Being vs Identifying as

This article is being cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

In modern philosophy, there is a thing called a performative speech act. That’s when you do things by saying things. For example if I say, “I apologize,” it is not merely a statement of fact, but is itself an act of apology. Likewise, if I say “I identify as queer,” it is not merely a statement of fact, but is itself an act of identification. It makes no difference whether I say “I identify as queer” or “I am queer” because both of them are acts of identification.

Nonetheless, if we put on our descriptivist hats, it sure seems like people are making a distinction between identifying as a thing, and being the thing. Instead of dismissing the distinction out of hand, we should try to understand it. I will propose two basic interpretations.

In the first interpretation, “I am” is an act of identification, right now in the present moment. “I identify as” is a statement about how you identify in a more general set of contexts, not necessarily limited to the present moment. For example, the following is a true statement that I could make:

Sometimes I identify as asexual, but I’m not asexual.

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Image over substance

[cn: CSA, sexual assault]

Actor Kevin Spacey was recently accused of sexually assaulting a 14 year old boy. The incident was 30 years ago. Kevin Spacey, didn’t he play the protagonist in American Beauty, a movie that all but celebrated pedophilia, and featured a repressed homosexual murderer? Oh, I guess people today mostly know him for his role in House of Cards.

Anyway… this story caught my eye because several friends were saying that Spacey had found the one time that it was inappropriate to come out as gay. See, in Spacey’s statement of apology, he added a paragraph saying that he was gay.

Yeah, so about that. It makes sense that he would say that, because after all, he was accused of sexually assaulting a boy, and had long been rumored to be gay. People were going to connect the dots. They already connected the dots in the article which first published the accusations! But I agree that it seems like a deeply inappropriate time to come out, because it comes across as an attempt to distract. Indeed, some news outlets ran stories that mentioned the coming out first, and the accusations second. Although, looking at Google news results, I suspect this was the exception to the rule. If the intention was to distract, it probably just drew more media attention.

I want to talk about how some people criticized Spacey for the wrong reasons. Yes I know that sounds pedantic. Really who cares if some people come to the correct conclusion for wrong reasons? The reason I care, is because I care about the issue of sexual assault in the context of queer men. And some commentators? They seem to care more about image over substance.
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On furries, and against humor

One of the advantages of being an utterly serious person who never cracks a joke, is that I never let humor get in the way of facts. When it comes to “weird” subcultures like furries, it seems like a lot of people only see the humor, and can’t be bothered with facts. It’s easy to forget that furries are a subculture that actually exist, and therefore, your beliefs about them can be true or false.

You don’t really need to know much about furries, just like you don’t really need to know much about anime fandom, or death metal fandom. I don’t know much about furries, and I’m not writing this article from a perspective of greater knowledge. But it’s always important to remember, beyond the fog of your ignorance, there are actual facts to be known. You could look them up on Wikipedia at any time. There are academic studies on this subject, for real.

It may be helpful to compare furry fandom to Harry Potter fandom. In Harry Potter fandom, there are certainly some sexual fantasies going around, Harry/Draco being one of the most common slash pairings on AO3. But for some reason, Harry Potter fandom doesn’t get branded as a fandom that’s all about sex, while furry fandom does. Relative to Harry Potter fans, furries are a “marked” group. Anything that ever appears in conjunction with furries tends to stick around as an association, especially if it’s something that’s negative and confirms our already-held biases. In the mean time, the fact that the more mainstream Harry Potter fandom includes a lot of slashfic is taken for granted, or ignored entirely.

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Men as sexual objects

There’s this long thread on Tumblr about how men are starved for sexual attention in casual settings. I realize the thread is hard to follow so I’ll summarize.

The argument goes that straight men have very little opportunity to be sexual objects rather than sexual subjects. Most male fashion isn’t geared towards it. There’s some speculation that men send out dick pics because they want any sort of sexual attention even if it’s negative. There’s mention of a journalist who sent out vagina pics on Bumble, and was surprised by the positive reactions from almost all the men. Men have trouble empathizing with women complaining about catcalling, because most men have literally never received a compliment from a stranger, and frankly it sounds like a welcome experience.

By the way, I personally do not want to receive sexual attention in casual settings. I also dislike compliments. So please don’t take this as a request.

Although the discussion is about straight men, I think it’s also key to understanding (western) gay male culture. Gay male culture reacts against these tendencies in straight culture. Many gay male spaces aren’t just places where men can be attracted to men, they are also places where men can draw attention to their own attractiveness.

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The “privilege” framework is weak

1. Allosexual privilege

I can give a lot of reasons why “privilege” is a weak theoretical framework for social justice activism. But as it is for many things, I didn’t come to this conclusion by just working through all the reasons, I came to it via an experience. So I’ll start by sharing that experience.

In fact, it’s an experience shared by most asexuality activists of a certain generation. There was a time, around 2011, that activists tried talking about allosexual privilege. This was widely regarded as a failure, and now we don’t talk about it anymore, except to tell newer activists that it’s a bad idea.

The whole debacle is well-documented. This was around the time that the asexual tumblr community was formed, and asexuality discussion that used to be held internally was for the first time exposed to a much broader audience. A lot of ideas were refined during that time, often by way of flame wars with TERFs.1

One of the biggest flame wars was over the concept of “sexual privilege”. As with many flame wars it was a lot of nonsense, but there were a few substantial critiques that came up.

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Cis diversity

This is a repost of an article I wrote in 2015.  Actually, it used to be two articles, but I concatenated them here.

So, let’s talk about cisgender people, and how our sparing cis intellects assume the most ingratiating posture of surrender whenever the subject of trans people is broached.

When a trans person says they feel like this gender or that gender, many cis people find that confusing.  “What does it feel like to feel like a man?  *I* don’t feel like I am a man.  Rather, I’m a man because society railroaded me into this role.”

If you feel sympathetic to this response, you may be interested in the theory of cis by default.  Under this theory, some cisgender people simply do not have an internal sense of gender (“feeling like a man” or “feeling like a woman”), and simply go by the gender they’re told they are from birth.

This implies that not all cis people are the same.  Some cis people have an internal sense of gender, some do not.  If you’re confused by the very idea of an internal sense of gender, maybe you’re one of the people who doesn’t have one.

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A personal style guide on sex vs gender

It’s common to make a distinguish between biological sex (which includes chromosomes, primary and secondary sexual characteristics, hormones, etc.), and gender (which refers to one’s identity, or to patterns of behavior). The thrust of the distinction is to separate social constructs from biological reality.

This distinction isn’t wrong, exactly, but I have some quibbles. Mainly, I think gender is the bigger and more important concept, the one that you should be referring to in most situations. There are several things that people think of as sex, but which are really components of gender.

Here I will develop my thoughts on the distinction between sex and gender. I’m calling it a “personal style guide” because it describes how I use the terms, but I am not trying to impose this usage on anyone else. I realize some people use the words differently, and there can be some good justifications for this.

Woman vs female

Some people say that “woman” refers to gender, while “female” refers to sex. I think this is incorrect, on both the descriptive and prescriptive level.

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