"I don't think that being a strong person is about ignoring your emotions and fighting your feelings. Putting on a brave face doesn't mean you're a brave person. That's why everybody in my life knows everything that I'm going through. I can't hide anything from them. People need to realise that being open isn't the same as being weak."

- Taylor Swift

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

speak now #6: biology, identity, orientation & expression

Now Playing: Royals by Lorde (we'll never be royals, it don't run in our blood, that kind of luxe just ain't for us, we crave a different kind of buzz)

We like to think of sexuality as binary - black and white. Male and female. Males are men. Females are women. Women like men. Men like women.

Yeah, well...no. It's more complicated than that. Everything is. All dichotomies are fales dichotomies.

I know a lot of the terminology used by the sex-positive movement is a little complicated and confusing, and it seems counter-intuitive to use such long and fancy words to describe something so innate and primal. But, sexuality is complicated, and never in the history of the world have we come close to understanding it. These words really do help to...simplify things. I promise.

BIOLOGICAL SEX (male/female/intersex)

I try not to use the word sex in its typical usage, which is short for 'sexual intercourse' or 'sexuality'. Sex in sex-positive terminology refers to biological sex, which can be either male, female or intersex.

IDENTITY (man/woman/genderqueer)

Gender identity is how a person feels and identifies in the context of sexuality, and is a totally separate concept to biological sex. The majority of men are male-bodied and the majority of women are female-bodied, but there are transgender individuals (male-bodied women and female-bodied men) as well as a  variety of 'third genders' which are cultural recognitions of intersexuality, transgender individuals, individuals who do not conform to societal expectations of gender identity and gender expression, homosexuality, bisexuality and other non-binary individuals. Genderqueer individuals identify as being both man and woman, neither man nor woman, moving between gender identities or as a third gender.

Are sex and gender interchangable?

No. I hate it when people use the word 'gender' to apply to sex because they think the s-word is 'vulgar' (it's not) or that it's more polite. Biological sex and gender identity are two radically different things; being male doesn't necessarily make you a man, and being female doesn't necessarily make you a woman. Sex is purely anatomy; gender is an identity.

There are certain medical conditions that can result in intersex individuals - these people aren't 'confused', their anatomies just don't match the traditional binary. the chromosones, gonads and/or genitalia of intersex individuals are not distinctly male or female. Some intersex individuals are comfortable with being intersex and/or do not feel the desire for their biological sex and gender identity to match cisgender ideals, but intersex individuals can undergo genital surgery to become male or female. In Australia infants born with ambiguous genitalia are 'made' into males or females, but this is problematic - firstly, this is non-consensual and is genital mutilation and secondly, a baby doesn't know if ze is a man or a woman! If the baby is intersex, ze also has the additional decision of deciding if ze is male or female! Why do doctors insist on making these decisions for us?

What is cisgender and transgender?

Cisgender individuals are individuals who are either male-bodied men or female-bodied women. Transgender individuals are either female-bodied men or male-bodied women.

What's the difference between transgender and transsexual?

Transsexual individuals have normally undergone hormone therapy and genital surgery to alter their bodies to match the cis relationship between gender identity and biological sex.

What about hermaphrodites/drag queens/cross dressers?

Hermaphrodites are animals where all members of that species have both male and female reproductive organs - this is very different to intersexuality in the context of human sexuality, and calling an intersex individual a hermaphrodite is anachronistic and offensive. Drag queens and cross dressers may be transsexual/transgender/intersex individuals, but many of them are also cisgender entertainers and it's a massive stereotype that all transgender individuals are oversexed flamboyant entertainers.

SEXUAL ORIENTATION (heterosexual/bisexual/polysexual/pansexual//homosexual/asexual)

Have you noticed the parenthesis are getting longer? It's because the concepts are getting more complicated. But keep up, it's not that hard.

These are going to be brief and for every word in the above parenthesis I will write a whole new article. I just want to get some quick definitions down first. And yes, there are more, and I will try and write about as many as I can. These are just the ones that I am most familiar with. It is also worth noting that these are by no means authoritative definitions - they are very simplistic and there are many nuances and disagreements within the sex-positive community about these definitions.

Heterosexuality - being attracted to the people who are either the opposite GENDER or the opposite SEX. Examples of heterosexual relationships are:
- Male-bodied man and female-bodied woman
- Male bodied woman and female-bodied man

Bisexuality - bisexuality is defined as an attraction to two different sexes or genders, such as being attracted to:
- male-bodied men AND female-bodied women
- female-bodied men AND male-bodied women
- male-bodied men AND women
- female-bodied men AND women

Polysexuality - polysexuality is defined as an attraction to multiple sexes or genders. Polysexual individuals experience attraction towards many, but not all, genders and sexes.

Pansexuality - pansexuality is defined as attraction to people of all sexes and genders - this is also known as being 'gender-blind'. Pansexual individuals can be cisgender or transgender and can be attracted to cisgender and/or transgender individuals.

Homosexuality - being attracted to people of the same biological sex and gender identity.

Asexuality - Asexuality is the lack of sexual attraction and limited or no interest in sexual activity. It is important in the context of discussing asexuality to discuss the difference between sexual orientation and romantic orientation - asexuality does not necessarily mean that someone is an introvert who loathes company and is terrified of being touched, which is something of a rather poisonous stereotype. Asexual individuals have the capacity to love and an interest in romantic relationships, just minus the sexual component.

What is the difference between bisexuality, polysexuality and pansexuality? 

Bisexuality can be differentiated from pansexuality in that bisexuality is an attraction to two distinct sexes/genders (and one of these attractions can be stronger than the other). Polysexuality is similar to bisexuality and bisexuality can be considered a type of polysexuality. In contrast, pansexuality is an attraction to people regardless of sex or gender, in that attractiveness is not specifically tied to particular sexes or genders. All that being said, we define labels. Labels do not define us. Nobody gets to tell you if you're bi or poly or pan. You chose.

EXPRESSION (masculinity/femininity) 

Masculinity and femininity are social constructs that are falsely attributed to sex and/or gender that is our way of expressing ourselves in a sexual context - i.e. through conforming to traditional 'male' or 'manly' characteristics or traditional 'female' or 'womanly' characteristics. Again, this is not really as connected to sex and gender or even orientation as people like to think - there are the stereotypes of 'masculine' lesbians and 'effeminate' gays but really, that's all just coincidence.

In the end it is important to recognise that these elements of sexuality, sexual orientation and sexual expression are all kind of...independent of each other. We like to think that male, man, masculine and liking women all go together and female, woman, feminine and liking men all go together but the reality is that a lot of people don't fit these binaries - there's nothing wrong with them. There's nothing unusual or unnatural or sinful about them and the sexual activities associated with non-binary relationships.

Yeah. I think that's it. I will be pulling apart a lot of this terminology - especially the orientation ones - and be talking about my own personal experiences, as well as trying to convince people to write shit for me. Until then, stay tuned and stay beautiful!


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