December 29, 2005

Heteroexuality Without the Sex

by PG

At Law Dork, Chris challenges the description of a Gay-Straight Alliance as "a club that's sexual in nature." As far as I know, GSAs are not sex clubs (otherwise there'd probably be a lot more straight boys in them looking for straight and bi girls than there already are), nor is sex discussed. Rather, they're intended to show straight students' opposition to discrimination against their gay classmates. However, because being gay or straight is defined by with the gender of the people with whom one has sex, or at least for whom one feels sexual attraction, I can see how the parents' knee-jerk error came about, though not how they could be so pig-headed ignorant as to pursue it once apprised of the actual nature of the GSA.

This points up a potential political conflict between those who want to liberalize American atittudes toward sex and those who want to further acceptance of some sexuality-linked identifications (homosexuality, bisexuality, possibly transgenderism*), even though there's a large overlap between the two groups. The more that some people have to think about homosexuality as being about sex, the less likely they are to accept gay people, because of their distaste for "gay sex" and their belief that as an action, it is a choice. This is the perception necessary to protecting discrimination as a First Amendment right; identification as a homosexual must be equated with out-of-wedlock pregnancy and other morally disapproved choices. At the same time, the depictions of gay people that minimize their sex lives (as in Will & Grace) are decried for doing so. Are we truly accepting gay people if we have to pretend that they're de-sexualized? Grace seems to have sex a lot for a neurotic single thirtysomething, whereas Will is nearly neutered -- a weird flipping of the "fag hag" cliche.

Dan Savage's latest column seems to have something of this dilemma underlying it, as he scolds a participant in BDSM for forcing her family to be unwilling participants in her sex life by playing out mistress and slave in front of them.

You brought up gays and lesbians, and our struggle for acceptance. Sorry, MF, but the comparison is not apt. Not once in our struggle for social acceptance have gays and lesbians demanded the right to have sex in front of our relatives. We want to be accepted by our families, tolerated by strangers, and treated equally by our government. But people who don't want to watch us have sex aren't compelled to.

This Mistress/slave stuff is, at bottom, about sex. Yeah, yeah: It can be sooooooooo much more than that, some 24/7 BDSM folks insist. Some people feel dominant or submissive deep down in their kinky souls, and they build their lives around those roles. I get it. And dare I say it? Some of my best friends are 24/7 BDSMers. But BDSM isn't ultimately who you are, it's what you enjoy in bed -- or in the dungeon, the playroom, the fetish club, etc. Here's a rough rule of thumb: If you're talking about something that gay, straight, and bisexual people can all do -- fisting, snowballing, BDSM -- then it's a sex act, not a sexual identity.

This "rough rule of thumb" (anyone willing to guess whether that was an intentional pun?) doesn't entirely work for me, however. As much as it annoys me, Lawrence v. Texas is identified with gay rights, despite Kennedy's majority opinion's having been about privacy rather than gender or sexual orientation as O'Connor's concurrence was. However, Kennedy's opinion tries to stake out the issue in question as being about more than sex: "The statutes do seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals." There is an implicit recognition that sodomy is the only way two people of the same sex can have sex with each other and therefore banning it makes all homosexual sexual relationships illegal without doing the same to hetero relationships. Still, even the Supreme Court seems to want to dodge determining how much sexual identity is about sex.

* I say "possibly" not because acceptance of transgenderism ought to be less than that for homosexuality, but because I'm doubtful as to whether gender identity is properly connected with sexual orientation, notwithstanding the standardization of LGBT. The first seems to be more about the individual sense of self, the second about the individual's connection to others. Yet both are about gender -- and thus classifications based on them rate at least heightened scrutiny -- whereas categorizations based on what one does, rather the gender of oneself and/or the person with whom one does it, are not.

December 29, 2005 06:13 PM | TrackBack
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