On subversivism

This has been crossposted to The Asexual Agenda.

“Subversivism”, according to Julia Serano, is

the practice of extolling certain gender and sexual expressions and identities simply because they are unconventional or nonconforming. In the parlance of subversivism, these atypical genders and sexualities are “good” because they “transgress” or “subvert” oppressive binary gender norms.

Serano criticizes subversivism because it creates a double-standard, where people who are perceived as having less transgressive experiences are excluded or othered.

Subversivism was established in Serano’s book, Whipping Girl, and further discussed in Excluded. Although, I admit that I have not read these books, and have instead gotten the short version from Serano’s blog. I refer to subversivism often enough that it seems useful to write up my own thinking about it, and discuss its applications to my own area of activism.

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In which I get married

Part 1: In which I have a cough

I graduated a couple years ago. I wrote a dissertation about time-resolved experiments on high-temperature superconductors. I am done with physics. I am switching careers.

Throughout my PhD, I suffered from long-lived coughs. I’d catch a mild cold, get over it, but continue coughing for two months. It got worse over the years and eventually I would just have a permanent cough, if not for medication. I have asthma, and I maintain my health with a combination of fluticasone furoate and vilanterol. It’s a few hundred bucks a month, billed to my insurance company.

Now I’m going to have to explain this, because it might seem wacky to our readers outside the US. In the US, we don’t have universal healthcare coverage, because I guess that interfere’s with Republicans’ civil liberties or something. Health insurance is attached to one’s job, which allows us complete freedom to choose our healthcare plan by, uh, finding a different job.

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One-sided dichotomies

“One-sided dichotomy” is a term I would like to coin to describe a common situation in public discourse.

My first example is the distinction between second-wave feminism and third-wave feminism. Ostensibly, second-wave feminism describes a movement circa the 1970s, and third-wave feminism describes a movement circa the 2010s. But it should be obvious that feminists in the 1970s did not at the time make any such distinction. This is a dichotomy between two groups, but the dichotomy is only made by one of the two groups. Thus, a one-sided dichotomy.

One-sided dichotomies have a tendency to be unfair, because it is only one side controlling the narrative. The narrative goes that second-wave feminists were primarily focused on equality for wealthy white women, while third-wave feminism is intersectional. But closer examination should show that at least some feminisms of the 70s were intersectional, and some feminisms of the present day fail to be so. Does that mean the dichotomy is unfair, or am I nitpicking?  You decide.

I must emphasize that one-sided dichotomies are not necessarily unfair. A model example is the gay/straight dichotomy, which certainly started out one-sided. Straight people would have rejected the label (“I’m not straight, I’m just normal”) or simply wouldn’t have given it any thought. Now the dichotomy is broadly accepted. Another dichotomy currently following the same trajectory, is the cis/trans dichotomy.

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Against the liberation/assimilation lens

Liberationism vs assimilationism is a historically important dichotomy, which dates back to the gay liberation movement of the 1960s.  It put a name to certain political disagreements among LGBT/queer people that persist to the present day.  That said, in the present day, liberationism/assimilationism is less relevant, just one lens of many that we may apply whenever it seems particularly apt (e.g.).  And often, when we do talk about the dichotomy, we feel the need to re-explain what the dichotomy even is.

Ahem…  In a contemporary context, assimiliationism refers to the desire to blend in with mainstream culture, to emphasize “we’re the same”; while liberationism refers to a desire for more radical change.  A somewhat longer explanation is available here.

A recent video by Rowan Ellis revives the liberation/assimilation dichotomy for the purpose of understanding different forms of queer representation.  I hate it, and it illustrates how the liberation/assimilation lens can go so wrong.

The primary problem, is that “liberation vs assimilation” has largely been collapsed into “good vs bad”, while explicitly denying it.  Rowan Ellis says,

It’s not necessarily that assimilation films are bad and liberation films are good.  […] In the way in which it deals with LGBT stories and identities, for me, the liberation stuff comes up top. (14:23)

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My feelings about fashion

Fashion is an artform, one in which we’re coerced into participating. Anything you wear is making some kind of statement. Even if you wear something that tries not to make any statement at all, that in itself is a kind of statement. So, how I feel about fashion is about how I’d feel if I were forced to draw a picture every day, for my entire life. I hate it.

You might guess that I wear clothing that is pretty generic, and which says as little as possible. That’s not entirely true though. My dislike of fashion causes me to particularly dislike clothes shopping. My family picked up on this, so they know I really like being gifted clothing. So what I actually end up wearing is determined by a number of factors that have more to do with my family than with me.

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Two cents on pansexuality

For about ten years, I’ve been hearing about this dispute between pansexuality vs bisexuality. In its most basic form, the contention is that the “bi” in “bisexuality” refers to two genders, which seems to entirely forget about nonbinary people. Some people propose using “pansexual” instead. Other people defend “bisexual”, or admit that it has problems but still prefer it as the more recognizable term.

I am neither bisexual nor pansexual nor nonbinary, so I’m just weighing in from the perspective of someone who has been hearing about it for a long time.

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Webcomics I’ve read to completion

I’m really into webcomics.  I like the art, the writing, the humor.  I appreciate the low barrier to entry, which means all the stuff that people complain there isn’t enough of in movies or TV (like queer representation) is available in webcomics in abundance.  And I like how a good webcomic develops its story at a trickle pace over the course of many years.

Of course, the problem is that sometimes a webcomic stops before finishing, or I stop reading before it finishes.  When a webcomic is done well, the journey is worthwhile even if you don’t make it to the end.  But still… it’s nice to make it to the end.

I have a list of webcomics that I read to completion, and I’d like to share them.  Most of these, I read many years ago, so I won’t remember all the details, but the fact that I can say anything is a testament to their value.  And if you’d like to relive the experience of getting webcomic updates at a trickle pace, I recommend Comic Rocket, which keeps bookmarks, and generates customizable rss feeds.

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