ABOUT THE PRIVILEGE OF A FLUID SEXUALITY/GENDER IDENTITY
Judith Butler (Undoing Gender)
I’ve never felt absolutely comfortable about defining my sexuality and in a way my gender identity. Everyone is on their own journey and this was always mine. Mostly I’m not in the mood to discuss my view on gender when it comes to small talk in bars or at dinner parties so I’ve found a compromise of either going with frequently used labels or just avoiding the topic at all. Don’t get me wrong, you know that I like to provoke and that I am very outspoken but to talk about this, it isn’t really exciting for me. Because people react either confused, quite emotionally or look at you as if you were a butterfly behind a glass dome. To break it down once again: am I trans*? No, I just don’t like to hide my femininity and I do express myself with androgyny. It’s simply what goes with my face and overall attitude. On the other hand, I like fashion and typically male labeled fashion doesn’t do much for me. Am I gay or straight? Well, I’m into guys most of the time but I’ve kissed girls and boys and trans*people (and most of them told me they thought I was a great kisser – that’s where small talk gets interesting). There’s really not much to talk about I think. However, I’ve also found out that in many ways it doesn’t actually matter what you say anyway because people love to believe what they think about you and still like to give you a label despite your very own experience („he just doesn’t it know yet“ – „he’s too afraid to admit it“ – „he’s probably hiding something“…).
When it comes to late nights, if some booze is involved and people feel like having fun – sex is a topic that comes up almost every time. Last week, I’ve been visiting a friend at his gallery after the gym when another friend came by and felt like partying it up a little. She decided to call more friends who were nearby who considered themselves ‚bros‘ (it’s a bit difficult for me to use that word seriously and I always shiver when someone calls me that but it’s relevant in the continuation of the evening that they were, in fact, his bros. Meaning: they were close male and straight-identified friends).
There was some tension in the air between the girl and the boys and after one or two drinks someone had the idea to play truth or dare as some games just never go out of style…
Most of the questions and dares were of a rather innocent kind but things started to get a little out of hand and emotionally quite challenging for the three boys when one was asked whether he ever touched another guy. Upon hearing the question I thought it wasn’t a big deal and found the question even rather childish. I mean, I’ve been a boy amongst boys in school camps and just like all teenagers are curious they play games and try to find out who they are and what they like (I mean, just ask Mr. Freud). Even if anything happened when he was older it doesn’t really mean anything; The way he feels about it or how it made him feel back then matters more than the simple fact that he maybe touched or even kisses someone if you ask me. In my mind, I’ve had already moved on from the question as soon as the question fell but it was a different affair for the three boys:
The one who was asked fell in an emotional whirlwind of wanting to play the game and answer honestly but he was torn by the fear of his confession changing anything between his friendship with his bros. Don’t get me wrong, I do absolutely understand that he wanted to say a few words to his friends before confessing that he ever „touched another guy“ the way he isn’t used to. But this was more than just clarifying that it didn’t mean anything. It turned into an emotional crisis for all three of them.
After an introduction of 15 minutes on why and how the guys should not get this the wrong way without even having begun to answer the question, I interfered and told my friend that he doesn’t need to answer the question if it can seriously harm any friendship or trust between them. But the topic continued for almost another hour and although I do respect the emotional state of my friend that moment and think it is great that he appreciates his friends so much, I couldn’t help but think of the way I feel about my own sexuality.
We are so dependant on labels because it’s the way we are raised. My friend’s emotional dilemma surely isn’t unusual and I guess some readers wouldn’t even consider his reaction in any way overreactive. I am not saying that I consider myself free from any labels, but the way I deal with my sexuality and my gender identity is different than many other people do and seems to be more open-minded. Does that make me different from many people, does that alienate me? In a way, yes – because my experience of countless discussions and the curious interest of many people who treat my view as something exotic shows me that most of them can’t relate (unless I find myself in a queer bubble). But in this case, this sort of ‚othering‘ doesn’t bother me because I feel privileged for I can choose whom I want to kiss with confidence and passion and without the distress of any doubt concerning my identity. I feel very comfortable being fluid in the sense of experiencing intimacy with someone as an encounter of two people and not two different genders.
This doesn’t only concern my sexuality but so many choices in my life:
Clothes for instance. If they fit, they fit. If I like them, I like them and I wouldn’t be held back by a label that reads ‚for ladies‘ because some marketing executive decided so. I have friends who paint their eyebrows every morning and treat this beauty routine as a secret state affair that ought never be revealed because it could be considered a ‚girl thing‘. When I choose my perfume I like to choose it on the basis of the smell and how it feels to me and not on the marketing decisions that have been made by huge companies to sell a product. It might apply to a bigger audience but I don’t really understand how the individual lets somebody else decide what they actually like or dislike.
Now I don’t want everyone to look at sexuality the exact same way that I do and this isn’t a plea for more people to be genderfluid or not-straight. But I just want to remind you that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself just because our society has a very limited view on gender and only allows this part of our identity to exist in a binary system. In some way, I felt almost sad for my friend because he couldn’t regard his experience simply as that – just an experience – but as a possible threat to his friendship and the way people might think about his identity. In the end, it reminded me that in this regard I consider myself as free and open-minded and therefore privileged. It seems to me, that as soon as we start to look at sexuality and gender through a non-heteronormative gaze, we gain the privilege of more confidence and a way to solve this dilemma that many people are going through.
photos by Tim Schilling @schillipepper
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