Brief thought/PSA of the day: you’re not helping

A little pet peeve of mine is when parents respond to their child coming out as LGBTQ+ (i.e. gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, asexual, etc.), or simply exhibiting non-normative behaviours associated with these identities, by being worried about how their child’s difference will “make the child’s life harder”.

I get that to some extent this is a natural reaction. Of course (or at least, hopefully!) you want what’s best for your child. You want their life to be full of good things and free of badness. And I can’t tell people what to feel. I get that.

But here’s the thing: when you say that you would rather your child not be [X: fill in your own blank here] because people who are [X] have harder lives, your priorities are way off base.

For one thing, when you tell your child you feel that way, whether you want to or not, whether you mean to or not, you are telling them that you wish they were someone else. So no matter how much you may think or feel this way, the kindest thing you could do is not tell them.

Instead, redirect that worry into something productive!

It’s important that you understand that the hardship in your LGBTQ+ child’s life will not be directly because they are LGBTQ+. Or rather, it is not a natural consequence of being LGBTQ+.

It is a consequence of being LGBTQ+ only in the context of a society that harbours anti LGBTQ+ biases. And it’s toward those biases that you should be directing your energy and your worries.

If you don’t want your child’s life to be harder than it needs to be, put action where your worries are and try to make the world a place that is safe for them (instead of wishing that they were the kind of person who is relatively safe in this world). Get involved, speak up.

Actually, do those things regardless of whether you have a child who is LGBTQ+.

Stop wishing for fewer LGBTQ+ people. Start working toward reducing the number of bigots in the world instead.

“Like everyone else, people who are LGBT start out as babies”: a book review

Cover of the book Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityYes, that is an actual quote, from the newly published children’s non-fiction book (copyright 2017!) Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It’s is just one book in a series from GLSEN under the banner “Living Proud!”

This book is hot mess, y’all. Such a mess that I need to rant about it.

Despite what the title implies, the vast majority of Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is very specifically focused on the topic of ‘homosexuality’. Which, that’s a perfectly fine topic for a book and all, but it’s not great for one that claims to be about sexual orientation generally, let alone sexual orientation *and* gender identity.

Gender identity is addressed only in the first chapter of the book, “The Origins of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. Right off the bat, we learn that the definition of gender identity is “A person’s self-image as either a male or a female, no matter what gender they were assigned birth”.

Oh, yes. We are off to a fabulous start, folks.

The book is, unsurprisingly, relentlessly binary in its discussion of both sex and gender, with the exception of a special text box acknowledging that intersex people exist. The paragraph on intersex people concludes that “many intersex people live happy and satisfying lives outside of the ‘normal’ female and male gender identities,” which is the only inkling we get that non-binary genders exist at all.

So much for “understanding gender identity” then. How about sexual orientation?

As I mentioned above, for the most part the book really only talks about homosexuality.

Outside of uses of the LGBT initialism, bisexuality is mentioned a grand total of four times:

  1. in the opening glossary, within the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ (which provides the options of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual (which, yay ace visibility for once, I guess!?))
  2. in the phrase “gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning”, shoehorned in suddenly at the end of a paragraph about the importance of the nature versus nurture debate around ‘what causes homosexuality?’
  3. in reference to Freud’s (*sigh*) theory that everyone is bisexual
  4. in the phrase “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”, in an image caption.

Asexuality’s only mentions are the two mentioned above. It doesn’t even merit an entry in the “Series Glossary” (a list of vocabulary words from the Living Proud! series, many of which do not appear in this particular book), or the index.

In fact, a full three out of the four chapters of the book are explicitly focused on homosexuality/being gay. First we have “Born Gay: Biological Theories of Homosexuality”, which concludes with a quote from Dr. Qazi Rahman, who states “as far as I’m concerned, there is no argument any more – if you are gay, you are born gay.”

Contradictorily, the next chapter (“Becoming Gay: Psychological Theories of Homosexuality”) concludes that “…human behavior is such a complex combination of mind and brain – the psychological and the biological working together – that it is nearly impossible to separate the two”, before segueing into the question for our final chapter: “Why Does It Matter?”

This last chapter provides a broad overview of the ways in which the question of choice with respect to sexual orientation has been rhetorically important to LGBT (or, since transgender people aren’t mentioned at all in this chapter, LGB) civil rights struggles.

I do want to be clear here; much of the content of this book is totally fine, and some is even pretty ground-breaking for a children’s book! But I have no idea how a book primarily focused on the nature/nurture debate about homosexuality wound up with such a misleading title.

Better yet, one of the other titles in the series is Being Transgender, which has the same authors as Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, because why bring in transgender people to write a book when demonstrably uninformed cis people can do it, I guess? I may need to review that one one I can get my hands on it as well.

If you’re into me, then you’re not straight: Orientations and attractions to non-binary people

Non-binary people are a weird position in the dating world (ok, I mean, we’re in a pretty weird position all the time to be honest. But anyway, today I’m talking about the dating world). This is true in a bunch of ways, and I’ve written about some of them before, but today I’m looking at the ways in which people talk about sexual and romantic orientation is often non-binary exclusionary.

So, for instance, as an enby person who is pretty regularly perceived as a woman, straight-identified dudes are sometimes attracted to me. They usually don’t magically stop being attracted to me when they find out I’m non-binary, either (much as I might love for it to work that way).

To me, it seems pretty clear that these people are not actually straight then, since they are attracted to people of more than one gender, and not just the other binary gender. Attraction to more than one gender falls pretty clearly under the umbrella of bisexuality (which includes plenty of identities that aren’t strictly bisexual).


Simultaneously, though, these folks are also technically still heterosexual, because they’re only attracted to genders different from their own. Such is the difference between straightness and heterosexuality, I guess. All we learn from this is that you can be bi without being same-gender attracted, which means bi and hetero aren’t (again, technically) mutually exclusive identities. Cool?

I’m actually not terribly fussed about the idea of straight, gay and/or lesbian people occasionally being attracted to enbies, without questioning their identities around that. Plenty of monosexuals people have one or two exceptions in their lives, I guess? And if you’re not really acting on them, then whatever.

I’ve dated people, though, who have continued to identify as straight even while dating me. And I have… complicated feelings about this. On the one hand, by and large I am actually talking about people who were/are in hetero ‘primary’ relationships who absolutely benefit from straight(-passing) privilege. And I both empathize with and actually appreciate it when folks in this sort of situation feel iffy about identifying as anything other than straight, because they don’t want to appropriate LGBTQ struggles. This is a pretty good instinct, to be honest.

But you don’t actually have to have faced struggles, or even be out, to be LGBTQ. And the thing is, people who date non-binary people and still identify as straight (or gay, or lesbian), even if they are doing so based on a well-meaning, privilege-acknowledging instinct? They’re contributing to non-binary erasure. If you are into me, and still identify as straight, you’re basically saying that my gender isn’t real, or at least isn’t important enough to acknowledge; you’re saying that it doesn’t ‘count’ in the context of your orientation. I am the unstated footnote, the silent asterisk to your identity.

And that’s a shitty fucking position to be in.

So, to all the straight- (or otherwise hetero-*)identifying men and women who are dating, or have dated, or are open to dating non-binary people, I am issuing you a challenge.

Let go of that straight identity for a while. Accept that you are not just attracted to the gender that your identity implies, and really sit with the implications of that. Think about what it would feel like to think see yourself as fitting under the broad LGBTQ umbrella. You can dip into the shallow end of the pool and just admit that you’re heteroflexible. Or you can go whole hog and embrace the idea that you are, after all, kinda bisexual, or even outright queer. I don’t know what works for you.

I want you, particularly, to consider the idea that maybe your discomfort with identifying as anything other than straight might be because you are a victim of bi+ erasure. And I want to let you know that the messaging you’ve received about what is means to be bisexual, or to be queer, are wrong. I want you to know that you do belong under that umbrella; we have room for you here.

And I also want you to ensure you understand that your straight identity invalidates and erases the many other beautiful people of beautiful genders to whom you may be attracted. So, in this weird ourobouros kind of a way, by identifying as non-LGBTQ, you are failing as an LGBTQ ally. Or, less paradoxically, (especially since some of the straight people I’m talking to right now are trans, and already LGBTQ) by not identifying as LGBQ, you are failing pretty terribly as a non-binary ally.

I actually feel weird about asking you to do any of this; I’m not the kind of person who questions how other people identify, and I don’t really think it’s my business. Wherever you land is up to you, obviously. But I also think these are things you need to consider all of these things before you make that call.

And, I guess what I’m really saying is:

Image is of a spherical light brown cat with a devil tail, with taxt "Join usssss we're adorable"

*I’m letting non-binary-attracted gay and lesbian-identifying folks off the hook for now, because of reasons?

Comment-related CW: comments contain references to naked bodies, and draw connections between bio-sex and sexual orientations. I think the ppints made are legit enough to stand, but for sex-repulsed and bodily dysphoric readers, please tread carefully here <3

Are you part of the Gender and Sexuality Minority community? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 14

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: Are you part of the Gender and Sexuality Minority community?

I feel like I implicitly answered this question already? I don’t believe there is such a thing as the GSM community. And I definitely wouldn’t want to be part of it if there was.

To be totally, I’m not really seriously involved in any communities organized explicitly around any of the identities under the GSM or LGBTQIA+ umbrellas. I have plenty of queer and/or trans friends. I participate in and have hosted the Carnival of Aces, which I suppose means I contribute to online asexual community(/ies). And I sometimes attend events organized by Polyamory Toronto, a meetup group for people interested in Polyamory – I was even a panelist on their first-ever Poly 101 panel this year.

I do also consider you, my readers, and the bloggers I read, to be a part of my extended community, and many of y’all are non-binary and/or trans and/or on the ace spectrum, so I do participate in community around these identities online.

What I have is a complicated network of largely disorganized but often mutually-supportive connections around various shared identities and experiences. If that is what community is, than I am a part of many wonderful communities, but The GSM community? No thanks.

Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

“An unpopular or unsure opinion about the GSM community”: 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 8

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: An unpopular or unsure opinion about the GSM community

For those that don’t know, the GSM in ‘GSM community’ stands for ‘Gender and Sexual Minorities’. It’s an alternate name sometimes used for LGBTQ+ communities to avoid alphabet soup problems while still being broadly inclusive.

…And you may not have caught my little linguistic trick in that last paragraph, but it points to a potentially unpopular opinion I have about ‘the GSM community’: I don’t believe such a thing exists.

There are GSM communities. There are lots of them, with varying levels of inclusivity of varying kinds of people who experience marginalization because of their gender (or lack thereof) and/or sexual orientation (or lack thereof). Many of them are wonderful. But there is no GSM Community, I don’t believe there can be one, and I don’t believe there should be, really.

For one thing, talking about ‘the community’ tends to send the message that gender and sexual minorities are a monolith, and we obviously aren’t. For every trans person I see insisting that ‘transgendered’ isn’t a word, I see a another trans person actively describing themself as ‘transgendered’, for instance.

But the other problem with broadly inclusive communities is that pretty much without fail, the voices that rise to the top, the ones that get heard, are the voices of the most privileged within those communities. And so the changes that get made are the ones that benefit those who are already most privileged. And this very often actually makes things harder for those less privileged.

Even something as simple and obviously right as extending marriage rights to all couples regardless of gender make-up has the real-life side effect of helping middle and upper class white gay people consolidate their wealth more effectively, thus contributing to continued income inequality. For reals.

In order for more marginalized voices to be heard, we need something more than ‘the GSM community’. We need a multiplicity of communities with a multiplicity of voices, representing as many different perspectives as possible. I am far, far more interested in hearing from communities of black trans folk, or autistic queer people, or fat femmes, than in listening to anything that can be credited to ‘the GSM community’ at large.

Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Bigotry and ignorance are not “phobias”

A very kind commenter recently pointed out to me that in using that word “homophobic” in my post about eliminating ableist terms from my vocabulary I was in fact (in an unfortunate irony) using an ableist term.

Phobias are, in fact, recognized mental health issues. Homophobia is not, in fact, a phobia, and conflating it with the very real experience of people with phobias is unfair. In many more ways than one. Let me explain.

The primary issue here is, of course, the unfair, incorrect, and damaging impact of comparing people with real phobias to bigots. Mental illness continues to be massively stigmatized, and people with mental illnesses are often portrayed as violent or otherwise inherently and uncontrollably abusive. By suggesting that anti-trans, anti-gay, anti-bisexual, anti-queer, and anti-asexual bigotry are “phobias” we are only contributing the idea that people with mental illnesses are bad people.

But I know that a lot of people are for some reason not convinced by this kind of argument, and think that because “everyone knows” that bi-, homo-, trans-, femme- and acephobia aren’t actually phobias that the use of the same terminology is irrelevant. So let me give you some other reason why it might be useful to avoid using these terms.

Referring to bigots as being “phobic” lets them off way too easy

The rhetoric of bigoted “phobias” carries the inherent implication that bigots can’t help the way they are, and that they can’t change. And, while I actually don’t believe most bigots ever will change, I also think it’s important to remember that the fact that they don’t change is entirely on them, based on a series of choices they make throughout their life (to not listen to other people’s experiences, to care more about their discomfort with learning than about the pain and death of other people, etc.) Bigots are responsible for their own bigotry and absolutely need to be held accountable, always. Calling them what they are (bigots), and calling their ideas what they are (bigoted), calling their actions what they are (bigotry) instead of couching it softly in terms of phobias is a powerful and necessary rhetorical move.

But it does even more than just holding people accountable.

Referring to bigotry as bigotry, and not as a phobia, makes it harder for the folks committing bigotry to derail the conversation

You see it again and again: someone points out that something another person said is problematic, and calls what was said (or the person saying it) ace/bi/femme/homo/transphobic. The person being accused of said “phobia” responds that they are not afraid of the group in question, and that they are therefore not “phobic”. Of course we know that this person knows that’s not what the word means. Of course we all know that no one thinks that anyone was actually referring to a real phobia.

But the conversation is derailed, just like that, and moves into a conversation about what it means to be whatever-phobic. Why give the person in question, the one who fucked up, such an easy out, when it can be so easily avoided? Call bigotry what it is, and close the door to this sort of derailment.

My commitment

All of this is really to say that I am making a personal commitment to no longer use the terms transphobia, acephobia, homophobia, and the like. I will instead refer variously to what is actually happening. There’s actually a plethora of better, non-oppressive, and more precise terms than “phobia” applicable to various incarnations of bigotry or just plain ignorance. Consider:

  • Acephobia may refer to:
    • anti-ace bigotry
    • compulsory sexuality
    • ace erasure
  • Biphobia may refer to:
    • anti-bisexual bigotry
    • monosexism
    • bisexual erasure
  • Femmephobia may refer to:
    • misogyny
    • devaluation of femininity
    • compulsory masculinity
  • Homophobia may refer to:
    • anti-gay bigotry
    • heterosexism
    • gay erasure
  • Queerphobia may refer to:
    • anti-queer bigotry
    • queer erasure
    • heterosexism
    • monosexism
  • Transphobia may refer to:
    • anti-trans bigotry
    • transmisogyny
    • cissexism
    • trans erasure

I mean, just look at the amazing list of more precise terms to refer to different kinds of bigotry and ignorance faced by LGBTQIA folks! There are so many options, and they are all so useful and way more accurate and direct than “phobia”.

I also plan to go back and edit references to phobias out of my old posts, although I currently barely have time to even sit down and write this out, so I’m not sure when I will manage to do that. I simply promise that it will happen.

I will, however, continue to use “phobia” terms in my tags, for indexing purposes. As a librarian, I understand that using the terms that other people use is sometimes important to make information searchable and findable. I am open to the idea of making sure that false phobias don’t turn up in the tag cloud on the right though, if that is potentially harmful or triggering for people. Please let me know if you have thoughts on this!

Inclusion fail

(via Tessa de Jongh on flickr)

A number of years ago, I attended a Bachelor of Education program. I’m theoretically qualified to teach junior and senior high school, but I have not maintained my membership to the Ontario College of Teachers, so I’m not eligible for any (public school) jobs. Teaching didn’t turn out to be what I actually wanted to do with my life.

Among the things that happened that annoyed me during the program (and there were many; because Ontario has dedicated Catholic school boards for all districts, a distinct proportion of the students accepted to Ontario teaching programs are Catholic, to fill the rosters of those schools), one haunts me in particular because of its genuine good intentions, but failed execution.

There’s a disturbing pattern among the classic lesson plans for teaching tolerance of diversity, which is that the plans tend to assume that they will be applied to a homogenous class of students who sit solidly on the privileged side of whatever division is being discussed.

For example, there’s the Jane Elliott’s blue eyes/brown eyes exercise that is meant to make white students understand what it is like to live in a world where you are a member of a discriminated-against class of people (i.e. what it’s like to be a person of colour in North America). It’s not clear to me how this exercise would work in a mixed-race context. It might actually be more interesting in some ways, but it’s pretty clear to me that it was not designed for this purpose.

The clearer example I have is geared toward reducing anti-LGBT (ar at least anti-LGB) prejudice. In one of my classes, the professor actually ran the exercise on us, so I got to experience first-hand just how problematic it is. It’s a simple enough premise, and involves walking through one version or another of this questionnaire.

The questions are kind of cute, and intended to inspire reflection among straight people on their assumptions about sexuality. And that’s all well and good. But.

As a queer person, I found myself completely and utterly excluded from the entire exercise and ensuing discussion. The answer to many of those questions for anyone who isn’t heterosexual is a simple “not applicable”. It was extremely frustrating, not least because the exercise could easily be altered to explicitly ask for input from LGB people (or, for the sake of not putting LGB students on the spot if they are not comfortable discussing it, at least leave some implicit openings/prompts that can be meaningfully addressed/answered by LGB people.) As it was administered, the whole process was deeply lacking in opportunities for meaningful diaogue.