Saturday, August 16, 2008

Open Forum: How Much do our Identities Shape Who We Are?

The heterosexual majority often argue that gays are bent on publicly displaying their sexual orientation. You often hear remarks about pride parades, "why must they parade about their sexuality, we don't have a straight pride parade." We retort back by saying that our sexual and gender identities are only one aspect of our lives and that we are varied individuals with many characteristics that make up our identities and personalities.

Who is right? Are queer lives so heavily focused on identity or are they truly only just a sample of our greater selves?

When our lives are broken down into important spheres there are some commonalities we all share. With regards to family and friends, our identities can come into play because we want to be open with them about who we are and whom we love. When it comes to religion, many people feel that their religious background has left them feeling isolated and abandoned, and so religion and identity intersect. When it comes to politics we are not a given a fair shake, and so politics becomes an arena where we can advocate and demand equal rights for ourselves, our partners, and our families. At school or the workplace we want to know if our peers/co-workers will accept us, and if our jobs and our positions are in jeopardy. When we venture out into new areas we want to know whether the environment is safe and affirming or whether we could get attacked or victimized for simply holding hands with a partner, or for dressing/acting a certain way.

There is no doubt about the fact that our queer identities are complex and very significant to our lives. The question is how significant are they and to what degree do our respective identities enter other areas of our life? Feel free to weigh in.


Anonymous said...

There have been times that I've felt that my asexuality is a hugely important part of my identity and others where it seemed totally irrelevant. To some extent, I think it is a matter of how much others make it a problem, knowingly or unknowingly, and this makes it important to people. If I weren't constantly reminded of how I'm "supposed to" be feeling things I'm not, it wouldn't be so important to me. Also, my asexuality isn't just my sexual orientation. I'm also spend a fair amount of time doing things to help others understand it and increase visibility, and so it becomes a more important part of my life than it might be otherwise.

Avory said...

Like many things dealing with sexuality, it depends a lot on the individual. Some people center their entire lives around sexuality, or around the broader concept sexuality represent (some lesbians, for example, pride themselves on a woman-identified lifestyle, live in a self-sustaining all-female commune, create with women artists, etc). For others, sexuality is only a small part of identity. Some may consider other parts of their identity a bigger deal (nationality, race, sex, gender identity, etc etc).

Personally, I consider my lesbianism to be a big part of my life. This is because I am active in gay and women's rights, I think a lot about those subjects, I read about them, and I'm involved in the gay community to some extent. But I think the thing about the Pride question, specifically, is that there is a better answer than "this is just one part of our lives." My answer would be that we have a parade because we have been attacked by the straight majority, and straight culture does not ALLOW many of us to celebrate on an average day. Most people do not have the luxury of kissing on the street or even holding hands like straight people do. Pride is also a celebration of our history, of our struggle. It grew out of Stonewall and a time where gay people said "we won't take it anymore." I don't say to straight people "this is just one part of who I am," instead I say "being gay is a more important part of my identity than being straight is an important part of yours, because I am forced to think about it." Being straight is a default. It isn't an issue. Sure, straight people can celebrate if they want to, but the fact is, they do - they celebrate in their weddings and anniversary parties. They bring their partners to events and no one asks any questions. All I'm asking for is one day of the year to feel normal. That's what I'd say to a straight person who attacks our right to pride.

Queers United said...

pretzel - I think you make a good point, if we weren't constantly reminded about how we are different and we just fit into society without question I don't think we would feel the need to contemplate about it as much or be a collective group demanding justice.

judith - You make 2 points that really make sense. One being the same as pretzel that we are sort of forced into thinking about identity politics because the non-queer majority reminds us of our differences. The other really interesting point you make is about straight people celebrating their sexuality. I never though of it that way, it is true that their weddings, anniversaries, baby naming, etc are all around the fact of their heterosexual identity. I will be sure to mention that when someone asks why gays need a pride parade. We aren't given marriage or adoption rights in many places so one day out of a year for us isn't very much to ask for.

Chimera said...

Whenever I find myself confronted by a homophobe who's complaining about the proliferation of gay pride celebrations and the dearth of hetero pride celebrations, I can usually stop him in mid-rant with one question:

"What's stopping you from having your own pride celebration?"

They never seem to have an answer for that.

Joie Mayfield said...

For me, Pride celebrations are important for us. One reason I think that is the fact that it's a show of solidarity. I think it's important we gather as a community (much like Judith stated) and saw, "We're not going to take it." We deserve one weekend or week a year where we stand up and say, "we're here, we're queer, get used to it." More than anything, to me, I think Pride is a great way to (again, like Judith stated) say to myself, "look where you are. Are you where you want to be?" It's a constant thinking process for me. Straight people have all the ceremonies and common benefits like holding hands, kissing, even placing one's arm around you. We could do that as gay people, but we're mocked, we're spit on, and we're sometimes, sadly, bashed.

When a straight person tells me that Gay folks shouldn't have Pride celebration, I ask why we have Black History Month, or Women's History Month, etc. They never have a response.

Great post. I love the discussion.

Mirrorboy said...

Sorry if i don't have as much insight into this subject as everyone else, but hey, i'm 15.

I think the pride parade is a celebration of the queer revolution of sorts... e.g. The French celebrate the day when they said "enough is enough," and took back their freedom. We said "enough is enough" as well. We stopped hiding, and the pride parade is a celebration of that.

In regards to the identity part of this, being gay couldn't be a bigger thing for me. I can only assume that in the future it will determine if i have a partner, what I'll write about (as an author), what i think about and what i fight for. I'll suffer because of it. I'll make friends and lose friends... pretty much everything i guess.

But as was already said, if it wasn't such a big deal for all the straight people out there, it wouldn't be for me either.

Anonymous said...

My own family has expressed the idea that "they're okay with me being gay, so long as I don't show it." Which means they don't want to hear about it, think about what it all means, and they don't want to be reminded about it via any aspect of my personality.

I spent many years of my life striving to hide that aspect of myself, only to learn that by putting on that face, I forgot who I was inside. And that, to me, is the very worst feeling in the world; to feel that disorientation about what's very natural to me. Worse still, that constant attempt to hide made it difficult to focus on other areas in my life, such as my education and my work. I eventually realized that if I couldn't be true to myself, there was no possible way I could be true to anyone else.

To me, Pride is a form of reinforcement that lacked my entire life growing up. It's about that freedom to let oneself feel things that others sought to deny you. It's about embracing diversity, and loving others without any conditions.

In my everyday life, I feel that my sexuality is a part of myself, but something that I find that, in many ways, enhances my personality rather than defines it. Being honest about myself makes honesty with others possible. I am gay, and many others are also gay. Many others share a similar background, or perhaps experiences, but I am me. I am not everyone else, and everyone else is not me. If you only judge me based on my sexuality, you can't possibly judge my character, my nature, or anything else about me. If you want to know what I'm about, and what matters to me, spend some time and get to know me.

Thanks for this great post! It was very thought-provoking. :)

T. R Xands said...

Interesting question! The comments above me are already really good and I don't really want to I just want to chip in with my personal feeling.

For me, my sexual orientation isn't as major a part of my life as it used to be. I still show pride and I'm not ashamed to let people know I'm queer but there's different parts of myself & my personality that I'd like to develop more...because it feels like I've focused so much on trying to figure out what gender I like more that I've kinda neglected my other facets. Like being a black female or an atheist for instance. It's a little more complex than that but I'm trying to keep to the point...

So that's my personal I said, I don't really want to retread anything that's already been said before me but I do support public displays of Pride (like parades and what not) and I don't think I'll ever understand why some heterosexuals get up in arms because the gay community wants to express themselves *shrug* if this makes sense, I just see Pride as a way of moving on, like straights are proud of their straightness because it's "correct" I guess, why can't everyone else be?

I hope that all made sense :/

CrackerLilo said...

Sorry, it's an essay.

I skipped Pride this year, and I regret it. I keep getting reminded of why it's still needed. You know from visiting my blog how much I love pandas and how devastated I was when China's biggest reserve was destroyed in that earthquake. I want to go on a voluntourism trip next year to help rebuild it. L'Ailee wouldn't go with me. I was told a couple of times that I will have to be down-low about my bisexuality and my marriage to another woman in China. It makes me angry that I have to make that choice, and it makes me sad for the women in China who are not just visiting. It reminds me that humans need all kinds of saving, too.

I can't imagine being anything but bisexual. You also know from looking at my blog that as much as I love my wife, I find the male form (particularly a certain racecar driver's) compelling as well. I won't do anything, but I have to admit that I look and I have to honor my past and myself. I have never been anything else. When I was a little girl watching the Dukes of Hazzard, I couldn't decide whether I was going to marry Bo, Luke, or Daisy Duke! Sometimes I feel like it relates to other aspects of my life--being an environmentalist who loves NASCAR, a fan of both hip-hop and country music, a skeptical Witch...

My bisexuality and the fact that I have loved men (well, two boys and one man) actually make me more committed to the Cause. I know what it's like to be in a mixed-sex relationship. It's so *easy*. My Ex-Boy is also bi, and we'd discuss that all the time. People didn't like that he was a heavily pierced and tattooed redneck, but I could say I went to the movies with him last weekend without causing a fuss at work. I could kiss him or hold his hand on the sidewalk. My relatives actually wanted me to marry him. I realized just how many stupid artificial roadblocks had been thrown up between me and the girl who would become my wife, and that it wasn't just us who made things difficult.

Bottom line, I know that I am the same person with the same assets and liabilities regardless of the gender of the person I choose to be with, or if I am poly, or if I am single. I don't become any better or worse. I get treated better or worse by others. And that keeps me in the fight.

Wonder Man said...

we should have pride, but we should take it up a notch from the go go boys

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