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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Nested Closets

Ladies and Gentlemen, I'm absolutely mortified to follow up such an unexpectedly popular column with such a short spacefiller of a column. It can't be helped, though. I'm currently slogging miserably through the mire of Grad School Applications, I have typhoid fever, and a crocodile ate my webmaster. So, for today you get the chair back. We'll be starting out next week with another big installment of Ways of Reading Gaga, though, so hopefully that will make up for it somewhat.

Anyway.

I'm pansexual. Sometimes I also identify as genderqueer, just because, you know, what the hell why not, right? And sometimes this makes life rather difficult.

But not how you think.

See, the real problem isn't bullies or beatings or trying to figure out what my gender identity is (there's a reason I settled on pan and genderqueer: it gives me the freest range of expression from moment to moment of any identity, allowing me to be very fluid). No, the real problem is the stereotypes. See, people stereotype minorities quite a bit, if you hadn't noticed, and we're constantly having to battle against those stereotypes. And this battle is particularly hard for me. Because, you see, I'm stereotypical as hell.


There's a lot of stereotypes about bisexuals and pansexuals, for example, that pertain to promiscuity. This comes partly from the idea of the party bisexual--people are bisexual largely for attention, often (in the case of women) attention from straight men. In this version of the stereotype, bisexuals are really just easy, not necessarily attracted to the opposite sex. It also probably comes in part from a common mind glitch that argues one can only be bisexual if one is dating someone of each sex. 1 In this version, bisexuals don't actually even exist because your sexual orientation is determined by who you are dating. If you are dating someone, you are a sexuality that corresponds to attraction to that person. If you look at other people and feel attracted to them while in a relationship... well... again, you're just hiding your intrinsically slutty nature behind a more acceptable label. Because, after all, people in real relationships are never attracted to people outside the relationship.

This set of stereotypes also, you may have already noticed, intersects with a general antipathy toward polyamory. Polyamory is, at best, often associated over here in America with mormonism and, at worst, is totally written off as a perverse, deviant, and dirty lifestyle. So, the idea that someone could show attraction to multiple people is rather inconceivable.


The result of this is that certain forms of bisexual expression become forms of political expression as well. That's a bit of a weird, Ivory Tower style statement, so let me try to unpack it a little.

There's not a lot of room for someone that openly identifies as pansexual or bisexal to come out as basically naturally poly as well. To out myself publicly as an example, this puts me in a bit of a bind. See, even though I don't practice polyamory per se (my lovely girlfriend would be a bit irate, I think) I still express my affection for people in a very physical way, and I do tend to become very emotionally close with friends in ways that can be--and have been--interpreted as romantic. Here's where the conflict becomes political as well as personal. I want to put forth a semi-respectable face 2 because I'm aware of the political nature of anything that I do which might reinforce stereotypes about my fellow pan and bi people. At the same time I don't particularly want to police my actions constantly. This is essentially the second closet. There are closets within closets here, and just coming out as bi or pan, in and of itself, is but the first step. Is it enough to come out verbally and say that I'm pansexual, or will I only be satisfied with being able to express myself fully, despite my awareness that it might reinforce harmful stereotypes that other pansexuals are trying to combat?

It's the same bind that plagues bisexuals who realize that, whoops, they're actually straight or gay after all. This is problematic because it reinforces the obnoxious stereotype common in both the gay and straight communities that bisexuals simply don't exist. I've already talked a bit about where that comes from, but it's worth pointing out that, yes, the gay community is just as prone to this stereotype as the rest of the world. Bisexuals, in this model, are just in a confused transition phase before they figure out what they really are. If you're someone conscious of how obnoxious those stereotypes are, it's a little awkward, I imagine, to suddenly find yourself unexpectedly exemplifying the common image, especially if you've personally argued against the idea in the past.

This is obviously not a problem on the scale of actual assaults against queer folk or the loss of work, political or social respect, and so on that comes with being openly queer. Really, let me stress that this is a totally minor issue compared with what I know other people go through, and I'm aware that it probably sounds quite whiny compared to, you know, real person problems. That's totally fair. However, it strikes me as a problem worth considering. Our identities are unavoidably political, and it might be impossible to completely shed the tendency of people to choose individuals to represent whole, diverse groups. I hesitate even to bring the topic up, though, simply because I don't have any easy answers, or even suggested answers. It's a problem I'm still sorting out for myself, and I welcome any input in the comments. How do you navigate stereotypes in your life?

My personal quandary might be particularly politically relevant simply because one of the arguments against gay marriage is that if gays start marrying then the evil, evil polygamy will be quick to follow.

Perhaps the most honest reply, to this thought as to all the others described here, simply has to be, "Well, yes. And there's nothing wrong with that."


Hello to all the new readers from last article. Normal, media-related posting shall resume Tuesday. Hope you're enjoying your stay! As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at keeperofmanynames@gmail.com . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days.

1 Because all single people are fundamentally asexual, you see.

2 Stop laughing you ghastly creature, I can be respectable when I want to! I'm just covered in lichen right now because I'm wading through the Bog of Eternal Letter of Recommendation Requests!

4 comments:

  1. Kind of funny, because my parents and I were just discussing this very topic the other day. I'm definitely gonna give them a link to this, as it does a far better job of explaining than I could do.
    Well done, sir.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I came here expecting ponies. Where are the ponies? *stomps off in disgust*

    I honestly don't think that much of my personal stereotypes, but it's easy for me, being a straight, white, (lower)middle class male. The only stereotype I have to "fight" is that all men are bastards, but that doesn't stop me being rude occasionally. Reading this made me realize (once again) how easy I have it. But I also have the problem that I don't recognize stereotypes, since they are often kinda stupid.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The biggest stereotype I find myself fighting is about nerds, and how we're all maladjusted loners who live in their mother's basements and can't talk to girls. Luckily, I'm generally a very friendly person and can get very talkative if given a little prompting, and I like to think that my wife proves that I can talk to girls.

    The other stereotypes I deal with is people saying that ADHD doesn't exist or that depression isn't a big deal, which are among the few things that get me extremely angry.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm very glad I found this article (haven't had time to visit your blog in a while), considering I like to involve myself in alternate lifestyle advocacy (being poly myself). I wouldn't count myself qualified to give any sort of advice, but this is the internet so I'll give my opinion anyway dammit, and maybe it'll be helpful :p

    You identify yourself as being poly, while at the same time noting that you, for all intents and purposes, are still in the closet about it (it's okay, I'm in the same boat. But it's being worked on). Your reservations for coming out are basically that you don't want to reinforce the stereotype that bisexual/pansexual people are "slutty," and also that your girlfriend wouldn't be supportive of you if you did have a more open lifestyle. I'm going to assume that you've already read _The Ethical Slut_, so my thought is this: the issue here is more that sex is being seen in a negative light by everybody (maybe not by you). Would you feel more liberated by making the (not insignificant) effort to battle that preconception? Why does it have to be *bad* to want to be open and sexy? (So I guess what I'm saying is that the catch-all answer you put at the bottom is the way to go XD)

    You address the issue of whether it's enough to be verbal about being a way you are, even if you don't "follow through," per say. To that, I can only say that you're the only person who can answer that honestly; if you are still feeling trapped and "in the closet" even while being verbal about being poly, or pan, or bi, or whatever, if you're not living the lifestyle you want to live, then there is your answer. But if you're not feeling "trapped" or "in the closet"... then I think you're all set ;)

    As for the "bisexuals don't exist" myth, that comes as much from people's own insecurities as it does from their inability to accept the fact that HEY EVERYBODY'S DIFFERENT AND MAYBE SOME PEOPLE LIKE MORE THAN ONE KIND OF PERSON. Also there's the stupid assumption that if you're bisexual then clearly you must find women and men attractive on a 50/50 kind of scale. It's not like life is more complicated than a three-word categorization scheme we come up with or something >->

    ... but I think my tl;dr for this comment goes something like: The only way to solve problems in society (like stereotypes and labeling and stupid shit like that) is the same way to solve interpersonal problems between two people: be honest in your analysis of what the real issue is and deal with that. Don't do any of this temporary fix shit, like trying to avoid the problem. If the issue is that everybody is uncomfortable about sex, then let that be the issue you address--not a symptom of it, like people being uncomfortable with a particular sexual lifestyle, no matter what the lifestyle is.

    *****Note: This post was unnecessarily long-winded partially because I had a lot to say and partially because I needed to hear it all too ;)

    ReplyDelete

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