Thursday, June 09, 2005

Only the finest heteronormativity for me, thanks.

I am thinking a lot these days about categories--boxes, compartments, the places we put ourselves because they feel safer. The ways we show that we are different from people around us. The ways we affirm what matters to us.

It turns out I am not the only one. I am no longer surprised by comments that suggest that those who disagree need not apply--or show up, or read even. Here are a couple of examples, both from blogs I like, but which seem to have pretty different readerships. In one part of the blogosphere, a writer responded to the discussion generated by a previous post by saying, “I don’t disagree on substance with any of the respondents. We’re all in the left wing of the Democratic Party.” Elsewhere, a respondent reassured a writer: “Perhaps ‘furious’ would be better suited to this blog, rather than one that is obviously far too phallocentric as yours, bk.” Underlying both comments, and many others in cyberspace is the assumption that people read only those sites that they already agree with. And such passes for free and grass-roots discussion of ideas.

This is no surprise. Lots of people--all smarter and more on the ball than I--have written astute things about how the web supports fractured communities, places we can all go and feel safe and fuzzy knowing that the other people are just like us. Just. And how nice it is to express ourselves to those we know will agree! It so beats discussion with people we might actually have to convince--whose motivations and points of view we have actually have to understand or even identify with in order to convince them.

I had a conversation with a friend who works for the GOP. He pointed out that left rhetoric often alienates conservatives. He noted too much profanity. “How would that play in Peoria?” he asked me, also referencing his own ardently Christian grandmother.

He is right. I was also right, I might add (with puffed up chest), when I noted that there is plenty of conservative rhetoric that similarly alienates. He gave me that. We had a warm fuzzy moment where we knew that although we could not agree about the results of the election, we both know that America is going to hell in a hambiscuit, as a friend used to say.

So that is one kind of box--the kind we put ourselves in and are content to occupy. From time to time we venture to other people’s boxes, but mostly when they look really a lot like ours. There are exceptions, of course, and I applaud them. To name one example, freeman routinely imagines a dialogue with the left, and he even has selected a sidebar of writings that he thinks should especially appeal to those of the leftist persuasion. I only wish we were all more willing to venture into unknown territory.

Then there are the boxes made by those who see a black and white world. I have come across two instances recently of discussions that specifically take on that issue of binaries.

Recently on ALAS (a blog), a self-described bisexual man wrote about biphobia in the BGLT world, and his piece has (so far) elicited 104 comments. The argument rages--what does it mean to occupy a position that is neither gay nor straight, attracted to both but a part of neither? Based on the comments, it seems that a good bit of the discomfort with bisexuals in the gay world is pretty much like that in the straight world: why don’t they just figure out where they belong and go there?

Furious, wouldn’t you be more comfortable reading ideas of people like yourself than of liberty-loving people like ourselves?

And in another part of the blog world, Ian Williams suggested that some of the discomfort with gray shades comes from our switch from analog to digital culture:

In the 70s, when I came into consciousness - in the 80s, when I came of age - and in the ’90s when I played out my adolescence - we had something called “static.” It was the space between radio stations, the poorly-received television signal, the hum of the record player at the end of an album, and the hiss of a bad phone. This was an Analog culture, where shortcuts could be taken, songs could kinda be heard when driving under bridges, and mix tapes had to made in real time.

Those days are rapidly disappearing, replaced by today’s Digital culture, which is clear, clean and unforgiving. With XM Radio, you either get a signal or you get nothing. Either your iPod works or it doesn’t. Cable TV is on, and there’s no getting the porn channel by placing the dial in-between stations. Your cell phone, even your internet signal is binary: you get service or you DON’T, there is no in-between.

For Ian this was an explanation. I agree with his read, but for me, it is a lamentation. What does it say about us that we have lost our ability to imagine something that our iPod cannot?

I had a conversation yesterday with a lesbian friend of mine. Over lunch, she gave me a gift and a great card in honor of my impending marriage. She asked how I was feeling about it, and I told her honestly that although I am thrilled to imagine a committed future with my Patient Partner, I have real questions about marriage itself. Like others of my friends, she had smiled patiently at me a few months back when I told her I wanted to print lines from Marianne Moore’s “Marriage” on my invitation:

This institution
or perhaps one should say enterprise
out of respect for which
one says one need not change one’s mind
about a thing one has believed in,
requiring public promises
of one’s intention
to fulfil a private obligation:
I wonder what Adam and Eve
think of it by this time,
this fire-gilt steel
alive with goldenness;
how bright it shows--
“of circular traditions and impostures,
committing many spoils,”
requiring all one’s criminal ingenuity
to avoid!

OK, so that might not have made the most enticing invitation, but still!

Although I did not say so to my friend over lunch, because the conversation turned in other directions, I wondered: with this ring, am I (as I profoundly hope) buying an inside line to shape the institution as I see fit? Or am I buying into the dominant paradigm, giving over my position of resisting those boxes? Is it yet another delusion to think that any individual could impact an institution so powerful as this? Should we just have the ceremony’s readings be from Althusser and just be done with it?

I am grateful that the PP shares my concerns, though his reasons are of course his own. I am grateful, PP, for your optimism, and that you do not let me sink into the various Doomsday scenarios to which I am prone. Keep me strong, PP, and keep me honest. Don’t let me get complacent, or settle into the easy dismissal of others that this safe box could allow.

So wish me luck next Saturday. If all goes well, I won't bolt for Las Vegas or New Mexico and then call the police. Or if I do, I will have the good sense to drag the PP with me.


freeman said...

3 things:

1. I understand where you're coming from here. While it can be good for people to find solace or whatever in the types of fractured communities that the internet allows for, it does occur at the expense of reaching out to opposing communities and trying to understand each other and learn from each other.

With that said, don't give me too much credit for my willingness to engage with the left. Another group that is in clear opposition to me is the pro-war group. I have no patience when dealing with folks of that persuasion, and I've learned that it's best for me to avoid such people like the plague!

Additionally, there is nothing wrong with being in a gray area. Some would say that my political beliefs are gray since I'm not really a left or right winger. Life is not black and white, although there are people who seem to be in a position to gain from promoting that idea and they are unfortunately having some success in making people think that way.

2. Was it you that mentioned to me awhile back that the thought of providing music mp3s for people to download on your blog sounded cool but seemed to be too complicated and/or time consuming, or was it someone else?

Anyways, I recently discovered a site called that makes it super easy to offer up music downloads on your blog. It's as easy as uploading a music file to their server, having it sent somewhere via email (I have the files sent to myself), and then take the link they provide and paste it onto a blog post you're writing. I'll be offering tunes on my blog about once a week now.

3. I knew that you had a PP (heh... the child in me makes me giggle when I see the letter P twice like that), but I didn't know that a wedding was on the horizon. Congrats on the marriage!

Isis said...

Hi Freeman,

I'll go in reverse order.

3. Thanks for the congrats--and your point about the PP is oh dear right on. I had not thought of that, but now I'll snicker every time too.

2. Thanks for the tip on I will definitely check that out--perhaps first of all by listening to the link you posted on your own site. I always enjoy your music posts, so having audio now is tres cool.

1. Well, I suppose we can't all embrace all positions all the time. I have trouble with the pro-war people, too, and I am sure there are others. But I agree with your points about the gray areas. I think you hit it right on when you say no one truly lives in black or white, even if they choose to express things that way. Plus, I believe I was reminded yesterday that absolutes are a tool of the dark side.