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Identity, Orientation, Behavior and Slash - Mo's Journal
June 15th, 2005
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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:talktooloose
Date:June 16th, 2005 01:49 pm (UTC)
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My community-phobia got me in trouble with a friend last week and now I'm all (twitch-twitch) twitchy about it.

Of course there are superheroes. One of them is named I.M. Strong-O!
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:16 pm (UTC)
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My community-phobia got me in trouble with a friend last week and now I'm all (twitch-twitch) twitchy about it.

Sorry to bring up a twitchy subject.

Of course there are superheroes. One of them is named I.M. Strong-O!

Bwah!
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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:ringthebells
Date:June 16th, 2005 01:35 am (UTC)
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Me and Dan Savage. Hee.

That letter I sent to him was just one part of a much longer process of trying to figure all this stuff out!

Frustrated with what or whom?

Frustrated in general with the idea that it's okay for the same word to have entirely different meanings to different people—because ultimately that seems to render language meaningless.

But at the same time I can understand the importance of freedom of self-definition, and in the case of any actual, individual person (as opposed to these theoretical people we're tossing about here) I will completely accept at face value whatever orientation they claim.

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

I don't experience any noticeable sexual attraction to either men or women.
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:04 am (UTC)
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But at the same time I can understand the importance of freedom of self-definition, and in the case of any actual, individual person (as opposed to these theoretical people we're tossing about here) I will completely accept at face value whatever orientation they claim.

I will, within limits. I totally cannot deal with the idea of women married to men who identify as lesbians. I don't say so to them because I don't want to be rude, but I can't say I really accept it.

I don't experience any noticeable sexual attraction to either men or women.

You mean in general? I'm assuming you feel specific sexual attraction to specific individuals. Like, I don't know, your dh for example. You know, just to randomly draw an example out of thin air :-). I don't think that having a heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual orientation suggests attraction to all members of a particular gender. Or am I just totally misunderstanding what you're saying?
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From:ringthebells
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:28 am (UTC)
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You mean in general? I'm assuming you feel specific sexual attraction to specific individuals. Like, I don't know, your dh for example.

Either you made a typo or you're accessing a colloquial vocabulary I'm not familiar with; what's "dh"? Anyway, assuming you're talking about my husband...nope.

I have never been sexually attracted to anyone. The closest I've ever managed is a brief rush of giddiness at the first brush of hands with someone I have a "crush" on.

It took me a really long time to figure this out. It's like, you know how somebody can be colour blind without knowing it, because they don't know what they're missing? It was like that. And then a couple years ago I stumbled across a website about asexuality, and I was all, "Wow, that all really sounds a lot like me." And I started wondering about what sexual attraction actually was, and I questioned my husband and a few good friends very closely about how they experience it, and I determined: nope. I've never felt anything like that.

It was a pretty big relief, figuring all this out. I'd always kind of had a secret fear that I was defective.

And in case you're afraid to ask: I do have sex with my husband. It's a chance to be all snuggly and intimate, which I like, and I know that it's really important to him, and we've found ways to make it fun for me too.
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:32 am (UTC)
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I had no idea! Very interesting.

Dh is a 'net term for husband. Maybe more lists and usenet than lj? I hang out on parenting lists a lot and it's the standard term so I tend to use it without thinking. It stands for "dear husband," at least nominally. I have a friend who says that the way women use it on lists, at least half the time it seems to stand for "dickhead."
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From:ringthebells
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:50 am (UTC)
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I find myself becoming very curious how you decide which icon to match with which post.

I haven't come across "dh" before in my 'net circles. I was guessing 'h' stood for husband, from context, but couldn't figure out what to do with the 'd'! :)

What's been really interesting for me has been the reactions I get now that I've started identifying openly as asexual. I've actually had two people tell me, after reading my explanation (er, these were online interactions), they they think they're asexual too. In both cases these were people who'd never considered that label as a possibility before.

And when I say "openly"—heh. I'm not all that out. It's a lot easier online; in RL this is something I've explained only to a few close friends. It's a lot harder to explain than just saying "I'm bi," and I'm not even out about that in my current (teaching in a very conservative private school) context.
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 09:55 am (UTC)
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I find myself becoming very curious how you decide which icon to match with which post.

LOL! I'm mostly just playing with having a lot of them. When I post fanfic I do choose one relevant to the story. With comments if there is one that fits I might use it, but mostly I'm just enjoying varying them. And you're the beneficiary of me having a lot of icons, so you should enjoy them, too :-). I'll use Jean-Paul in this one, since you're living in his home town.

Very interesting about the asexual thing. I do remember when you and I were first getting to know each other you told me you sometimes skip over the sex scenes when reading slash. I remember feeling challenged to write them interesting enough that you wouldn't want to skip them, but I think I didn't realize how challenging the task!

What's been really interesting for me has been the reactions I get now that I've started identifying openly as asexual. I've actually had two people tell me, after reading my explanation (er, these were online interactions), they they think they're asexual too. In both cases these were people who'd never considered that label as a possibility before.

I've never considered it for myself, either. :considering: Okay, I want to have sex with about half the women I meet. I think I've given this enough consideration and it doesn't fit.

As to identifying as bi at Hogwarts, I can see where that might be problematic...
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From:ringthebells
Date:June 16th, 2005 12:35 pm (UTC)
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I'll use Jean-Paul in this one, since you're living in his home town.

Am I? Neat.

Yeah, the hyphenated guy name is very French Canadian. I personally know a Jean-Claude, a Marc-Hubert, a Louis-Philippe, a Jean-Martin, and 2 x Jean-Francois.

I remember feeling challenged to write them interesting enough that you wouldn't want to skip them, but I think I didn't realize how challenging the task!

Hee! :) Well, it is possible. The key is "interesting," not "hot." The latter is pretty much impossible.

(With one small, strange exception...which I'm far too shy to go into here, but if you look at June 16th and June 18th, 2004—oh man, that was exactly a year ago!—in my other journal, you'll see what I'm talking about.)

I've never considered it for myself, either. :considering: Okay, I want to have sex with about half the women I meet. I think I've given this enough consideration and it doesn't fit.

*giggle* Yeah, that's what most of my friends say. (Only, replace "women" with "men" or "people" where appropriate.)
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From:mofic
Date:June 16th, 2005 02:04 pm (UTC)
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The key is "interesting," not "hot." The latter is pretty much impossible.

People react so differently to sex scenes anyway. I don't always mean them to be hot. And when I do, I often mean them to be something else as well - funny, sad, poignant, creepy, scary. There's one in an early series that I really meant only to be very sad. People kept telling me it was hot and I wanted to yell at them! I got over that :-).

(With one small, strange exception...which I'm far too shy to go into here, but if you look at June 16th and June 18th, 2004—oh man, that was exactly a year ago!—in my other journal, you'll see what I'm talking about.)

Oh my! Bless you.
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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:kestrelsparhawk
Date:June 17th, 2005 12:10 am (UTC)

Re: Identity etc.

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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...

Yes, I think I owned that -- by saying I'd have to re-examine my obviously stupid error. However, to me, "patronizing" suggests that I assume that I am superior for thinking something. I don't think I'm superior -- I just think I'm right. People who believe in identities think they're right as well. I do feel patronized by people who say "you can't understand... you don't have the experience..." but in this case I was talking about my feelings and intentions, not about them.

So now I'm looking over my phrasing, and I'm wondering if you read it that I thought people who embrace identities are stupid, rather than me for forgetting that there's a different point of view? I can see your angry response under those circumstances, and I'm sorry if my writing was not clear.

On the other hand, I do think you are being unfair when you suggest that I have never thought about the benefits of "identity" labeling. It would be impossible to live in this country and not notice those benefits.
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From:mofic
Date:June 17th, 2005 11:26 am (UTC)

Re: Identity etc.

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Well, I think my comment probably came off as more cranky than I feel, but I do think assuming that everyone is beyond these kinds of self-identification with both concepts and groups is in some sense quite patronizing. "Do people do that anymore?" does tend to sound superior, even if it was intended to be just a reminder to yourself that there's a different POV. And I don't think noticing benefits of identity labeling in the country as a whole is what I'm talking about missing.

What I said is that when you shut down discussion you never get the opportunity to hear what the individual is getting out of feelings of group membership or identification with a concept like "lesbian" or "Jew". I also think you'd be much less likely to hear "you can't understand... you don't have the experience" if you indicate a willingness to listen to others' experiences and understanding of what it means to them to be a Jew, gay, an urbanite or whatever.

You may well be willing, but taking a stand that identity claiming is passe or that feelings of identity are just "labeling" gives the impression imo that you aren't. Therefore it makes it less likely that people will open up about what it means to them.

I'll use my Adam icon since he claims "Jew" and "gay" and "urbanite" within his identity...
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From:mofic
Date:June 17th, 2005 11:40 am (UTC)

Re: Identity etc.

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Just to add a point, that might clarify. You said,

The second is something I take so for granted I keep forgetting to explain myself when the topic of identity comes up

What I'm saying is I think you'd learn more about others' perceptions of identity if you didn't explain yourself, didn't feel the need to say that you think identity claiming is vieux jeu. I think you'd gain more by listening to what others get out of it than you do by announcing that you get nothing (and I'm saying that not only from general theoretical principles but from having seen what happens to you when you make that kind of announcement). So, I'm not only suggesting that you not take for granted the idea that identity claiming is passe for others, but that you open yourself up a little more to thinking about what it means ot others by not stressing the fact that it's of no use to you, and perhaps not even announcing that.
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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).
[User Picture]
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.
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From:amycooper
Date:February 1st, 2008 01:35 pm (UTC)
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No it does not. I should have been clearer. Considering he is not only working but also living in an American military environment, while he's rights would be protected as a civilian contractor, socially he may feel it best not to advertise his attraction to the same gender.
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From:mofic
Date:February 1st, 2008 02:03 pm (UTC)
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Ah I get it. And that's true of many work environments. I know when I worked in finance in the 1980s I was one of very few out people in management.

In my fandom (and maybe this is true of Stargate, too?) many of the major characters not only work together but all live together, too. This both makes a lot of people feel more inclined to stay closeted (because if your coworkers know, so do the people around you after work) and increases the costs of the closet (those closeted finance guys I worked with could always lead open gay lives when they weren't at work).

Edited at 2008-02-01 04:26 pm (UTC)
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From:amycooper
Date:February 1st, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)
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Exactly. In Stargate Atlantis the characters live and work together. In the first several seasons, they had no communication with earth and were unsure if they could ever go back (not so anymore).
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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