Attraction to nonbinary people

Difficult survey questions

I’ve spent a lot of time making surveys that ask people about their orientation, so I’m familiar with the messy relationship between orientation and nonbinary genders. Gay and straight are labels that assume that a binary gender for both the subject and object of attraction–men who love men, men who love women, etc. If you’re a nonbinary person who loves women, or a woman who loves nonbinary people, “gay” and “straight” don’t really succeed in conveying that information.

Some nonbinary people, I’m aware, will identify as gay or straight anyway. For example, if you’re commonly perceived as a man, and your dating pool primarily consists of men who love men, you might feel that “gay” fits–or is at least useful–even if you don’t identify as a man. On the other hand, some nonbinary people would be uncomfortable with a label that frames them within a binary gender identity.

In any case, if someone fills out our survey, and they say they’re nonbinary and gay, I’ll say sure, that’s what they are. The survey isn’t there to judge, only to measure. But… I have no idea what genders they’re attracted to. If I want to know that information, I have to ask directly. Are you attracted to men? Are you attracted to women?

But isn’t it strange? In order to understand the orientations of nonbinary people, we’re asking about attraction to men and women. Didn’t we leave some other genders out? What about attraction to nonbinary people?

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Terrible graphs of agnostic atheism

Rebecca Watson, unfortunately, reminded me of a meme from the old days of new atheism. It’s those agnostic atheism diagrams.

A diagram showing agnostic theist, gnostic theist, agnostic atheist, and gnostic atheist as four quadrants

Credit: Skepchick

I have a rant in me about these diagrams. Agnosticism and atheism are political terms, and whether you identify with them has more to do with what you find useful in your social context than the literal definitions of these terms. This diagram became popular because it explains and justifies a particular choice in identification labels, but it is not an appropriate framework to understand more broadly why people do or do not identify as agnostic. Thus, as a meme, this diagram is a barrier to empathy and understanding of fellow nontheistic folks of diverse label preferences. Also it’s just kind of incoherent.

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“Latinx” and intersectionality

Since the issue at hand is about how to refer to people in the US of Latin American origin or descent, and since I am deliberately not favoring any particular word, in this post I will use “Latino/x/e” to describe this group.

In a previous post, I discussed why we grant members of a group special authority to talk about issues related to that group. In this post, as a case study, I examine the word “Latinx”, a contentious gender-neutral term for people of Latin American origin or descent. It’s commonly argued that this word should not be used, on the basis that Latino/x/e people themselves don’t like it, and presumably they have special authority to speak on the matter. I’ve also heard people say that “Latinx” must be coming from misguided non-Latino/x/e people.

As an example of these arguments, there was a recent NYT essay that argued that “Latinx” fails because it is rejected by 97% of Latino/x/e people in the US.

But something that the essay completely ignores, is that “Latinx” has strong associations with specifically queer Latino/x/e people. This is acknowledged by the Pew Research poll that the essay is based on:

The first substantial rise in searches [for “Latinx”] (relative to all online searches) appeared in June 2016 following a shooting at Pulse nightclub, an LGBTQ dance club in Orlando, Florida, that was hosting its Latin Night on the date of the attack.

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A look back at the Brights

The Brights was a movement in the 00s to rebrand atheists as “brights”. It immediately fizzled, as everyone laughed it out of the room. Can you imagine calling yourself a bright?

I first heard about brights in 2007, but apparently it was coined some years earlier, by Paul Geisert in 2003. He and his wife Mynga Futrell founded The Brights organization, whose website still stands today. The word was initially supported by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, but was immediately mocked by both conservative columnists and skeptical authors (not all articles are publicly available). Nowadays, nobody ever bothers to remember it except as a hilarious object lesson in how constructed labels can go wrong.

“Bright” is a funny word, but I will discuss it earnestly. I will deconstruct its motivations, analyze the arguments for and against it, and investigate where it ended up.

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The contentiousness of womxn

cn: It’s about language, so don’t complain to me about wasting time with pointless semantics, it was your choice to read onward!

“Womxn” is a term that was intended to be more inclusive of trans women, nonbinary people, and women of color. It recently entered the news when Twitch used “womxn” in a tweet. This resulted in backlash, with people accusing the term of being transphobic. It is a term that inspires, shall we say, conflicting viewpoints.

I first heard about “womxn” in the context of TERFs complaining about it. I don’t exactly watch TERFs, but my husband, you see, likes to argue with TERFs on Twitter. Yes, yes, there’s no accounting for taste. In any case, TERFs would complain endlessly about “womxn”, seemingly in disproportion to its actual use. This is common practice in TERF communities, to highlight something said somewhere by some trans person, and amplify everywhere as an example of why the TRAs (their term for trans activists, intended to parallel MRAs) are bad.

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The Black Lives Matter protests are about systematic police brutality and racism. In the face of such weighty issues, it seems petty to talk about mere language, potentially even a drain on activist energy. Nonetheless, I personally find language to be a stimulating topic rather than a draining one, and it can be used as a lens to engage with larger issues.

The larger issue here, is the relationship between anti-racism, and Asian Americans. Anti-racism in the US has largely focused on anti-Black racism, and to a lesser extent anti-Latinx and anti-Indigenous racism. Asian Americans–as well as people of other ethnicities/races/nationalities–tend to throw in some nasty complications, mucking up the clean generalizations people would often like to make. For example, asking people to recognize their White privilege just falls flat when the audience is simply not White.

And you should know, I’m not deliberately trying to trip up anti-racist activists. It’s not a gotcha. It’s just a fact about me, that I’m mixed race Asian American, and my list of privileges is somewhat different. The differences are sometimes important, sometimes not.

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Emotions on the internet

Cultural differences

Recently, I’ve talked about the book How Emotions are Made, by Lisa Feldman Barrett, and I explained the basics of the theory of constructed emotion. I would like to go a step further, and discuss some of the implications.

If emotional categories are socially constructed, I’d expect different cultures to have different categories. Perhaps we have a lot of categories in common, since our cultures are all in contact with one another, and different cultures might be fulfilling similar needs. But the construction of emotions predicts that there must be some exceptions–emotional categories that only exist in some cultures and not others.

Dr. Barrett gave many examples of emotions that exist in other cultures, but not in US culture. For example, in Czech culture, “litost” is described as “torment over one’s own misery combined with the desire for revenge”. In the Ilongot tribe in the Philippines, “liget” is described as a feeling of exuberant aggression, usually felt by a group of people competing against another group. While these concepts are intelligible to us, we rarely think or talk about having exactly those combinations of feelings, and we have few expectations for how we would respond to those feelings.

I found these examples to be quite compelling, and not just because of the sheer number of examples that Dr. Barret described. Once I understood what a new emotional concept looks like, I realized that we’re creating new emotional concepts all the time! Even without looking outside the US, you can find plenty of relatively recent emotional concepts created right here on the internet.

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