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Identity, Orientation, Behavior and Slash - Mo's Journal
June 15th, 2005
11:09 am

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Identity, Orientation, Behavior and Slash
A discussion on kattahj's journal led me to dig out a post I'd written for a lesbian moms mailing list and brush it off and polish it up for lj. I've taken out list-specific and lesbian-specific statements and added stuff about how these issues relate to slash in general, and my fiction in particular. If interested, it's all behind the cut...


I think that when people use terms like "lesbian," "gay," "bisexual," and "heterosexual," they often mean very different things by them. Identity politics (and even just identity claiming, without considering the politics) can be really complex. There are women who have a history of sex with both men and women who consider themselves to be bisexual and those with the same kind of history who consider themselves lesbians. There are similar divides among men living a homosexual life but with a history of sex with women as well as men. Part of it can depend on how they felt when living an outwardly straight life. But part of it is that there is more than one thing we're talking about here.

I think there are three distinct concepts that interrelate: sexual orientation, sexual behavior and sexual identity labeling. The three exist in different ways for different people and don't always line up in a straight, perfectly matched line. A woman can be strongly oriented towards sex and love with other women (the classic Kinsey 6) but have a history of heterosexual behavior. OTOH, she can be a Kinsey 3 or 4 and only have ever had sex with women. The two modalities of orientation and behavior intersect in different ways, depending upon the individual.

The third modality, identity, varies too. I've seen this discussion play out in so many places. One woman who is attracted to people of both sexes, who is in a longterm relationship with a woman, who has no intention of ever being sexually involved with men again, may call herself a lesbian. Another woman in exactly that position in the modalities of orientation and behavior may identify strongly as bisexual. IME men are less likely to identify as bisexual if living (and intending to continue to live) a homosexual life, but it does happen. It's up to individuals to craft their own identities that way, I think, within certain agreed upon limits. Of course we have such trouble agreeing on those limits!

I think it's true that in certain quarters of the lesbian community it's considered more "pure" or something to only have had sex with women (the term "platinum lesbian" is often used for that). I also think that being a Kinsey 6 is sometimes considered bragworthy. I think it's a little silly, but what do I know?

In writing slash, we're usually dealing with characters who don't have those three modalities lining up so neatly, at least not for all their lives. That's partly because we are working with canon in which our characters are often portrayed in heterosexual relationships. It's partly because what interests a lot of us about slash is exactly that mismatch, the sense that what's seen in public (heterosexual presumption and/or heterosexual behavior) is different from what occurs in the character's head and/or in the character's bed.

In my fiction the only character I write who lines up so neatly on all three modalities is Northstar. I portray him as a perfect Kinsey 6 in orientation and with only homosexual behavior and with a strong gay identification, as well. I do that only with him to reflect my own belief that there are very few people on that end of the scale in all three modalities. I chose Northstar to represent those few people in large part because he is gay in canon.

My Cyclops (both X1 and X2 versions) identifies strongly as gay. He's not a Kinsey 6 - he had a serious relationship with a woman and had strong romantic and sexual feelings for her. In my X1 version he talked himself into believing he was heterosexual and suppressed his homosexual feelings for a long time, thinking (hoping) he could do that forever. He therefore goes through a long and painful coming out process as he breaks up with Jean and claims a homosexual orientation and identity over time (painful for both of them). In my X2 version, he and Jean became involved recognizing up front that he is gay and deciding to try to make their relationship work in spite of that. In both versions he has some attraction to women, but a homosexual identity and orientation is a big part of his personality. In both versions he comes to feel that living a heterosexual life (behavior) was not being true to himself and is something he should not do and will not do again.

My Angel is in some ways the flip side of Cyclops. He strongly identifies as heterosexual and that's where his primary attraction is. But he has some attraction to men and finds he can enjoy sex with a man when he tries it. In the long run, though, it's not something he sees as a big part of his life and he does not consider himself bisexual. He's different from Cyclops in that he's considerably more comfortable with his sexual expression throughout. He is, of course, not under social pressure to enact and emphasize the part of his sexuality that's less core to his personality. Straight guys are lucky that way :-/.

Oliver, an OC of mine, is heterosexual in orientation and identity but had sex with men when it was expedient to do so (he worked in sex trade as a teenage throwaway). His homosexual behavior did not affect his heterosexual identification except to make him very sensitive to it, worried about being thought of as gay.

Heather Hudson (co-director of Alpha Flight) presents another POV in my fiction. She was a LUG - a lesbian until graduation. She thinks of herself as someone who "used to be a lesbian." She doesn't see herself as bisexual since she's living a heterosexual life and doesn't view her identity as being tied to her sexual orientation.

My Logan completely rejects all labels associated with sexual orientation, identity or behavior. He just wants what he wants (and whom he wants) and doesn't think much about what any of that means. Since for a long time he was so divorced from human society in some sense, he finds that the idea of claiming identity or group membership according to sexual orientation or behavior just feels alien to him. He says to Scott that he thinks it's like saying "what team you're on" and he's not much of a team player. As Oliver tries to explain to one of the other kids, Logan isn't gay or bi-, he's just Logan. Still, his orientation is bisexual even if he doesn't claim the identity that goes with that orientation. He is attracted to members of both sex and acknowledges (to himself, anyway) that he misses having sex with women sometimes.

IMO there are very few people who are on the tails of the orientation scale - the perfect Kinsey 6s and 0s. I think a lot more people think they are 0s than truly are because there is such a strong presumption of heterosexuality in our society that people often do not acknowledge or examine same sex attraction. A lot of what interests me about slash - both as a reader and a writer - is the interplay of the three modalities of orientation, behavior and identity.

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From:mofic
Date:June 15th, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC)
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That was a cute one. Thanks.
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From:talktooloose
Date:June 15th, 2005 07:56 pm (UTC)
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This way of approaching sexuality matches my thinking quite a bit. That's why I go crazy with "we have no choice; don't hate us" as a default mode for queer politics. I prefer, "sexuality between consenting adults is no one else's business".

Of course some aspects of sexuality are a choice and a choice that should be respected. This is why I accept people's self-definition. I can't stand people saying, "you're not really str8". Because these words have no clear objective meaning.

I self-identify as gay but I recognize that I use the label as a convenience and it makes me wonder how defining myself might have limited my interactions in life.
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From:mofic
Date:June 15th, 2005 09:18 pm (UTC)
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That's why I go crazy with "we have no choice; don't hate us" as a default mode for queer politics.

I hate that, too. The whole "it's not our fault" position assumes there's something wrong with being gay. I really think sexuality is just morally neutral at base. It doesn't mean that sex - homo or hetero - can't be used in an immoral way. People can use all human activities for evil purposes (which is why it's a good thing there are superheroes in the world! What do you mean they aren't real? Don't tell me that!) and sex is no exception. But im-strong-o there's nothing morally better or worse about sex based on gender preference of partner or partners.

I self-identify as gay but I recognize that I use the label as a convenience and it makes me wonder how defining myself might have limited my interactions in life.


Interesting. I feel that self-identifying as lesbian facilitates the interactions I want, but we've already discussed our very different views of community...
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From:ringthebells
Date:June 15th, 2005 11:16 pm (UTC)
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Your explanation of the three distinct concepts (orientation, behaviour and identity labelling) makes perfect sense. I've long understood the distinction between orientation and behaviour, but I have a tendency to get frustrated when identity labelling doesn't match up to orientation.

Also, placing myself on Kinsey's scale fails to convey a really important aspect of my sexuality, which is that I don't exactly have one. :P
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 01:22 am (UTC)
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I've long understood the distinction between orientation and behaviour, but I have a tendency to get frustrated when identity labelling doesn't match up to orientation.

Frustrated with what or whom?

Also, placing myself on Kinsey's scale fails to convey a really important aspect of my sexuality, which is that I don't exactly have one. :P

What do you mean by that? I could guess, but I might guess wrong.

I was thinking of you and Dan Savage when I was writing this. Not that I think anything's going on between you and Dan Savage :-), just thinking of the time you had a letter in his column about an issue related to this.
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:09 am (UTC)
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This was really interesting to read, Min. I think my Charles is of undetermined sexuality. When Logan accuses Charles of being jealous of him and Scott, he thinks about it - so he hasn't ruled out the possibility of same-sex attraction. But I just don't see sexual attraction as having been a driving force in his life much at all.

I just wrote Erik for the first time and wrote him heterosexual. I've never gotten enough of a feel of Ro to give her a sexuality.

My Logan also resents Warren for class reasons, but mostly he resents him because he had Scott :-).
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From:shadowscast
Date:June 16th, 2005 01:28 am (UTC)
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Inspired by minisinoo, I'm going to play along too—with my "That 70s Show" fic, since you've read that series. And also 'cause I haven't thought about that 'verse for a while, and it's fun to reminisce. :)

My Hyde identifies as gay, though not very openly (because of his time and place). In terms of orientation he's, hm, maybe 5-ish? He had a long-term sexual relationship with a girl, but acknowledges that that was mostly because he was afraid of being gay.

My Eric is bisexual in orientation and behaviour, but identifies (somewhat tentatively) as gay once he realizes he's in love with Hyde. He would identify as 'bi,' but no one's ever taught him the word. I brought this out as explicitly as I could without breaking narrative POV in a scene where Eric asks Donna "Is it possible to be both gay and straight?" and she replies "I don't think so. I mean, they're like...opposite."

My Donna is also bisexual in orientation and behaviour, but identifies as lesbian once she starts dating a girl in university. She may be a LUG, even...since the story ends long before she graduates, we'll never know. :)
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 01:58 am (UTC)
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This was fun to read! I love that series of yours - it had such a genuine coming out in the seventies feel to it. If I didn't know better, I'd think you were old enough to remember what it was like :-).

I mentioned elsewhere (I think on marag's journal, but I'm not sure) reading fanfic for tv shows I've never seen. I was thinking of your fiction - both that and the Once a Thief ones - as examples of enjoying slash unconnected to enjoyment of the source text.
From:sssenza
Date:June 16th, 2005 03:24 am (UTC)
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My friend is only sexually attracted to males. But she says she's incapable of being 'in love' with a male. She only ever has 'in love' feelings for women. She describes them as intense, romantic, but non-sexual crushes, sometimes developing into a deep and bonded relationship, but never sexual. So she can't feel sexual attraction for the same person she's in love with, and can't be in love with the same person she's attracted to. She says she's fine with that.
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:June 16th, 2005 06:14 am (UTC)

Identity etc.

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I'm coming late to this discussion, and haven't much to add, but it's a fascinating one. One thing is the "asexuality." I have a friend who's not sexually attracted to anyone and is definite that if she gets married, she will never have sex. At the same time, she has a boyfriend, and she has been in love at least once with a man, so she identifies as heterosexual. She's not a close enough friend I can ask her wtf, but I do wonder where that fits...

The second is something I take so for granted I keep forgetting to explain myself when the topic of identity comes up, so this is selfishly putting a finger on a page to keep the place... In grad school, all the Cool kids talked about postmodernism, and deconstructionism, and the nonexistence of identity. I guess I must have bought into it, because every time I see someone claiming something's their identity, my gut reaction is "People don't still believe in THAT, do they?" I suppose what happens then is whatever I have to say next sounds patronizing, because I haven't reasoned backwards to answer that obviously stupid question -- yes, some people believe there is such a thing as identity.

So thanks for this discussion, and now I have to go off and think about whether there can ever be a good argument for the existence of an "identity" and how to explain to people who believe in it why I don't....
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 09:59 am (UTC)

Re: Identity etc.

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suppose what happens then is whatever I have to say next sounds patronizing, because I haven't reasoned backwards to answer that obviously stupid question -- yes, some people believe there is such a thing as identity.

Yes, of course it sounds patronizing, because it is. And, truly, it prevents you from gaining any understanding of what people do get out of identifying as gay (or Jewish or working class or Marxist or one of the cool kids in grad school) because indicating that you are sooooo above that identity labeling really just shuts down discussion...
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From:amycooper
Date:February 1st, 2008 03:14 am (UTC)
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Interesting...

I'm into the Stargate fandoms and find that I don't think of sexual orientation, sexual behavior and sexual identity labeling on SG-1 much, but find myself thinking about it a lot more with Rodney and John in Atlantis.

There I see Rodney McKay as bisexual in orientation and identity. I see him as bi in behavior, but working essentially for the US military, he doesn't express that side of himself much under those conditions. He oddly enough a Canadian civilian living under don't ask don't tell like conditions.

I see John Sheppard as bi with a stronger attraction to men, identifying as straight and, well his behavior varies on how far I see him in coming to terms with his attraction to men (and Rodney in particular).
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From:mofic
Date:February 1st, 2008 11:41 am (UTC)
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I don't know Stargate but this was interesting to read anyway. Does DADT apply to civilians? I thought not.

I see John Sheppard as bi with a stronger attraction to men, identifying as straight and, well his behavior varies on how far I see him in coming to terms with his attraction to men

And that's a journey a lot of men go through.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 3rd, 2011 05:44 pm (UTC)

Assay, right-minded a check up on

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Hello. And Bye.
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