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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More on the purpose of readings

In my previous post (which you may have missed, since FTB was down for a few days), I asked “What is the purpose of a reading?” I discussed a reading of Elden Ring that baffled me. I could not understand the purpose of the reading, other than arguing that it was intended by the authors. And the article didn’t really do anything to convince me of authorial intent.

I wanted to keep things simple, but my thoughts were spiraling outwards from there. So, if you permit, some more scattered discussion.

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What is the purpose of a reading?

In media analysis, we speak of “readings”, or interpretations of what’s going on in a work of (usually) fiction. Readings are not factual, they are fictional, and mutually contradictory readings can coexist. Naive readers often think that there’s just one right answer, which is to say whatever the author intended. However, authors can fail to fulfill their intentions, or else create something that goes in directions that they never intended. This is what’s meant by “death of the author”: a reading does not need to align with authorial intent in order to be a good reading.

But like a work of art, a reading can still be good or bad. And authorial intent is at least sometimes relevant to making that judgment. So let’s talk about a little reading that I saw a couple years ago that baffled me so much that I still think about it today.

In Gayming Magazine, there was an article talking about a queer reading of Elden Ring. I’m already on board, of course. The article started by observing that in a couple endings of the game, the player character becomes the “consort” of Queen Marika or Ranni the Witch. And generally, the game doesn’t really care whether the player character is male or female. So if you have a female player character, you can become the same-sex “consort” of a queen or a goth, and the game doesn’t really treat you any different for it. So that’s neat. That’s not the article that baffled me.

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Empathy games and critiques

Empathy games are a genre of game that enables players to understand and appreciate other people’s feelings or experiences. Supposedly, games are uniquely positioned to cultivate empathy because of the embodied experience of playing. In a game, you can almost literally walk a mile in another person’s shoes. Empathy games also offer a counterpoint to the mainstream viewpoint that video games are all about “fun” or plain bloodlust.

Among my readers, I suspect that many have never heard of the concept of empathy games. And when you first hear about empathy games, you might feel that it’s a great idea. However, in games critic circles, especially among queer critics, it’s often considered passé, or even a discredited trope. Marginalized creators have spoken out about the limitations of empathy, and its commodification. Exploring their perspectives may help us understand pitfalls in media representation of marginalized groups.

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“Love is love”

In an earlier blog post, I facetiously said I would go after the slogan “love is love” next. Well, why not. This should be quick.

“Love is love” is a slogan that is used to legitimize queer love by appealing to the value of love. It brings to bear every cultural narrative of star-crossed lovers torn apart by circumstance or by society, and observes that homophobes are the clear villains of the story. Love is love, and why are you against love? What petty prejudices do you have that motivate you to support one kind of love and oppose another?  Also, if you read it literally, the slogan is tautologous, which is cute.

None of that is wrong exactly. The issue is that for some people, there are in fact substantive differences in how they love, or whether they love at all.

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Slogans, and “Born this way”

Back when I was in college, California passed Proposition 8, which notoriously banned same-sex marriage, after it had been briefly legal. Many queer folks my age describe it as a formative experience, when they realized that progress was not as assured as they had hoped. So you could say that marriage equality was on our minds. And so it was the heyday for all sorts of slogans. “NO H8”, “Love is Love”, or “Born This Way”–Lady Gaga’s single of the same name was hot during the brief window when I was clubbing.

“Love is love” still seems to be fairly common, but I don’t hear “born this way” nearly as much anymore. I’m bracing myself to be proven wrong–within moments of hitting publish, I will see a dozen different people independently referring to “born this way”, and a dozen readers will tell me that they had just taken a break from scrolling through “born this way” memes so they could read this article. But if I trust my personal experience, “born this way” is kind of out of fashion now, isn’t it?

Is that what eventually happens to political slogans? They live on in our memories, but we stop thinking about them? If so, that may be for the best.

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Bros movie review

cn: This review makes no attempt to avoid spoilers

Bros is a 2022 gay romcom described as the first movie of its kind to be made by a major studio. It is most certainly not the first movie of its kind in general. I’ve spent quite some time dare I say dumpster diving for gay movies, so I can tell you that the two most common categories are the high school coming out slash romance, and the adult romance. Bros is an example of the latter, and I pleased to say that the mainstreamification did not really compromise the vision of this particular subgenre. It just got a bigger budget, and the acting and writing got a lot more polish. No, the main problems with Bros are problems that are common to its source subgenre, which makes it a great subject for discussion.

The movie is about a romance is between Bobby an out and proud effeminate gay podcaster and LGBTQ museum curator, and Aaron, a ripped jock.  To illustrate the interests and issues with the movie, I’ll begin by describing one small arc.  At one point, Bobby runs into Aaron giving himself a testosterone injection, apparently to maintain his muscled physique. Bobby questions him, and Aaron says all his friends do it, and it “doesn’t seem to bother you when you’re obsessing over my body”. Bobby says fair enough.
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