More Thoughts On Labels, or, Sisyphus Unchained

Wow, what a start to the year. I’ve got a few things on my mind, and some of this may be familiar to people who follow me on FaceBook (in other words, I worked out a lot of this in public or semi-public).

1) Tom Daley. After the whole “No labels, I’m with a guy but I still love the ladies” kerfuffle, the GGGG media has fallen all over themselves to turn TWO SYLLABLES into an absolute repudiation of bisexuality, complete with “I Told You Soes” and crowing from the rooftops that Bi Yesterday is Gay Today. Check this out for a better look at the whole story. Pay particularly close attention to the way people were waiting to jump on this one.

As far as Jessie J goes? She said it was a phase. You know what? That is possible. It’s an unfortunate turn of phrase for the bi community, but if she honestly feels that she had a phase of attraction to women that is now over? I am not going to tell her that she can’t. Here’s what she said: “For me, it was a phase,” she says. “But I’m not saying bisexuality is a phase for everybody.” And as long as she is willing to say that it’s not a phase for everyone, I am not willing to say that it can’t possibly be a phase for her.

2) Redefining Bisexuality, Again. There are a lot of different words people use to label themselves. I’ve written extensively on this, but it is the nature of life that it is going to keep coming up in slightly different language, so it’s worth revisiting with, er, slightly different language. The way to sort out the good definitions from the bad ones: if you have to define someone else’s identity to define yours, you’re doing it wrong. So the definition of pansexuality that entails bisexuality as “cisgender only need apply” is a bad definition.

You will note that definitions of bisexuality (or of any sexual orientation for that matter) that work do not need to reference or compare their definitions to that of any other sexual orientation identity label.

Here’s a definition of pansexuality that I developed based in no small part on Shiri Eisner’s and Julia Serano’s writings on the subject —

“Pansexual is a personal identity label for attractions to multiple genders that is also intended to convey a specific attitude toward gender identity politics.”

It’s a neutral definition that makes it clear that pansexual does not stand in opposition to bisexual, that it is one of a multitude of personal labels that are found in the bisexual community.

I hope this makes it clear that I am not slamming people for their personal identification labels, only pointing out that it is an issue when people redefine the community (which all these different non-monosexual identiy labels are a part of) in order to split the community.

Bisexual and pansexual makes sense, bisexual or pansexual doesn’t. The inclusive definition of bisexual isn’t the update, it’s old-school — the exclusionary definition is the one being forced on the community by people who are outside the community and/or people who think they can avoid biphobia via self-erasure.

And I’m in my 40s and was bisexual (and not trans-exclusionary) a decade before the good and useful word “cisgender” was coined, and two decades before the NYT called us all liars on the front page — which seems to coincide with the beginning of the historical push to redefine bisexuals into something we’re not. Now, correlation != causation, but the more I think about it, the more I feel they have to be connected in some way, even if that connection is nothing more than two expressions of one zeitgeist.

I’ve never argued against personal identity labels, only against slicing and dicing and mincing the entire Bisexual community into smaller and smaller bits by repudiating the community label, the B in LGBT, on fallacious pretenses. It becomes especially troubling to me when I see people who are not part of the community — straight allies, and people who identify as Gay — telling me that there need to be not only additional personal labels, but additional community labels, as if there is a pressing need for a Pansexual community and a Multisexual community and an Anthrosexual community and a Trisexual community that are separate and significantly different in attitudes and needs from the Bisexual community.

When a person who identifies as Straight starts telling me that Bisexual does not represent the community because some college LGBT resource center’s website says “LGBTQQIAP” and therefore Pansexual is so different that it needs its own letter? When a person who identifies as Gay tells me that identifying as Bisexual means that I am not supporting non-binary identities? I see red. Fire shoots out my eyes. And I start asking, “What is your motivation for this? How do you gain by splitting my community, and by driving a wedge between the B and the T?” All this kind of thing does is erase us further, ignore the problems that we face both as part of the LGBTQ+ community and the problems we face specifically as the B in that continually flexing initialism. (I also am starting to see pushback against the initialism itself, whether in the laughing-at-us forms like “lgbtqqiaapwtfbbq” or the attempt to remove all of our differences with GSM. Another day, I suppose, after I finish the research paper about doing therapy with bisexuals.)

3) The Word Is Not The Problem. The other terms that are referenced in the initialism LGBTQ are seen as inclusive umbrellas that don’t require either conformity to a specific platonic ideal of “what is L or G or T or Q” or changing the umbrella label to become a perfect complete one-word representation of precise attraction. As long as people insist that the problem is the word itself, that “bi means 2 therefore cis only…” or “the syllable ‘sex’ is why the stereotypes…”, we’re going to have ongoing ontological crises.

As long as people try to split the community into warring factions because the broad, general, ill-fitting umbrella doesn’t precisely parse and describe the full complexity of an individual’s sexuality, personality, and intersectional identity, we’re going to have ongoing ontological crises.

As long as people keep redefining the word bisexual to mean whatever negative they want to avoid, they are (with well-meaning, with good intentions, without malice, inadvertently) supporting, endorsing, and reifying those very negatives.

Divisions in the community, imposed from the outside — imposed by heterosexism and heteronormativity, imposed by heterosexual people in a heterocentric society, enabled by monosexual gay people and non-monosexual people who reject the community label because of what the heteronormative and monosexual people falsely claim it means — is a problem on an institutional and a personal level, as it disrupts the community and people who find themselves without a strong and stable community to come out into.

The word is not the problem.

The word is not the problem.

The word is not the problem.

The people who have invested their time, energy, and money into a schema that discredits and erases bisexuality in order to make themselves seem more acceptable to a culture that would shrug them off in an instant are the part of the problem that lets the haters keep on hating.

The Overculture that assimilates by trivializing differences and celebrating conformity is the problem.

Posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Enough is Enough: Trans Standards.


Blake rocks, and here’s another reason why.

Originally posted on Some Assembly Required:

I follow a page for ftm’s on instagram.  They said hey there is a new trans page and you should go look at them.  I usually do.  It was for trans couples.  Then I went and liked one of their pictures.  It had said that this was for the trans community because a lot of pages seem to be LGBT but mostly LG and sometimes B.  There’s a post right now going around about whether or not trans people belong in the queer community.  I want to scream, do you not remember Stonewall?  That was a lot of pissed off drag queens and trans women and bisexuals (people the modern movement have repeatedly thrown under the bus) with nothing left to lose.  Stonewall is seen as the starting of the queer movement.  Then it said this is for ftm’s and mtf’s only.  So my friend and I asked about non-binary…

View original 889 more words

Posted in Bisexuality, Recommended blog post, Trans*gender | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Happy New Year! or, Spare Me The “No Labels” Biphobia

So just before the Arctic deep-freeze ate the country, the New York Times (generally about as nastily biphobic as the straight media gets) published this piece in the Fashion And Style pages. Because, seriously, that’s where teh Queer stuff belongs, fashion and style. I mean, sure, we’re fashionable and stylish, so any coverage of us has to be in the optional pages. Because obviously it can’t be news, right?

This article actually seemed at first to be not half bad.

But that’s because the bar is so damned low that something from the New York Times that even admits we exist at all is a giant leap forward. Of course, they had to dredge up Bailey 2005 again, and the shocking news that in 2011 the verdict of non-existence was reversed – no mention of the idea that in the 21st Century the very idea that a significant segment of the population requires scientific validation in the form of pressure cuffs on our penii monitoring our reaction to specific kinds of pornography before we can be deemed to exist is offensive and ontologically violent.

Yeah, the bar is low. Low enough that an article featuring a couple sound bites from illustrious members of the community who I am certain had much more to say than they were given time for which are vastly outweighed by people who not only don’t use the label bisexual but in a couple cases repudiate it altogether, and some paragraphs rehashing the Northwestern studies and apologizing for Dan Savage, and quoting people who continue to think we don’t exist seems like a fair and balanced article, comparatively.

An article about bisexuality that basically tells the community that not using a label is a virtue.

(Ready for the annoying verbal tic that signals that my cup o’ rage is about to spilleth over?)

Here’s the thing. If you are straight and say “Labels don’t matter”, well, that’s because your label is no-label, “Normal”. If you are gay and say “I don’t believe in labels” then I’m sorry, but you are so far in the closet that you can see Sally Ride and Narnia from there, or you’ve adopted the assimilative mononormative ideal that erases everyone who doesn’t fit into one of the two neatly circumscribed categories that, surprise surprise, are either Straight or Gay with no (dare I say) deviance permitted.

But as soon as someone says “Bisexual” it’s a label-free free-for-all. Because it’s only when bisexuality is on the table that people come from all corners to push the idea that It Is The Label That Is The Problem. That people wouldn’t hate bisexuals so much if they’d just… quit calling attention to themselves.

Smell that? Yeah, me too. It’s exactly the same line that the homophobe standing on the sidewalk last time I was involved in a Pride-style march tried to hand me. “Why don’t you freaks keep it in the bedroom?”

Now, I looked at everyone who was in the march with me, and you know what? Not one single person was doing anything that would be better kept to a bedroom. No one was having sex in the street. No, we were walking along waving a rainbow flag and signs that said “Love Is Love” and maybe at most a couple of people holding hands. Well, there was that one person dancing around with a vial of glitter and sprinkling it in our path. Personally that’s one I prefer to keep out of the bedroom as glitter chafes something awful.

No, it’s only bisexuals who are expected to not use a label. The people quoted in the NYT article include the new First Lady of New York City. She was a proud (and proudly labeled) Lesbian with a capital L, but now that she’s married to Hizzonner teh Mayor, she says “Labels put people in boxes, and those boxes are shaped like coffins.” Because labeling as gay or lesbian means solidarity and community and support and change and justice, but labeling as bisexual means… what?

It means, as Nixon notes, “Everybody likes to dump on the bisexuals.”

But I don’t know how I can be more gorram clear here.


So what is the problem, if it’s not the label?

It’s not fitting into the boxes. Not fulfilling your assigned role. Being too queer. Refusing to toe the proverbial line. That’s what they hate. And it doesn’t matter what word you use, or no words at all, because they are still going to hate you just the same…

Unless they can make you disappear. Unless they can erase you and deny you the support of the community of fellow Queer people (in general) and fellow Bisexuals (in particular). Because if they can get you to manage the trick of self-erasure, by telling you that “Labels are coffins unless of course the label is Gay or Lesbian” or by convincing you that “Bisexual reinforces the gender binary and therefore people who use it are Bad People” or by simply saying that “You should wait until you’re sure before you label”, then the bastards win.

They win by killing the community, and when they kill the community they are literally killing bisexuals. Bisexual youth who have no place to turn where they will be believed when they say “I dig Dave, but I also think that Joanna is hot.” Bisexual adults who find themselves being told that the needs of Straight Allies are more important than the needs of actual Queer people, as long as those people are Bisexual, because of course *wink wink* those people can just stay in the closet where they belong, and aren’t really Queer or they’d just follow the Cass Model of Gay Development and put all that fake heterosexual business behind them and come out as All The Way Gay instead of perching on that fence.

A community cannot exist without a word to call itself. That’s just the pure and simple truth. Show me any community that has no name. You can’t do it.

No Label is No Community. To quote Estraven, a friend of mine who nailed it perfectly,

If you are unlabeled, how do you defend yourself? Whose rights are you fighting for? Why should you fight for the rights of a ________, when _________ are not oppressed?

If these tactics had been as successful with the Lesbian and Gay communities as they have been in recent years with the Bisexual community, there would not now be an LGBT Rights movement. A movement that owes its very existence to the transgressive, the nonconforming, the people who would not allow themselves to be quietly papered over and dismissed as inconsequential.

Here’s a line from the article, near the end: “People who have grown up in a more assimilated world may not see the value in labels like “gay” or “bisexual,” when the communities they describe are no longer as marginalized.”

Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I had no idea that we were no longer marginalized to the point that we no longer needed to be able to identify our community. That we were fully accepted by society at large as well as by the GGGG community. That it was time to relax and rest on our laurels, because our work here is done. It’s not like the piece quotes a high-profile Gay blogger who says that of course bisexuality isn’t real because he posed as one too, to “ease the transition”.

Oh, wait, it does. Because no mainstream article about bisexuality is complete unless it spends most of the column inches on people who either don’t believe we exist at all or who think it would be nice if we would just quietly go away. On gay people who think it’s OK to tell bisexuals the same tired old hateful things that they get told by people like that duck dude.

To quote Larry Finklestein (ten points to whoever can get me a YouTube clip of the scene where he says this):

I. Will. Not. Calm. Down.

Happy New Year.

{edit} Be sure to check out this comment by Jen Yockney.

Posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

Cis is not a dirty word.


Second reblog in a row, but that’s because this is amazingly perfect. Blake is right on the money, as usual.

Originally posted on Some Assembly Required:

It’s not a secret that I spend a lot of time on tumblr.  It’s a fantastic site a majority of the time.  I have met so many people on there I consider dear friends of mine.  It’s a place I can go and talk about the things I enjoy in my life.  It’s also a place where I can help a lot of transguys that are just starting out on their transition, and give them a place to vent about all the problems they have.  One of my favourite blogs is called Dear Cis People.  I have spent a lot of time on that blog, especially when I was in that thirteenth month stage of living as a man but not being on male hormones. It helped me to feel less alone, less frustrated.  Just like FTM Problems, the blog I run with one other admin, but I’m the main…

View original 1,238 more words

Posted in Bisexuality, Recommended blog post, Trans*gender | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why Don’t The Bi People Just Come Out Already? An Open Letter To Dan Savage.


This is the statement on the subject that I wish I had written. Consider The Tea Cozy has a tendency to do that.

Originally posted on :

Dear Dan Savage,

It pains me to say this. I like you. I don’t think you’re perfect, or have any obligation to be. I don’t think you have a responsibility to be an official representative of everyone with a smidge of queerness in the world. I don’t agree with everything you say- not a bit!- but overall you seem like a decent enough sort. That, and you’re clever, funny, and I think that, overall, you do a lot of good. Also, your podcast keeps me entertained long enough to get a bunch of housework done every week. Me and my laundry say thanks for that, by the way.

It pains me to say it, of course, because as someone with a tendency to run his mouth on things (something I can well identify with), when you get things wrong it can be.. shall we say spectacular? But I appreciate…

View original 3,044 more words

Posted in Bisexuality | 1 Comment

LGBTQ 101: A look at labels

I generally approach things in this space from a text-heavy, theoretical level. I shoot for advanced knowledge and understanding, because so much of what I end up doing in other spaces (including meatspace) is basic 101-level stuff. But I came up with what I think is a pretty easy and elegant visual way to understand the labels LGBTQ. If you are unable to access the inages in this page, please visit this page.

The following are Community labels. While they can and are frequently used as individual identity labels, not everyone in these communities uses these labels for personal identification. They are broad and general and not intended to describe people’s attractions in fine detail.

Straight: a person who is attracted to people of another (almost always constructed as a binary “other” or “opposite”) sex/gender.

Lesbian: a female-identified person who is attracted to other female-identified persons.

A circle with the letter 'L'

Gay: a person attracted to others of the same sex/gender. Frequently used to refer to male-identified persons, but can also be used to refer to someone of any sex/gender whose attraction is to the same sex/gender.

Image 1, with a larger added circle that intersects about 50% with the letter 'G' in the section that doesn't intersect.

Bisexual: a person of any sex/gender who is attracted to people of the same and other sexes/genders. Non-monosexual.

Image 2, with a non-intersecting circle about midway in size between the previous circles placed just below them, with the letter 'B' inside.

Trans*gender: a person whose gender assigned at birth does not match their internal sense of self-gender. This includes people who identify as a binary gender, and people whose gender identity is not defined in a binary. Trans*gender people can identify as straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, as sexual orientation and gender identity/presentation are not the same.

Image 3 with an added ellipse that intersects all three existing circles, but not intersecting the letters, with a letter 'T' inside.

Queer: anyone who does not identify as straight and/or cisgendered. This term was a slur that is being reclaimed as a positive since the mid-1980s.

Image 4, with a large circle surrounding all of the previous image except for about 1/5 of the 'T' ellipse, and a straight line in the lower right perpendicular, so the figure resembles the letter 'Q'

ABB, or Anything But Bisexual: This refers to the multiple regional and slang terms that some non-monosexual people use for self-identification. These are personal identification terms that are used by people who also fit the general umbrella definition of being part of the bisexual community in order to have a more specific personal identity label, or to indicate a specific attitude regarding the political implications of gender.

I release this into the wild, anyone that wants to use it with attribution either under my legal name or through referral to this blog is welcome to do so.

Posted in Bisexuality, Identity Politics (non-monosexual), Trans*gender | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Anger-shaming, Strawmen, and Hurt Feelings

Part One: No Apologies

Hello again.

Last time we met, I appear to have said some mildly negative things about a very large group of people, and talked a bit about the dynamic of that in the context of privilege/oppression, of dominant/marginalized. In fact, I didn’t actually directly say anything negative about straight people. I quoted a couple of real and hypothetical negative things that have been or could be said about straight people, but the only thing I really did was

1)acknowledge that some queer people do sometimes say negative things about things that people who represent the dominant culture do and

2)ask for those statements to be cut a little slack.

Some interesting things happened as a result, and I’m going to dig into it a little bit deeper. Because I was so polite about it, there was pushback but no serious outrageousness (and, yes, people who say things like what I said sometimes get death threats for saying it. Seriously).

Some people in the queer community reacted with “Thanks for saying this.” To them I say you’re welcome, and thank you for being part of a community of empowerment.

Some people in the queer community pointed out some legitimate flaws. At one point I said to straight people “I cannot harm you”, and that sentence, while a bold statement, was incompletely justified. So let me be more clear. If a queer person says something negative about something that some or many straight people do out of privilege and its attendant obliviousness, the worst possible consequence is that some straight people might feel momentary discomfort while they parse the statement. Because power.

For example: if I write a blog post calling out people who claim to be Allies who are actually not helping me – who are helping themselves to feel good but end up doing things that are actively harmful because their feelgood cookie is more important to them than the things I actually need – does that apply to all straight people who claim (or have been given) the title Ally? Of course not. It’s not only implicit in the statement, but explicit.

So the idea that I cannot harm straight people doesn’t mean that nothing I can say can cause harm to a straight person. Of course if I lay out a vicious attack on an individual, it can be a problem for them.

But what it cannot do is subordinate them. Marginalize them on the basis of their identity as a straight person.

The marginalized cannot cause the dominant to experience the serious long term effects of being marginalized in the arena of which they speak.

Of course, as a white cismale queer person, I could very easily marginalize trans*gender people, people of color, and female identified people. Because intersectionality. I do not intend to give the impression that because I suffer marginalization in one area, I don’t have enormous privilege in others. I do, and I need to remain cognizant of that.

So I thank the people who brought up that point.

A lot of straight people read the article and were open enough to read past their discomfort and see what I was saying. To them, again, thank you.

Now to the part that’s probably going to piss more people off.

Part Two: Anger-shaming

The negative reactions to the idea that it might be legitimate for queer people to be able to make statements that are negative about the dominant group (or people in that dominant group) are primarily anger-shaming and strawmen.

The anger-shaming part, ironically, is exactly what I am putting down in the original article. The excellent (and frequently attacked to the point of being temporarily removed from the web) Derailing For Dummies has a lot to say about this. You can go read the relevant parts here, I’ll wait. For those of you who are already familiar with these ideas, here’s some music to listen to while the others catch up.

“It is not at all unusual, therefore, for marginalized people to have to be accustomed to being very, very cautious about the way they engage with the privileged.”

This is crucial. In those areas where you represent the dominant, the things you do and say are not considered to be representative of your entire group. They are either things that are to be judged individually, or not judged at all because it’s just what people say. (Hear the implicit normal there?) If you say something about behaviors by people in the dominant group that you belong to, you aren’t attacked just for saying it.

Let me give you an example. A friend of mine started a discussion on a social media website that was about some problems going on in zer local community that involved problematic interactions and policies that favored cis people and disenfranchised trans* people. Ze specifically asked that the particular discussion (which was being conducted in the open so that trans*folk could discuss without having to be specifically invited) be restricted to trans* people, that cis people were welcome to observe but should not inject themselves into the discussion, positively or negatively. That this was not a place for cis participation, not because there was a problem with cis people in and of themselves, but simply because this was not their discussion.

And a lot of cis people decided that it would be appropriate to come to the defense of all cis people, to join the discussion and defend “themselves”, because some anger and frustration being expressed with both the actions of some cis people and the cluelessness of even more cis people in the situations being discussed was making them defensive.

Now, if I were to talk about this discussion and say “Wow, many cis people don’t get it,” because I am cis, there is no consequence for me. Not a single person is going to sincerely attack me on the basis of my making cis people feel bad. No one is going to accuse me, a cis ally, of hurting the cause of trans*folk by driving away cis allies.

This dynamic is because I am socially the equal of all other cis people in the arena of “the politics surrounding gender perception and presentation”. And, frankly, I hold that social position because it is the dominant position – I don’t actually have to declare that I am cis to get that status, all I have to do is exist. I didn’t ask for this privilege, I don’t do anything to maintain it, I just have to be mindful of it and not use it to stomp all over trans*folk.

It doesn’t matter, by the way, if I am talking to a group of cis people, a group of trans* people, or a mixed group when I say this. My position on top of the privilege hill assures that it’s just my personal opinion and not an attack on all cis people.

Whether it is an angry scream or just an eye roll and the words “cis people”, my dominance means that it’s OK for me to say these things. My dominance means that not only is there no consequence for me, but there is no consequence for my audience – no assumptions are being challenged if I, a cis person, say something about other cis people. If my anger and frustration were from someone on the marginalized end of the discussion, however, cis people would be furious at me for stepping out of line. Because even though their position cannot be imperiled, they can be made briefly uncomfortable by the thought that, gadzooks, it might not actually be all about them all of the time.

To illustrate:

The other day, I was having a private discussion with another queer person, and we were talking about something that some straight people of our acquaintance were doing, something that was purely and totally because of their privilege, something annoying and self-centered that they were not aware of, something that in other words could only be done by a straight person, because a queer person would simply lack the privilege to even consider doing it, much less actually do it. And I rolled my eyes and said “Straight people.” And my conversational partner laughed, and that was the end of it. We had shared our mutual frustration with something that was spawned by the power dynamics of privilege and obliviousness. And we felt empowered and connected, because in that moment our frustration became a little easier to bear because it was a shared burden, and instead of individually fuming about what had happened, we were able to categorize it, depersonalize it, see it as something systemic and borne of obliviousness to our experience rather than as an individual being a jerk.

Right now, at this very moment, reading this, a bunch of people (mostly straight, but a couple queer) quit reading. Some of them may be angrily typing a comment in reply to what just offended them. The comment will probably read something like this: “Your disrespect of people because their sexual orientation is different than yours makes you as bad as any homophobe. You’re alienating your allies, unfairly painting a whole group of people as nasty and clueless.” (Anger-shaming with strawmen and concern-trolling, wow, the hat trick!)

Because I was honest enough to say that I rolled my eyes and said “Straight people” when I was frustrated about something that straight people – not all straight people, not most straight people, just some straight people (but only straight people) – do. I dared do it in public.

Yeah, that’s really aggressive. That’s just me being a horrible person. Because I failed to consider that expressing something I was feeling – a legitimate, justified, honest feeling – violated the Code of Marginalization, rule one of which is “Know your place”.

Never, ever prioritize your feelings and experiences ahead of the sensibilities and comfort of anyone socially dominant.

And that rule is enforced with anger-shaming (sometimes overt “I can’t talk sense to you until you calm down”, sometimes passive aggressive “Good luck with your anger”, and frequently making what you are angry about your fault because you are angry about it, a triumph of twisted logic such as “You won’t convert anyone to your point of view by making people uncomfortable” when the point wasn’t converting people but relieving my stress, because every damned word out of my mouth should not have to be judged based on how a random straight person will interpret it) and a variety of strawman arguments.

Part Three: Man of Straw

In case you are not familiar with the strawman in discourse, here’s a quick definition: rather than discuss what your opponent actually says or means, you make something up and argue against that instead. Sometimes the arguments are devastatingly effective, in fact – against whatever it was that you just made up. But they’re completely irrelevant to the actual point being made.

There were two main strawman arguments specifically used against the previous article.

#1) “If it’s not right for you to be discriminated against for your sexual orientation, it’s not right for you to discriminate against others based on their sexual orientation. Straight people have no more choice in who they are attracted to than you do. You should direct your anger at only the individual who angered you and leave their orientation out of it.”

I’ve restated this one as bluntly and clearly as possible in order to make it as obvious as possible what an incredible and utter load of horsepuckey it is. Look, if a queer person says that straight people are mentally ill for restricting their attractions only to the socially accepted sex/gender, I’m going to land on them like a ton of bricks. If a queer person claims that straight men are disgusting because they have sex with woman and that’s nasty, I am going to go after them for their misogyny. If a queer person says that women who like sex with men are traitors to the female cause because they’re sleeping with the enemy, I’m going to make a ruckus.

But pointing out even with overt anger that something straight people are doing is frustrating is not even in the ballpark with attacking straight people because of their orientation.

And making anger and frustration only acceptable if it is directed at a particular individual who has done something specific turns frustration with the system into a personal attack; easy to dismiss and ignoring the cause of the problem, and allowing the individual offender to take themselves off the hook by saying “I didn’t mean it” or “what’s the big deal” or even “You’re being unreasonable, calm down.”

#2) “By lumping people together into an undifferentiated mass, you’re not giving straight people the same regard that you are demanding from them.”

This one… when this one first showed up, I was taken aback. My very first thought was, “what article did they read?” Because I carefully and specifically used the words “many straight people”.

“Many”. As in “Not all.” As in “Here, I am specifically leaving you, dear straight reader, an out that you can use to say to yourself ‘well, he’s not talking about me, so I don’t even need to do so much as bother to check and see if he might even be talking about me’.” (And that is in reality something that could be considered deeply problematic for a lot of reasons.)

Nope. Enter this particular strawman, the idea that even the mildest criticism of straight people – not even all straight people – based on something that they do that is clearly and easily seen as doable because of their privileged position in society is actually a simple condemnation of all straight people, everywhere, regardless of their actions and words, forever and ever amen. And at best this requires a declaration that “I’m straight, and I’m not like that” (which I have to tell you is something that I have been guilty of doing myself in other areas where my privilege is challenged, I’m not perfect, just trying to improve) or another defensive response all the way down to “I’m dismissing your argument because you can’t be bothered to see that people are different”.

Even though that was explicitly acknowledged.

And it’s not a matter of tone. It doesn’t matter if you stand right there and say “F*** Straight people” or if you couch your frustration in careful apologies and language calculated to ensure that no one could possibly take personal offense to what you have said.

The strawman is proof against even your most careful and conscientious efforts to phrase your argument in a way that takes the (seemingly fragile) sensibilities of the dominant into account. Because it allows people to react to what they want you to have said, rather than actually pay attention to what you’re saying.

And, oh yeah, it’s all your fault for their unwillingness to actually face their discomfort and try to understand what you are saying – not trying to say, because this is not a matter of your being opaque or ranting incoherently, but the actual words that are coming out of your keyboard.

Part Four: Damaging The Cause

“You are damaging your cause by being angry, real understanding can only happen if all sides are respectful and patient.”

That’s a direct quote from the Derailing for Dummies site, in case you didn’t recognize it. And it’s a big part of the thrust of the original article.

It’s not enough to merely hide your frustration and anger. It’s not enough to be ultra-polite, to behave with a gentility and courteousness that, if it were reversed, would be taken as sarcastic and offensive. (Because the rules are different depending on your position on the dominant/subordinated axis, you know – if you’re on the dominant end of the see-saw then bluntness and honesty can be encouraged. In fact, my privilege as a white cisman is probably one of the reasons that I can make these arguments with the level of confidence that I have.)

No, it’s not enough that you say it carefully or even not at all.


You are not even allowed to feel it. Because to even feel that there are things going on because of straight privilege that are annoying or irritating or angering makes you a horrible person – and is going to strip your cause of its righteousness.

Your anger is going to disempower you by harming your cause, because you can only succeed with the help of people who are not marginalized.

And if you piss them off, they are going to leave in droves.

I’ve seen it happen. I was privy to a conversation where someone who claimed to be a capital-A Ally decided they were no longer going to go out of their way to support LGBT equality, because the people in the conversation were “being a bunch of jerks”.

If I were to say that this person was never actually an ally, I will be accused of “applying a purity test” and “expecting perfection” and “tearing the movement apart like always happens when people get too picky”. But, seriously, this person was waiting for an excuse to withdraw their dubious support. They got what they wanted – that precious Ally cookie – and when they figured out that they were not in charge, they huffed off in a stomp. And they can still dust off the cookie whenever they want, get off the hook for future behavior by saying “Well, I tried to help them, but they didn’t want me.”

But is this the case of the majority of the people who support equality for all? Of course not. It’s a poisonous few. There is even a specific name for them: the Concern Troll.

But there are a couple of things that have to be said. They don’t get said, because we get told constantly (and frequently by Concern Trolls) that to say anything is going to drive away all of our Allies. Because to be an Ally is to be placed above any criticism at all, because we need Allies oh so much.

But that does a disservice to our Allies. Because criticizing something an Ally does is not the same thing as rejecting their help, as making them feel bad. Think about it. If you’re doing something, and you could be doing it better, and no one tells you that, will you? Or will you just assume that you’re doing fine?

And since I’m already standing up and saying things that are pissing people off, I may as well get it off my chest.

Part Five: If You Are Already Upset, Skip This Part. Seriously.

Many straight people act as if their involvement in the LGBT Equality movement, and their particular issue regarding that movement, is the most important part of the movement.

But the cold hard truth is this: there is a certain amount of time, energy, and money that needs to be spent on developing and serving the needs of straight people who are involved in the movement. But it is not and should not be the primary focus of our time, energy, and money.

Anytime that the needs of queer people are overshadowed by the needs of allies, there’s a problem. So when Trans* people say “Why is there one Transgender Day of Remembrance, and little or no representation of Trans* people and issues during LGBT History Month programming, but there’s an Ally Appreciation Week with activities?” they need to be listened to rather than told to quit rocking the boat.

And in my own little corner of the world, in the constant discussion of bisexual invisibility and erasure and how the use of “Anything But Bisexual” labels unnecessarily divides and weakens not only the political strength of bisexuals but contributes to that erasure in some very specific and harmful ways, I have to say that if you are straight, you don’t have any business telling me what our community labels should be, how I should label myself, or that we should just “get past labels”. It’s not your problem, and you’re making things worse for me. I’m not telling you to shut up and sit down in some attempt to turn the tables of power, I am pointing out something you are doing that is doing harm to me and my community.

There’s a great scene in “The United States Of Tara” where a straight ally is at a meeting of the main character’s queer son’s high school LGBT organization and insists that the name of the organization reflect her involvement in it as a straight person. While it shows that her concern is not really for the people she’s claiming allyship with but her own validation (something that becomes clear as the show progresses), it’s not as bad as it could be. But I’ve heard straight people talk about how “we shouldn’t use labels at all”, and it makes me want to scream for two reasons. One you’re familiar with if you’ve read what I have to say about this, and two, since when are straight people the ones who get to determine what labels we use to identify ourselves? And if you are straight, and you say “We shouldn’t be using labels, we’re all human beings, it shouldn’t matter, labels are so limiting, people are too individual and precious to be expected to be captured in a label” I’m going to get angry and say something that you’re going to try to make me regret.

Because in a world where you don’t need a label because your label is the (hetero)normative, the standard by which everyone else is judged, the automatic assumption that every child born will be, a world where I get a label whether I want one or not and the imposed label is invariably a negative one, how dare you tell me that “labels don’t matter”? What a colossally privileged statement. (eye roll) Straight people, ya know?

But the ones who are saying it are not bad people. They are not trying to be annoying. But because of their dominant position in the hierarchy of society, they are accustomed to calling the shots in a way so pervasive that it doesn’t even occur to them that they may be doing something problematic. And no one has called them on it, because we’re not allowed to.

And if I roll my eyes and say “Straight people, ya know?” or perhaps say something stronger, something with a little invective, use words you wouldn’t be comfortable using around the dinner table at G’gamma’s Harvest Dinner? Well, then I am being unduly aggressive, driving away our allies, discriminating against the majority sexual orientation because of who trips their erotic trigger, and failing to differentiate between the “good” straight people and the “bad” straight people. That I should restrict my annoyance to the homo- and biphobes, that I need to always cut maximum possible slack to straight people because they might get offended.

That I should not feel the way I feel.

But that’s a classic example of the double standard – the double standard that I am accused of when I say “queer people shouldn’t be expected to never voice their anger”. The real double standard is this: if you’re straight, your feelings come first. If I do something that causes you discomfort, I am a Bad Person who should be more compassionate and thoughtful.

Even if the reason for your discomfort is that I spoke the truth. That I spoke my mind.

I have committed the crime of saying something that acknowledges my reality rather than prioritizing yours to the point of erasing mine entirely.

And you know what? I’m not going to apologize for that.

Posted in Privilege | Tagged , , | 14 Comments