Saturday, April 3, 2010

Implied gender, and why I’m not “bisexual”

(Some more attempts at trying to explain myself to the heteronormative world...)

"Heterosexual", "homosexual", "bisexual" - what are the implications of using one of those labels about oneself? What are the underlying assumptions of the system wherein these labels exist? Describing yourself with one of those labels essentially says: "There are two (biological) sexes in the world: male and female. Males have penises, women have vaginas and breasts. Every person belongs to either one or the other sex, based on their chromosomes. Every person is sexually attracted to a whole class of other people based on whether their biological sex is male or female. Most people are attracted to people of the opposite sex to their own (heterosexual), some people are attracted to people of the same sex as their own (homosexual), and some people are attracted to people of the same sex as well as people of the opposite sex (bisexual). The nature of this attraction is that some level of interest exists in wanting to do sexual things with the other people."
THAT is the subtext that I'm finding so difficult to relate to. And is the reason why I don't feel "bisexual" really fits me.
Although I am biologically female, the whole idea of dividing people up as attractive and not attractive based on whether they have XX chromosomes like me, or XY chromosomes, makes no sense to me at all. To illustrate, imagine that you live in a world where it is terribly significant what color your eyes are. Let's say your eyes are blue. Let's say that since you were a little child, everyone has subtly and overtly let you know that you are expected to be attracted to people whose eyes are brown. Then you would be hetero-ocular. You start to make a big deal out of that and you enhance and give more meaning to your experience every time you find you like someone whose eyes are brown, and you downplay your experience every time you find you like someone whose eyes are blue. Because if you liked someone whose eyes are blue, you would be homo-ocular. Until one day you realize: "What's all this eye-color crap? I like a lot of people, and I so don't care what their eye color is!" And when you declare that, people tell you: "Oh, so you are bi-ocular then!" But calling yourself bi-ocular is meaningless to you because eye color simply has no relevance to you. Truly bi-ocular people are attracted to people BASED around their eye color in relation to their own eye color, and are able to find blue as well as brown equally attractive, each for their own reasons. Whereas to you, eye color is not something you pay much attention to.
The nature of the attraction is supposed to be an interest in doing sexual things. I've been with this question a lot, what is the attraction that I experience towards people. Trying to understand what is sexual attraction. Growing up and I think through most of my twenties, I implicitly believed that I was sexually attracted to EVERYBODY. I experience this potential for enjoyable touch with, basically, everybody that I spend even a little time with, and with all of my friends. Physical expression of affection is very important to me and my whole life I have experienced frustration about social norms allowing what seems to me to be only a very limited display of affection between people who are "just friends". Yet at the same time, I would never fantasize about actually having sex with someone. When I am really attracted to someone (in my own way), I want to gaze in their eyes, I want to touch them in a most tender and loving way, hold them, kiss them and caress them, I want to talk with them and share truth and authenticity. I want to be comforting and comforted, nurturing and nurtured. When I feel longing for them, I feel it in my chest rather than my genitals. While I feel open to being sexual, it is something I enjoy vicariously rather than for its own sake, and it is not something I have ever felt like I missed, or needed, from anybody. The expression "going all the way" makes no sense to me, because it does not feel like I'm going down any way that has any end-point. I don't understand from inner experience, why relationships in which genitals are touched, deserve a special name and status and are elevated above relationships in which genitals are not touched, as if those other relationships were somehow second-class and less real, or less loving. I do feel like I have a powerful intimacy drive, and yet sex is not my favorite expression of intimacy.
While I don't feel that "bisexual" describes me very well, and I would feel it would be deceptive to use this word about myself, perhaps I could say that I'm "homo-genderal" - attracted to people of the same gender, that is, a gender somewhere close to neutral, neither male nor female. Regardless of whether they are biologically male- or female-sexed. And what that attraction feels like, is that I want to be around them, touch them, be affectionate with them, relate to them, care about them - I dig them, I feel comfortable with them and at ease. I feel like I belong.
Basically, sex = your genes, xx, or xy, and your physical male or female characteristics. Gender = your subjective feeling of maleness or femaleness. For most people, the two seem to be so welded together that there is never a reason to make any distinction. You are born with a penis, and you feel male, and you are attracted to women. End of story, you never question it. However, some people feel strongly about their gender being other than their sex - and this identity seems to be something they know even as small children, before they ever enter puberty and become sexually attracted. For example, a biological female may feel that their gender is strongly male, and may have a sex change operation to become male. Irrespective of this, they could be sexually attracted to either men (androsexual) or women (gynosexual), regardless of their own gender identification. (The point: it's not being attracted to women that defines your subjective gender-maleness, being attracted to women only defines your sexual orientation. Sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, get to be three different unrelated things in this model - whereas for most people they are one thing (the inadequate hetero- homo- bi- model).) Some transgender people feel alternately male or female, or both at the same time, throughout their lives. While some people (like myself) never quite grasp the idea of belonging to a gender, and feel that trying to be either male, female, or both, is a misrepresentation of how they feel. Okay, imagine this. It's like you're born and you're given one of two choices, to be either a republican or a democrat. While you often vote democrat and are in general aligned in superficial appearance and behavior with many democrats, you still feel no affiliation with the democratic party, and don't feel comfortable being labeled a democrat. That's kind of how I feel about being labeled female. I don't feel either like that, or like the other option.
The traditional labels of hetero, homo, and bi, are based on the assumption that THE defining thing in my attraction to people is the relationship of my biological sex to their biological sex (different, the same, or both different and the same). Whereas their biological sex to me is as irrelevant as the color of their eyes. The defining thing in my attraction to people is a sense of emotional and spiritual resonance, a similar degree of self-awareness and willingness to trust and self-disclose. Physical appearance plays a role to the degree that a person is more attractive to me if they are well-groomed and healthy and looking content and comfortable in their body. Also, a strongly feminized or strongly masculinized physical appearance may put me off, for no other reason than that I feel I am being perceived by them inside of that same binary, and that I would have to play a very traditional female role with them, which does not come naturally to me.
Another way to look at it is to see people as colors. Imagine a color wheel. In a color, you can measure not only its hue, but also its brightness and saturation. It’s as if the traditional model divides people by whether they are blue or pink (bio males or bio females), and considers that to be the most important factor.

They will say that heterosexuals are people who look for contrasting hues, homosexuals look for non-contrasting hues, and bisexuals look for both contrasting and non-contrasting hues. In any event, it's about hues. Whereas I perhaps perceive and parse the color spectrum along a different axis altogether. Maybe what is of primary significance to me as a color is not my hue, but my saturation. I’m attracted to other people who are unsaturated colors.

The fact that this happens to overlap with both contrasting and non-contrasting hues, is beside the point for me. I perceive people who are strongly based in a gendered identity, as more saturated, and less interesting. Maybe I also see more hues than just pink and blue.


  1. Not much to say, but I just thought I'd mention that the blue/pink colour spectrum metaphor is awesome, and I'll probably end up using it myself sometime. It's also a good way of visualising how asexuality or gender-neutralness lie in relation to the typical scales- you can be a weak pink or a strong bluey-pink or a grey. Or infinate others.

  2. very thought provoking.. I particularly like your statement about being attracted to people who have a look that is more gender blurred.. this I can relate to.. I also like your colour metaphor.. the last of the three images has far more interest and depth too it.. and the variety of pattern within it adds to the multidimensionality of that depth.. if you get what I mean..

  3. I think it's interesting that you seem to be jumping to all kinds of conclusions about people who use the labels hetero/homo/bisexual to describe themselves. Not everyone who uses these terms believes in gender binaries. For example, I identify as homosexual/gay but I recognize that gender is not based exclusively on chromosomes and not everyone who identifies as male has a penis.

    Or maybe you are critiquing the labels themselves and not the people that use them? But the labels are defined by the people who use them, so I'm not sure you can completely separate the two.

    I really do think you have some interesting points and I'm really glad to have stumbled on the some asexual blogs, I'm just taken aback by the frequent sweeping generalizations and over-simplifications of the attitudes, opinions, and experiences of non-asexual people.

  4. Thanks. The above post is the result of a particular situation in which particular assumptions were made by certain people who used these labels in a way that I could not relate to, and we did not find a common language. I agree that not everyone uses these labels with the same meaning, and that people (such as yourself) who themselves are not entirely heteronormative, will have a broader perspective and more understanding of how things are not as clear-cut as simple labels would seem to indicate. At the same time, I am assuming that the majority of the population which has never given possible sex/gender/orientation identities much thought, is likely to have a hard time thinking outside of established norms, at least initially.
    So, my post is not intended as a critique of the people automatically fitting me into one of the labels - why wouldn't they, as it seems to apply just fine for the vast majority of the population. Neither is my post intended as a critique of the labels themselves - if they work, are accurate and make sense to people to describe themselves, there is no reason not to use them. What drove me to write this post was that I was unhappy with how I was unable to adequately describe myself to someone who was thinking in terms of those labels but had never considered much what they meant. My intention is mostly to explain myself to myself in a way that makes sense to me. And if someone else can understand what I'm saying, so much the better.

  5. hey trix! i finally got a chance to take a look at the blog.

    what an insightful post! i'm afraid i don't have time to carry on a more detailed discussion right now, but i relate very strongly to the general theme of what you've said here. the label thing is a huge issue, even if you don't take into account the role of naming into the creation of subjective identity and the suchs..

    it annoys me a bit that we have a harder time finding a fitting and well-understood description than people with less unusual orientations.

    as a quick example, if i were to be precise about what i estimate as my sexual orientation, i'd have to say that i oscillate between mild androgynousexuality and full androgynousasexuality.
    aside from the facts that even coming up with the terms took me years of frustrating heuristics, and that it'd be just as difficult to present them to someone else as it is to define them, they don't really grasp entirely what i feel i'm trying to communicate.

    this leads to so many questions..: are the usual labels as precise as we imagine them when describing people who wear them comfortably? are they even necessary; or exactly what role do they play on the way people see themselves, and on the position they occupy that weird inorganic otherness we call society. what are their functions??
    (not to mention how these issues relate to the whole debate over desire and attraction, one i'm ashamed to say i haven't found my bearings in)

    more on all that when i get a bit of spare time (or actually develop a point); meanwhile, your blog's been making for a delicious read and a great break from the unwelcoming mandatory territories of political economy.
    cake and out!