Draft from the past: Why is sex important?

I had a conversation with Shannon a while ago. I can’t find it, because Shannon posts a lot and I can’t for the life of me remember what it was, but perhaps someone more intrepid than I can find it.

At any rate, we were talking about Twisty and sex and whatnot (you know, the usual), and she said something that really bugged me. Again, I can’t find it, but the gist was that she didn’t understand why sexual preference (not orientation, though there was an element of that, but specific preferences, kinks, or acts) were being spoken about as important identity markers. Why would that be important? It’s just something you do, right?

But, me being me, I forgot about it and moved on, and then I read this, and it brought that back for me. So I wrote the following post:

It’s important because it’s something that gets erased. If your sex practices are normal enough, then, well, they can be no big thing for you. Why should it be an important identity marker?

This sounds a lot like what I’ve heard from white people, actually. Well-meaning people who say “why is it a big deal to you? It’s just skin color. Can’t we engage as people, instead?” It’s the same damn thing.

I don’t want to be not a problem, I want to be not problematic.

It’s all fine and dandy for someone to say “Oh, but you’re not the problem. We like you,” or to have someone say “But I don’t think of you that way.” Sure, they’re usually trying to be nice.

But I’d rather that there wasn’t an

And yes, it is about being a traitor again. A traitor for not fitting. Either you didn’t try hard enough to be different, or you didn’t try hard enough to be the same.

Yes, that’s human. Everyone has an understanding of what is and isn’t okay, and to what degree a person is behaving appropriately. Sometimes that’s useful (“this person isn’t speaking in a way that corresponds to the baseline I have for them; I think they’re having a stroke” “This person is saying things that seem friendly but doing so in a way that is invasive and Not Okay; I need to get out of here”), and sometimes it’s not (“Why on earth is she wearing those shoes?” “Can you even do that?”).

And I’m the last person to say that every single thing we say has to be useful and wonderful all the time. I’m certainly the last person to say anything about talking about people’s shoes. I love GFY as much as anyone. I value humor.

But that is not this, and this is not that. There is a place for boundary maintenance and group mores, and a place for humor, and a place for normativity. I am not saying that one must watch one’s every word, or that one type of discourse is more important than another.

What I am saying is to be careful.

It’s a problem when your discourse alienates your allies.[1] It’s a problem when your discourse relies on the same tropes that you’re trying to criticize (see: Aunt B’s If Feminism Isn’t a Moral Position, Why Can’t I Tell You How Butt-Ugly You Are? thread), all the moreso when your use of those tropes leads to further marginalization and an attitude of exceptionalism. It’s a problem when your argument only works by erasing the experiences of others.[2]

This is interesting, because it’s the opposite of what seems to usually go on:

“Well, this struck me as nonsensical, since the whole issue has zip to to do with how much sex you have. It isn’t about being a Victorian prude about what you like and don’t like personally. No one cares about *your* sex life. What they care about is, among other things, the way the some factions of the feminist movement tried to take away your right to be considered a woman on the basis of claims about the inherent oppressiveness of certain sex acts or sexualities. If you didn’t agree, you were male-identified.

It was about subverting the idea that somehow, your political identifications as a progressive or radical or feminist or some combination can be given or taken away on the basis of what someone does or doesn’t do sexually. It’s about trying to claim that someone is politically beyond the pale if they engage in sexual practices that some group or someone has deemed politically incorrect.” – queer dewd formerly known as ()

This is an argument which, near as I can tell, is on the other side of the spectrum from the one I’m talking about. Marginalized sex practices condemned for making the movement look bad. The discussion I was having was about the place of an exceedingly common sex practice marginalized by the movement for…. making the movement look bad.

And it’s true, it’s so true, that it’s all about policing for who is “real.” You’re not a real feminist if you like makeup, or having sex with men, or (heaven forfend) anything as patriarchical-sounding as submission. Not a real woman if your clothes aren’t right, if you don’t send the right signals. Not committed enough.

And fuck that. Tekanji has a great passage that I keep thinking of whenever this comes up:

“Honestly, every time I look at the kinds of things she’s said and the way she’s said them, it reminds me of the year and a half I spent being emotionally abused by my first boyfriend. The tactis are exactly the same. Do you realize how sick it makes me feel to see that same kind of argumentation style being applied in the feminist blogsphere aimed at other (feminist) women? This is my community, too. I care about it. It hurts me when we fight amongst ourselves. It hurts me when we hurt each other. But I’ll be damned if I sit here and let another feminist blogger do that shit again. When I said “never again” I didn’t just mean “never again from a boyfriend” or “never again from a man”, I meant I wouldn’t take that shit from anyone — not the patriarchy, not a man, and most certainly not another feminist.” – Tekanji

And another:

If you think that someone is somehow a bad feminist or a inhuman (or even just ‘corny’) because they are into golden showers or spitting or bondage or fellatio or getting shat on (even in their mouths!) or celibacy or virginity or anything else, you are sex negative. This isn’t about sexual libertarianism — stay out of my bedroom, none of your beeswax. Rather, it is about a distinct, ideological difference over the nature of power, socialization, social structure, and how sexuality fits into all of this.

Emphasis added.

[1] Let’s just put aside the ‘well meaning white men who get offended when you talk about privilege but really want to help’ discussion for the moment. There are layers and layers and layers of nuance to that, and it’s hard, but the basic thing about this, about all of this, is that everyone involved needs to be flexible. If you’re having a hard time with the discourse, try to parse out whether you’re defensive from being challenged (and thus need to step back, be respectful, and really listen) or defensive from being insulted (in which case you need to step forward, be nice, and call the commentors on their shit). Chances are it’s both.

[2] Here, because I know at least Tony will see this, I should be clear that you can say: “I’m not talking about this phenomenon/group/experience” or “I think these experiences are outliers” without erasing people’s painful experiences. You just need to be very clear about what you are talking about, and limit your claims accordingly.

That was as far as I got. It’s a little all-over-the-place, and more than a little bullet-point-y, but there it is. It sounds a lot more… strident… than I’d write it now, largely because I was annoyed and trying to articulate something that was eluding me. But I’ll leave it that way. Volume can be useful.

1 Comment »

  1. britgirlsf said

    “It’s important because it’s something that gets erased. If your sex practices are normal enough, then, well, they can be no big thing for you. Why should it be an important identity marker?”
    Or, in other words, privilege. It’s easy to dismiss the importance of things that don’t matter to you. It’s even easier when they group you’re dismissing are few in number and relatively powerless. That’s what drove me away from IBTP, and ironically it wasn’t because of any issue that effects me personally. It was the anti-trans stuff (although the anti-BJ and anti-BSDM stuff was what initially ticked me off). It was the idea that we’re going to pick on a group that’s already stigmatised and abused…I just can’t accept that. Not in the name of feminism, not at all.
    Then there’s the idea of their being a right and a wrong way for a feminist to look, which many people keep saying doesn’t exist, but when someone violates that code that doesn’t exist then there’s hell to pay.
    Infuriating, really.

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