Important Disclaimer

Since I currently have several employers/supervisors/churches/etc., please know that none of the words on my blog represent them or their beliefs. This blog is my own creation.

It also does not represent my children's perspective, nor my mother's; they think I am funny, but misguided.
(Quick update: only my mother thinks I'm funny now.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Some Partial Thoughts

A few people yesterday had some questions for me: "How did this happen?" "How long have you been hiding this?" "Whaaaaat?" Just like anybody else's sexuality, how mine developed is deeply personal and complex and way too much for one blogpost. But here's a few thoughts about how I began to think consciously about sexuality--not just accepting what has become the "norm" of man and woman paired in Holy Matrimony and Eternal Romantic Love (nothing wrong with either, just questioning whether we are all called to such things).

Years ago I read a book called The Survivor's Guide to Sex: How To Have An Empowered Sex Life After Child Sexual Abuse by Staci Haines.  It was the only book I ever read on the subject of healing from childhood abuse that suggested that not only is it okay to say NO to sex, it is also okay to say YES to sex.  For me, where I was at, this was a helpful message, and I devoured the book cover to cover. Making a reference to an essay by Marilyn Frye, Haines writes,

...the word virgin in its root definition means "she who is not owned by another." Being virginal in its authentic definition has nothing to do with having had sex or not. A virgin is a woman who is self-possessed. May we all develop virginal sex lives. (Haines, 31)
Being queer has nothing to do with child sexual abuse--plenty of queer folks have had no such experience. But one thing is true, processing the experience of sexual abuse requires that one think critically about sexuality and desire.  When I read this paragraph, I began to consider what it would look like if I did not allow others to own my sexuality--who would I be?

Years later I went to seminary, and this quote had stuck in my head. with access to Princeton's bountiful Firestone Library (I miss you, baby), I was able to track down the book of essays by Marilyn Frye entitled, Willful Virgin: Essays in Feminism. (A quick side note: That is the best 40 cents plus shipping you will ever spend.)  I read this book, fascinated. I was fascinated at the possibility that the world isn't and doesn't have to be the way it appears--that other possibilities for life and love exist. So for those of you who asked, this is a piece of my thinking along the way. Ponder these words and see if you come away unaffected. I know I didn't.

From "A Lesbian's Perspective on Women's Studies" (Frye, 54-55)
I want to ask heterosexual academic feminists to do some hard analytical and reflective work. To begin, I want to say to them:

I wish you would notice that you are heterosexual. I wish you would grow to the understanding that you choose heterosexuality...
...Some heterosexual women have said in response to these sorts of sayings, "I see the connection between Lesbianism and feminism, but I cannot just decide to be a Lesbian...I'm not sexually attracted to women: women just don't turn me on." And I want to ask, "Why not? Why don't women turn you on? Why aren't you attracted to women?" I do not mean these questions rhetorically. I am completely serious.

The suppression of Lesbian feeling, sensibility and response has been so thorough and so brutal for such a long time, that if there were not a strong and widespread inclination to Lesbianism, it would have been erased from human life. There is so much pressure on women to be heterosexual, and this pressure is both so pervasive and so completely denied, that I think heterosexuality cannot come naturally to many women: I think that widespread heterosexuality among women is a highly artificial product of the patriarchy. I suspect that it is not true at all that we must assume that most women are and most women will forever be heterosexual. I think that most women have to be coerced into heterosexuality. I would like heterosexual women to consider this proposition, seriously. I want heterosexual women to do intense and serious consciousness-raising and exploration of their own personal histories and to find out how and when in their own development the separation of women from the erotic came about for them. I would like heterosexual women to be as actively curious about how and why and when they became heterosexual as I have been about how and why and when I became a Lesbian.
That's a lot to think about. Years worth, really. I've been thinking about this stuff a long time. Hiding? Well you can see it that way. Or you can join me in admitting that sexuality is very personal, very complex, and not always easily shared with even the ones we love, much less strangers.

Love to you all.


11 comments:

  1. Have you read Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology edited by Barbara Smith? It deals with being a woman, being a minority, and some of the writers also write about being lesbian. It is a book that has brought be through hard times, it was a text for Black Women Writers in college. Anyways, I think you'd get a kick out of it, and it looks like it has been reissued--the cover in Amazon is not the same cover I have.

    xo, SL

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  2. Thanks so much for this post, Katie, and for your courage. I know what you're going through is very personal, but I do appreciate knowing what you've read as part of the process.

    I know that "Communion" by bell hooks was instrumental for me in identifying the multiplicity of expressions of romantic/love/sexual relationship that there are... and to admit with a sigh of relief that I had loved other women romantically even though I'd never acted on it.

    Again, thank you for your courage. You're in my prayers as you go through this process.

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  3. I am reminded of this webcomic:

    http://www.viruscomix.com/page528.html

    Specifically, the third part: "How Sexuality is Portrayed" & "How Sexuality Is"

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  4. On a more serious note, I've noticed two distinct groups (for lack of a better term) of people in my (admittedly infrequent) discussions of sexual self-awareness with some of the folks (of all sexual orientations and identities) I have known in my adult life. One group is aware of their sexual identity and sexual orientation from their earliest recollection, while the other group might have been well into adulthood before coming to the realization of (or evolving into) their ultimate (or current) identity/orientation.

    I'm not trying to make a point with this comment besides mentioning that it is something I have noticed.

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  5. each of our journeys is so personal, so particular, and i am grateful you are sharing yours. sending you love...

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  6. Thanks for your writing, Katie. I look forward to coming back again and again for insight and challenge, not to mention the enjoyment of reading the words of a skilled writer.

    As a sociologist, I'm constantly challenged to recognize and confront my standpoints as a white, heterosexual, Christian male. Every system in my world is organized in my favor, which makes it difficult at times for me to see clearly the boundaries it imposes on those who would explore gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity and so many other important yet fluid markers of personal identity.

    Your voice and your story are important, and I'm already thankful to hear your perspective. Peace!

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  7. It is all complicated (and yet in some ways should be so simple at the same time.) Can't wait to have some face-to-face conversations around this sometime.

    Love and Peace to you friend,

    MB

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  8. All I can say is "wow". Frye's comments opened a whole new window on sexuality. I'm from the generation that came of age with the first glimmers of (public, non-professional) understanding of a spectrum of sexuality. However, that was from a genetic approach, not a socially-constructed perspective. What Frye intimates is really quite challenging. Thank you for sharing - both her words and yourself. RL

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  9. This is a very interesting (and vulnerable) post, Katie, and I thank you for re-sharing it. I suspect I may have read it in 2010 but was in such a different place personally at the time that it didn't sink in the same way it is this time.

    My first reaction to the quotes you shared from Ms. Frye is that the idea "that widespread heterosexuality among women is a highly artificial product of the patriarchy" is fairly mind-blowing. I realize that my reaction not-so-subtly reveals my own privilege as a woman who identifies as straight. The last sentence you quote of Ms. Frye's puts a fine point on it: I haven't had to spend much time or effort on some of the things my Lesbian or bisexual sisters may have spent a lifetime pondering.

    I'm curious as to how Ms. Frye thinks this plays out in men--if she believes true heterosexuality is equally rare for them? Maybe I'll have to get the collection of essays. Since they are about women, however, she may not delve into that side of things.

    Thank you for your willingness to share these parts of your personal journey, Katie. I know I am not the only one who finds your reflections to be rich and valuable.

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  10. Lenora, thank you! I do recommend the collection of essays, but if I recall it correctly, there is very little that deals with men's perspectives. Masculinity and male sexuality were outside the scope of her essays, for the most part, and I think deliberately so.

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  11. Am ordering the book of essays right now! Thanks for this post.
    I appreciate the intention you bring to all of life, even as I suspect it might be exhausting for you on some days to do so.

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