Archive for the ‘sexuality’ Category

Separatism is a mode of thought—often borne of oppression (real, perceived, or otherwise)—that advocates dividing the human species along lines of particular shared/homogenous traits. Oppression of a particular identity group by other elements of the human species is often utilized as a grievance explaining the need for group isolation. Such oppression is, according to the separatist, insurmountable or so profoundly harmful that drastic measures must be taken—that is, striving to isolate a certain population from the rest of humankind.
Examples of separatist populations include religious, ethnic, racial, gendered, and sexual identification groups. We’ve in this class encountered separatism explicitly in the article by Bunch and implicitly among other writers.

A critique of lesbian separatism (or separatism in general):
An argument for lesbian separatism: if men (and, thus, patriarchy—though this ‘automatic’ correlative is questionable) are removed from the social life of women, an oppression-free society of liberated women can thrive. The absence of men necessitates the absence of patriarchy, and therefore of sexual oppression.

From this (admittedly oversimplified) description of lesbian separatism emerges a flaw prevalent in all separatist thought. In order to reveal this flaw one must turn to Derrida and the inherent obstacle/antagonism between the condition of impossibility and possibility (Zizek 2000; 17). In order to illuminate the flaw in separatist thought one can take as an example an erroneous Marxist critique of capitalism and the transition to a communist society.

Communists (indeed Marx himself) believed that once the fetters and oppression of capitalism were abolished then communism would emerge as a similar economic environment minus the deleterious effects of capital. This involves the false belief that once the obstacle (source of oppression) is removed the situation will persist to function in a machine-like way, that social and economic life will continue as before. The problem is that it is often this very obstacle or coercion—the idea or social practice which must be excised—that makes the system function as it does in the first place.
The furious production pace within capitalism occurs only because of the coercive and oppressive practices of capital toward labor. Once labor is freed of this coercion, why should it then be assumed that production will maintain its hurried pace? It is then a flawed assumption that unbridled production exceeding (or even equaling) that of capital will emerge outside of capitalism. This belief is, as Zizek explains, “an ideological attempt to ‘have one’s cake and eat it’, to break out of capitalism while retaining its key ingredient” (2000: 19).

Where does this leave lesbian separatism (and all forms of separatism)? “If we take away the obstacle [patriarchy], the very potential thwarted by this obstacle dissipates” (2000: 18). Removal of oppression radically changes a social situation, and adaptation to a new set of power structures is required. Keeping the obstacle/antagonism relationship in mind, one must ask: ‘Why does the absence of men mean that there will remain a void where oppression once existed?”
With the unifying force absent—that is, the abolition of the obstacle (patriarchy, the social presence of men, etc.)—what binds together this assembly of women? Were they not thrown into one another’s arms by the hostile forces of male supremacy, found themselves united by the common cause of fighting their oppression? With the sudden disappearance of patriarchy and men, a new social system, wrought with power dynamics, emerges amongst these women. Is it not likely then that new forms of oppression based on difference will manifest? It is evident that this will occur since the ideology of separatism is wholly based on identifying according to difference (e.g. “I am many things, but I am NOT a man”). Who’s to say that this emphasis on difference-distinguishing and identification of difference—a primary feature of separatism, that of Othering—will not resurface within the newly-created utopian community, creating schisms between new identity groups where oppression finds safe haven in new gradations of power?

That is not to say that oppression emerging within the separatist community could not be combated, but it has delivered the separatists directly back to the situation they sought so desperately to escape. It must be asked: Why then divide and subdivide the human species when it is likely that addressing oppression and power relations cannot but be accomplished in the arena of humanity united, whole?

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Compulsory Heterosexuality refers to the idea that heterosexuality, as a default sexual orientation, can be adopted by people regardless of their personal sexual preferences. Compulsory means “mandatory”, “obligatory”, or “required”. A person’s heterosexuality is generally assumed until proven otherwise; by both one’s self and those around her. Those who have never “thought about” or questioned their heterosexual orientation may be accused of “compulsory heterosexuality”. Since heterosexuality is integral to the way a society is organized, it becomes a naturalized “learned behavior”. When a woman decides she is a lesbian (if this “deciding” even occurs), she is rejecting the ‘compulsion’ toward a heterosexual lifestyle and orientation. But Compulsory Heterosexuality makes coming out difficult, because it keeps women from being able to separate their “true sexual desires” from their “compulsions toward heterosexualty”. This is a concept that stems from the question of whether or not “anyone” could be a lesbian, and what agency an individual has over her sexual choices and desires.

As far as I know, this term was made popular by Adrienne Rich in her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”, which is a critique of heterosexuality as an institution and it’s negative affects on women. Rich suggests that heterosexuality keeps women from actualizing their full sexual and emotional capacities by denying them a sexual way of being that is unrelated to male pleasure.

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“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” -Alice Walker

Womanism is a feminist term coined by Alice Walker. It is a reaction to the realization that “feminism” does not encompass the perspectives Black women. It is a feminism that is “stronger in color”, nearly identical to “Black Feminism”. However, Womanism does not need to be prefaced by the word “Black”, the word automatically concerns black women. A Womanist is a woman who loves women and appreciates women’s culture and power as something that is incorporated into the world as a whole. Womanism addresses the racist and classist aspects of white feminism and actively opposes separatist ideologies. It includes the word “man”, recognizing that Black men are an integral part of Black women’s lives as their children, lovers, and family members. Womanism accounts for the ways in which black women support and empower black men, and serves as a tool for understanding the Black woman’s relationship to men as different from the white woman’s. It seeks to acnowledge and praise the sexual power of Black women while recognizing a history of sexual violence. This perspective is often used as a means for analyzing Black Women’s literature, as it marks the place where race, class, gender, and sexuality intersect. Womanism is unique because it does not necessarily imply any political position or value system other than the honoring of Black women’s strength and experiences. Because it recognizes that women are survivors in a world that is oppressive on multiple platforms, it seeks to celebrate the ways in which women negotiate these oppressions in their individual lives.

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“Queer” is a word with an evolving history, and a word whose potential reclamation for the positive is discussed today.

My searching shows that “queer” is of Scottish origin and in 1508 meant “strange, peculiar, eccentric”. That’s how it was defined to me by my dad when I was 11 and he was insulting a pair of men holding hands with one another. Contrary to his negative intention, I was attracted to and bonded with the word and sent my psychic support to the men. There’s the acknowledgment of my bias with the word.

“Queer” was written as a verb in 1812 and meant “to spoil, ruin”, and changed what I think to be a somewhat positive original meaning to an obviously negative one. About 100 years later, around 1935, “queer” began to be used as a noun in replace of “homosexual” and was based off of the verb. This is where the unfortunate history of the word really began.

After making “queer” a synonym for “homosexual”, the word began to take on a variety of slightly different negative meanings. “Mentally unbalanced or deranged” is a nod to homosexuality being treated as a psychiatric disorder until 1973. “Not feeling physically right” and “of questionable character” are two others.

It’s currently a controversial term. Some argue that it has too much negative connotation to be used while others (laregly activists) have been using it as an inclusive word for gay/lesbian/transgender/pansexual/intersex/asexual/other non hetero-normative communities.

My position on the word has remained in support of it, even given its degraded past. What do others think?

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Default  (de·fault – [di-fawlt]) n.
A term used to denote normality and neutrality and identify adherents to it. Similar to what one might find as the ‘defaults’ on her computer (Times New Roman type font, the same homepage for internet access, the vertical letter format for printing documents in a printer), the Default is the constant and unhistorical standard of society by which everyone/thing else is described. It simply is.  With regards to feminism, Simone de Beauvoir writes that while “the fact of being a man is no peculiarity” simultaneously it is acknowledged that “the body of woman [is] a hindrance, a prison, weighed down by everything peculiar to it” (FTR 33). In this way, the male body and man as social being is ‘neutral’ and ‘unaltered’ and therefore good. It is the woman who is distinguished in her deviance from the Default. Hers is a body crafted in the perfect image of man, but taken tragic and disgusting wrong turns in the journey to finality. In this mindset, Aristotle aptly remarks: “The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities, we should regard the female nature as afflicted with a natural defectiveness” (FTR 33).

We can take this concept of Default further, however, than the realms of gender binary and apply it to (American) social consciousness in general. How then do we define the default? It is everything that does not need a signifier preceding it.

  • A human is a person, but a person is a man. If not, her sex is indicated with the signifier ‘woman’ or ‘she’.
  • A human is a person, but a person is a white man. If not, s/he is distinguished by a suitable racial and skin color signifier. One is black; one is Latino, one is Asian. But the One (the Subject to which everyone else is Other) is white.
  • A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight man. If not, s/he is ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘bi’, ‘trans’, queer, etc. Homosexuality and all other deviations from Default, that is, heterosexuality, must be identified lest we confuse the idealized Default with contrarily identified others.
  • A human is a person, but a person is a white, straight, middle class man. One cannot but be of middle class without being identified as such as well.
  • A human is a person, but a person is etc. etc. etc…

Undecided portion of definition—is this true?: It is crucial to distinguish this idea of Default from the notion of ‘assumption.’

Assumption indicates agency–that is, one is choosing to apply a totalizing model of being to all individuals.  But is the Default a set of assumptions or something deeper, more insidious?  It’s not just the way we talk (though, actually, it is: the way we talk betrays the way we consider our social and material surroundings).  It’s the way we interpret reality…through an understanding like the Default?

Is this an issue of power–is our manufacturing of the Default an unacknowledged, unaware strategy towards understanding social gradations of power?  Does the Default assist us in comprehending difference?  Or is it a straw man, absent from reality, towards which everything is oriented in opposition?

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