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I’m Not Your Bro, Bro

28 Apr

I wrote this for a kink-related forum thread a few months ago. I might phrase some stuff differently now, and I think I’ve made a little progress since, but I like this as a piece of writing, so I decided not to change it.

~~~

Disclaimer: I’m not ignoring the fact that a lot of people have it worse off than me, nor am I trying to claim that it’s somehow terrible to have privilege. I’m just reflecting on an aspect of privilege that kinda sucks. With that out of the way:

I can’t stand how my identity is co-opted by the rest of our culture.

I’m a heterosexual, white, culturally-upper-class (lower middle class family income, but I go to the U of C, so who am I kidding?), dominant, cisgendered man. I fit allll the stereotypes. This means I have a ton of privilege, which I don’t deny at all. But it also means that my identity can’t just be my identity, it becomes a direct part of the kyriarchy whether I want it to or not.

I want to be loud and proud about my dominant heterosexual cisgendered manliness. But I can’t, because all of society is already doing it for me. This post on Asexual Curiosities has it exactly right.

I’m constantly working this annoying balancing act between being myself, and avoiding reinforcing the kyriarchy as much as possible. I almost envy the people who get to be transgressive just by authentically being who they are. I’m sure it sucks to have everything you do be interpreted as a political act, but it also kinda sucks to have nothing you do be so interpreted.

Last year, I went to “Genderfuck”, which is a party based on screwing with gender presentation. I wore a dress and makeup, and I really enjoyed it, but not for any of the reasons someone else might. I don’t really like the way I look in a dress. Frankly, I’d wear jeans and black t-shirts my whole life if I could. But it was weirdly freeing to have a concrete thing to point to and say, “This. This is what I think of your goddamn gender norms, society.”

But, of course, even that has a limited impact. I’m a socially privileged person, so it gets written off as a weird thing that I do for fun, because I’m “being confident in my masculinity.” No, I’m not somehow fucking masculine (in the sense you mean it, at least) in a dress. My magic manly powers don’t protect me from the evil femininity I might otherwise get from dresses and makeup. I am being feminine today because I don’t give a flying fuck what you think of my gender presentation. It’s bad enough that my preferred presentation fits nicely into your transphobic, misogynistic narrative, can’t you at least let me be transgressive when I’m trying to be?

This even bleeds over into the ways in which I actually am transgressive. I recently tried to explain poly at a party, and I got a freaking fistbump for it…

Yes, because being poly means that I’m especially good at objectifying women and tricking them into sleeping with me. Thanks for the support, man. If I were a woman, at least I’d get called a slut for it, which frankly might have squicked me out less.

It’s the same with gender in the kink community. Yes, I’m a man, and yes, I’m a dom. No, you don’t get to assume the latter from the former. I hate that I can’t fully flaunt my domliness, because it would reinforce gender roles way too much for my comfort level. I think that’s honestly part of why I love kink so much. During a scene (and mayyyybe in certain safe social spaces) I can be my domly, male self without worrying about the political implications of everything I do. But the fact that people who accept society’s gender roles uncritically (of which there are many in the kink community) see me as an ally squicks me the fuck out.

I am not really sure what my ultimate point is. Half of it is just that I’ve wanted to rant about this for a while, and I guess maybe the other half is that I’m looking for advice? How do I balance politics and identity? How do we get to a point where we can reclaim things like cisgendered masculinity? Do I just need to shut up and get over it?

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What I Learned At “What I Learned At Straight Camp”

19 Mar

So, a week or two ago I went to an lecture called “What I Learned At Straight Camp”. This guy, amusingly named Ted Cox, decided to infiltrate a Christian gay-to-straight conversion camp to see what they’re all about. What he found was strange and fascinating, and if you haven’t read this article, you really should.

I have no bone to pick with that stuff, I think it’s important and interesting. But a lot of the details of the presentation, and the way the audience responded to it, really niggled at me.

There were a few things that stuck out as especially problematic. For one, there was a strong undercurrent of “men being intimate is totally gay, lololol.” There were several moments where we were talking about men being intimate (emotionally, physically-but-not-sexually, spiritually, etc.), and we were supposed to see this as proof that the men involved were totally gay. While I agree that the men involved probably are totally gay, it’s not cool to conflate intimacy and sex, nor is it cool to perpetuate the destructive cultural norm that stigmatizes male intimacy.

Relatedly, there was a repeated mockery of anything that showed vulnerability in the men involved. There was this “demonstration” (that I was asked to take part in), where we recreated one of the rituals they did at this camp. Several of us guys sat together, laying comforting hands on one particular guy, and singing a song that was meant to be affirming. This was clearly intended to be hilarious in the context of the lecture, and it succeeded. But why is that inherently funny? What’s so amusing about the idea that some men think they need more physical and emotional support, and are finding ways to get it? I mean, I know why it’s funny: it’s funny because it shows a particular form of vulnerability on the part of the men involved, and men aren’t supposed to be vulnerable. But I figure that’s something we should be fighting against, rather than simply accepting and perpetuating, right?

There was, of course, no discussion of whether there could be any benefits of these camps, or whether there might be elements that would be worth preserving in a more healthy context. There was certainly no discussion of whether choosing to forgo your own sexuality could ever be a legitimate life choice. There was only, “They think teh gay can be cured, lololol.” I’m not suggesting we welcome gay conversion camps into the sex-positive movement with open arms, but there was an incredibly strong “us-versus-them” narrative that showed nary a hint of concession or common ground.

In general, I felt that the emphasis was not on actually understanding these people, but simply on discussing how they were wrong, and therefore bad. That, and having a jolly time mocking them. The attitude in that room was at least as judgmental as any church service I’ve ever been to, probably more so. Obviously I agree that marginalization and persecution of homosexuality hurts a lot of people, but that seems like a weak reason to turn around and have celebrations about how dumb and bad and wrong and gay Christians are, especially when that mockery invokes a lot of the prejudices and tropes we really ought to be fighting against.

What do people think? If you went to the presentation, am I wildly misrepresenting it? Even if you haven’t, is this a trend you can see in liberal discussions of this issue, and do you think it’s as big a problem as I do?

Dickwolves and the Patriarchy

5 Feb

[Trigger Warning: discussion of jokes about rape]

Here’s a weird little internet controversy.

Back in August, Penny Arcade posted a comic strip making fun of the moralistic overtones of otherwise arbitrary MMO quests. [To see it, click here. Trigger Warning.] A couple days later, a feminist blog posted about it, objecting to the trivialization of rape. Shit then hit the fan.

If you really care, you can relive the entire controversy here.

I’m not actually interested in dealing with the substance of the controversy. I haven’t really been following it, and it’s not my fight. What caught my interest was Tycho’s most recent response. I think it’s relatively insightful, y’all should go read it.

His point about the breakdown of communication is really good. In fact, he accidentally proves his point in this paragraph:

We make disgusting, immoral comics on occasion to be sure; we’re used to correspondence in that vein. But when mail started to come in to the effect that we were perpetuating a fundamental social conspiracy to rape, we couldn’t believe what we were reading. That is the entire point of the second strip, which some people took as a literal response or apology, neither of which was its intended purpose. The only people who are pro-rape are rapists. The idea that you would have to specifically enunciate an idea like that is almost overwhelming. It’s self-evident. Hence, the comic.

I think this paragraph perfectly demonstrates one of the biggest disconnects between feminists and the rest of the world. Feminists (and other social justice types) are very comfortable talking about unconscious privilege, cultural norms, and structural prejudice. When a feminist says “rape culture”, she doesn’t mean anything like “a fundamental social conspiracy to rape”. She means the general culture where consent, especially from women, is not highly valued; where rape is common, and in many cases ignored or even condoned; where non-conforming women are frequently met with threats (not always idle) of rape. The idea that a person who (legitimately) considers themselves egalitarian might accidentally be perpetuating bad social structures is not at all paradoxical to a feminist.

The average person doesn’t see things that way. When they’re told that they are part of rape culture, they read that as an explicit, direct accusation of consciously immoral behavior on their part. Most people don’t see themselves as consciously immoral, so this naturally produces a negative reaction. This makes perfect sense from their perspective. Feminists tend to counter-react with disdain, that people could get so defensive when anything questions their privilege. This also makes sense, from their perspective. Unfortunately, this is rarely an effective rhetorical tactic.

Nowhere is this problem more obvious than in the word “patriarchy”. Some feminists are deeply bothered by the current trend of replacing “patriarchy” with “kyriarchy”. They think it obscures the issue for the sake of protecting the poor little feelings of privileged people. For a cogent defense of this position, see this post. This, again, makes perfect sense from their position. But this ignores the rhetorical problem that is inherent in the conversation.

When an average person hears the word “patriarchy”, they think it means something like “a cabal of men who rule over women with an iron fist”. This would be a patently ridiculous claim, and therefore anyone who uses the word loses credibility before they say their second sentence. We can get mad at them for misunderstanding our point, but it seems more effective to concede to the obvious facts of the rhetorical situation, and modify our rhetoric accordingly.

I’m not suggesting that feminists alter their substantive message in any way. But if we’re going to convince anyone who isn’t already convinced, we need to find a way to communicate what we actually mean, without accidentally implying conscious conspiracies we don’t believe in. I recently heard the phrase “colorblind racism”, which I think is an elegant way to communicate the concept of institutionalized racism. We need a similarly clear way to explain the patriarchy, or we’re going to remain a stigmatized and somewhat marginal group.