Friday, January 27, 2006

Gender, sexuality, and conservative me (paca)

This is probably a dumb post for me because I have several people of different orientations who stop by here. I admire a couple of them quite a bit and hope I don't offend anyone. I am about to do a post on orientation that is competely off the top of my head and uninformed.

So, about a week or so I was in a parking lot picking up little B's new bed. Yes, the one discussed a couple posts down. On the radio they were discussing the Golden Globes in which Brokeback Mountain won, I believe, Best Picture Drama and Best Director. And Felicity Huffman won Best Actress for Transamerica. The showbiz reporters discussing this made a joke that if the trend continues, it would be the all gay Oscars. They didn't say this in a disparaging way. However, I began to wonder if being transexual really had anything to do with being gay. There's a good reason to confuse them and a bad one. The good reason is that groups which work for gay rights also often work for transexual causes. You have names like "LGBT Alliance" with the letters being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, and the like. So it's not completely silly to put the two things together. Now, the bad reason to conflate the two is the lingering erroneous perception that a gay man is taking on a female gender role or a lesbian a male gender role. But isn't that simply false? Plenty of gay men are more sterotypically masculine than old straight me and many are more feminine. Who you are attracted to has little to do it seems with gender roles. If you think being gay has to do with being feminine, and vice versa, then being a transvestite or transexual would seem related. But there is really very little connection. Being a transsexual seems to relate to changing one's own sexual or gender identification. But no matter which way you change, you can still be attracted to people of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both. Being gay or lesbian often has little to do with your own gender identity and is purely about what is attractive to you.

Now it is possible that currently many gay men display secondary feminine behaviors (and the opposite among women) in a slightly different proportion than straight men. Often stereotypes come from somewhere. But my guess is that this is largely a passing cultural thing, if it exists at all. I am reminded of Plato's dialogue, the Symposium. It is his meditation on love and is the story of a dinner party in which each participant gives a speech on the nature of love. They cover friendship, sexual love, love as a force in the Universe, and for lack of a better word divine love. The final is Socrates' presentation and is the highest form of love. One of the speakers is a man named Alcibiades. Alcibiades was a man's man. He was a kick-ass Greek warrior who never lost in battle. Historical figure. He fought with the Athenians and they won. He fought with the Spartans and they won. He was a muscle-bound hottie general who commanded fleets and was idolized and hated by thousands. In the Symposium, Alcibiades tells a story about once lying on a sofa with Socrates, basically getting all excited. He tries to put his moves on Socrates and get some action. Socrates, however, either falls asleep or wanders off. The point of the story, and it is supposed to amuse, is not that Socrates resisted the advances of a stud. It's that Socrates got more excited contemplating Beauty and Truth than Alcibiades' muscular torso. The point? Gender roles are cultural and come and go. It isn't clear that sexual orientation is bound to them in any fundamental way.

Last week on MLK Day, there was a parade through Waikiki which N, B, and I attended. I should say that there is almost always a parade in Waikiki. There were 20-odd parades in 2005. Most of them have a very specific form. It is one high school band after another. If it is a big parade, then you have band trips from the Mainland who march. (It's fascinating to see the dispersion of ethnic groups in America viewed through their high school bands, but that's another topic.) If it is a small parade, then you have local bands. If there is a Hawaiian theme, you will get some hula schools walking down who do a dance periodically and some women with sashes around there chest saying "Oahu" and "Kauai" wearing large dresses, lots of greenery, and riding horses. The MLK parade was completely different. Instead, there were about 2 bands and social / political group after social / political group. The UAW marched; the Republicans and Democrats marched; LGBT marched; the anti-war Not In Our Name group marched; Pacific Buddhist Academy marched; the Krishnas marched.

What was interesting to me most was my own very conservative reaction. I don't like politics and I don't like people telling me what to do or think. I felt like the whole parade had this veneer. It was strange that I had this emotional reaction even with groups I agree with most of the time. A couple days after the 2004 election, I called the Hawaiian Democratic Party up and asked to volunteer, having never volunteered to help a political group in my life. (They have yet to give me a ring, so I feel so empowered by that action. Really making a difference, I am.) But I still didn't like those annoying Democrats walking down the street holding up signs telling me their opinions. My reaction was very mild actually for the Democrats. Later we got Not in our Name, a super-anti-Bush anti-Iraq-War group that I think is national. About the only time I ever write about politics here I am writing anti-Bush anti-Iraq stuff, so I should be a natural ally, right? But instead my gut reaction was "that's not me; I'm not beating on drums and shouting and holding Bush is Hitler signs." (Actually, I do beat on drums; I own a set of congas and timbales, but they are for a different purpose. Music.) So, this group, instead of gathering another member who might help them, alienated me because of the way they present themselves. (The same group has posted ads for rallies with drawing of fat pigs in tanks rolling over citizens. Yeah, that's a great way to start a mass movement on an Island with one of the largest military establishmens in the nation. People with friends and faily in the military are going to want to join a group portraying their loved ones as baby killers.) Now my reaction was only that, a reaction. And I tell myself that if I only want to work with people I always agree with then I will be working by myself. So maybe I will overcome my emotions and do something anyway. But hasn't the group failed miserably if I have to overcome something in me to join them? They should be trying to make it as easy as possible if they actually wanted to accomplish anything.

Finally, tying all this back together, the group PFLAG-Oahu had a trolley and waved at people as they went. This is a group that I have very seriously thought about joining. The two biggest issues in the 2004 election for me were the Iraq War and the legalization of same sex marriage. As almost everyone knows, I am a No on the former and a big Yes on the latter. Since I don't seem to be of much use to the Democrats, and most of them just want the same sex marriage issue to go away anyway, I was thinking I should join PFLAG. It stands for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or something close. So my reaction to the PFLAG trolley was largely positive. However, not competely. Honestly, there weren't many people in their group, which is more evidence that I should have been there. But there was one woman who was a stereotype. She was larger, dressed all in black, covered in piercings in ears, nose, and eyebrow, and such. I couldn't help but thinking that she was fighting several battles at once. There were going to be many people in the audience who looked at her and thought, "I don't want my daughter to be like that," and identify this with acceptance of sexuality. This was going to be a gut reaction in many because lots of parents don't want their daughters to look like that regardless of whether their daughter is dating the male Harvard MBA grad in a power suit, or his sister. My own sister got a tattoo recently and my understanding is that my mother was not pleased.

My instinct is to fight one battle at a time. Thus when I got in a discussion with a "Family Values" lobbyist in Tennessee, I presented my case as one of legal equality. I tried to get her to separate religious marriage from legal marriage. I pitched it that way because I thought it was the only chance I had to reach her. If I had started questioning her religious and moral beliefs as well, then the conversation would been a no-starter. Of course I also disagree radically with her moral views on sexual orientation, but there was no reason to go there.

So, I don't know. It still seems that if you could fight one battle at a time, you would have more luck. First get parents to accept their daughter no matter who she is in love with, and then worry about them getting over a nose ring. After all, when I traveled to visit clients in my old job, I always wore a suit and shaved, even if it was the only time I ever wore a suit or shaved regularly. I could have gotten all excited about this and said, "I don't want to pretend about who I am and dress the way other people want; I am going to be myself. It's just clothes after all, who cares." But that's just it. It's just clothes. If it makes your life a little easier, just wear them and fight over something more important. However, 1) I have never successfully fought any political battle so what do I know, 2) again if you only work with people exactly like you, then you work alone, and 3) if a woman in leather and lots of piercings will work with me to argue for things we both believe in, I would be an idiot to say no.


J said...

TP and I have talked a lot about this because we're going to be out and in the South. I agree with you.
Also, I get the same feelings watching parades of a political sort.
I hope you've had a good weekend.

pacatrue said...

Thanks for the kind comments, Jill. Everything is a balance, right? If I am marching in a parade, say as part of P-Flag, I personally would be marching for a reason, which is to express a certain type of support, and so I would try, I hope, to make this statement in the most effective way possible. Of course, this is a whole different ballgame from actually living one's entire life. It seems to me that in living a life you have to be as close to who you are as you can. When I am in a parade, I am acting a role, and so I dress for the role. But in living a life, one doesn't want to always be living someone else's role. I think it's a really difficult question.