Sunday, May 06, 2007


So I've been thinking about a couple of things, mainly the subject of choice. Not choice as we think in terms of reproduction but rather choice as it applies to our sexuality. I was reading this book This is what a Lesbian looks like and it is actually pretty good, from what I've read so far. And one author touched briefly on the idea of choice in the LGBT community. She only mentioned it in a footnote but the notion really caught my attention. She said

"I'm purposely using the term preference. While many people may have a sexual orientation, many others- straight and queer - may not. The sexual liberation movement did not always use the term orientation, and I believe its coinage was part of the strategy that moved us into a civil rights framework, the idea being that if we fuck others of the same sex because we are more deserving of civil rights. Choice has been completely discounted. In my opinion, the orientation argument seems to be little more than Don't be mean to us poor homosexuals. We can't help it. It is important to also argue for the right of an individual to choose homosexuality if that makes sense to them. I chose to be a dyke (because I love women and honestly, the sex is better), and it's the best decision I ever made!"
Karen Bullock-Jordan, "Girls just want to have fun" in This is what a Lesbian looks like Ithaca, NY :Firebrand Books (1999)

This is something that I never ever thought about, I really liked a lot of what she said in this article, because it caused me to question a lot of my assumptions about sex. Just her notion about sexual preference opened my eyes, and really exposed how much I'm still struggling with my own sexuality (not like I needed much reminding). I'm still in the stage of not complete acceptance, I talk a good game and can put on airs, but deep down I'm still very scared and insecure, and I often feel very alone. Unfortunately you're not allowed to say this to hetero people, because if you say that then they immediately try and work in the idea that you can pray this out of you. I can't convey to them, how even though I'm insecure I'm still very secure. I know that I am a lesbian, I know that! I'm not confused about that, but with that knowledge comes great debate, confusion and a fight for acceptance. So I definitely feel like I'm one of the people that Karen Bullock-Jordan was criticizing with the attitude, of don't be mean I can't help it. Because coming up against such criticism with my sexuality, that’s the notion that I've been holding on to. I try to give off the perception that I'm completely at ease with my sexuality and think its great for everyone, but truth be told I believe I reject the notion of preference, because in my mind if its a choice you have to make another one. I don't think that I'll always feel like this, but this is still very new to me and this is where I'm at right now.

But why can't there be sexual preference? Why can't people choose to not fall in line with heterosexual norms? What harm are we doing in denying the presence of choice?

I think it’s the silence surrounding this issue and the internalized heterosexism that has allowed for this conversation to be pushed to the back burner. I don't know about every one else, but I know that's my reason. I think oppressed people are reluctant to admit to how much of "the system" they have bought in to, and continues to be apart of us. We can talk in the past tense, but not the present. Last night I went out with a bunch of people from my program and this one guy who is very "conscious" told me that he has never dated brown or dark skin women, but rather all of his exes are light skinned with long hair and little curves. He admitted, only while drunk, that he has not broken with the Eurocentric standards that he was raised with. Why is that such a hard thing to admit? As oppressed people we are denied the right to be complete humans, we are typically seen as one dimensional people, and we replicate that standard within our communities. We only want to see the confident people, and oddly enough within the LGBT community while we claim that we are trying to encourage an out and truthful life, I feel like this has led to more silence and lies. Karen Bullock-Jordan in her essay was speaking to the desexualization of homosexuality; she really saw sex in a different way than many people I have encountered. I really appreciated her article because she really truly challenged heterosexism, and in doing so she made me see the true harm it caused. There is the idea that a woman is not a lesbian if she has ever had a relationship with a man that she enjoyed, I'm thinking specifically about Sheryl Swoopes, I remember hearing talk about how she was really bi because when she was with her ex husband she truly loved him and enjoyed the sex. We have such limiting notions of sex and sexuality, that we become really judgmental.

I like the title of the book , This is what a lesbian looks like, because it really speaks to the lack of variation that we see when we think of a Queer person. I have become obsessed with anything having to deal with coming out, for obvious reasons, but a large amount of what I see everyone always says they've known since they were in the womb or something to that effect. It's not hard to wonder why that is so prevalent, when you look at Oprah, and when she interviewed Terry McMillan's ex husband she refused to accept that he wasn't sure of his sexuality until later in life. She made it seem as if it were an impossibility.

As my professor would say, so what? and that's what I'm looking to an answer for, I don't know where to go from here or how to further engage this notion, but I'm open to any comments and suggestions. What do we do with the notion of choice?


sly civilian said...

*nods* as someone open to partners of whatever gender, i'm often not too thrilled to hear "born that way" rhetorics. they tend to erase experiences like mine. but at the same time, i'd defend their limited use, because they've been historically valuable in establishing space for queer communities to exist. i think the only problem is when some folks forget that it's a tactical compromise, not an ideal description.

you're right...we have to be human, and part of that is acknowledging our internalizations. that we've bought into these ideas isn't a sign that our lives are false...but that we're living in a screwed up world.

Darkmind said...

I agree. There are so many factors that determine what makes a person the way they are, that to say "Nature or Nurture" is rediculous. Sure you are dealt a hand at birth, but as more cards are drawn from the random deck, others are discarded. You can only do the best with what you get. Labels are required for catagorization. We need to be able to define what we mean, or language becomes meaningless. But catagorization can lead to separation, segregation, and misconception, and some concepts (especially those that describe something as complex as a humanity) do not have 100% definable borders (well, unless we make up some new words to fill in the blanks!)

Vee said...

My ex-girlfriend and I had endless debates/arguments/cold wars over labeling and choices. She identified as a lesbian. End of story. I did not. I was conflicted because I could not say I was born this way or that I always knew I wanted to be with women.I just new that I loved women and that is who I wanted to be with. Social mores and norms be damned. I was with her because I chose to be with her. I absolutely love women. I loved her. I didn't think it was right for me to identify as a lesbian because it was a choice for me. I felt if I identified as such that I somehow would be taking something away from her or others who felt that they did not have a choice. I do not like the term bi-sexual in a general sense (to explain that would require me to have my own blog)and did not feel that it appropiately described me. I went through periods of defining and re-defining but as I got older I found less inclination to do so.

Karen Bullock-Jordan said...

:: blush ::

Just doing a google on my name (my ex-partner advised me to do it every 6 months or so), and I saw this.

I'm glad that my essay meant so much to you. The concept of unapologetic choice is one that needs to be acknowledged and upheld.

I also want to be clear that I am in no way denigrating those who believe that who they love was not a choice.

Yours In Struggle,
Karen Bullock-Jordan

“I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.” ~Audre Lorde