I realize that this isn't exactly a new post (at least conceptually,) and I realize/hope that this kind of discourse isn't ultimately useful to anything or anyone; but at the same time, it's an issue/debate that I find myself caring about a lot. Additionally, I think I've become a lot more coherent on the issue of late, which might be helpful. This doesn't mean I have any answers, but my questions are more crystallized (to mix metaphors a bit,) which I need to learn to become content with. Let us also not forget the fact that I'm bored out of my mined (mostly,) and musing about this is one of my favorite things to torture myself with in fits of boredom.
I suppose these statements/questions, on some level apply to every kind of group identity, social identities like race, class, education, age, and of course gender/sexuality for starters. Because gender and sexuality are my thing, and while I'm perfectly content to go on about race and class, I'll constrain myself a bit, but I would beg the readers to not be so constrained.
As I explained briefly in the Why it all Matters post, identity is made up of: what you actually do, what you see yourself as/claim, and how other's see you.
I think there's a Vorlon quote from Babylon 5 that says something like: Truth is a three edged sword: your side, their side, and fact or something like that. It's an interesting analogy that I don't want to stray into, so I'm moving on.
I view the trifold aspect of identity as one of the unexplainable facts of the world. I'm not sure how I feel about the "how others see you" part, and "what you claim," and while I'm at it strict behavioral identities don't really fully account for the complexities of identities.
So the questions I've been asking:
- If an effeminate (gay acting, for lack of a better term) guy, says he's bisexual, but only has relationships with women; then what's up?
- What would the "status" bisexuals in long term monogamous relationships be, and how does their previous relationship history affect their identity?
- Are non operative transgender people, who don't take hormones, aren't seeking surgery, and often live in the gender of their birth, really trans?
- If a women exclusively dates women, and is out as a lesbian, and then falls in love with a man and gets married and lives in that relationship happily for 20 years, is she still a lesbian?
- If someone is out as a bisexual, but is only has relationships with one sex, are they really bisexual?
- If someone claims a particular identity, and then "changes" identity at some later point, is that identity shift apply retroactively? Does behavior affect this?
- If someone who is out as a gay man doesn't have relationships with men at all (or only occasionally), are they still gay?
- If a man, who dates women exclusively, has sex with men occasionally, is he still straight?
- In cases similar to the one above, would that man's behavior affect the answer; that is, if he bottomed (took the receptor roll during anal sex) would that affect the answer?
- An individual whose in the closet, has very little if any heterosexual attraction, dates heterosexually, but given the proper contextual situation, would be almost exclusively homosexual, is
Again, the idea of retroactivity plays into this one.
There is of course the obvious "why does it matter" response, but excluding that, I think there are two ways to answer these questions: what they are, is guided by what they do, or, regardless of what they do, they are what they say/feel they are. In my gut, I usually answer behaviorally, though on an intellectual level, I know that the 'say/feel' option is probably closer to the truth. Something inside me says, bisexual people need to have relationships with both men and women, or they're really hetero or homo, and that a self-identified gay man shouldn't have relationships with women. That a man who had a relationship with a woman for a number of years, and then only had relationships with men would be gay. But bisexual people frequently lean one way or the other, that some homosexuals have hetero relationships (to varying degree's), and that lots of homo-leaning bisexual people, identify as gay men (and lesbians). I suppose the thing is, that there's no one right answer to identity, that it's an individual combination of those aforementioned three aspects.
Once we've gotten that one mostly squared away, the issue of "Why it matters anyway?" remains.
Identity is important because it makes it possible, let alone easier to study sexualities and gender. It separates people into groups that you can study. It allows people to fit into communities based on their identities and the intersection of their identities. Having said that, you could also say, that identity segregates people and enforces stereotypes.
And it does.
Knowing this, is the fact that identity is the source for a great many things that are wrong, reason enough to abandon it, knowing that there is a lot of insight to be gained by studying identity?
Having asked that, I don't think that its possible to ever completely avoid identity. It's as central to the human experience as oxygen, Swedish Meatballs (Babylon 5 joke, please disregard,) curiosity, and fear. Therefore, if identity is unavoidable, how on Earth do you study it (in some form) without releasing (and therefore bathing in) the unavoidable detriments of identity?
That about covers it for now. Maybe it's enough just to write something like this, to acknowledge that the issues are out there, and then maybe it's not. Well I tried. Hopefully I can avoid this for a while now. Carry on.