Subject: Primal Sex or Primal Heart?
Date: Mon 11 Jan 1999 - 14:35:42 GMT
Last week, I spoke about a big concern I have, that transgender is being
subsumed into an LGBT political and theoretical model that has no mental room
for transgender. I continue to hear stories which reinforce that concern,
like the tale of a transgendered woman who was challenged in college housing
and went to the LGBT group on campus for support. The group told her that
they added T for image reasons, and that, as lesbians, the leaders felt the
could not support her in living in women's housing. In short, there was a
conflict between lesbian and transgender goals, and transgender loses, no
matter what the letters mean.
Gay & lesbian theory tends to find a key theme in sexual orientation, in
desire. Gay & lesbian activism circles around making the world safe for
diverse sexual desire. This is contrary to the key theme in transgender
lives, expression of identity. In a G&L model, people's choices are read
though desire, though an attempt to get what they desire, usually homosexual
relations. In a T model, people choices are read though expression, through
an attempt to express who they are inside, usually cross gender.
In other words, G&L says lives are defined by who we want to fuck, and T
theory says lives are defined by who we want to be. This is a big deal,
leading to one of the most often asked questions about transgendered people,
by both homosexual and heterosexual people: who are they trying to attract,
who are they trying to fuck?
When gender is read as an attempt to find, attract and keep sex partners,
gender expression becomes about others. When gender is read as an attempt to
communicate and embody ones own heart in the world, gender expression becomes
In the world of G&L theory, there are many who are questioning the long term
health and validity of a movement focused around sex and desire. These
people, like Andrew Sullivan and Michaelangelo Signorile, are speaking for the
importance of relationships, family, connection and stability beyond sexual
behavior. They have been called neo-conservatives (neo-cons) and sex
negative, attacked because they don't support total freedom of sex, but rather
believe in some moral context that must underlay sexual relations.
I remember a discussion on a butch-femme list where femmes noted that when
butches went on testosterone, their odor changed. This created a loss of
desire in the femme partner, and was seen as justification to end a
Should loss of sexual desire be a good reason to end a relationship? In a
world where desire is all, it should, but maybe there are higher values than
sexual desire. It's probable that female odor changes during menopause, that
her pheromones shift. Do we want to say, then, that change is sufficient
reason to allow husbands to end pair-bonded relationships?
The point of heterosexism, though it may be stretched thin, was to enforce
long term pair-bonded relationships so as to create a stable social structure
for the raising of childrem. There was a high cost to that rigid gendering,
to be sure, but it was done for social benefit. The women's movement has
broken that rigid gendering down so that women may express a wider range of
desires, including a desire to work and be valued with money, property,
political and organizational power.
In any case, though, women have always had a vested interest in speaking for
social values that transcend transient sexual desire, for the sake of their
children and the truth that women tend to have different patterns of sexual
desire than men. The conflict between this traditional voice of women and the
desire based focus of gay studies has been interesting to watch -- from the
Dworkin/McKinnon crusades to the Prostitutes Education Network.
This nub, this conflict between a worldview based on the primacy of sexual
desire and a worldview based on the primacy of personal expression continues.
It appears to be an expression of wild verus tame, the wild libido versus the
tame culture, but I believe it is more complex than that. To shape expression
in order to obtain & keep sex partners demands that we be who others want us
to be, that we play a part others find attractive. It requires that we
sacrifice personal expression to gain freedom of libido, and that's why the
selectiveness of women in choosing sex partners has been used as a social tool
to tame men into becoming appropriate marriage partners.
Marginalized cultures have a vested interest in maintaining a homogeneity that
mainstream culture, which is inherently pluralistic, don't have. In the gay &
lesbian culture, this homogeneity is created by offering sex for compliance --
one reason, for example, that drag queens find it easier to "date" gay men
when they present as men. When transgendered people enter the gay or lesbian
subculture, they are questioned as to who they want to attract, and they feel
social pressure to be homonormative to be rewarded, though because of their
unique bodies and histories, this may be an impossible pressure.
This paradox, that the freedom of sexual desire creates a constraint of
personal expression is well understood. Women have long known that they must
constrain their expression to get a partner, but have traditionally expected
to be rewarded by a long term relationship where even though their objectified
sexual allure may lessen, they have other bonds to their partner.
The struggle is beginning in the gay & lesbian communities, especially as the
first out generation ages, to understand the costs of a culture based on the
primacy of sexual desire. In the transgender community, this cost is well
understood -- many, if not most, transgendered people have felt constrained
and oppressed by the demand to shape their own gender expression to fit in
molds that others define as attractive.
I believe that the primacy of creating identifies based on the contents of our
heart, rather than on the package that we can sell, is important. For this to
be a base though, we have to be open to people as they come, rather than on
people as packages that fit neatly into our predetermined sexual desire, be
that a desire for a perfect man/husband, a desire for an artificially
pneumatic woman, or the desire for a manufactured she-male. We must find a
way to allow desire to follow human truths, rather than to shape human truths
to fit canned desire models.
When engage a theorist who argues the primacy of sexual desire, I find it
difficult to bridge that gap to my own clear beliefs in the primacy of the
heart. I believe that sexual desire will never adequately model transgender,
but that the primacy of the heart may model people who feel a strong pull for
same gendered relationships.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2a23 : Wed 21 Jul 1999 - 18:22:12 BST