communication

Why Blog?

Someone asked me a while back what my goals for this blog were, in the sense of what I hoped to accomplish by putting my thoughts and experiences on the web. I didn’t really have a clear answer for that person, and I still don’t really have one, but I’m going to try to articulate what motivated me to start this blog, and also some of why I’ve stuck with it.

The main reason is that I think the things I write about are important. I want the world to change in the ways that I talk about wanting it to change. And while my corner of the internet is small, and doesn’t carry a whole lot of weight really, it is at the very least one more drop in bucket on the side of social justice and social good. It is one more voice in the cacophony of the internet, and it is on what I see as the right side, the side that I want to be louder and clearer than other sides. And so I am contributing what I have to contribute to that, both with my own voice and by sharing other people’s experiences with things like Gender Perspectives.

At the same time, though, a big a part of what I have actually gotten *out* of blogging has been a sense of community with other bloggers who write on similar topics to me. Being on this platform has helped me find and read about other people’s lives and experiences, some of which resonates with me and helps me understand myself better. I also know that I’ve had an impact on other people’s lives, that sometimes things I’ve written resonate strongly with others and make them feel less alone in their experiences. And that is incredibly important to me, each and every time it happens.

And of course this is a sort of effect I was aware of before I was blogging myself. I discovered the extent and awesomeness of feminism and especially intersectional social justice by reading people’s thoughts and ideas on the internet. I learned about myself, and about the world I’m living in. And it was also the power of this experience that inspired me to start blogging in the first place. I was, at the time, working through my feelings about the borderline abusive dynamics in an earlier relationship, and I had only just recently come out to myself (let alone other people!) about being genderqueer. I had lots of thoughts, and writing them down helped me to articulate them and put them into a form that I was able to actually get a good look at and evaluate and remember and understand.

I started by writing about this stuff in a more private online journal that only friends could see. But eventually I wrote some things that felt more appropriate for a general audience. That felt important, and worth putting out there for other people to find. That I thought might do some good.

And so I set up Valprehension one day when I was simultaneously super bored at my work of the time, and also just had a head full of swirling thoughts that neeeded to get out. I had no idea at the time whether I would get past two or three posts. I wasn’t sure that I had much to say, really, or whether I would get anywhere at all. But I started it anyway. I decided to give it a shot, basically, without any real expectations or goals beyond the feeling that I wanted to be a part of the internet conversation.

And now it’s nearly three years – and going on 200 posts – later, and I still have so many ideas about things I want to write about, and I no longer feel like I might just stop any time now. I go through phases where ideas temporarily dry up, but I’ve never felt like I was walking away for good. And that is so super cool to me. I’m proud I’ve made it this far, and I hope to keep on rolling for years to come.

The thing is, I know now that regardless of how much or little of a reach I may ever have, my voice is important. My experiences are important and meaningful, and so are everyone else’s.

So tell me, why do you blog?

What am I trying to say?

There are places
that words just won’t reach

I can’t explain myself to you
or anyone else
Not if all you’re paying attention to
is my words

Words can only
gesture vaguely
at what I’m trying to say

Words can cut a path through the woods
But you have to look up sometimes
look away, and around
stop, and stare into the darkness
beyond where the path can take you
or you’ll miss the point entirely

I tell the truth of myself
in everything I do
in all that I am
and words will never do justice
to me, or anyone else

Not really

I am a metaphor
a shapeshifter
a unicorn
a rainbow

Please don’t ever take me literally
I am so much more than that

I hate the phrase “sweet nothings”

I hate the phrase
“sweet nothings”

It tells me
awful things:

That
‘I love you’
isn’t important

That
‘I want you’
isn’t valuable

That
emotional labour
is nothing

(Yeah, you know it was
a cis dude
who coined this phrase)

But saying what you feel
is only “nothing”
if nothing
is what you feel

And these things are important:

Hello beautiful
I like you a lot
I think you’re great
Your face is neat
You make me smile

What I wanted was
sweet everythings

What I asked for was
sweet anythings

What I got was
sweet fuck-all

Misgendering as “just a mistake”

I recently read this article about how intent is not the be-all and end-all of whether you hurt someone through pronoun use, or other gendered language. It’s pretty great, and it made me think a lot about what people are really saying when they insist that misgendering someone is “just a mistake”.

Here’s my thing: I know that in most case when I am misgendered it is just a mistake. I have yet to experience someone deliberately and maliciously misgendering me, in fact. I’m pretty lucky that way, so far.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. And it really, really doesn’t mean that it’s not important.

But I really feel like whenever I see a person insisting that their misgendering of someone else was just an honest mistake, or whatever, and not really apologizing or even fixing their mistake (and yes, the best practice when you realize you’ve just misgendered someone is to say “Sorry” and immediately repeat what you just said but with the correctly gendered language – it will make you do better next time), they are really saying one of two things:

1. “It’s not that big a deal. Let it go.”

Newsflash: no one gets to decide how big a deal a particular misgendering mistake is except for the person being misgendered. This very much relates back to my post about why you should avoid accusing people of “over-reacting” to things. You don’t know their reality, you don’t know what they deal with every day, and you don’t know what it feels like for them to be misgendered. So you can’t decide whether your mistake was “just a mistake” or whether it was a gigantic fuck-up that really hurt someone.

And I get that the instinctive response to being made aware of a hurtful mistake is often a certain amount of defensiveness, and that wanting absolution, wanting someone to confirm that it’s not big deal, is natural.

But here’s the thing. If you suck it up, accept that you done wrong and genuinely apologize and make amends, that is how it will cease to be a big deal. Minimizing another person’s hurt doesn’t make them hurt any less; in fact, often it involves asking that person to shoulder even more burden by absolving you of that hurt, leaving them with nowhere to turn.

Just, stop trying to tell other people what is and is not a big deal to them.

2. “I don’t really care that much, and I want your permission not to try.”

Sometimes people minimize their misgendering errors because they don’t really care, and they don’t want to do the work, and they are trying to get permission to not do the work. If the person they just misgendered agrees that it was just a mistake,and no big deal, then they can use that fact down the road when the continued misgendering becomes a much bigger problem. “But you said you understood that it was hard for me wah wah wah” etc. Seriously, stop making excuses and do the work. Apologize and fix it. And do better. Because you can, and we all know it.

apologizing

I mean, yes, I get that the most well-meaning person can slip up sometimes. The true test isn’t whether you are 100% perfect all the time with adjusting to new pronouns; the test is in how you deal with your mistakes. Own them; don’t minimize. Apologize for them. And fix them. It’s not that hard. And if you do those things you won’t find yourself seeking false absolution to feel better about yourself.

So, in conclusion, then?

Yes, I know it’s a mistake. Believe me, if I thought it was deliberate, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation; I would have left you far behind me a long time ago. That’s the issue at question.

The point is, it’s important. You are fucking up something important. It is a mistake; but it can and will never be “just” a mistake. So don’t try to get me or anyone else to absolve you of it. Fix it.

Yes to all of this

Excuse me while I spend the next week rereading and fully processing the amazingness dropped here (CW: rape)

“So if you want to be helpful, stop it. Stop it right now. Stop telling us we need to be less sensitive, or need to learn to take a joke. Stop explaining abusive behaviour to us. Stop implying feminists like being offended. Stop telling me you’d listen to women if we weren’t so angry.

Because I am angry and I’m sorry if anger makes you uncomfortable but for me, it’s a relief to realise after years and years of being quietly defeated, just how angry I now find I am. The anger reminds me that buried beneath the worthless, self-loathing teenager who whispers “it wasn’t rape,” whispers that I misunderstood, and that she will protect me by staying invisible, there’s another voice. That voice is tired of being told to shh. She knows it was rape. She always knew it.

Your gaslighting may be to ‘calm me down’; to defeat the anger, because, to you, that’s helpful. I get that. But my anger is not what needs defeating. My resigned, depressed apathy does. The anger is valid. The anger is me knowing I did not and do not deserve it. Don’t you want to help me be that person? It might be disquieting for you as I grow into it, but the alternative is that I stay as the person who believes it was not rape. That is the person who tells herself, every day, when she feels like fighting back to anyone or anything at all: shh. Be quiet. Don’t make any noise. Don’t make any fuss. People might think you are not okay with being raped.”

You should definitely read the whole thing. At least once.

Brief thought: Stereotypes

One of the things I try to do when referring to something that is a stereotype is to acknowledge that I am talking about a stereotype, rather than about actual characteristics of real groups of people. So, my conditioner doesn’t smell like old lady, it smells like “stereotypical old lady”. If I wanted to be really precise (since the phrase “stereotypical old lady” suggests that there are a group of people who are stereotypical old ladies), I should really probably be saying that my conditioner smells “like what we stereotype old ladies as smelling like”, but that’s a little too cumbersome even for me.

Anyway, I was thinking about this in the shower today (hence the conditioner example, natch) and I’m now wondering if this trick I have of acknowledging my use of stereotypes isn’t problematic in itself. I mean, as long as I’m still depending on stereotypes to help me describe real things in the world, I’m still perpetuating those stereotypes – my description of the scent of my conditioner a “stereotypical old lady” is only meaningful as long as I am in a society that stereotypes older women as having a particular smell, and by conjuring up that stereotype, I reinforce it to some extent.

This just brings me back to a larger frustration that a friend of mine was recently voicing: so much of our everyday language and the ways we talk about the world are steeped in racism, sexism, ageism, and -ism you could possibly think of. And yes, it can be tiring to try to avoid phrases that you know will make your meaning quickly and easily understandable to your audience, but that are also rooted in bigotry. And I get that it can be frustrating, or jarring, or otherwise unpleasant to be informed that a phrase you use, whose origins and meaning you’ve never really thought about, is in fact, racist. (Common examples are talking about getting “gypped”, which is an aspersion on Roma people, or gypsies, and using “cotton-picking” as a place-holder in situations where swearing is inappropriate – seriously, considering the history of cotton-picking and cotton-pickers in North America, using “cotton-picking” essentially as a synonym for “bad” is just not cool, you guys).

And I get it. I get the frustration, and I get the feeling of being limited – the proportion of commonly used language that is problematic is pretty huge. But here’s the thing; it doesn’t make sense to be frustrated with the person who told you that thing you said was messed up. It doesn’t even really make sense to be annoyed that now x phrase is tainted for you – it was already tainted, the only thing that’s changed is that you know it now, which is really a good thing. The real target of your frustration should be with the generations who came before us who infested the language with phrases bred in an atmosphere of casual bigotry, where describing things with respect to supposedly essential characteristics of groups of people seemed reasonable and right. That energy doesn’t have to be bottled up solely in censoring and altering your modes of expression; it can be directed at the systems and hierarchies that continue to persist in our society and continue to make this kind of language use ok (I mean, a generation ago, “gay” wasn’t really used in the pejorative way it is today – the language is still being used in new casually bigoted ways all the time).

We need to realize and consciously acknowledge that these instances of casual linguistic bigotry are symptoms of a much larger problem. We need to work on helping people to stop thinking about in each other in these rigid categories, with defined sets of characteristics applied to each. Only then will these casual instances of bigotry start to fade away. Only then will such dumb, seemingly innocuous phrases like “old lady smell”* cease to have any real meaning (“What do you mean, old lady smell? Doesn’t everyone smell different?”)

I want to live in a world where phrases like “old lady smell,” “throws like a girl,” or “that’s so gay” have no material meaning, because people don’t walk around thinking that there’s only one narrative that goes along with being old, or a girl, or gay. I want people to really understand that each individual’s experience is made up of so much more than their group allegiances and labels. I want there to be room for people to define for themselves what it means to be [insert label here].

Is that really so much to ask?

You know you want to talk to her.

You know you want to talk to her.

*Seemingly innocuous, yeah. But I mean, really, characterizing older people as smelling gross or cloying does an incredible disservice to a whole lot of badass, intelligent, and accomplished people. The idea of old person smell in general contributes to a culture that devalues the collective experience and wisdom of the older members of its population, and deprives younger people of amazing relationships.

On “Over-reactions”

I think it’s fair to say than anyone who has ever tried to espouse and/or express any sort of social justice values has, at some point in their lives, been accused of over-reacting to something. It’s an extremely common silencing tactic, there’s no doubt about that. But I also realized something recently that adds just a touch of nuance to the way I think about accusations of “over-reaction”. I honestly think that there are instances where that kind of accusation can stem from a genuine misunderstanding.

I mean, there are certainly people out there (especially in internet-land) who will label any acknowledgement of racism or sexism (or any other -ism) as an over-reaction. Simply pointing out that something is problematic is considered going too far and being too sensitive as far as some folks are concerned. I like to call these people assholes, (for lack of a better term,) and don’t really feel the need to discuss them any further.

But I just don’t think that everyone who has ever accused someone of over-reaction deserves to be equated with those assholes. The realization I came to recently is that very often, when someone gets upset over some instance of marginalization, the people who lob accusations of over-reaction are simply misunderstanding what the person in question is, in fact, reacting to.

Because, honestly, I understand why responding with righteous rage to a (funny!) command that you make some dude a sandwich might appear to be an over-reaction. The problem, of course, is that the righteously enraged person is never responding to that one completely unfunny and tired joke, or single comment, or that isolated incident – they’re responding to a much larger pattern of marginalization, of which the joke or comment or incident in question is simply an illustrative example. And that example is the straw that has broken the camel’s back.

And this is the point that I want to make very clear, and in order to do so, I am going to seriously strain this analogy, and I apologize in advance. The thing is that when we discuss a straw breaking a camel’s back, we understand that the straw that does the breaking is not the first one, nor the second. In fact, understand that the camel must have been carrying a great deal of weight prior to the addition of that last piece of straw, and we would never accuse the poor creature of being flawed or weak for having been unable to take that last little bit of weight. We simply understand that its strength is finite, and it reached its limit.

But marginalized people never seem to get this kind of consideration. We are expected to simply keep absorbing the monthly, weekly, daily, and hourly instances of marginalization and bigotry in silence for ever. Why?

Because talking about prejudice is uncomfortable? More specifically, I expect, it’s because exposing prejudice is uncomfortable for the privileged folks in the room, while silently allowing prejudice to continue really only discomfits (disenfranchises) marginalized people. And really, marginalized people are used to this kind of thing, so they should totally be able t take, while it’s clearly unfair to expect racists who are accustomed to going unchallenged to suddenly be able take criticism, am I right?

Or am I just over-reacting?

But I digress: the real problem is that these patterns of social marginalization to which apparently over-reacting people are so often reacting are invisible to anyone who 1) is not directly affected by them; and 2) doesn’t explicitly try to look out for them (or, essentially, anyone who is in an acknowledged position of privilege). So, instead of seeing this:

A person who has been blissfully ignorant of the pervasiveness of marginalizing messages in their culture (and is thus only aware of the incident in question) sees this:

straw-e1374844703628

And it is from this misunderstanding that many an accusation of over-reaction has stemmed.

Of course, it’s also important to note here that being marginalized in one aspect of one’s life (or alternatively, acknowledging one aspect of one’s privilege) does not always guarantee empathy with people who experience patterns of marginalization base don different characteristics; thus, LGB people accuse Trans* folks of over-reacting to their marginalization by LGB people, even while those same LGB folk are being accused of over-reacting to instances of heterosexism and anti-LGB bigotry.

And I’ve been just as guilty of this kind of thing as next person. But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the last few years is that if someone appears to be over-reacting to something, I probably lack the necessary context to properly assess their reaction. I probably don’t know actually understand what it is they’re actually reacting *to*. And remembering that one simple fact has helped me to learn so much, and become a better person. You should try it!

I promise it’ll feel good.

Grammar is important, but not in the way you think

I love it when people write things that I have been trying and failing to find the right words for.

Ozy: “I, as a grammar nerd, am endlessly in support of non-”proper”-grammar English: sometimes it has a beauty and emotional expressiveness than “properly” grammatical English does not. (I point skeptics to the Twitter of the incomparable quailitree.) To ignore that because of some bullshit rules that people made up in the nineteenth century is shitty as fuck.” (Read the whole thing)

Related, a three-part series on the same topic from Painting the Grey Area. Knowing “correct” grammar is a giant fucking privilege, y’all! It doesn’t make you better than other people, it just means you were luckier.

Part 1 : “My name is Chandra, and I am a recovering grammar snob.”

Part 2: “So, wow. Apparently people have a lot of feelings about grammar.”

Part 3: “Okay, this is my last word on this subject for the foreseeable future. I promise.”

If those three extremely well-thought-out posts, that address all of the major concerns of grammar snobs who cling to ideas of correctness even above the actual ability to communicate clearly and succinctly (sometimes ending a sentence with preposition is the lease worst option, for reals!), leave anyone unconvinced about the privileged and oppressive nature of grammar snobbery, then I don’t know what will.

Seriously, though, if you have hardass grammar snobs on your fb list, it’s totally fun to share any of these; you’ll wind up having awesome debates (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Edited to add more relevant articles:
From Balancing Jane: This one explores the ways in which grammar is used as a way of maintaining the kyriarchical (read: white supremacist) status quo by barring people of colour from many discursive contexts.

Guest Post! Stranger on the train

So I’m standing in the subway yesterday, listening to music, reading a friend’s blog post about moral relativism. I’m engrossed because it’s an interesting topic, and I like to hear his opinions, and I’m weaving threads of thought together in my head and making note of things I want to comment on, whether on the blog or when we go out for beers next time. The subway goes over the Bloor bridge, the one place that gets reception, and I quickly hit the comments link to see what other people have written and how it fits into what I’m thinking.

I’m watching the little loading circle, hoping the page will load before we go into the tunnel again, trying to remember whether moral relativism refers only to temporally disparate cultures or if it’s applicable cross-culturally in the same time period, when I notice the guy next to me trying to get my attention.

I pull one of my earbuds out. “Sorry?”

He mumbles something again, but my music is too loud in the other ear and I can’t make out a single word he’s saying. I pull out the other earbud, apologize again, and ask him to repeat himself.

“how are you today,” he says.

…oh.

I see. You want to make conversation. Not even about anything specific or interesting; you just want words to come out of our mouths and be directed toward each other. I immediately fill with righteous rage; I was having such interesting thoughts, I was listening to good music, and he pulled me out of my rich internal world for… what? So he can ask me uninteresting questions?

The rage washes over me quickly, and I know to ignore it until it passes. I had a similar encounter with someone a few weeks ago and I regretted how I dealt with it, and decided that I would handle it differently next time. The time a few weeks ago, I was sitting on a bench, listening to music, reading a book, when the guy sitting next to me asked me for the time and immediately followed it with “where are you from?” and after a few more questions asked for my phone number. I had acted curt and cold toward him, and while I don’t think that was wrong of me at all (if someone’s listening to music and reading a book, it’s a pretty clear sign that they don’t want to be interacting with the outside world at the moment, and you should probably leave them alone unless you have a good reason to pull them out. And a good reason is not “I want to talk to them.”) I still think there was probably a more effective way to talk to him (or rather, to get him to stop talking to me, and to not do the same to other women in the future) and I would like to find that way.

So anyway, back to the subway. I’m reminding myself of the guy from a few weeks ago, and that I wanted to handle it differently, and that this is an opportunity to do so with this new guy. Is my rage helpful at the moment? Maybe, if I can think of exactly the right thing to say, and exactly the right intonation to say it with, to make it clear to him that there are certain social cues which indicate that a person doesn’t want to be bothered, and that I was exhibiting several of those, and that I am uninterested in speaking with someone whose first order of business is to disregard and disrespect the reasonably clear cues I was presenting. Can I think of the exact right thing to say and the exact right way to say it in this moment? Not really. So, can I use this rage for something useful? Probably not. I could display it anyway, and hope that his reaction is “gosh, I should probably not bother someone who is so clearly doing something else,” but the more likely reaction would be “what a bitch. I can’t catch a break.” I’m making a lot of assumptions about him, but I’m okay with those assumptions.

Is my rage about him, anyway? Well, kind of. He did something which I fucking hate strangers doing. I have every right to be annoyed. But if he were the only person to ever do that to me, I probably wouldn’t be anything more than annoyed. My visceral reaction to his disrespect isn’t really about him, but about all the times this has happened before. Would it even make sense to vent that rage at him, when he is simply the latest in a string of similar experiences I’ve had all my life? Is it him that I’m angry at, or the biker dude who hit on me when I went to the store for cookies when I was 14? Or the man who rubbed my thigh on the bus when I was 16? Or the man who sexually abused me when I was 6?

The rage isn’t really about this guy after all. It’s about me and the experiences I’ve had and the way that this is supposed to just be an expected and normal part of life. This guy’s sin is that he disregarded my social cues because they were inconvenient for him. A shitty thing to do, but I can’t ask him to answer for the sins of all the predatory men I’ve encountered before him.

These thoughts pass through my head in less than a second, and the rage washes over me and gets replaced by idle amusement. I don’t know how to properly get across what I want to get across to him, but I can at least collect data for the next time this happens.

So I tell him how I am today. No, I’m not coming home from work, I’m going to a friend’s place. I work in software. Yes, I’m pretty good at it. No, I haven’t seen any good movies lately. No, I don’t watch sports. No, I didn’t grow up in Canada. I came here when I was nine. No, I would not like to see you again. Have a good day.

It’d be great if I could say that I now know exactly what to say to simultaneously get someone to stop talking to me and get them to understand why. It’s not the “getting them to stop” that’s a problem. I have absolutely no issue with telling a stranger to leave me alone. I’ve done it several times in the past, to great success (it seems people are thrown off when someone blatantly tells them “please leave now,” so they end up doing so). It’s the fact that getting him out of my hair does nothing for the bigger issue. It just pushes him off to be someone else’s problem. I have very little interest in doing that.

I wonder what his thought process was. He clearly knew the right questions to ask to get to know someone better – he was just missing the vital first ingredient, that the person you’re talking to has to want to talk to you as well, and that this is as much about their own current internal state as it is about making yourself seem like someone worth talking to. Did he read books about how to talk to girls? Get shitty advice from his friends? Does he have social anxiety and doesn’t understand how to properly relate to people? Is he lonely? Why me, as opposed to someone else on the train? Was it just my turn, or was there something specific about me that made him want to talk to me? I need to get some sort of handle on the answers to those questions before I can know how to get through to him. I need to find some way to piece together the similarities between the men (I would say “people”, but it’s really just been men) who have bothered me in this way, without lumping them all together and making the next poor guy pay for everyone else’s sins. And I say “poor guy” without any hint of sarcasm. I can’t imagine that anyone who is that poor at picking up social cues can live a happy and fulfilling life. That guy certainly didn’t seem happy or fulfilled. Is it directly his fault, or is he a product of shitty life lessons? It’s not really him I’m mad at; it’s the fact that he’s a product of our culture.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the most effective ways to communicate with people. I suppose it would be more accurate to say that I’ve spent my whole life thinking about it, but that sounds pretentious. But I’m fascinated by people’s thought processes, and by figuring out how to wedge new ideas into their thought processes. As far as I can tell, the only way to do that is to truly try to understand the way that person’s mind works. You can throw facts at someone all day long and get nowhere if you haven’t figured out how to actually get those facts to stick with them. If I actually care about getting through to people, then I need to do it on their own terms, not my own.

I’m not particularly keen on interacting with someone like him again. But it’s going to happen, so I ought to at least try to make it into a productive interaction.

Words: they’re important

(via dannipenguin at Flickr)

Ozy Frantz’ recent post on the issues with the term “sex-positivity” made me think about the ways in political movements sometimes use language in an interesting way: instead of using words that accurately represent their ideals or goals, the chosen words are actually perfectly chosen to be in complete opposition to the cultural forces that they are combating.

Sex-positivity (so called to combat sex-negativity, or the clandestineness and dirtiness with which sex is often treated in North American society) is only one example of this.

I sometimes feel the same way about LGBTQ pride. Being queer is just a thing that you are, and not something to strive for or take pride in. Really, the ultimate goal of most LGBTQ activists is really just for sexual orientation to be a value-neutral characteristic that people have. So why “Pride”? Well, there’s a couple of ways of looking at it.

The way I explained it to my mother when she got all upset the first time I went to a pride parade (“It’s not something to be proud of”) was that the point is “I’m [insert brand of queerness here], and I’m proud of who I am”. And I think this is sometimes the message that pride demonstrations get across.

But more often than not, the real message is “I am queer, and I am not ashamed“. It’s pretty clear that this is the message that anti-LGBTQ groups take from pride demonstrations, who like to describe the celebrations in terms of their unabashedness or shamelessness. These aspects of Pride bother hate groups because their power depends on queerness being a shameful thing; they depend on queer people’s fear of being open in order to keep up the idea that queer people are a mysterious, insidious evil that hides in the shadows and infects children, or whatever it is that they say to scare people into agreeing with them.

In fact, Pride demonstrations were originally created to combat this very kind of control. At their inception, they were intended to combat gay shaming tactics. So, while the real goal is to eliminate the shame, rather than create artificial pride in queerness (and an implicit devaluing of heteronormativity, when heteronormativitiy is only a negative thing when it’s held up as an ideal, or the right way to be), “Gay Pride Parade” has much more rhetorical power than “Gay Not Ashamed Parade”, and is a much more positive statement of opposition to the LGBTQ shame squads.

The same sort of argument doesn’t quite work for sex-positivity, though. Because by and large, the people who get labeled as sex-negative aren’t people who actually say “sex is bad”; their message is more akin to “sex is a wonderful, beautiful gift from some sort of deity, but only if it is practiced within a certain very narrow context and/or in these particular ways and for these particular purposes“. They don’t hate sex; they hate “bad” sex. So the sex-positive movement hasn’t just constructed a rhetorical position in opposition to the messaging of the cultural forces they’re combating – they’ve also rhetorically constructed sex-negativity so that they would have something to directly oppose. The reasons that I am less comfortable with identifying as sex-positive (which are the same as Ozy’s reasons) than I am identifying with queer pride as because the language of sex-positivity is a few steps more rhetorically removed from the actual intent of the movement.

Sex-positivity is easier to misinterpret than gay pride, and even if people do see the rhetoric of gay pride as suggesting that gay people are better than straight people, I don’t see what great harm can come of that, other than some straight people kind of wanting to be gay. But really, they’ll have the support of all their straight family and friends, and I’m sure they’ll be able to get through that tough time in their lives and somehow, some way, find a path to fulfilling straight existence. I’m sure there are some role models out there somewhere.

Sex-positivity, on the other hand, runs the risk of sending the message that sex is inherently good, and that turning down sex is bad. This is a very real problem for asexuals (who don’t have role models for fulfilling lives to the same extent that woebegone straight people do), or for anyone else who has ever not been in the mood.

The rhetorical construct of sex-positivity is more akin to pro-choice/pro-life rhetoric; since each side falsely presents their opponents as anti- whatever they claim to be pro- (though I feel like anti-life is more disingenuous than anti-choice), both sides have pulled the trick of rhetorically constructing both sides of the argument in their own way, whereas with gay pride, the movement is set up against the actual stated rhetoric of the haters.

So, how do we fix it, then?

Planned Parenthood is moving away from using “pro-choice” rhetoric in favour of talking about “reproductive justice”. The main reason for this – that it removes the binary nature of the argument and allows for their to be a spectrum of perspectives; “reproductive justice” is what anyone with any opinion on abortion is seeking, in their own way – is solid. And I like it a lot.

Rebranding any political or activist position or debate can be very powerful, and I think this is something that needs to be done for sex-positivity. Because what the sex-positivity movement wants isn’t for everyone to think that all sex is awesome all the time; it’s something more like the gay pride movement, about removing the stigma around many sexual activities, and making sexual preferences a value-neutral trait.

So what can we call that, and celebrate the true diversity of human sexuality without alienating or erasing the people who simply don’t like sex, or who only like certain things and feel like they aren’t adequately “sex-positive”?

I lean toward “Sexual freedom”, which at least rhetorically contains the concept of freedom from sex (or any kind of sex you want to be free from), as well as the freedom to have whatever sex you enjoy. But I don’t know. There might be something better.