Tuesday, April 17, 2012

TW: The F-word, British for cigarettes

Hello!  It's been a while, hasn't it?  And it's been an especially long while since I've done any book reviews.  This weekend I picked up a book called Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?  The subtitle is important:  "Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform".  I'd read the other two anthologies by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Nobody Passes and That's Revolting), and enjoyed them, so I wanted to give this one a try as well.  I'm only on the second essay, but I can tell that the book is going to be educational and thought-provoking (although, it should be said, some of the content is sexually explicit, if that bothers you).

[Image: The cover of the book]

The first essay is about a cruising website called Dads and Lads.  Now that, I cannot relate to, but it did have some things to say that mirrored my own experience with online dating:

Worse yet, [the dropdown menu] suggests there's something wrong with anyone or anything that doesn't fit into those clear-cut, self-explanatory, "natural" options.  Sure, you can express in your profile's personal statements the scope of your sexual tastes and practices as fully and with as much imagination as the text field's character limit will accommodate.  But when you first encounter that dropdown, when you first look at the choices available and note that there are none with which you cleanly correspond, there is a moment of creeping doubt, of uncertainty, of a nagging sense that there is something wrong with you.  You should be one or the other.  (D. Travers Scott, "Imagining a Faggoty Web", 6)

and also:

The example of this humble and by now much-maligned dropdown menu is an illustration of how the web is not neutral.  The technologies that constitute the online experience did not appear out of thin air or descend from Olympus as gifts from the gods.  They are not separate from culture, somehow innocent and pure, but as deeply intertwined with culture as an episode of The Hills.  The design and functioning of online technologies is far from immune to racism, sexism, homophobia, and other social ills.  (7)

It hadn't really occurred to me that people with more well-known orientations might have the same dropdown menu problem that I do (apparently I haven't been spending enough time on Dads and Lads).  But dropdown menus seem to function similarly to those pants you try on in the dressing room.  They don't fit, so you must be too fat.  We seem to have this habit of blaming ourselves first, and once we've done that, it can be hard to see other options.  If you want to be pissed off about dropdown menus, I'll stand behind you.  It might seem "small", but you have a right to be frustrated about people who will sacrifice human diversity for some dating algorithm.  

Although they may be different from my own life experience, reading these sorts of anti-assimilationist queer accounts often feels very refreshing to me.  I feel like asexuals, myself included, are often hesitant to take up space.  Like the "flaming faggots" in this anthology, we're often told that no one wants to hear about our sexuality.  With gay men, the perception is that there's too much to tell, and with asexuals, there is presumably not enough.  I would like to be flamboyantly asexual, although I'm still trying to figure out what that is.  Books like this remind me that there's value in that attempt.  As the introduction states, "Existing simultaneously outside queer and straight norms is liberating and constantly exciting in ways I had never anticipated".  This sense of liberation and excitement is what I wish for us.

Expect a part 2 to this post!


Anonymous said...

"Flamboyantly asexual" made me laugh aloud. XD Lovely.

nekobawt said...

ah, flamboyant asexuality. i've been working on that myself, basically just indulging the urges that i DO have, shamelessly. (i don't have any "guilty pleasures." ;D) i am who i am, and that person is awesome (not perfect, i am aware of that and working on it), and if anyone wants to have sex with me that's just their problem.

Sara K. said...

When the pants don't fit, I always blame the pants. I also *mostly* blame the shoes industry when shoes don't fit, though I admit that I don't love my feet (it has more to do with physical pain than shoes not fitting, though the fact that it's so hard to find shoes that fit does not help). Of course, I was born not fitting (I'm actually starting a series a blog posts about this soon), so I think that's why I've generally tried less than many people to 'fit' in.

Carolyn said...

Maybe this is me being a nerd with a database managing perspective, but I don't understand the concept of blaming the dropdown menu or the pants. Programmers can't make a dating site with an open field (versus table of choices) because there would be no way to use that data. It's not the intent by any means for a person running a business to try to include anyone, their only goal is trying to make money off of you by offering the choices that hit the best revenue, which is as few choices as possible to cut down on design but enough to cover as much of the market share as possible. If you're mad that your group is small and people don't market to you the only thing you're really mad about is the fact that corporations are selfish and moneygrubbing and your group is small. Not to say that i'm not pissed at all corporations, so I'm right their with you on that :)

Ily said...

Big ups to all the flamboyant asexuals out there! *sprinkles glitter in your general direction*

@Sara, yeah, it would be interesting to know how much the "average person" changes their behavior in order to fit in. In some aspects, I do try, but I willfully ignore others, so for me there's definitely a contradiction going on. Also I sew, so that makes it easier to blame clothing ;)

@Carolyn, yay, a database nerd is in da house! :D I think what would need to happen is a re-conceptualization of those kinds of sites. I can envision a dating site with open fields, and then you can search for people based on age, location, key words, etc. It would be more random, but then again, it would be more true to the real-life experience of meeting people. I think a site like that could still earn ad revenue or membership fees, but I know that when starting a new business, people may not want to take a risk on a new model.

(Hmm, I like my idea, maybe I should go get some venture capital on this!)

The internet is portrayed as this place of ultimate freedom, but like you're saying, in a lot of ways it's still beholden to the profit motive. I can say whatever I want on this blog, but then again, I don't have the reach that a site like Dads & Lads, or any dating/hookup site, might have.

Kathleen said...

Why am I only discovering this awesome blog now?

Anyway, to the content of this post, I especially like your point that "we're often told that no one wants to hear about our sexuality. With gay men, the perception is that there's too much to tell, and with asexuals, there is presumably not enough." If you don't fit one of the prescribed boxes, so many people react with "stop shoving your sexuality/lifestyle down my throat!" I haven't tried on asexual for long enough to be quite sure whether the label works for me, but I feel something close to it does. In the meantime I'm realizing that it's certainly somewhere under the queer umbrella, and furthermore that I exist "simultaneously outside queer and straight norms." It's encouraging to think that there might be liberation and excitement, not just constraint and fear, to be found in that space.