So, like many of you (I assume), I was extremely worried and skeptical about the decision to make the Mandarin the villain of choice for the third installment of the Iron Man film franchise. I mean, really, there was nothing about the decision that seemed like a good idea, and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would choose the Mandarin even if they were dumb enough to not realize how horribly racist the character is. Texts from Superheroes summed the mess up pretty well, actually:
So, yeah, it was pretty clear to me going in that there was no way this wasn’t going to be achingly problematic. Except, (and maybe this is partially my super low expectations talking) I actually found the execution “let’s have a British guy play the Mandarin” to be really interesting and at least mildly nuanced.
[This is where spoilers start, guys]
When the movie opens, the Mandarin is already a fairly well established ‘villain’ of sorts, who has been responsible for a series of explosions around the world. He occasionally overrides the world’s media signals to send out messages, and to teach the good old US of A various ‘lessons,’ with the implication that he is building up to some much bigger display of power that will be a final lesson to the depravity of America.
His actions are actually remarkably low-key for an action movie villain, and his body count isn’t all that high. What’s more interesting is his portrayal: played by the actor Ben Kingsley, who is of mixed race (white and Pakistani). The character predictably uses a lot of stereotypical “ancient Chinese” aspects to his presentation, in the decor and dress he surrounds himself with in his broadcasts. And to top it all off, his speech patterns are identified by Tony Stark as those of a “Baptist preacher.”
In short, he is a pastiche, combining elements of threatening foreignness with aspects of certain stereotypes that even the most Lefty liberals might fear. As a villain, he is designed to represent something that will trigger irrational fears in as broad a swath of the American public as possible.
And of course, this is exactly the intent of the design of the character, even within the reality of the film itself. We eventually find out that the Mandarin is not responsible for the explosions for which he has taken credit – in fact, the man that we have seen on the television is an actor who was hired to divert attention away from what was actually happening: an American business man has been using the spectre of the Mandarin to cover up the results of his failed human experiments.
Which, I mean, it’s still a relatively shallow action film and all, (and it certainly is part and parcel of the Hollywood machine that insists on depicting versions of America that are easily 90% populated by white people), but I appreciated the nuance. And while I’m not totally sold on the execution (I don’t feel comfortable stating whether the ultimate portrayal of the Mandarin in this film is racist or not), it does seem clear to me that the people involved in devising the film were trying to do the right thing here, in a way that went beyond simply wanting to be ‘politically correct’ into actually wanting to engage with racial politics in America (even if only in a relatively simplistic way).
I don’t really know, though. What are your thoughts?
I’ve never had the intention of being a stay-at-home parent; my mother didn’t work when I was young, so it’s not like it wasn’t a viable option to me, it was just never what I wanted to do. I want to have a career, or at any rate, I want to have a meaningful and influential impact on the world beyond my family. And so as much as I have always wanted to have children, I’ve never imagined myself as the primary caregiver. It’s unlikely, really, that either my husband or I will choose to be at home with the kids full-time, and that’s always been fine to me.
Except, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way that I want to parent. I just finished reading It’s OK Not to Share, which is a seriously fantastic read that, starting from the first principles of:
- Kids are people, with all the rights that implies; and
- Kids have unique needs and values that may not make sense to adults, but that are very real and need to be respected
develops really rich parenting strategies that, quite frankly, model exactly the kind of parent I want to be. It’s seriously worth reading.
But the problem, of course, is that these strategies involve establishing and maintaining certain kinds of environments for your child, and having ample opportunities to support and model conflict management techniques and other behaviours. And short of finding a daycare and/or preschool that upholds the same kinds of ideals of care that I would like my children to be exposed to, I worry that we simply won’t be able to have as much influence on their development as would be necessary to really teach them the kinds of things I’d like to impart.
I also realized today that the one person I know who is raising their (truly amazing) kid with awesome social justice ideals and respect for the kid’s autonomy and the like is, in fact, a full-time caregiver to their kid.
So now I don’t know what I want to do. I used to just worry about things like being able to get my parents to accept and respect the fact that I will under no circumstances be spanking my children, and that if they were to spank them, that would be grounds for them to never be alone with my kids again. Now I’m worried that I simply won’t be a big enough presence in their lives to combat the messages they’ll be getting from the world at large.
I’m sure it’s mostly an irrational fear, and I know that people who had two working parents were still deeply affected by their parents’ parenting choices and styles, but I also know that it’s going to be harder to make sure my kids avoid indoctrination into a lot of mainstream societal things, and are able to understand the difference between what’s normal and what’s right and wrong. I’m sure it’s just something I’ll have to play by ear, and it’s not something I need to figure out right now, but it’s what I’ve thinking about lately.
The last couple months for me have been pretty heavy. In fact, over the Easter long weekend, I found myself on the edge of a complete mental break-down. And that’s a really pat way of putting it, that doesn’t even remotely explain what happened or what I was going through, but I want to try to describe what happened in my head at that time. Because “mental breakdown” is a really vague phrase, and what happened to me was very concrete and, well, intensely real.
But first, some context: I had been working the same job for nearly four years. It was my first “grown-up” job, and I’d landed it right when I was about to run out of money and have to move home with my parents, by a great stroke of luck. And it was a mildly interesting, and certainly reasonably challenging, job doing administration for a law office.
And let me tell you, on paper, this job was absolutely ideal for me and where I was at in life, and has remained so throughout the years. It paid reasonably well, had benefits (both practical ones like health and dental insurance, and extra perks like free concert tickets in a premium section now and then), and the real kicker was that when I enrolled in a master’s program (which I’ve been taking part-time for the past three years, and is the best thing in my life next to my husband), because I had already established myself as a great worker, I was allowed to cut down to a four-day work-week when my class schedule required it, without even taking a pay cut. It was pretty awesome and cozy.
But, it was also an incredibly toxic environment. I don’t want to get into too much detail on this point, but suffice to say that my politics were diametrically opposed to those of the people I was working with, and I overheard an awful lot of racism, victim-blaming, and general disdain for people who are poor and the mentally ill. My boss also had a bad habit of, when something was stressing him out, calling one of his senior associates into his office and yelling at them (almost always about something someone else had done wrong) until he felt better. I tended not to be on the receiving end of his vitriol, fortunate as I was not to be involved in the legal aspects of the work we did, but I often had to comfort the people who were wrongfully attacked.
Anyway, I hadn’t, strictly speaking, been happy there since the glow of new job, and being able to support myself, had worn off after less than a year. But I had stayed for another three years after that glow wore off, because as I say, on paper it was the perfect place for me to be. As time passed, my dedication to the job started to evaporate, and it reached the point where I would spend half of my day dicking around on the internet and not actually being productive. But by then, I’d figured out how much I needed to do to stay on top of everything, at least enough to not get called out on it. So that’s what I did.
And it started getting harder to get myself to leave the house in the mornings, sometimes. Not so much, that I was ever actually late; just so that I was sometimes not as early as I used to be (’cause that’s how I roll). I was frequently miserable, and spent whole days hating anyone who dared to try to talk to me at work (didn’t they know they were interrupting my lack of productivity?) And I started looking for jobs on and off, but I felt trapped by the sheer flexibility of my hours, something I had only gotten because I had already proven myself in that position. There was no way I would find a job with commensurate pay that would allow me to continue my studies. So I mostly didn’t apply for anything, and just felt more and more backed into a corner about the whole thing. I really didn’t think i had any other options but to stay on for yet another year, until I graduate and find a job in my chosen field (hah! I know).
But then, at the beginning of March, I had some major family drama, involving the hospitalization of a sibling, who was subsequently disowned by my parents, and left homeless (though with a strong support network of friends), jobless, and in legal trouble. I don’t even want to begin on this one, so I’m not going to get into it. Everyone seems to be doing ok now, anyway. (And again, this one of those places where my boss sounds awesome. After a brief phone conversation with my father, I walked into his office (where a couple of my coworkers also were) and, in complete shock, just said “Apparently, my little brother was shot last night?” to which his immediate response was to ask me if I needed money to be able to fly home, because there was obviously no question that I would be leaving immediately and off indefinitely).
My visit home was extremely stressful – I have somewhat strained relationships with both of my parents, and we can really only get along comfortably when the stakes are low, which they obviously weren’t, and the disowning happened while I was a plane back home.
Anyway, after all of that, my daily struggle to get out the door in the morning worsened considerably. I found myself having to stop in the middle of putting on my shoes and sit completely still for periods of time that range from a minute to fifteen minutes, just in order to not burst into tears, for no apparent reason. Every day. I have no idea how I managed to get things done at work, but I still kept on top of everything every day. I was actually more on top of things than I had been in previous years during March. I was mostly on auto-pilot, though, because that was the only way I could function. Whenever something happened that didn’t exactly match up with business as usual (which, honestly, was many times daily, as the work was complex, and all of our clients were mold-breakers) I would react with (mostly internal) uncontrollable rage mixed with sheer exhaustion, which is quite probably the worst feeling I have ever felt in my life. That exhaustion? It was the feeling of giving up, and of submitting to my fate. I didn’t have the energy to be angry, or annoyed. I only had enough energy to do the bare minimum to keep on top of my job. And take the occasional break to cry in the washroom, always for no apparent reason.
And I mean, obviously I knew something was wrong. But I’d had similar stretches of time feeling kind of like this before, especially during busy season, and they’d always passed. And while each time, I hadn’t actually recovered back to the state of productivity I’d been in prior to reaching exhaustion, things did become temporarily bearable again, every time. So, I figured I’d be fine, and I kept reminding myself this was all temporary, and that I’d only be stuck in this job for another year, tops. I could do it, no question. It’d be fine.
Except it already pretty clearly wasn’t fine. I wasn’t just having those moments of paralysis when I was trying to get ready to go to work; one weekend, it took me four hours to get out of bed, get dressed, and get my shoes on to go get groceries. And it’s not like, four hours because I got distracted by shiny things on the internet and fell into a YouTube stupor. I mean, I sat on the edge of the bed with the intent of walking over to the dresser, seriously intending to go get my clothes, for at least an hour (though it didn’t feel like that long). It was as if my brain just got caught in a loop, and couldn’t quite finish the command to my body to move. And each step of the process of getting dressed went like this.
I stood up and opened the drawer of the dresser, and just… stared at it blankly, for I have no idea how long, because I had no sense of the time. I put on one sock, and then stared at the other one in my hands. Once my shoes were on, I stared at the door. It’s like I wasn’t even there any more, I was just a body running on fumes and a memory of consciousness.
The next time this happened, my husband and I were supposed to be going out together (though I can’t for the life of me remember what we were going to do). And this time he witnessed the hours-long process of me trying to get ready to leave the house. And he was really good about it, checked on me, but obviously saw that something was very wrong and didn’t get annoyed or try to pressure me. He sat with me when I was putting my shoes on, and I stopped after the first one and just sat there for a very long time. I don’t know what I said at first, I think I maybe just started crying, but at some point we were just sitting there, and he was holding me, and I said, “I want to go to a hospital.”
This is the point where I struggle to describe just exactly what I was feeling. I was scared, but it wasn’t just irrational anxiety, it was a genuine fear. And I was fearing for my life, though I couldn’t for the life of me, then or now, tell you why or how. But I felt like I was going to die if something didn’t change. Hell, I knew I was going to die if something didn’t change. I suddenly very clearly saw just how unwell I had been, and for just how long, and how slowly and steadily I had been declining until I found myself looking over a precipice, prepared to take that last step over the edge.
I didn’t go to the hospital, in the end. My brain woke up enough to ask the question “what are they even going to do for you if you go?” and I did some research (somehow research is one of those activities that I can do regardless of my mental state; I feel like it’s my version of stimming, the systematic search for information is extremely calming and centring) and found that unless I was a clear suicide threat (and I wasn’t; my fear wasn’t that I would kill myself, only that I would die), the best I could hope for was a referral to a therapist or maybe a prescription of some kind. What I really needed was to for someone to take care of me, and to relinquish responsibility for myself temporarily (which is a very difficult thing for me to do – it was only very recently in my life that I learned to ask for even the simplest kinds of help from other people; I’m pathologically independent) and ultimately my husband was both better equipped and more willing to do that than anyone else.
So I wrote and email to my boss at 11PM on Sunday night, quitting without notice. And I want to be very clear here; quitting this job in the middle of the bust season without notice would have been the one thing I would have told I would never do. That’s four years of work experience down the drain right there. And it involved surrendering financial stability in a terrible job market. I had no idea what was going to happen next. It’s the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.
But I started feeling better the second I hit ‘send’. The amount of weight that lifted off of me is inexpressible. I’m not quite fully recovered, I don’t think, but I’ve been rediscovering myself this past month, and my ability to cope with life has seriously improved.
A week after I quit, I joined the ranks of the multiply-credentialed people in crappy service jobs. I’m a retail worker, and I seriously couldn’t be happier about it.
Recently in the world of mixed martial arts, there was a major hubbub when the woman fighter Fallon Fox was outed as a trans person. Predictably, there was a lot of question about whether she should be allowed to compete in the UFC (or in other MMA leagues), and a lot of people deplored the fact that she had not been open about her trans status prior to fighting (and soundly trouncing) her first opponent. My instinct in this case is that of course her medical and personal history is no one’s business, and it’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise. But at the same time, I found myself wondering about the implications to the other fighters ability to give informed consent to fight this woman, and what kind of advantages her particular history might give her.
Because the thing is, many people’s knee-jerk reaction was that Ms. Fox’s trans status gave her an unfair advantage in competition with the other women in the league. I am reluctant to give this suggestion much weight on its face – yes, her physiological development may have been very different from the average woman’s, but the thing about professional sports is that I can promise you that none of the other women are even remotely average, themselves. And I am loath to start defining what kinds of natural developmental patterns should be considered “unfair” – because, while Fox’s physical development was likely affected by her biology, and the consequent mix of hormones and whatever other differences might be there, it’s not as if men and women are two such distinct groups with respect to physical development and natural hormone cocktails – people, as a group, exist on a variety of spectra, and each individual’s developmental process is different.
At any rate, I figured the issue of consent could be easily dealt by having the league clearly and explicitly define the requirements to be eligible to fight – if, upon signing on to the league, all of the fighters had to acknowledge and accept that some of the fighters might be trans (in the sense of being informed that trans women are eligible to fight in the league), but they would not be informed as to who those people were, they would be making informed consent to the fact that they might, at some point in their career, be up against a trans opponent. But I have been informed that this isn’t how the UFC works – each bout is individually contracted and negotiated by the fighters involved, and each fighter explicitly consents to each individual fight (so some fighters may choose not to fight others, for any reason).
Now, I have trouble objecting to this kind of set-up, particularly in a sport like MMA, where fighters put themselves at serious risk of permanent physical injury. They should not have to justify their decision to not let another woman try to beat them up – I really think that we should apply the same standards of consent here as we do to sex, because the stakes are simply so high, and just because a woman consents to let some women fight her should not mean that she is obligated to be an equal opportunist about who she allows to do so.
And, in fact, I have been convinced that Ms. Fox’s prowess is such that it is reasonable for other fighters to choose not to fight her out of a sense of self-preservation, if that’s how they feel about it. She does have a distinct physical advantage over most of her potential opponents on many counts, including lung capacity and just plain endurance. And while I wouldn’t call these advantages unfair, in thinking about this situation and all of it’s complexity, I’ve come to realize a number of things about the ways in which we segregate sports these days.
In MMA, boxing, and the like, fighters are split into weight classes in order to ensure they bouts are relatively evenly matched, and to reduce the chances of really serious injury – no matter how fast and agile a featherweight may be, a good hit from someone who weighs twice as much as they do could quite literally send them flying. But what I’ve come to realize is that ultimately, we use weight classes as short-hand for a number of different variables, including muscle mass, height, and the like. The relevant variables to a fighter’s ability to seriously fuck someone up also include things like the size (and weight) of their hands, and the amount of flesh they have protecting their bones from impact – not all of the variables necessarily correlate with plain old weight. But we use it as a short-hand anyway, because it’s simpler to administrate, and the fighters seem happy enough with it, so it’s fine.
And yet, in thinking about all of this, I began to wonder about the rationale behind splitting sports along gender (or is it sex?) lines. Generally, in professional sports, the “men’s” leagues don’t actually have exclusionary policies against women. Rather, it happens that women tend not to be competitive in those leagues, and thus women’s leagues were born for those women who wanted an arena to compete with people that were more evenly matched with them.
And this is where this discussion gets dicey for me. Because suggesting that women’s leagues are necessary because women aren’t ‘good’ enough to compete in the existing leagues that don’t explicitly exclude them is, well, controversial. And there are certainly arguments to made for the fact that women’s leagues often offer a different culture to “men’s” leagues, where the game-play is shaped by different rules definitions of what’s sportsman-like. I’ve heard it said that women’s sports are often less about pure aggression, and more about agility and skill. And I certainly love the idea of establishing leagues with different rules that highlight and make room for different kinds of skill sets within the same sport.
But these arguments still leave me cold for one very simple reason: I don’t see any compelling way to get from the idea that there is a need to create leagues that are less violent and more focused on the game itself to the necessity to make these less violent leagues women-only. Seriously, there are men who have these same skill sets but who may not be able to compete in the national (“men’s”) leagues because they are not aggressive enough. Why do they not make the cut to get into the more pure and elegant league?
Ultimately, I really think that gender (or sex) segregation in sports is just another case of using gender (or sex) as a short-hand for a variety of actually relevant variables, much like weight classes are used in combat sports. And I’ve decided that unlike weight classes, this short-hand is actually problematic. Because it ultimately excludes people. Everyone has a weight, and everyone fits into a weight class. But not everyone fits neatly into the gender (or sex) binary. Where would someone like me compete? Where would someone who was genetically neither XX or XY compete? How we decide these questions actually reveals the lie of the binary, and the fact that we are simply using male and female as a shorthand in sports.
The treatment of Caster Semenya when she dominated in the Olympics made public the question of how we define the word “woman” in sports. I’ve talked before about how, as a genderqueer person who occasionally encounters “women-only” spaces, I always consider what the “women” in each “women-only” situation actually means. Sometimes it’s about one’s biological sex (or just the state of not having a penis, really), and I feel comfortable being in those spaces. But it be rude of me to show up for a women-only event that was targeted at people who identify as women, since I am not a member of the group encompassed by that definition of “women”. And, unlike many trans activists, I do think that it’s not as simple as saying, “this person identifies as a woman, and therefore she should be allow din all women-only spaces.” Because language is sloppy, and sometimes we use it in a way that doesn’t line up with the way people identify. So, when someone says “all women should get regular PAP smears,” I understand that regardless of my identity, I am included in that category of “woman”, which is this case is intended to mean “people with vaginas, cervixes, etc.” but Fallon Fox would not be included.
And honestly, (and problematically), I think that by “woman” in sports, we very often mean “person who identifies as female (and/or is biologically female, whatever that means,) and who is not so good at the sport that she could theoretically compete with men“. Because Semenya and Fox both had their gender questioned only after they proved to be formidable competitors. And I’m really uncomfortable with the implications of this – it makes crystal clear the idea that women’s leagues are necessary simply because women aren’t as good at the sports as men (which, honestly, if this is true, it’s actually a major argument against Title IX; discrimination against someone base don ability, even if their ability is hampered by their biological sex, is not sexism. Actual ability to do a job, compete in a sport, is one of the valid variables upon which discrimination can be made, when choosing who to hire or to draft for your team.
Honestly, what I’d love to see is a system wherein people in sports are divided according to actual ability-related metrics. Let’s factor in as many variables as possible, and create a formula that classes opponents based on a total score that accounts for all of their advantages and disadvantages. This is the only system in which everyone would be allowed to compete, and no one would feel coerced into an unsafe or unfair competition (and people who are good at a sport, but in a gender-transgressive way, would probably have opponents of a mixture of gender identities). It’s a pipe-dream, I know. But the treatment of people like Semenya and Fox has made it clear (to me, at least) that the current system is broken. It’s based on false assumptions and seriously flawed short-hand. And it will need to change some time.
As a queer person of the omnisexual variety (I’m attracted to people of many different genders), the nature of attraction for people who identify as straight, lesbian, or gay is a bit of a conundrum for me. The discussion that follows is my attempt to parse and understand the experience of what, for the sake of ease, I’m going to call ‘monosexuality’ here (though I in way mean to imply that the sexuality of straight and homosexual folks is in any way monotonous, or uniform.)
My major questions are: Does monosexuality imply that one is attracted to people of a single gender, or people of a single sex? And what qualities of gender and sex are required to make a person fall into the sex/gender category to which a monosexual is attracted? I suspect this varies greatly from person-to-person, actually, but I still want to explore some of the configurations this might take.
For starters, as a nonbinary/genderqueer person who is generally read as female, it happens straight-identified men often find my attractive. Now, there’s a lot of things going on here, of course, and sometimes simply being informed of my gender identity is enough to scare a guy off, other times, it isn’t. And I want to be the first to say that I don’t think this should in any challenge their conception of their sexuality as straight. The fact that I do not identify as a member of the group to which they purport to be exclusively attracted doesn’t really matter to me.
The thing is that, of course, no monosexual person is attracted to all members of the same (or opposite) sex, as the case may be. Each monosexual person is attracted only to some subset of that group. And the alchemy by which such attraction is produced is the result of the interactions of any number of difficult-to-define qualities encompassing appearance, personality, and many other factors. The way I conceptualize it, when someone identifies as straight, lesbian, or gay, what that means is that the combination of qualities to which they are attracted is somehow tied to the sex (and/or gender) of the person in question. And it is simply possible that I possess whatever inherently necessary quality that is connoted in their sexual identity, without actually having to be a member of the group that contains the overwhelming majority of people to which they are attracted.
But then, what baffles me is what that inherently necessary quality may be. Because I’m not actually certain that there is a quality that can be identified that differentiates universally between men and women. Chalking it up to being attracted to primarily masculine or feminine traits certainly doesn’t cut it: there’s plenty of lesbian-identified women who are primarily attracted to masculine-presenting women, but whose interest in masculinity does not extend to include men. There are also straight men who are more attracted to androgynous or masculine women, and straight women who are primarily attracted to androgynous or feminine men. And the are people of sexual orientations who find themselves attracted to gender-benders.
So, is the difference simply sex-based? Does it come down to genitals? I mean, I know that base-level attraction has nothing at all to do with genitals, since most people establish some level of physical attraction long before clothes are removed or genitals are discussed. I also know that discovering that a person’s genitals are different from the ones that were expected can signify an end of attraction for some people.
Or, rather, I suspect it ends the desire to have sex, but the attraction that was already felt. I suspect that what happens here is that whatever sexually fantasies a monosexual person may have been having about a person to which they were attracted are disrupted when they realize that whatever they had been picturing might not be a physical possibility, and lacking a model for what they might do with that person instead, default to not fantasizing sexually about them any more.
This tends to be the way that such negative reactions to Trans* folks are conceptualized by those who view them as symptoms as transphobia, anyway. But I don’t really think it’s necessarily quite that simple. I do think that for some people, even monosexual ones, genitals needn’t be a deal-breaker. In fact, I know there are some monosexually-identified people who have relationships with Trans* folks who have their ‘original plumbing’, so this can’t be the issue in its entirety. Or at least, not for everyone.
Because really, I’m sure that there is endless diversity in the way that monosexual attraction functions, and what causes that monosexual limitation on attraction to be such as it is. But, and you’ll have to excuse me if this sounds ignorant, or as if I am disrespecting anyone’s identity or self-description, I have yet to find a way of conceptualizing monosexual orientations that doesn’t seem like it’s really just an approximation.
Like, a woman identifying as a lesbian might mean “I’m attracted to feminine people,” though we know this often isn’t what it means, and I don’t see why such an orientation would exclude feminine men. Or they could mean “I’m attracted to people who identify as women,” which, well, I have no idea what that means, since there isn’t a single quality that defines that group of people, or even that differentiates them from the group of people who identify as men, other than their self-identification. Which brings me back to, “I’m attracted to people with vaginas.” Which, again, we know that the primary basis of attraction can, at best, be predicated on an assumption about a person’s genitals, so I don’t get this delineation, either. Even any combination of these statements leaves holes. So I simply don’t understand what it means for someone to only be attracted to one sex. I don’t understand where the delineation of the group of potential partners gets places, and by what mechanism.
Like, lots of straight dudes are really heavily attracted to and invested in having really feminine partners. They value and respond to feminine qualities in the women they date. But even as I respect and comprehend that fact, I don’t understand why all of the attraction would go out the window if they discovered that a person possessing all of the valued feminine qualities was, in fact, a man. What if they were a feminine-presenting person who was assigned female at birth (i.e. had a vagina), but identified as male? Or a person of whatever gender identity, who was extremely feminine-presenting, but who had a penis?
What makes the difference here? Is it really the penis? And if so, why? What changes in your attraction when you learn that someone’s genitals are different than you had imagined? I’m really curious to hear from anyone who’s had this kind of experience. Or from anyone who has gone through any sort of evolution in sexual identity, and seriously given critical thought to the basis of their attractions. I know a lot of it may very well be “Well that’s just how it works for me. I don’t know exactly why, but I know in my gut that this is how it is.” But I’m curious if there’s really something I’m missing that would make me able to empathize with the experience of monosexuality.
I’m seriously confused about this. And please don’t take this to mean that I believe that everyone is secretly bisexual/omnisexual. I simply don’t understand how monosexuality works, and I’d like to try to. So if anyone can offer me some insight, it’d be greatly appreciated.
So monosexuals: how do you define the boundaries of the sex to which you are attracted, and what qualities are the essential ones? Can you explain what might happen if you found someone of a sex to which you are not attracted, but who otherwise possessed all of the qualities you would normally consider essential? What makes the difference? Is it even knowable?
This is exactly the way I feel about intellectual property law. We don’t actually have a right to control the uses of ideas, even if we are the first person to say them out loud. Rather, copyright, patents, and the like are good for society at large because they encourage people to spend time developing their ideas and producing inventions, writings, or what-have-you. If there was not a way of profiting from one’s ideas, people would likely pursue them less fervently, and therefore we extend certain privileges to people who make new ideas available. However, extending these privileges in the ways that they have been over the last century (copyrights held by corporations are extendable nearly to eternity, and patents can be put on the most ridiculously basic or vague things) runs absolutely counter to the actual intent of these laws in the first place. Patent trolls and corporation holding copyrights actively work to prevent other people from creating innovative new inventions, from medical treatments to works of art, if any part of their idea is related to or based on “their” intellectual “property”. This harms not only those people with innovative ideas that they are legally prohibited from sharing, but society as whole, as we are deprived of those innovations.
It really shouldn’t be this way, and things will have to change eventually.
The concepts of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are generally talked about as fairly well-defined categories. Now, this is not to say that these categories are at all concrete, and the definitions certainly can vary between cultures, but I do think it’s fair to say that most people can tell you whether x quality is more masculine or more feminine in their particular cultural milieu.
And I do say “more masculine” and “more feminine” there deliberately, because of course, things usually aren’t simply one or the other, and most people acknowledge that there’s some sort of spectrum here, and some qualities that are more definitive of either masculinity or femininity than others. (So, for instance, ‘having a beard’ may be considered more distinctly masculine than, perhaps, ‘being tall.’ Though both are qualities that are more often associated with masculinity, there’s often more leeway for a feminine person to be tall without it being perceived as detracting from their femininity, than there is for them to have a beard and maintain others’ perceptions of them as feminine.)
Ultimately, what we’re dealing with is some sort of murky idea of the ideal embodiments of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity,’ wherein different personal qualities carry different weight as indicators of one or the other category. Makes basic sense, right?
But here’s where this starts to fall apart for me. Consider, for instance, this fairly androgynous person.
If I tell you that the person in the picture is a man, you’d probably think that they’re a fairly feminine guy. Very pretty face, eyebrows that appear to carefully manicured, and all that. But then, if I told you that the person was a woman, most people would have the exact opposite reaction, and declare them a very masculine woman.
So, is it as simple as simply adding up a person’s qualities and getting to their position on the surface of masculine-feminine sphere, then? The way that the descriptor used for the same person can change so violently by altering one piece of information (their sex) certainly tells us just how important we (society, anyway) consider sex to be as a factor in masculinity or femininity. The single variable of sex carries enough weight, in this case, to swing the pendulum from feminine-leaning to hyper-masculine.
But it actually tells us something more than that, as well. Because it’s not that we switch from seeing the person as feminine to seeing them as masculine. We switch from seeing them as feminine for a man to seeing them as masculine for a woman. We’re operating with different base-lines, which are determined by our belief about the person’s gender. In fact, the arithmetic of masculinity and femininity seems to be predicated on knowing (or guessing) a person’s gender. (Remember how I started out by describing them as androgynous? In this context, then, androgynous doesn’t mean “a mixture of masculinity and femininity” so much as it means “of indeterminate sex”, since we no longer necessarily consider them androgynous when we assign a sex.)
I would go even further, and argue that we use the metric of sex as a starting point from which to set a target for this person’s gender presentation. For every aspect of a male-identified person that is not distinctly male (i.e. a femininely pretty face), they become considered more feminine (though in this case, I would hesitate to go so far as to say that it makes them unmasculine – the two don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, either). And when we change, and evaluate the person as a female, we similarly notice all the qualities that don’t ‘match’ with the femininity that we as a society insist on associating with femaleness, and that are instead distinctly masculine (and in this case, I do actually think that the word ‘unfeminine’ actually might be applied by a great number of people. Considering that I’m being told that unmasculine is not a real word, while unfeminine is, I suspect that the societal recognition of one concept, but not the other, is meaningful. There is, perhaps, the implicit message here that while it is possible for men to be feminine – i.e. a lesser form of man? – but that women, no matter how unfeminine they may be, can never truly be attributed with the glory that is masculinity. But I digress :P)
It cannot be denied that we, as a society, evaluate people in vastly different ways depending entirely on our perceptions of their gender. A man and a woman expressing themselves in exactly the same way are perceived in completely different lights. And, while this example tells us nothing about how this affects the way people are treated, or the level of respect that they are granted, it is certainly something to be cognizant of in our interactions with others.