Queer Identities

Feels like I keep on coming back to this, doesn’t it? Well, it’s been on my mind lately.

In my last post (the Take Back the Night one was Jessie B, and it was great, but I wasn’t there for that so I’m gonna focus on me.) I talked about what the different letters in LGBTQIA+ meant. And in my post before that I talked about how cool it was that a high school kid jumped to pansexual. So I guess in this one we’re gonna get to the root of the problem.

Remember that time I got a girl’s number? I made a tumblr post about it. That tumblr post has somehow gotten outrageously popular (111k notes at the time of this posting) and people have been commenting things. Mostly nice things. College Humor called me a liar. But some things have been… not intentionally hurtful. But, well.

I am not a lesbian.

It’s been really bothering me, seeing some of the tags on this post. Most of them are great and hilarious and amazing, but a lot of them just say ‘lesbian’ or ‘lesbian power’ and I know people are just tagging and trying to be empowering and that’s great!

But I’m not a lesbian.

I’m not offended to be called a lesbian, but calling me that erases a lot of who I am, and that’s someone who loves Darren Criss and Nick Jonas, someone who has embarrassed herself flirting with male customers at her job, and someone who literally cried when it was her boy crush’s last day at work (I still miss you Sean).

It also erases the part of me that’s really uncomfortable imagining myself as someone who has sex. Sex in the abstract doesn’t bother me but myself actually doing it freaks me the freak out so I’m more ace than anything really.*

So I’m a person who feels mushy romantic feelings over boys and girls and who doesn’t really feel like she wants to have sex with either of them. A person could still identify as a lesbian and feel these things but I don’t. Identify as a lesbian I mean.

So yeah, please stop erasing other queer identities like mine. If you call me anything, call me queer. I’ve got that on a t-shirt.

-JM

*I said I was demisexual/panromantic in this post and demisexuality is a facet of asexuality which you can google on your own. Kay, cool.

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Take Back the Night

Take Back the Night is an event held at my college campus each year (Kutztown University for those who don’t know). During the day there is the clothesline project, which is where people write their stories of abuse on t-shirts, or they could write inspiration quotes, among other things. At night we do the Take Back the Night portion, which is where students, staff, and community members have a chance to tell their story of sexual abuse publicly. Yesterday was my second year attending, and it was just as moving as the first time.

The way that it works is the audience is invited to come to the front of the room and share their story if they would like. No one is forced to, it’s not planned ahead of time by staff, it’s impromptu. Once the first person goes, more people gain the courage to speak. A few of the people who spoke said it was their first time talking publicly about their assault. Many cried while they recounted their trauma, and the audience was all moved to tears through the whole night. 

Multiple people when up and started with “I wasn’t planning on speaking today but” and then told their story. That’s what is so necessary about Take Back the Night – it inspires people to talk about their trauma in a safe space. It is a place without judgement, without blame, without bias. They also have trained advocates, like myself, attend in case anyone needs to talk after hearing such emotional stories. Having events like these allow students to have the opportunity to get their abuse off their chest and it also gives them the chance to meet other students who have been through similar situations. 

I think it’s very important that we hold Take Back the Night each year. I plan to attend as long as I can, and I urge anyone in college or who lives near a college town to see if your campus has an event such as this one.

-JB

‘A’ does not stand for ‘Ally’

We all know the initialism: the alphabet soup.

First it was LGB, then it was LGBT, then it was LGBTQ, and now it’s LGBTQQIAAP. Most people shorten it – because holy crap, that’s ten letters – and I know I prefer LGBTQIA+, but we should still know what all of those letters mean.

So, for your educational enjoyment:
L-lesbian: ladies loving ladies
G-gay: dudes lovin dudes and/or umbrella term for non-straights
B-bisexual: attraction to more than one gender
T-transgender: gender identity differs from one assigned at birth
Q-queer: identifies with a gender/sexuality outside the binary (also a catch-all term for non-cis/non-straights)*
Q-questioning: homo the explorer. Alternatively: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I-intersex: a person whose body lies outside of what is standardly considered male or female. (Formerly known as hermaphrodites.)
A-asexual: They just don’t feel it, Mr. Krabs.
A-ally: friends of the community, but not directly affected.
P-pansexual: same as bisexual except you react the same to your attraction to a person despite their gender while bisexuals have different reactions to different genders.**

These are pretty standard definitions and you’ll find that individuals in the community have more and different things to say about what these labels actually mean, but these are the basics.

No one ever types out the whole ten letters, which is a shame but understandable. Unfortunately, this means some letters/identities get cut. The most popular right now is LGBTQIA+, with the other letters falling under the plus. But because there’s doubles in the original initialism, there’s been some controversy over which ‘A’ is in the shortened version.

I’m here to tell you right now: ‘A’ does not stand for ally.

Are allies an important part of this process? Of course. No one is denying that, no one is denying that the queer community can’t be totally insular and we need to branch out and make friends. And even more than that: people can be allies and still identify as another part of the initialism. I’m an ally to the trans community, and intersex community, and I’m here for all of my questioning homies. I’m an ally to the community but also within the community, so of course I know how important allies are.

But here’s the thing: the worst thing an ally can do is shout so loudly they’re drowning out the voices of the community they’re supporting. Allies are supposed to spread the stories of people in oppression, not write their own. They’re supposed to share and amplify the voices of minorities, not talk over them. So how outrageous would it be for the allies to take up this super important spot and leave asexuals to obscurity?

Because asexuals need that spotlight. We (yes we, I’m on the spectrum, it’s whatever) need that visibility and acknowledgement because so many people don’t even know asexuality is a thing. Imagine all of these people – kids, young adults, fully-formed grown ups – who have gone through their whole lives thinking they’re broken or wrong because they don’t want the things everyone in this pro-sex society say they should. Boys grow up hearing “Oh yeah, once you hit puberty, you’re going to be wanting sex all the time.” and then some boys just… don’t. And they think they’re messed up, that they need to be fixed, because they don’t know that asexuality, that lack of sexual attraction, is even a thing! And that there’s a whole community of people like them who have gone through this same thing and would like nothing more than to support them. And girls, who hear the jokes about giving sex to boys as a present or something and how it’s never really supposed to be that fun for them (which is a toxic patriarchal mind set that I will not get into right now) but they’re going to do it anyway because that’s just how it is. And they don’t know that there are women who totally do want sex and if they, themselves, don’t, that just means that they’re different. They were never taught to separate sexual orientation from romantic orientation (Again, a separate thing. I’ll get to it later, probably.) and so when they develop crushes, they think it has to turn into a sex thing. But it doesn’t! Romantic feelings do not equal sex feelings! Asexuals exist and their troubles are real and valid!

It’s comparable to the people who say ‘All Lives Matter’ in response to ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Like, yes, of course all lives matter, but it’s not all lives that are continually undervalued and out in danger. Like, yes, we love allies and they’re important, but it’s not allies who have been personally attacked – socially and physically – for something they can’t control about who they are. It’s not allies whose very existence is questioned, it’s not allies who are constantly invalidated hated on by people who are in their own community! Do you know how often the phrase “When you meet the right person, you’ll want it.” has been uttered by even the queerest of queers? And you think we should put allies ahead of asexuals?

So yeah, I’m defensive of that ‘A’. That’s some prime real-estate on that alphabet soup and I’m not okay with taking it from people who need the recognition just to pat people on the back who haven’t had to hate themselves.

‘A’ is for asexual. Tell your friends.

-JM

 

 

*This is my fave term to describe me because it means I don’t have to go digging around in what’s going on with myself. Because that process if confusing and upsetting for everyone involved. QUEER IT IS!

**Yes, I know ‘bi-‘ means 2 and ‘pan-‘ means all – I’m a freaking English major, I know my linguistics – but people define themselves however they’re comfortable and it’s not your or some dusty language book’s job to tell them they’re wrong about how they identify. 

Starting Small

The more you learn, the harder it is to ignore. Statistics float in my head constantly; one woman a minute is sexually assaulted as a war tactic, one if four college girls will be sexually assaulted, one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Educating myself on social justice issues has been a big part of my passion since I began my college career. Knowledge is power, but it can also be debilitating.

My privileged background often makes me feel guilty, makes me feel like I have to save the world. Fix hunger, stop sexual assault, change sexism, end racism. No matter how unrealistic those goals are, that’s the responsibility I put on myself. As an activist, one of the hardest things to do is to realize your limits. One person cannot do all of those things, and I’m still working on accepting that.

A few months ago my Women and Gender Studies Professor spoke at a diversity conference and her topic was activism. She was addressing the million dollar question: how do I begin to change the world? We have been learning all semester that education is the number one way to spark change. Laws only work when they’re reinforced, and in many places they aren’t. Societal norms won’t change until the mindset of the people change.

I was struggling to find a way to properly educate people. Who do I target? Who wants to listen to a liberal college kid complain about how messed up the world is? Is it enough just to correct people when they make sexist and homophobic jokes? My professor suggested blogging, and she’s the reason that Jessie and I started this blog. To be honest, I was skeptical. I have a lot to say, but I was worried that people wouldn’t take me seriously. My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t be making any difference at all.

In that same class, we are reading a book about activism to end the semester. Through this book I am learning that making a change doesn’t have to be some monumental, instantaneous thing. I am learning that change takes time, and that everything has a ripple effect. Educating my friends on why their jokes are harmful does make a difference, because once they learn that it is offensive they start to tell their other friends who use those same words.

Someone may stumble upon this blog and, even if my words don’t completely change their mind, their interest may be sparked. They could talk to their friends about it or search for more information. Or they could just let my words resonate with them while they form their own opinion. No matter the case, what we are doing with this blog is meaningful. We are putting issues out there that many people are afraid or unwilling to discuss. We are making people think twice about actions that they normally wouldn’t think about. We are slowly but surely creating change.

Although I am still struggling with not being able to save the entire world on my own, I am proud of what I am doing. Small efforts really build up. Education creates awareness, which in turn creates change. I feel that in our society we have this belief that we need to be great right away at everything we do. We don’t allow ourselves the time to cultivate our skills and passions without feeling like we have to be better than we are.

I am here to tell you that small steps can make a world of difference. Not only with activism, but anything. Setting small goals to accomplish makes our experiences more rewarding, and allows us to realize just how much of a difference small steps make. So stop avoiding whatever you are because you feel it won’t be good enough. You don’t have to be perfect or have all the answers in order to create change.

-JB

The times, they are a-changin’

(Apologies for the gratuitous Bob Dylan lyrics, I’m taking a class.)

So the best thing ever happened to me the other day. I’m not gonna get too into it, because it’s not really relevant and also private, but I managed to snag the phone number of my waitress while I was at a table with five dudes who were all trying to do the same thing.

When I got the phone number, the one kid, seventeen years old, hold his pointer finger to my forehead and says, “But you’re straight.”

Now, I’m not, and I told him that. My relationship with my sexual orientation is complicated. I have go-to labels if anyone is really interested but they’re kind of obscure (demisexual/panromantic) and I get tired of explaining it, so mostly, my go-to when it comes to orientation is this emoticon: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

So he said, “But you’re straight.”

And I snorted and said, “No, I’m not.”

And he took his finger back, off of my forehead, and said, “Oh, you’re pan? No fair, she went for the pan charm.”

Now, I’m not pan. Not really. But I was surprised. I don’t remember ever coming out to this boy. He knew I liked dudes because I’m a hot mess who won’t shut up about them. For God’s sake, my phone case is Darren Criss, my lock screen is Nick Jonas, and my phone background is Misha Collins. It’s super clear I’m into dudes. And I’d just made it clear I was into ladies and (apparently) pretty proficient at flirting with them. Who knew?

And if I expected anything I would have expected him to jump to bisexual, which I also am not, but is at least more well known than pansexuality. Even google chrome recognizes bisexual as a word more easily than pansexual: pansexual has the little squiggly line under it.

Screenshot 2016-04-11 at 6.18.32 PMScreenshot 2016-04-11 at 6.19.12 PM

See?

So the fact that this high school kid immediately jumped to “Oh, you’re pan?” was surprising to me.

Is it just this one kid who’s surprisingly woke? I don’t think so.

I think this is an indication of bettering education. Kids are being exposed to these different things, these formerly unknown and taboo things, and it’s making them more easily understanding.

Nico in the kid’s book series Heroes of Olympus admits his attraction to Percy Jackson in the third novel. Two lady gems on Steven Universe are a couple. Korra and Asami on Legend of Korra end the entire series holding hands and staring romantically into each others’ eyes. That’s all subtext but it’s opening kids up to non-hetero pairings and possibilities pretty early.

And then there’s this amazing scene from the CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

But these are all things we’re familiar with, right? Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual are the first three letters in the initialism, obviously they’re the best known. But then there’s this other thing.

The comic book character, Deadpool, (who is incidentally not for kids, but bear with me) is actually canonically pansexual in the comics. And kind of in the movie. (Not textually, in the movie he never says pansexual, but it’s in subtext.) That’s a main stream figure in media who is openly a sexual orientation that’s very not mainstream. So that means kids (teenagers, whatever) are going to look into it so they can understand their fave Merc with a Mouth. And they’re learning about different LGBTQIA+ identities. And it’s awesome.

He probably didn’t even think anything of it, the kid who said that to me. But I’m grateful to him. Because how cool is that? That we have a new generation of kids who we won’t need to spend fifteen minutes explaining ourselves to in the future. They’ll just know.

You’re right, Bobby D, these times are a changin’.

-JM

Body image 

Some days I really hate my body, as I’m sure we all do. With summer coming up, and having a special trip to Florida planned, I’ve recently been more worried about what my body looks like. Some days I’ll stand in the mirror and point out every piece of my body that I feel needs to be changed. I’ll poke and pinch my fat, wishing it was gone. 
And then I take a step back and wonder where this came from. Why do I hate my body so much? How can I stand in the mirror and list all of the things I don’t like about myself while telling others to love themselves as they are? It feels hypocritical and unnecessary. 

When I think about it, the first time I really became conscious of how my body looked was in fifth grade. I was “dating” a boy and he decided that he didn’t like me anymore. One day in the stairwell he handed me a card that he had found from Jenny Craig’s wait loss something or other, as well as a card for planet fitness. He told me that he didn’t want to be with a “chunky girl” and that maybe if I try those things out I would look better. 

In fifth grade I was nowhere near over weight. However, that moment really made me notice my body and the bodies of other girls around me. It sparked a hatred for my body. 

In 7th grade health class we measured our height, weight, and bmi. In front of everyone. The bmi chart indicated that, as a young girl of my height, my weight was too high. I was “on the verge of being over weight”. Once again, a surge of hatred coursed through me. 

Once I entered high school, my depression worsened. I gained weight and hated myself immensely. I went through spurts of over exercising and watching what I ate to eating everything in sight and never leaving my room. As my weight fluctuated, so did my self esteem. My weight was linked to my perception of myself for reasons I didn’t even realize. 

Unfortunately, I think that this is a common theme among girls of any age. We are taught to look a certain way and if we don’t, they have a product that will help us get there. The models in magazines that we are expected to look like don’t even look like that. Everything is photoshopped and marketed to keep their beauty and weight loss products selling. 

The more I notice this, the way that society and media portray beauty (white, tall, thin, fit but not too muscular, high cheek bones, big eyes, make up but not too much make up, etc.) I realize how ridiculously far fetched those standards are, as well as how much of a moving, unachievable able target it is.

I’m learning to love my body for what it can do instead of what it looks like. My legs allow me to run for a mile, and my arms can lift my nephew, and my stomach allows for my boisterous laugh. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life at war with my body, no one deserves that. 

So for now, I will eat to nourish my body, and exercise for the release of pent up emotions, and learn to appreciate all that my body can do, instead of worrying about getting thin for bikini season. 

I encourage you all to take a look at the standards you’re setting for yourself and where they’re coming from. Make a list of all the things you like about yourself and avoid anything physical. Learn that you are more than your appearance, and that your appearance is beautiful no matter what. 

-JB