feel it isn’t othering like the above examples, but that I think it really puts trans and cis people on meaningfully equal ground by describing gender not in terms of naturalness but as a journey, a way of getting from one place to another. After all, no one is born a man or a woman. We all start out babies, we all grow from that starting point to whatever shape adulthood takes for us (if we get that far). Trans means “across” and “cis” means “on the same side.” I got to be a cis woman by pretty much staying where I started. It worked for me, so I stayed put. I had to grow up into it, to figure out what “woman” meant to me and how I wanted to embody it, but I didn’t have to cross the same major boundaries to get here. Trans women got to be women by journeying here, crossing more borders than I had to. It seems to me that framing it that way, as the story of how we got where we are, does more to put trans and cis people on equal ground than any other way of describing it. I think that’s worth asking people to learn a new word and integrate it into their vocabularies.

As for the question of whether it’s okay to call non-trans people “cisgender” — I’m going to go with an unqualified “yes” here, regardless of what Helen Boyd may say. It is important for oppressed groups to be able to name their oppression and their oppressors. Which does not mean that all cis people are oppressive — if it’s not about you, don’t make it about you. But we all live, and participate to some extent or another, in an oppressive system. There have to be ways to talk about that, and the ways oppressed people choose to name it in order to talk about it are likely to be way less fucked up and play into the system way less than the way the dominant group would feel comfortable having things named. (If I see one more suggestion that cis doesn’t need to be named because there’s nothing to talk about, one is either trans or unremarkable…and that’s often at the root of these objections, the implication that we and trans people might be equals. No term is going to make many of these people happy.) And “cis” is a descriptive term, not an insult — or an identity. Because of course the counter-argument is often “You can’t call me cis if I don’t identify as cis!” But of course you don’t identify as cis. You’ve never had to think about it. You identify as normal. Being white, able-bodied and cis are not nearly as much part of my conscious identity as being queer, Jewish, and a woman; they’re not axes of oppression for me. But that doesn’t mean they should go unnamed, that no one should get to call me able-bodied because I don’t have to think about my ability level on a day-to-day basis, don’t feel able-bodied on the inside. (I do, actually. Now. But I had to learn to.) I also disagree with Helen’s assertion that “Telling me, & other partners whose lives are profoundly impacted by the legal rights / cultural perceptions of trans people, that we are ‘not trans’ implies that we are also not part of the trans community;” or at least that that isn’t as it should be. You know what? Being an ally, caring passionately about this stuff and pouring tons of my time and energy into it, having trans people among my closest and most intimate friends, even having partnered with trans people, doesn’t make me trans. Part of the community maybe, but I’ll leave that up to the community. “Allies” doesn’t mean “not invested in what happens to trans people,” and really, we shouldn’t be picking our terminology to make allies who are part of the dominant group feel better. If they can’t understand that not everything said about cis people is about them, can’t let the people in the oppressed group talk about their experiences in a way that’s meaningful to them and helps them see what they need to do about it, what kind of allies are they?

I do agree with Helen that it’s important to recognize the difference between cissexual and cisgender, which I would put as the difference between feeling that your body feels right to you and feeling that your gender identity aligns with the sex you were assigned at birth. Cissexual folks don’t feel the need to transition, because their bodies are appropriately sexed for them, but may not have gender identities society considers congruent with that — for example, I would say that butch dykes, in general, are cissexual but not necessarily cisgender. My understanding is that this is a recognized difference between the words rather than simply my own interpretation, but I could be wrong about that. And using “cis” as shorthand for both can get a little bit tricky and confusing; perhaps we should be using the long form more of the time to be clear on exactly what we mean. But I still think that “cisgender, “”cissexual,” and “cis” are not only the best we have but a really positive addition to the language, and I intend to do as much as I can to get them into  common usage. [EDIT: OK, I came back to try and rephrase this one and decided, after much tangling myself up, that it's not something I have a firm enough handle on to be explaining. Really important work is being done on defining these terms relative to each other and to "transgender" and "transsexual"  -- you can see some of it in the comments -- but I'm not the right person to be doing it. So until I have something more clear to say, I'm just going to skip it.]


Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage!

I just read Resist the Gay Marriage Agenda!, the first (and so far, only) post on the new blog Queer Kids of Queer Parents Against Gay Marriage! (I think I saw it linked on Kate Bornstein‘s Twitter feed). It’s a great read. Two quotes that really jumped out at me:

What if, rather than donating to the HRC campaign, we pooled our wealth to create a community emergency fund for members of our community who face foreclosure, need expensive medical care or find themselves in any other economic emergency? As queers, we need to take our anger, our fear, and our hope and recognize the wealth of resources that we already have, in order to build alternative structures. We don’t need to assimilate when we have each other.

And, the one that really grabbed me (in both quotes, emphasis mine):

Equality California keeps on sending us videos of big, happy, gay families, and they’re making us sick: gay parents pushing kids on swings, gay parents making their kids’ lunches, the whole gay family safe inside the walls of their own homes. Wait a second, is it true? It’s as if they’ve found some sort of magical formula: once you have children, your life instantly transforms into a scene of domestic bliss, straight out of a 1950’s movie. The message is clear. Instead of dancing, instead of having casual sex, instead of rioting, all of the “responsible” gays have gone and had children. And now that they’ve had children, they won’t be bothering you at all anymore. There’s an implicit promise that once gays get their rights, they’ll disappear again. Once they can be at home with the kids, there’s no reason for them to be political, after all!

I think this is one of my biggest problems with the push for same sex marriage, though I’ve had trouble articulating it. Because what they’ve said here feels exactly right. The same sex marriage agenda seems to be to let us get married so we can be just like you — and, by extension, again become completely invisible to you. And I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in keeping our radical ways of building family and community, of loving and supporting each other, of seeing injustice and fighting it. I’m not interested in a movement that thinks equality means assimilation, losing everything about myself and my beloveds that I prize most. Oppression has shaped us this way, and I’m certainly interested in ending oppression, but I think our shapes are beautiful. I hope we keep them, keep what we’ve learned and take it with us even if we end up in some oppression-free utopia. If it’s free of oppression because everyone finally does things the same way, it’s not my utopia. And this movement isn’t trying to do end oppression, anyway. Just to help a few middle-class whites wiggle out from under it without realizing they’re then perpetuating it.

Sometime in the past few days, I saw someone say — again, I think, on Twitter (the problem with Twitter is that it’s hard to find things later in order to attribute them correctly) — that the LGBT rights movement seems to be fighting to get queers into America’s two most conservative institutions. I agree, and that’s just not my goal here. I have trouble allying myself with those for whom it’s the be-all and end-all.


I wanted to point you to an excellent post on Queer Subversion (a blog I will definitely be keeping an eye on!) about “Fake” bisexuality and slut shaming. Jackson makes some great points about how it doesn’t help anyone for us to draw lines in the sand between “real” bisexuals and people (usually women) who we think are “faking it” — for publicity, to arouse men, to look cool, whatever. As he writes, “it just leads to more of the same culture of bisexual doubt that makes it hard for all of us.” And I needed that pointed out to me, I think, because these are behaviors that I criticize myself. I try to criticize the way our culture presents a very particular view of bisexuals behaving in these ways and doesn’t tell any of our other stories, but the line is fine and I probably cross it sometimes.  I’m against every other way that communities try to disavow some of their own in order to “put their best foot forward.” My thanks to Jackson for pointing out to me this counts.

It also got me thinking again about the trope that most bisexuals will eventually “choose one” by settling down in a monogamous relationship with a person who, presumably, has a gender. And while this is not necessarily true –most of the bisexuals I know are polyamorous, because I move in very specific circles and most of the people I know are polyamorous; nor do all people (and therefore, all partners of bisexuals) identify with one of the two genders society recognizes — I’m frustrated by the way people react to it when it is true. Bisexuals who settle down with either a man or a woman are not finally choosing a side, admitting to being either straight or gay. This seems so obvious to me, yet seems to escape most people. Choosing monogamy is just that — choosing monogamy. That’s all.

Jackson ends with a note on how this dismissal of some ways that women express bisexuality basically comes down to slut shaming. All I’ll say about that is that I agree completely and you should go read it.


Happy Bi Visibility Day!

Today is Bi Visibility Day, which serves to remind me that I’ve been terribly invisible around here lately.

I’ve been thinking about something Robyn Ochs said during her keynote at the Putting The “B” in LGBT Summit. She articulated something that’s been bothering me for a while — that the ways for bisexuality to be visible at all mirror the most common stereotypes about bisexuals.

Most people seem to assess sexual orientation based on the behavior they personally observe. So if they see a girl with a boy, she must be straight. If they see her with a girl, she must be a lesbian. If they see her with both, either concurrently or in quick succession, she must be bi. And fickle. And a slut. And not to be trusted. (It doesn’t count if there’s a long enough gap between the two, because she’s clearly “switched” “sides.”) Most people won’t even entertain the notion that someone might be bisexual unless they see hir making out with people of different genders in quick succession, or breaking up with someone of one gender to have a relationship with someone of  another, or whatnot.  So our choices are either to reinforce tired, inaccurate stereotypes, or to be told that we’re not really bi because if we were, we’d do those things. This is not my favorite set of options ever.

I also have trouble with this entire way of framing things, with its implicit assumptions that it’s wrong to be greedy and slutty, and the way it values monogamous, long-term relationships over other romantic or sexual interactions. I often find myself torn about this when blogging. On the one hand, it’s true that not all bisexuals need partners of “both” genders, that bisexuals are probably about as likely to be both monogamous and faithful as anyone else. It’s certainly true that bisexuals are inherently no more likely to lie, sneak around, fail to care about their partners’ well-being, jump from partner to partner in an unethical way, etc. But I also don’t think it’s wrong to want or have multiple concurrent partners, or to have and value and enjoy brief involvements and/or involvements only for the sake of sex, or to generally get around. I have trouble framing my arguments against views of bisexuals as shallow and uncaring in ways that don’t feel sex-negative and anti-poly, that don’t seem to implicitly buy into the same framework I’m trying to critique.

Still, I think it’s problematic that there’s only one way for bisexuals to be visible in our culture, and that it plays into common stereotypes that have such a negative load attached to them. All of the pieces of this are problematic — the invisibility of bisexuals who don’t act in particular ways, the assumptions about those who do, and the idea that behaving in those certain ways is bad.

And I think the fever from my con flu is coming back, so I’m going to wrap this up while it’s still semi-coherent. Happy Bi Visibility day! I hope the ways you choose to be visible, today and always, are successful and joyous for you.


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