So there's this Message Board for people who are going to Beloit College in the fall, so that the class that's entering in Fall 2004 can all get to know each other. Most of the time, the fare is pretty stupid: What kinds of music do you like? Where are you all from? Why did you choose Beloit? and so forth. Like the good homosexual I am, I started a thread for "GLBT/Queer/Other/Non-Straight" people. I've gotten some response, a few out guys, more more girls, and tons of "I'm not gay, really, but I love my gay friends." Mostly what I expected, but it was good to bring the issue up.
A few days ago, a guy posted, asking, "what the big deal is about sexuality, why do people feel the need to declare themselves?"
At which point I cringed so much that I upset the cat. While in retrospect, the question did in fact come from an ignorance of the issue, that wasn't completely evident at the time. That kind of question struck me as something to be avoided. Like people who say, "I don't see what the big deal about race is," which is a train of thought which I am of the opinion should be avoided.
So I wrote this piece, in the vain of, "why sexualities are important and matter." It's concise, perhaps too concise, but it covers everything sufficiently. To my surprise I got a number of responses to this piece and so I'm going to post it here, with a few minor improvements.
Right. Well then…
Identity is made up of a few things (concerning gender/sexuality/etc.) Your behavior, your feelings/desire (I'm lumping, the identity that you claim, in here, even though that may not match up with actual desires,) and how other people see you (and thus how you're socialized,) all of which are situational and subject to change. They all contribute in different proportions to "the identity," and I'm not going to make a qualitative judgment as to this system of identity construction, but they're all factors in this system, which is very much a reality in the world we live in, and I'll leave this debate at that.
Gender and sex are really important to how we relate to the rest of the world. When meeting other people before we say hello, before we shake hands, we make a judgment about people's gender (Boy/Girl). We make other judgments too, which are also important (race, class, education, age,) but the "gender call" happens really early. Often this judgment is correct, though not always, and based on this of others, we alter our interactions. It's part of that whole socialization thing. Again, I don't want to make a judgment as to the quality of this system, but I do know that it happens regularly.
Ok, that's really simplified, but I feel there's truth there.
So how does sexuality play into it? Right. Sexuality is really key to our definition and construction of gender. For example you hear the word "lesbian" and you think of women with power tools, flannel shirts, short hair, and the whole bit. Or, if you see someone who fits that description and you'll probably think lesbian. If a guy is in anyway femme, people think gay. It gets acted out on schoolyards everywhere, to mention nothing of the adult world.
That's why sexuality is important, at least in my mind (can you tell I'm a budding psych/gender/queer studies guy?) Now, why are we (I) talking about it here?
Because affinity is an excessively powerful tool for feeling comfortable in a new community, for social change and just for a feeling of safety. As a gay man, I want to know that there are going to be other gay people where I'm going. It'll make me feel safe. The metaphor of a "big gay family" isn't appropriate for a number of reasons, but there are some aspects of that notion, that are kind of true, and I want to make sure that there will be an affinity community when I get to Beloit, or at least have the option of finding a kind of affinity group at Beloit.
Oh, and while sleeping with straight guys is initially thrilling, it's ultimately trite, bad, unsatisfying, and not emotionally healthy for me. Just joking, mostly.
(There. I think it covers things pretty well, and provides me with the very beginning of something for the affinity story project.)