“The South Wales miners’ strike of 1984-1985 saw the formation of a curious alliance between a plucky group of young homosexuals from London and miners in Dulais Valley. In Dancing in Dulais, an initial wariness on the part of the young gays, the miners, and the miners’ families gives way, through sometimes delicate interactions, to a loving and purposeful solidarity. The unembellished videography captures well this fascinating-to-witness union of two disparate yet ultimately kindred groups. The ‘Pits and Perverts’ benefit concert features the Bronski Beat.”
It’s nearly pride month, and the (usually cishet) leadership of organisations will allow rainbows to appear and polite expressions of queer rights to be published on the company blog. But don’t forget: pride is protest. Protest against the homophobia and transphobia perpetuated by straights. “No pride for some of us without liberation for ALL of us” (Marsha P. Johnson).
QUEERS READ THIS was a leaflet distributed at the New York pride march, published anonymously by Queers (June, 1990), and captures the spirt of pride.
“[…] You as an alive and functioning queer are a revolutionary. There is nothing on this planet that validates, protects or encourages your existence. It is a miracle you are standing here reading these words. You should by all rights be dead. Don’t be fooled, straight people own the world and the only reason you have been spared is you’re smart, lucky or a fighter.
“Straight people have a privilege that allows them to do whatever they please and fuck without fear. But not only do they live a life free of fear; they flaunt their freedom in my face. Their images are on my TV, in the magazine I bought, in the restaurant I want to eat in, and on the street where I live. I want there to be a moratorium on straight marriage, on babies, on public displays of affection among the opposite sex and media images that promote heterosexuality. Until I can enjoy the same freedom of movement and sexuality, as straights, their privilege must stop and it must be given over to me and my queer sisters and brothers. […]”
‘I wish to propose to you a new term, one that has been missing for a long time: “circlusion.” It denotes the antonym of penetration. It refers to the same physical process, but from the opposite perspective. Penetration means pushing something – a shaft or a nipple – into something else – a ring or a tube. Circlusion means pushing something – a ring or a tube – onto something else – a nipple or a shaft. The ring and the tube are rendered active. That’s all there is to it.’
– Bini Adamczak, On “circlusion”
‘… what’s striking is the number and difference of the dimensions that “sexual identity” is supposed to organize into a seamless and univocal whole.
‘And if it doesn’t?
‘That’s one of the things that “queer” can refer to: the open mesh of possibilities, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excesses of meaning when the constituent elements of anyone’s gender, of anyone’s sexuality aren’t made (or can’t be made) to signify monolithically. The experimental linguistic, epistemological, representational, political adventures attaching to the very many of us who may at times be moved to describe ourselves as (among many other possibilities) pushy femmes, radical faeries, fantasists, drags, clones, leatherfolk, ladies in tuxedoes, feminist women or feminist men, masturbators, bulldaggers, divas, Snap! queens, butch bottoms, storytellers, transsexuals, aunties, wannabes, lesbian-identified men or lesbians who sleep with men, or… people able to relish, learn from, or identify with such.’
– Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. (1994, pp. 7-8)
‘Anyone’s use of “queer” about themselves means differently from their use of it about someone else. This is true (as it might also be true of “lesbian” or “gay”) because of the violently different connotative evaluations that seem to cluster around the category. But “gay” and “lesbian” still present themselves (however delusively) as objective, empirical categories governed by empirical rules of evidence (however contested). “Queer” seems to hinge much more radically and explicitly on a person’s undertaking particular, performative acts of experimental self-perception and filiation. A hypothesis worth making explicit: that there are important senses in which “queer” can signify only when attached to the first person. One possible corollary: that what it takes —all it takes—to make the description “queer” a true one is the impulsion to use it in the first person.’
– Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. (1994, p. 8)
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. (1994). Tendencies. Routledge.
In cishet majority social situations, people are rapidly sorted into the men and the women, the he and she. The apparently obviously gay are also picked out based on stereotypes. Anyone in a relationship is assumed monogamous. For those not falling into these buckets or incorrectly assigned, the work begins.
Bisexual people can wait until someone mentions dating and share their own stories, strategically traveling through genders their dates had. Dating stories also provide an opportunity to mention nonmonogamy through any inevitable misunderstandings that have arisen when meeting someone for the first time.
Trans and nonbinary people who have been misgendered can allude to the pervasive transphobia in the media, state their correct pronouns, and escape to the bar for a bit. They can try to anticipate and prevent any awkwardness with the people sitting closest by introducing their pronouns alongside their name. But after a few drinks, people aren’t always able to notice or remember these details.
Cishet monog people get this gender, sexuality, and relationship orientation sorting out of the way automatically. Kahneman would call it System 1 thinking, which is very fast and sometimes very wrong. Enter any variations from the cishet norms and more energy is required to establish the basics, and often to try to explain what it all means.
Amatonormativity: “the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.”
Cissexism (also cisnormativity): “the belief or assumption that cis people’s gender identities, expressions, and embodiments are more natural and legitimate than those of trans people.”
Heterosexism (also heteronormativity): “the belief or assumption that heterosexual attractions and relationships are more natural and legitimate than their same-sex counterparts.”
How can we make sense of the idea of being “out” as queer, varying the salience of queer identity depending on whether we’re in an LGBTQ+ bar or with queerphobic family, and what it means to have a strongly-felt and clearly expressed identities invalidated?
These are example phenomena addressed by Robin Dembroff and Cat Saint-Croix‘s new paper, “Yep, I’m Gay”: Understanding Agential Identity. Their idea is to bridge how we understand ourselves to be (self-identity) and what others take us to be (social position) using the concept of agential identity.
Agential identification with a particular social group follows this pattern:
- You self-identify as a member of the social group.
- You make that self-identity externally available
(a) consciously or unconsciously;
(b) by behaving a particular way and/or displaying perceivable features; and
(c) those behaviours/features manifest or are intended to manifest social properties associated with the group.
- You accept or allow that others take you as belonging to the group.
Self-identity isn’t necessarily established effortlessly and it depends on the people around you. Dembroff and Saint-Croix draw on Katharine Jenkins’ norm-relevancy account in which we decode which groups we belong to by tuning into the norms which seem relevant to us – even if we disagree with those norms. The extent to which this process is deliberate – for instance, in terms of how much research someone does on a particular social group and its history – can lead to stronger or weaker self-identity. We may not even have a name for a particular identity; it’s possible to be polyamorous or bisexual without using those terms or even being militantly opposed to “labels” (see also: label aren’t glitter).
Agential identity involves some attempt to broadcast self-identity. Dembroff and Saint-Croix explore variation in how this can be done and emphasise that the social processes involved are often complex. For instance, agential identity can vary in how salient it is (pp. 583-584):
“consider a gay teenager who comes out to his parents, but otherwise acts conservatively at home in order to minimize the salience of his gay identity. This same teenager might, in other contexts, deliberately talk and behave in ways that persistently signal and emphasize his gay identity.”
A strong self-identity and salient attempts to establish a matching agential identity may not be taken up in a particular context; someone could persistently signal their trans identity in all contexts but it is only accepted in LGBTQ+ spaces and ignored by transphobic colleagues. Agential identity depends on self-identity and consent to belong to a particular social group – these are key conditions – and expresses preferred social group membership. However, that preference may not be accepted.
The term bisexual is frequently misunderstood as meaning sexual attraction to men and women; see, for example, the dictionary definition Google provides.
This definition works for cis binary people. It includes trans binary people too, since trans men are men and trans women are women; however, it excludes non-binary people.
One response is to define bisexual as attraction to two or more genders. This is the approach taken by the Bisexual Index. But this can be confusing since the “bi” means two, e.g., as in binocular, biennial, biweekly. So where does the “or more” come in?
There is a simple non-binary inclusive definition, which has apparently been around forever (note to self: citation needed!) and is compatible with definitions of heterosexual and homosexual:
- Homosexual means attraction to people who are a similar gender to you.
- Heterosexual means attraction to people who are a different gender to you.
- Bisexual means attraction to people who are a similar gender to you and to people who are a different gender to you.
So accepting that there are more than two genders, this is compatible with the definition that “bi” means two or more. Additionally, it spells out what the “bi” (two) refers to.