From Chris Wayan's journal, 1994/1/20
Classifying people by their appearance, by their bodies, is dangerous these days. To the classifier, I mean--it always was for those of us who got classified. But in our enlightened times we name people by what they care about and what they do--by their spirits. I'm not being sarcastic: it IS enlightened to pay attention to the spirit, not the form. Anarchists beer-drinkers crapshooters Democrats extroverts fly-fishers gymnasts or healers, it's your passions that matter in the end, and we recognize that now. Except the strongest passion of all. Sex.
English structures our thoughts about sex very oddly. We all know the (true?) cliche about the many Inuit words for specific kinds of snow, or all the Arabic words about camels. English has sexual terms for lots of sexual interests... asexuals, bisexuals, coprophiles, exhibitionists, masochists, oenophiles (just testing you), pansexuals, sadists, transsexuals, voyeurs, zoophiles...
But the two biggest groups have no names!
There is no term for people sexually interested in men: what we call "straight women" and "gay men", as a basic sexual group with (literally) shared interests. "Androphiles"? And for those interested in women, whether straight men or lesbians... "gynophiles?" Common interests are what make a social class! My made-up terms sound weird, but no simple Anglo-Saxon words for woman-loving or man-loving came down to us in English because the concepts did not exist. I think I'll repeat that.
I live in a society where the two most common sexual orientations, woman-loving and man-loving, not only have no words, they don't exist even as concepts. These classes of people are cut up and joined to others arbitrarily, just as colonial boundaries cut up African nations. Then these arbitrary new groups are told to fear each other. When they have common interests! Common sexual interests. Might they have common political interests as well?
With our history, with our language, groupings like lesbians-and-straight-men, gay-men-and-straight-women, sound like Chimeras, silly stitched-together creatures. But think! Is this less bizarre than classes like straight and gay, which lump together people with different objects of desire AND different bodies? What do they have in common? Straight and gay are the real chimeras. These terms and their synonyms, including the trendy-again "queer", only tell if you conform or not to some old sexual stereotype for your body. They don't name your passions. Even the most formal terms, homosexual and heterosexual, DON'T specify sexual preference! Don't believe me? Okay, X is homosexual! What does X prefer? All you can tell me is that X picks partners whose bodies somewhat resemble X's, whatever THAT is... You've told me nothing, nada, zip about X... except that whatever orientation X has, society disapproves.
The English words we think describe sexual orientation DON'T! They tell only whether you obey traditional social rules.
Naming yourself queer still gives rules more power than love. Naming yourself queer does have power--but redrawing the linguistic map, moving the walls of the maze, is far more powerful than just taking over a forbidden room. Owning "queer" (and even "straight" which here in San Francisco can sometimes be heard in the same apologetic tones as "Oh, I'm just a housewife") is better than silence, I guess. But to wrench the walls built into the language--these partitions based on appearance--to use a word meaning "I love women" or "I love men" or "I love both" or whatever... this owns your desire alone--and empowers that desire. The effect may seem subtle but it's real. It says "What defines me is my interests, not the body type I was born with, and certainly not your approval." These new classes place a profound claim on those who unthinkingly label themselves "normal". It asserts common interests with queers. Common interests that are real and deep.
Let's not get into the deepest, most unspeakable boundary of all, the gulf between those who can say "I love..." and those who love no one, who can't love--who have no time for it. The heart of this debate, really: we live in a society unfit for lovers, which rewards the unloving. Of course they fear us, those who can't love, who scheme instead, who seek status and privilege instead of love. They fear to make room for us, fear we'll level the social ladders and pyramids they want so much to climb.
Their fears are valid, you know. No revolution relying on love alone, no society that ignores loveless amibitions, that leaves no room for the loveless, can last. In our hunger to let love into our society, we must remember to leave the loveless something to do. We mustn't just invert the current oppression. Consider this a long-term footnote; I know it's hardly a problem now! But don't be too sure of the future. Can you spell USSR?
It all sounds so naive, I know. When it takes courage to wear a QUEER button in a shopping mall, these gropings and groupings look theoretical and silly, even to me. Yet... I can't help thinking queer is like having ONE WORD for black surgeons white rappers female pilots and male librarians. Anyone who doesn't fit the race/age/gender cliches for their work, is a... weer? Come to think of it, that is a useful term. Oops. But it only describes who's faced the inevitable American harrassment of the nonconformist, and while it may imply humor, anger, patience and defiance in the face of that harrassment (gaydar!), saying I'm a weer doesn't tell you much about me as an individual. It tells a lot about America, but not about me. Nor, in the long run, does queer.
End of rant.
HANDY VOCABULARY LIST
1: Gynosexual (gin makes you sin), gynophile (a class of flowering trees), femisexual (revolutionary new tampon), femorous, (shy, but don't touch my thigh, you'll get me high)... phooey. It's the lack of the concept in our thinking that's so odd--"loving women, a lover of women", of course there must be such a word. It's so basic. There has to be. There isn't.
2: Androphilous (a species of mosquito), mascamorous (love that eyeshadow!), androsexual (goes on sex-holidays to the wrong Bahama): "loving men, a lover of men".
3: Weer: work-queer! You look wrong for your job. Race, sex, size...
4: Wayan: queer politically and bewildered sexually for years, Wayan now has an identity at last, as a gynophilous weer queer. Not a werequeer--we're not lunatic here. Besides, once a month is not enough. Hmm, that'd make a nice sign for some protest, wouldn't it? ONCE A MONTH IS NOT ENOUGH! Gee, maybe we'll get lucky and the fundamentalists will try to regulate how often as well as who. I'll be prepared--I got my motto.
How about you?
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