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LOTR Obsessed

Debunking the Binary

Lauren Morelli, a writer for the popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black, came out as gay earlier this week, simultaneously divorcing her husband of two years and going public with her girlfriend, a prominent actress on the show. While this news has largely been met with positive or neutral reactions from the news media, I discovered far less favorable reactions when I discussed the news with friends and colleagues.

From my straight friends (especially my male friends) I’ve heard complaints that everyone is forgetting the husband in their rush to congratulate Lauren, and that the outpouring of support for Lauren is disrespectful to him. If anything, they say, he should be receiving our condolences since, as Lauren acknowledges in her coming out letter, his wife had “known she was gay since 2012,” which means she had been lying to him at the very least, with the distinct possibility (based on how often she and her now public girlfriend have been seen together) that she has been cheating on him for a portion of that time.

From my LGBT friends, the most common complain I’ve heard comes from gay people who are riled, they say, whenever a straight person “realizes” they’re gay and changes teams (as the saying goes) later in life. These are people who have known they were gay since adolescence, and who resent it when someone who didn’t have to go through the same struggles they did receives such a high level of support and encouragement for what they see, essentially, as a co opting of their identities and their struggles.

Watching these dialogues unfold, I was struck by a few observations.

The first thing I noticed was the surprising agreement that appeared to exist between my gay and straight friends on a topic where one might normally expect to find a fair amount of disagreement. Both camps seemed miffed by Lauren’s coming out for what appeared to be totally different reasons. However, once I examined their arguments in depth I began to see that these complaints all originated from the same line of thought on both sides.

By complaining that Lauren had disrespected and abandoned her husband, my straight friends were second guessing her sexual orientation. They were implying, in essence, that she was wrong for either not just staying with her husband and continuing to be straight, or for getting married to him in the first place. And by complaining that she had joined the team late in the game, as some of my gay friends were doing, they were arguing the same thing in a different shade. If she were really gay, she’d have known it years ago. Sexuality is something that is, or it isn’t. You like men, or you like women. And if you like both, you’d better own that and not keep switching sides.

Both lines of thought, I realized, were rooted in the same deeply flawed idea, that sexual preference and identity is a binary. That everyone needs to be categorized and identified based on which narrowly defined group they fit into. If Lauren was straight, she wouldn’t have fallen in love with a woman. If Lauren was gay, she wouldn’t have had a voluntary romantic and sexual relationship with a man. And so on. But what both arguments are ignoring is the fact that sexual preference is not a binary, and more importantly, that this information is far from new.

Alfred Kinsey, a world famous sexologist widely regarded as one of the founding researchers in the field, wrote two incredibly influential academic works (titled Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female) in 1948 and 1953. His findings kicked off the sexual revolutions of the 60’s and 70’s and his work is seen as having made significant steps toward not only the acceptance of female sexuality, but also of homosexuality and non traditional relationships.

His most famous and impactful contribution was undoubtedly the Kinsey Scale, a short True/False test that determines where someone falls on a scale from completely homosexual on one end, to completely heterosexual on the other. Lauren herself acknowledges the test in her coming out letter.

What he determined with his test sent ripples through the American scientific community and American culture as a whole: that the vast majority of people actually fall somewhere in the middle on his scale, either 50/50, 60/40, or 80/20 (and similar variations on the opposite side) and that their grading on the scale often corresponded with their actual sexual histories.

Imperfect though his test was, it remains one of the best ways to determine sexual orientation, and it shines an illuminating light on the issue at hand. Lauren Morelli, according to Alfred Kinsey and countless others far more educated on the topic than myself, likely isn’t gay, though neither is she straight. In all likelihood, she’s predominantly one with significant pieces of the other.

You might find yourself saying, “well that means she’s bisexual.” But I would encourage you to challenge even that assumption. Because designating someone as Bisexual is, in its own way, just as limiting as labeling them Homosexual or Heterosexual. It places them into a box with predrawn measurements that they themselves might not agree with. Lauren might prefer a certain type of relationship with a woman, and a certain type of relationship with a man. It might be that she is just now “realizing she is gay” because society has taught her (and you, and me) that you have to be one or the other. I can’t tell you how many people I have heard tell me that “bisexuality doesn’t exist, there’s just confused gay and confused straight.” Before themselves admitting that despite identifying as gay, they have had significant and voluntary sexual experiences with the opposite sex (or vice versa if the person was straight).

So if you find yourself having an averse reaction to the news, consider this: We live in a society where people are pressured to conform to and identify with a single binary, and we react badly when people don’t fit with the binaries that we have prescribed for them. Trans people deal with this every day. Multiracial people deal with this every day. The idea that you can be in love with a woman and still enjoy sexual relationships with men doesn’t fit with the binary. The idea that you can identify and live life as a woman while still possessing male genitalia doesn’t fit with the binary. The idea that your skin can be one shade, though you identify deeply with a slightly different one doesn’t fit with the binary.

You’re gay, or straight. Man, or woman. Black, or white. There is no room for freedom, individuality, and self expression in the binary. You’re under this pressure. i’m under this pressure. Lauren, her girlfriend, and her ex husband are all under this pressure as well.

So I say, to hell with the binary. Let’s be the people we know ourselves to be, and stop trying to fit ourselves and others into the boxes we’ve laid out for them. And lets wish Lauren, her ex, and her girlfriend well while we wait for season three to come out.

By T.N. Bixler

Mens Feminist Network

cakeandrevolution:

I want to see a reality tv show where straight dudes have to read the shitty messages they send to women to their mothers.

(via beards-and-books)