Notes & Queeries: An Open Mind

 
 

I get the impression that sexuality, for many younger people, is now just about sexuality, and not that much about identity. Is this the beginning of the end, then, of identity politics?

The gay rights movement was built on recognizing and celebrating differences based on sexual orientation. But as sexual orientation becomes more like a space of fluid and changing experiences, rather than a series of boxes marked "gay," "straight" or "bisexual," sexual orientation loses its power as an organizing force. Can you have a Gay Pride march if everyone is merely "open-minded"?

Part of me feels sad about this. There is a loss here. The community of lesbians that was created because of identity politics will undoubtedly change if young women would rather be known as open-minded than as lesbians.

This reminds me of how I felt after encountering increasing numbers of men at my local lesbian bar. At first I felt angry that they would invade our space, and then as the months and years passed, I noticed that these guys were perfectly ordinary guys from the neighborhood. They weren’t there to take over women’s space; they weren’t there to pick up a chick for a threesome with their girlfriends; they were there because they lived down the street and they wanted a beer, and the Lexington’s a good place for a cheap drink.

I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that the community within the lesbian bar was being diluted by the presence of outsiders, but I did realize that my reaction was a defensive one. I wanted to defend the identity — the category — of lesbian. That’s what identity politics sometimes is reduced to: policing the borders and keeping out those who don’t fit in.

But let’s face it: Our "lesbian community" is broadening these days, and we can either be upset and defensive about it, or we can see the value of opening our doors. Buffy and Satsu may be a sign of things to come. Maybe in the near future, it really won’t matter what your gender is when it comes to who you fall in love with.

That argument, in fact, is one of the most persuasive arguments for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States. In order to have our unions recognized as equal to heterosexual ones, we have argued that gay folks are no different than straight folks, and neither is our love. The consequence of this, ironically enough, is the erosion of our identities as gay people.

If those markers are peeled away, what is left?

Last spring I went to Connecticut to attend the christening of a friend’s son. This is a friend who used to dance on tables in college and joined a drag king troupe in her 20s. The idea of her being a parent — a responsible parent — was both bizarre and revolutionary.

She is still the same person I knew in college, with the same slightly repressed enthusiasm — or frustration — that sneaks out of her in funny, unexpected squeals. But she is also a different person, and it was clear from the way she held her son, a plump little baby boy with a shock of black hair. She bounced him as she walked, sometimes looking slightly nervous, often looking surprised at her own joy.

With the birth of a child, the world is made new. I think that most parents would do everything they can to make sure that their child has a wide, clear vista ahead of them, with no boundaries in sight.

I used to think that people who said they dislike labels were doing an injustice to the gay rights movement. I used to think that we simply had to choose a label; otherwise how would we make inroads against the homophobic mainstream? And perhaps that was true for many years, but now I think it’s time for my beliefs to change. With a wide-open horizon, we can see farther; there’s no need to look up at the sky through a pinhole.

Of course, Buffy’s experience with Satsu is not entirely post-identity politics. Neither of them seriously questioned Buffy’s sexual orientation, and Buffy continues to be mostly straight — Satsu is the exception that proves the rule. But their story line is another step forward in what appears to be an inevitable march toward a world in which sexual orientation is irrelevant.

If those markers are peeled away, what is left? Everything.

Malinda Lo is the managing editor of AfterEllen.com. Watch her on The Lo-Down or visit her website for more information.

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