Charlie Sheen and the Rise of Poz Phobia

It seems the 1980s are back, and I don’t mean in a fun, big hair and heavy metal kind of way. I mean in a vitriolic, public outing, shame on you sort of way. After a “shocking” expose published by the infamous grocery store checkout line tabloid The National Enquirer recently made headlines, Charlie Sheen—the actor known best for his role in Two and a Half Men as well as his very public, drug-induced meltdown involving tiger blood and ‘winning’—was forced to come out about his HIV status. After the Enquirer’s article, Sheen was terrorized by everyone, constantly asked deeply personal, medical questions by paparazzi. He came out about his status on an exclusive interview with NBC’s TODAY Show.

As someone who works often in the HIV space, I know first-hand how much ignorance, misinformation, and downright stupidity that exists around HIV. I have not seen it this bad in my entire tenure as a queer advocate and activist.

So I, your friendly neighborhood queer, am here to clear the air and explain a little bit about HIV and why Charlie Sheen, as the Caitlyn Jenner of the poz community, should be critiqued and supported, but never ever mocked or ridiculed for his status. A lot of what I’ll be saying, you’ve probably heard before—from me, if you’re a longtime reader. A lot of what I’ll be saying bears repeating until more people understand.

Charlie Sheen is probably the worst poster boy for an HIV-positive person. He is not exactly what anyone would call a perfect victim. That is okay. As a matter of fact, that he does not fit the stereotype is a good thing. He, just by being who and what he is for better or worse, stands as a foil to the traditional model of the HIV-positive person, and thereby begins to dismantle it in the minds of those who are paying attention.

You may be wondering which stereotypes I’m referring to. There are a couple different ones. Each distinct social group has a different stereotype of who is and who is not HIV-positive. To the vast majority of the straight world, only gay men can have HIV. Even many queer people ascribe to that stereotype. This stereotype is wrong, manufactured by the government when they originally referred to HIV as GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency, which was considered a cancer.) It is harmful. There are thousands of young women in this country who don’t know their status because they think they can’t get HIV. Young men, young women, children, everyone dies of HIV’s effects. Africa is ravaged with the disease.

Since the National Enquirer broke the story about Sheen’s sero-status, the grocery store tabloids have gone hog wild trying to “break” the “truth” about how he could have seroconverted. It’s 2015, HIV has been part of our collective consciousness for nearly forty years, and people still have no idea how the disease works. I’ve seen tabloids suggest that Sheen had an affair with a man, with “transsexuals,” that he’d done too many drugs and seroconverted due to a dirty syringe. No one wants to know anything about HIV when it doesn’t affect one’s own life and can’t be spoken of in the dark, dank comment sections of the internet. As an educator, this crawling-out-of-the-woodwork is extremely frustrating.

If you’ve got your fingers poised over your keyboards ready to scream about all the pseudoscience you think you know about HIV to try to scream me down, stop while you’re ahead.

Our knowledge and understanding of HIV has matured over the past forty years. There is not, and cannot be, room for medical and academic discourse for the bigoted, biased information that has been repeated on the internet. That there are those who still see HIV as a “gay disease” is, at best, morally troubling. It is as worst a willful rejection of fact to maintain an incorrect worldview. The demographic with the most new HIV cases in modernity are not gay men. They are not transgender women. They are heterosexual, cisgender women. The story that’s been told a million times about how a woman can’t get HIV is wrong. Women in sub-Saharan Africa have seroconverted with the highest incidence of all demographics on Earth.

Does gay sex transmit the virus? Yes, it can if unsafe sex is practiced. Do all gay men have HIV? Absolutely not. Does all drug use transmit the virus? No Only drug use in which blood could be present. I cannot and will not speculate as to how Mr. Sheen seroconverted. It’s none of my business. It’s none of anybody’s business. If he identifies as straight, we should, of course, take him at his word. After all, in the twenty-first century, there are worse things to be than a cis, white, rich gay man. For an increasingly irrelevant Hollywood fixture, it would probably help his career if he came out as gay. Conversely, if the rumor is true that he slept with a trans woman, his heterosexuality is all but proven. Trans women are women, regardless what the comment sections and TERFs of the world say. The further into this line of thought we go, the more intrusive it becomes. If we would not want our personal, romantic, sexual, or medical information in the papers, we should not, by our own demands, put anyone else’s there.

Another highly contested side of Charlie Sheen’s sero-status outing has been largely perpetrated by his past partners, wives, and girlfriends. Many have come out, very angry for the cameras to claim that he never told them that he was HIV-positive. This controversy throws into the spotlight an issue that has been roiling in the activist community for years: disclosure.

The disclosure issue has been raging since the time that the current treatment cocktail was perfected. Reeling from the stigma of HIV/AIDS, newly treated and no longer infectious with an undetectable viral load, many wanted the freedom of not being associated with HIV—to be an individual before a disease. Unfortunately, many, no matter how safe they are, are unable to escape from the scarlet letter of their sero-status due to HIV-criminalization laws.

Many of these laws are, as you would expect, products of a bygone era, informed by a lack of understanding and blinding fear. They remain law because lawmakers are too fearful and political to pass an already existing bill that would do just that. The REPEAL Act, a bill that has been flailing in Congress for years. This bill would repeal many laws that make the act of having HIV a crime, save for the malicious and intentional transmission of the disease.

This may seem very theoretical, but HIV criminalization laws have very real, very concrete consequences for those who get hit with them. The primary element of these laws are to do with non-disclosure. Perhaps the most famous example of these laws in action in recent years is that of Michael Johnson, known online as Tiger Mandingo. He operated profiles on a variety of hookup apps. He was receiving treatment for his HIV. He did not tell his partners about his sero-status. He did not transmit the virus to anyone else. He was arrested by University Police at his school in St. Louis, Missouri. His trial was a very public spectacle. He was ultimately sentenced to thirty and a half years in prison. HIV-criminalization laws played a very large part in the man’s ruining. He had not, after all, harmed anyone. As a black man, systemic racism undoubtedly played a very large part in his conviction, but that discussion is for another post.

I struggle with my own position on the disclosure debate. Just as it is wholly possible and immutably human to forget safety during the heat of a sexual moment, so too would it be for disclosure. I believe that, by and large, one should be open about his/her/their sero-status at some point during a sexual encounter or relationship. I do see all sides of the argument, of course. I believe that stigmatizing those who are HIV+ and refusing their sexual companionship on only the grounds of their status is wrong, especially when they have undetectable viral loads. I also understand that we cannot take everyone at their word. I also recognize that finding out that a partner who didn’t disclose was poz after the fact can be psychologically traumatic.

Charlie Sheen’s recent interview with Dr. Oz has also brought up another very fracturing debate within the HIV space, albeit on a much more positive note. HIV drugs are not particularly fun. They do not give one euphoria by any stretch of the imagination. They often are accompanied by crippling side effects that directly interfere with one’s quality of life. Sheen, who lives in Malibu or some such ‘burb of LA, was faced with pressure by other members of the HIV+ community to try alternative medicine. They are all the rage among the very wealthy. Sheen tried them, apparently, as a way to escape the side effects. He had been undetectable for years before trying them. He is detectable now. He promised Dr. Oz he would return to the tried-and-true cocktail of drugs that kept him well. This is a very positive message to send to the HIV+ community, especially to the young men and women who may be facing similar pressure to forego proven medical interventions.

Charlie Sheen has many problems. He is in no way a “perfect victim.” He is a wild child (although he recently revealed that he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so I may be out of line with my previous statement). He has engaged in a lot of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and transphobia over his long career and in his humor. It is probably not something to be particularly proud of to aspire to be Charlie Sheen. He does not identify as queer. He has not, as far as a cursory Google search would reveal, done anything particularly spectacular in the way of being an LGBT ally. However, he is poz. He is part of our community, whether he identifies as such or not. We must support him. We must shut down the assholes in our lives who crack jokes about how there must be a Charlie Sheen gay sex tape. We must shut down the uninformed people we encounter who do not understand the complexities of HIV. We must not allow the climate of our society to become toxic for those with HIV who are not famous and who are struggling. We must show our support publicly for Sheen so that we may make a difference in the life of a young poz person who needs someone to understand.

Beware the Bio-PIc

Later this year, a highly problematic film will hit cinemas around the world. It’s the newest film by the blockbuster director Roland Emmerich of The Patriot, Independence Day, and 2012 fame. Apparently, Emmerich is gay, and has taken it on himself to make a “fictionalized drama” about the Stonewall riots. Emmerich’s films are often picked up by huge production studios and millions of dollars are used in their casting, production, and distribution. (I mean, come on, have you seen Independence Day?)

This is very, very troubling.

To add insult to this Hollywood monstrosity of an injury, the story of Emmerich’s bio-pic centers around a fictional, cisgender, white gay male character from the Midwest. The trailer for the film makes it look like all of the film’s major characters are of the same persuasion as its Midwestern protagonist. This is fucked up on so many levels, I don’t know where to begin.

After some thought, it seems apparent that the historical context of the riots may be the best place to begin. Stonewall, as you all  know by this point, is located in what is now New York City’s West Village. This part of the city was not, unlike today, considered a desirable neighborhood to leave, work, and hang out. It was a gay ghetto, and as such, the moral squads of the New York City Police Department targeted bars, clubs, and other gathering spots in that neighborhood with much higher frequency and intensity than other parts of New York City.

By the 1960s, same-sex behavior was no longer illegal. It was considered taboo by the larger society, and there were no legal rights whatsoever, but the act of engaging in same-gender sex was not a crime. There were, however, several other laws on the books meant to target the queer community, to force us out of public spaces, and to pretend that we weren’t there. Many of these rules focused on those of us who were transgender or gender non-conforming. A law was created, both in New York, and in many places around the world in which queers sought refuge, that would allow the police to arrest anyone who was not wearing three articles of clothing that “corresponded to one’s birth sex.” These types of laws, of course, had a disparate impact on trans people of all stripes, on drag queens and kings, and butch lesbians.

It was those who were gender non-conforming that bore the brunt of police brutality: beatings, sexual assault, deprivation, even murder. It was they who had the most to gain from a full scale uprising.

It was, in fact, a black trans woman by the name of Marsha P. Johnson that threw the brick that launched a revolution. She does not appear in the trailer of “Stonewall,” neither does Sylvia Rivera. Historical revisionism is not ethical filmmaking. People are often under-informed by nature. People will see a film like this and believe that it represents truth, a fallacy that will inevitably be used to further erase trans people of color from our history. This cannot be permitted.

It is mind boggling to me that any filmmaker who wanted to make a film as important as this one would be so lazy as to need a stereotypical, fictional protagonist for a very real event. There are any number of so-called “Stonewall Veterans” still alive. I have had the distinct and utmost honor of knowing a few of them. How many of them were consulted on the accuracy or relevance of such a contrived protagonist?

It should come as no surprise that there is a growing movement among the queer community and the racial justice community to boycott this film for its whitewashing, historical revisionism. I am inclined to agree with their position. It is possible that you’ve seen the rallying cry to boycott “Stonewall” on your social media feeds, I know it’s nearly hit critical mass over here.

The director, having presumably seen the outrage about the film he’s dedicated however long to creating, “responded” to the criticism about the film over the weekend in such a way that was obviously meant to minimize the anger. Emmerich said that all of the historical figures, people like Sylvia and Marsha, are given “reverence” in the film, even though their characters are minor by comparison. He responded to the criticism about his film by fundamentally misunderstanding what Stonewall was really about. He said that the protagonist of his film is not anachronistic or out of place because he had been kicked out of his Midwestern home by his parents. He saw a Stonewall film as an opportunity to discuss the homelessness and familial excommunication of the LGBTQ community; not to discuss homelessness that leads to many queer children living and engaging in sex work for survival on Christopher Piers, but the homelessness of a well-off cis, white guy who can afford to move to NYC after he’s kicked out.  It’s noble that Emmerich wants to bring attention to the scourge of LGBTQ homelessness and the absolute tragedy of queer people being kicked out and disowned by their families, even at very early ages. It is. However, that’s not what Stonewall was about. Homelessness, financial and housing insecurity, and isolation from the mainstream may have been peripheral factors, but they were not why the riots happened. To say that this is the case is to say that the riots in Ferguson and Baltimore in recent months are about overwhelmingly European standards of beauty.

I think that the revision of history to imply that Stonewall was about people who have been disowned by their families is disgusting. It erases the very visceral, very ugly truth that queer people have been victims of violence at the hands of their fellow humans and by those who are supposed to protect and serve for a very long time.

I will probably see this movie, in all honesty, so that I can more thoroughly refute its points, and that, I believe is a responsibility we all have. We can boycott or we can refute, but we cannot abdicate our responsibility to tell the truth and to give credit where credit is due.

Biphobia

Bisexuals. The most misunderstood, ostracized, and, inexplicably, hated of all the sexual orientations. As gay and lesbian rights are strengthened and their relationships normalized, biphobia increases. There are a lot of reasons for this, I think, and the specific reason depends on the group the biphobia is coming from, and believe me, it’s coming from all directions. In this post, I hope to describe some of the types of and motivations behind various instances of biphobia, as well as how to recognize it when you see it.

Bisexuals get the short end of the stick in pretty much every sexual grouping in terms of being judged or invalidated from the outside. In the context of our culture, most of us aren’t “allowed” to be bi at all. Think of the first bi person you ever met, or heard about, or read about, or saw on TV. What was this person like? I’d bet you ninety-nine cents that that person was female, white, and traditionally attractive. Society tells us that the only people who are “allowed” to be bi are pretty girls. Ugly girls are seen as not “truly bi,” but desperate. Boys are held to the most rigorous standards of the sexual binary. Trans and non-binary people are thought of by the greater society as exclusively gay, no questions asked.

So, let’s imagine for a moment that you are hypothetically this traditionally attractive girl. Congratulations, you can be bi! You’re bi, and enjoy getting your groove on with any human that you’ve got the feeling for. You’ve been out and proud for five years. Out of nowhere, you learn that your societal bi-pass has been revoked. WTF? Society views bisexuality as a “phase.” I’m sure you’ve heard that before. Bi girls, who society welcomes as beacons of “true bi” and “hotness,” are expected to go back to being straight after they’ve had their fun. A good popular culture example of this is Katy Perry’s breakout hit “I Kissed a Girl.” In the song, the narrator (who may or may not be Katy Perry, who knows—and, quite frankly, who cares?) kisses a girl—and likes it—even though she has a boyfriend. The song is clearly coded to convey that kissing a girl and being bi-curious is cool if you’re pretty, but you better beg your boyfriend’s forgiveness afterward and continue on that train to straighthood.

For bi boys, things can be even worse. Bisexual girls are validated in that their feelings are acceptable, if only temporarily. Bisexual boys are seen as jokes, as weak, lesser men because there is a perception that they are somehow refusing to come to grips with their “true” sexuality. Bisexual boys are, in the minds of our culture, gay boys who are too afraid to really come out. Sex in the City has made light of bisexual men by saying “bisexuality is a layover on the way to gay town.” Bisexual boys are routinely told that they cannot be attracted to members of both sexes, and that if they have even the smallest inkling of an attraction to other males, they’re gay.

Another incredibly damaging stereotype is that all bi people, want, more than anything, to engage in group sex. Look at all mixed-gender, mainstream, group sex porn. Ninety-eight percent of the time, there are two traditionally attractive girls and one dapper lad. Oftentimes, the male actor will sit back and watch the girls go at each other. It’s only okay to be bi if you’re doing it for the straight people, right? However, this phenomenon of misperception is not exclusive to straight dudes. I’ve seen many, many straight women who ask bisexual males to engage in threesomes with her and her husband/boyfriend/partner. This is no more acceptable than the other way around. I will never understand why straight people find it acceptable to view bisexual people as sentient sex toys, but they do.

If you’re bi, and you came out as bi in middle school, high school, or even college, you’ve fallen victim to this next misperception/foray into biphobia: the idea that bi people are easy. The stereotype goes that if you’re bisexual, you must really be desperate for a bone that you’ll take anybody. God forbid you try to turn down Mr. Downing His Eleventh Beer Fuckboy over there, he’ll respond, almost as if scripted, that he “thought you were bi.” Bisexuals do, by strictly a body count, have more options than monosexuals when it comes to selecting a sexual partner. Why, oh, why would that possibly make people think we can’t get any? That doesn’t make any logical sense.

There are two other derivations of the bi = easy fallacy. One is that bisexuals are greedy and unfaithful. The other is that bisexuals are kinkier than your average bear—well, um, person. The infidelity fallacy is probably the most universally dangerous one that bi people face. Sure, it can be annoying that straight boys think you want to have threesomes, but an intimate partner who believes you’re cheating with someone of another gender can get you killed. I really don’t know where this flawed logic came from, maybe it’s some kind of misunderstanding about the difference between polysexuals and polyamorists? It could be related to the idea that all bisexuals are down for group sex, which, in the larger society, is viewed as shaky morality at best. Either way, it exists, and it is dangerous. Just like in all of the facets of the monosexual community, there are some bisexuals who enjoy casual relationships, committed monogamous relationships, and polyamorous relationships. Not all of us want to date everyone or sleep with everyone. If we tell you we’re committed to you, believe us.

The other side of that coin is the completely false belief that all bisexual people are the kinkiest in the world. So, we’re attracted to all genders, does that inherently mean we like actually having sex in different ways than our monosexual peers? Not necessarily. I’m sure there are many bisexuals who are into kink, but I know just as many straight, gay, and lesbian kinksters.

Even the LGBT Q community is rough on bisexuals. These societal misperceptions have polluted even the queerest of the queer, which is both tragic and unfortunate, given that the whole idea of queerness is to rage against our socially constructed and divisive oppressors. Neither monosexual group in the queer community is guiltless on this. There are many lesbians who refuse to date and condescend to bisexual women. They back up this biphobia with empty statements about not wanting to touch a body a penis has touched. Some lesbians would even find dating a virginal bi girl anathema, as the idea of said girl leaving them for a man would be too distasteful. This is ridiculous.

Gay men take a somewhat different approach in biphobia toward other men. Many seek to convince a bisexual man that he isn’t actually bisexual; that social conditioning that attraction to a male body by another man, even if it isn’t exclusive, automatically equals gayness. This is, in the long run, less damaging than the scarlet-letter effect described above, but it is nonetheless unfair and damaging.

And now, we have arrived at the pinnacle of biphobia: semantics. Yes. I know that the Greek prefix ‘bi’ means two. I know that there are more than two genders. But you know what? Words, like humans, are malleable things. The meanings we give to words change over time. You wouldn’t be calling the very tasty grilled cheese you just had ‘awesome,’ if you were maintaining its original meaning (which would be literally in awe, like you’ve just seen the actual literal face of God or something). What’s more, the vast majority of humans fall into the dyadic sexual paradigm, and that’s really what we’re talking about when we’re talking about sexuality—although, there are, of course, many exceptions to that rule. About one out of every 2,000 births, in fact. But I’m guessing the Greeks didn’t have the capacity to do that kind of statistical analysis. It’s important to understand why our words originally meant what they did so that we can more easily fight back against those who would throw their dictionaries or etymology books at us. Words change, just as society and everyone in it does. To imply that because ‘bi’ means two that bisexuals cannot be attracted to, or aren’t attracted to, or hate transgender people is all out lunacy. And this is coming from someone who’s both proudly bi and proudly trans. When I, speaking in my capacity as a bisexual person, am lambasted for my perceived transphobia, I shake my head at how much semantics can derail discourse. (I’ll be writing an entire post, coming soon, on the discourse between bi-, pan-, and polysexual as orientations).

So there you have it, some common, pervasive myths about bisexuality that confidently hop over the line into full-blown biphobia. If you see something, say something.

Stonewall

This weekend is Pride Weekend in New York City, and in many places around the world. We’re looking forward to marching, to standing under a sweltering sun and watching the revelers pass by. We’re looking forward to the inevitably steeply discounted prices on booze in post-pride happy hours in bars both gay and straight. We’re looking forward to celebrating the victory that is probably the most monumental in our lifetime, marriage equality. All of that will undoubtedly happen. All of us will certainly eat, drink, and be merry. We’ll be decked out in our rainbows, pride flags, drag.

The Supreme Court of the United States has legalized same-gender marriage throughout the United States. There will be many who believe and express the view that the struggle for queer rights officially ended on that fateful Friday in June, two days before the 46th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. They are wrong. The two have nothing to do with one another.

The Stonewall Riots are often lauded as the birth of the gay liberation movement. The Stonewall Inn is a bar on Christopher Street in New York City. During the late 60s, it was one of the very few bars that allowed—let alone catered to—the LGBT community. During this period, there were several laws on the books that criminalized queer behavior (the most famous of these laws dictated that an individual must wear at least three pieces of clothing “befitting” their assigned sex); many urban police departments deployed moral squads to enforce them.

The owners of The Stonewall—there are rumors it was owned by the mob, but that’s disputed—were required to pay off the extremely corrupt New York City Police Department. As long as the owners paid up, the cops left the place alone. This particular fateful weekend, the owners of the bar did not pay the police.

NYPD stormed the bar, roughing up transwomen, drag queens, butch lesbians, and gay men. Usually, our community would take it and be carted off to jail with minimal fight. Not this time. The queer patrons of the Stonewall Inn had had enough. They fought back. They forced the police out of the bar, ripped up parking meters as weapons, used the liquor to make Molotov cocktails, and fought with all their might. The riots went on for three nights.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the riots at Stonewall were not the first of their kind. There had been several, smaller riots in California in the years leading up to Stonewall. Of these, the Compton Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco in 1966 and the Cooper’s Donuts Riot in Los Angeles in 1959 are the most famous.

At the time of Stonewall, same-gender marriage was only a secondary blip on the participants’ collective radar. The big push for same-gender marriage would come some fifteen to twenty years later, during the AIDS epidemic. What the rioters at Stonewall wanted, more than anything, was to be free. Homosexuality, transvestitism, and transgenderism were all considered mental illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association. The police routinely committed acts of brutality—often sexual brutality—against queer people. Queer people were ghettoized, refused decent housing, employment, and health care. Violence, homelessness, and true inequality were rampant.

Leading the charge at Stonewall were trans women, drag queens, butch lesbians, and gay men of all races and social classes. Unlike the LGBT movement of today, it wasn’t driven solely by white, cis, homonormative gay men. We can get back to that. You will have to educate those who say LGBTQ rights are over. You will be discouraged. We will eventually prevail.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY!

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that same-gender marriage is not only legal in every state in the US but a Constitutional right.

Read the decision here.

This is not the end of LGBTQ rights. We must continue the fight. Celebrate today, but continue the fight.

God bless America.

Clarifying the Non-Monosexual Terms

Bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, omnisexual, oh my! There are quite a few different terms to describe sexual attraction to members of more than one gender. If you don’t have your finger on the pulse of the queer community twenty-four hours a day, it is, inevitably, difficult to keep track of all the blasted terms used to describe those who practice non-monosexuality.

Which brings us to the first and perhaps most important of the many terms, monosexuality. Monosexuality is a word that is used to describe individuals who are only sexually attracted to members of one gender (i.e. straight people, gay men, and lesbians). Non-monosexuals are those who are not monosexual, and are attracted to more than one gender. This term is used very often in queer theory, sexuality studies, and other academic pursuits. I’ve only ever seen in it popular usage on Tumblr. Even though some immature individuals on the internet will use neutral and benign words like monosexual like an insult, which is far from its original intention. The word is only a benign moniker to describe those who experience sexual attraction to more than one gender.

The most commonly known of all terms describing non-monosexuals is ‘bisexual.’ The ‘B’ in LGBT stands for bisexual, as much as people will joke that it does not. There is something of a controversy surrounding the term bisexual, as it comes from the Greek word meaning ‘two.’ However, many bisexuals affirm that their sexual attraction is not limited to only two genders, regardless of what the word means etymologically, as language—like sexuality—is fluid. The term bisexual has been in academic use since the nineteenth century, and it was coined in the same academic setting as ‘heterosexual’ and ‘homosexual.’ It has been in common usage since the mid-twentieth century. The bisexual pride flag, consisting of pink, blue, and purple horizontal stripes, was designed in 1999.

The only other term with the same historical reach in an academic space is ‘omnisexual.’ Superstar sexologist Alfred Kinsey used this term to describe the sexual desire that focuses on pleasure above anything else. Kinsey wrote extensively about how humans were born with sexuality pre-installed. He had observed that even small babies, who would be incapable of engaging in sexual activity, still masturbated, seeking pleasure. He concluded that humans, upon birth, are omnisexual, sexually desiring pleasure, and can remain that way into adulthood. Kinsey also theorized that our omnisexual desire for pleasure may make us naturally bisexual, seeking pleasure rather than a specific sexual partner. This is consistent with the socially constructed nature of sexual orientation.

Other terms to describe non-monosexuality are much more recent inventions. Perhaps the best known newer terms, ‘pansexual’ broke out onto the scene in the mid-to-late 2000s. The creators of the term argued that bisexuality, as a term, was limiting and reinforcing of the gender binary. They used the same basic model that the word bisexual employs, swapping bi (Greek for two) with pan (Greek for all). There has been a fair bit of controversy between the bi and pan communities, surrounding literal translations of familiar words, which I will write about in another post. Pansexuals, to draw distinction from poly- and bisexuals, often say that they experience sexual attraction regardless of gender; gender plays no role in sexual orientation.

Largely born out of the strife between bisexuals and pansexuals, polysexuals continued to interpret the words literally (rather than, I don’t know, listening to actual bisexuals). Essentially, polysexuality, which is another sexual orientation of entirely twenty-first century creation, is the sexual attraction to more than two, but less than all, genders. As someone who isn’t polysexual, it seems that polysexuality is a bit too specific for my taste.

Unfortunately—at least for the sake of clarity—there is another word in the realm of sexuality that begins with the prefix poly-. Polyamory differs from polysexuality (even though they are sometimes used interchangeably to mean polyamory) in that instead of being representative of being attracted to multiple genders, it is the proclivity to being in sexual and/or romantic relationships with multiple people at one time. Open relationships and multiple romantic partner relationships are both types of polyamory.

So, there you have it. A short primer on all things non-monosexual. I hope this helps cut through the confusion with the various terms that exist and often sound as if they mean almost the same thing. Because they do. Almost.

Pride Day 12: Queer Fairytales

As in all minority communities, the LGBT community has access to very few stories that represent our individual struggle in the world. We have very few major characters that we can identify with and love when queer characters are so-often presented in a negative light. While LGBT fiction and memoir are finally starting to pick up steam, we have historically had to change the nature of stories to add queer elements where they once did not exist, usually only in our own minds. I’d like to share one of the stories that I revere as my own queer fairytale.

My favorite film as a very small child was Disney’s reimagining of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Released in October of 1996, it was one of the first movies my parents took me to see in theaters. I was hooked. I owned a plush Quasimodo, the film on VHS, the soundtrack on CD, an Esmeralda Barbie doll, and a plush Jolly. Most of these objects did not survive into my adulthood, but that Quasimodo plush is on my bedside table and the soundtrack is saved—in mp3 format—on my cell phone.

I’ve seen the film a couple of times as an adult, most recently a couple of months ago after it was added to Netflix’s streaming library. The film has exceptional cinematic quality, both as a musical and as one of the most visually striking of Disney’s hand-drawn animations. It was, of course, a very odd choice as a novel-turned-film for Disney, but they found a very fascinating balance between the darkness of Hugo’s original nineteenth-century work and the innocence required of Disney.

Watching this film again as an adult made me realize just how much I could still identify with the character of Quasimodo. I was raised in a very strict Roman Catholic household in the southern part of the Midwest, where conservative politics was inextricably linked with a belief in God. I was forced to undergo full confirmation into the Catholic church, even after I had lost my religion as a queer person. I related to Quasimodo’s being trapped in the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Quasi grows up in almost total isolation. His primary caretaker, Judge Frollo, represents traditionalism, the law, and oppression; he constantly reminds Quasimodo that he is a monster and unworthy of love. This experience and the feelings of despair that Quasimodo embodies are unfortunately very relatable to me as a queer person growing up in a conservative place.

Quasi also symbolizes an atypical form of masculinity that I find very appealing. His atypical masculinity comes at a cost, however, as he loses the love of Esmeralda to the more traditionally masculine Phoebus. Quasi’s masculinity is not founded on violence the way that many male characters in the film are. Quasimodo is gentle, loving, artistic, naive, and optimistic. He rarely uses force and routinely underestimates his own resolve. He is a protector, but one that refuses to demean those who society would place beneath him.

Quasimodo’s physical deformity can also be seen as allegorical to mental illness, something that is rampant in the queer community. His life trajectory would also indicate that he would also suffer from some amount of anxiety and depression, the way the two thirds of American adults are.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is, for me, a queer fairytale, as Quasimodo symbolizes so much and a more equal society is born in the aftermath of the climax.

What are some non-queer queer Fairytales that are meaningful to you?

Pride Day 11: Imagine

What Would True Equality Be Like?

This post will be a little more pensive than many of my Pride posts. The queer community speaks about the future, a time when we’ve achieved equality, ad nauseam. We imagine a world where none of us is murdered, all of us are housed and fed and clothed, where we all have jobs and money, transphobia, homophobia, biphobia are things of the past. But what does this imagined future really look like? The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not represent the thoughts, feelings, and views of any other individuals or organizations.

I am vehemently anti-assimilationist in any of its forms. I do not support heteronormativity, I do not support homonormativity, I do not support gender binarism, and I seek to disrupt their hold on society in my own life as often as I can. I don’t want to be married, to adopt a child from Africa, to pass as male, to live in the suburbs with a white picket fence, a dog named Spot, and 2.5 kids.

For me, a future of true equality is one devoid of a so-called moral majority. It is a place where the voice of reason spoke softly but rang truer in the hearts of humanity than the screams of the radical religious minorities. Where scientific inquiry seeks after Truth rather than the confirmation or disproval of bias, stereotypes, and religious myth. Where those privileged with access to gene sequencing technology searches for cures for diseases rather than the elusive gay gene.

A true equal future has dismantled segregation of all varities. There is no functional difference in the equal future between people of any gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or class. There are no ghettos. There is no homelessness. Everyone has a roof over their head, everyone with a disease of the mind or body has access to treatment, everyone who has needs can have those needs met.

I dream of a future where healthcare is paid for and education doesn’t come with a second course of crippling debt. I dream of a future where family planning can be done without threats of violence, and poor decisions are met with understanding instead of judgement.

I dream of a world where queer spaces are protected, not against violence from the outside world, but because the old Vulcan mantra rings true: the ultimate goal of this life is infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

(Belated) Pride Day 10: Way to Go, Ireland!

On May 22nd, the small island nation of Ireland passed an unexpected Constitutional amendment in a truly novel way. The fight for same-sex marriage has been raging in the United States since Massachusetts legalized it in 2004. Today, only thirty-seven U.S. states allow for legal gay marriage, and almost all of those states legalized marriage equality either by a vote of their state legislatures or by having their marriage bans struck down by the federal courts. Only two states, Maine and Washington, passed their same-sex marriage laws by popular vote. Before May 22nd, referendum had never been used to pass same-sex marriage on a national level.

Irish citizens, not parliamentarians or judges, went to the polls on the twenty-second day of May and made their own choice. A whopping sixty-two percent voted to legalize marriage equality. The world was stunned in the most positive of ways. Ireland has always been known as a very deeply Catholic country, and it was expected to side with dogma.

The Irish referendum, a beacon of hope in the world, is actually more groundbreaking than it looks prima fascia. The media has been referring to it as a “referendum to legalize gay marriage,” but it does so much more than that. The wording of the referendum refers to the legalization of marriage “regardless of sex.” Regardless of sex and same-sex are very different things. Not only does this referendum open the door for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals to be free to marry whomever they choose, but it also provides some legal safeguards for the marriages of transgender and intersex individuals, which is absolutely incredible.

Ireland doesn’t seem to be stopping the LGBTQ rights train anytime soon. The Emerald Island is currently poised to pass one of the most progressive gender identity laws in the world. In many countries, legal gender is assigned at birth and is difficult to change. Many states in the US require proof of surgical transition, a major roadblock for many in the trans community. Ireland is poised to be the fourth country on Earth to allow individuals to self-identify their gender for legal documents. The burden of proof would cease to exist. As per US policy, we as transgender individuals have to “prove” our transness to the state in order to have our documents changed. Ireland will take away the need to prove a damn thing. The only other countries with a self-designation policy are Malta, Argentina, and Denmark.

Ireland is an intensely Catholic nation. As someone was raised Catholic and left the church partially because of its queerphobic nature, this gives me hope for the future of the Roman Catholic Church. It is my hope that Ireland’s audacity brings out the courage of the other Catholic nations around Europe and the world to find their strength to shrug off dogma that is hateful, prideful, and unnecessary. Perhaps the current Pope will follow the lead of the brave Irish people to modify dogma and bring Catholics back to the fold–without trying to rely on the love the sinner excuse.

As someone of Irish descent, I have never been more proud of my heritage. I am so proud of ancestral homeland for being so overt about supporting people like me. I can only hope that the rest of Europe, the rest of the United States, and the whole world follow suit in due time.

Day 9 of Pride: What is Intersex?

Intersex is the ‘I’ in LGBTQIA. Historically, intersex conditions were referred to as ‘hermaphroditism,’ after the mythological child of Hermes and Aphrodite who was born with two sets of functional genitalia. This is a misnomer, comparing Hermaphroditos and those with intersex conditions. Being born with two fully functional sets of genitals is incredibly rare. This fact adds to the common misconception that intersex conditions are also incredibly rare. This is untrue.

One of the ways in which our society attempts to reinforce the gender binary is by relying extremely heavily on the bio-social construct of dyadic biological sex. Biological sex, contrary to popular belief, is not a black-and-white, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt matter of XX and XY as we have long been taught. Biological sex is inherently ambiguous, the two-sex paradigm having been created by the medical establishment as a way of simplifying care for the two most prevalent groups.

Designation into one of the two prevalent dyadic sex groups relies on five distinct factors: chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics, hormones, internal gonads, and external genitalia. I’ll explain each in commonly understood dyadic terms before describing how intersex conditions can manifest.

Chromosomes refers to the forty-sixth base pair of chromosomes. The female-classified chromosomal pattern is XX. The male-classified is XY. Secondary sex characteristics are those features that come to mind when thinking of puberty. For the female-assigned person, these things will include the growth of pubic hair, widening of hips, a higher pitched voice, and breasts. For a male-assigned person, secondary sex characteristics include the growth of hair all over the body, the growth of facial hair, broadening of the shoulders and jaw, a deeper voice, and accelerated muscle development. Hormones refers to the level of estrogen/progesterone and testosterone in the body. The female-assigned person will have more estrogen, the male-assigned will have more testosterone. Internal gonads refer to those reproductive organs that exist inside the body. For female-assignment, these include the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. For male-assigned, these include testes and prostate. External genitalia is pretty simple: penises and vaginas.

In order to conform to one of the two dyadic sexes, all five of these factors must be in alignment. In one out of every two thousand people, they aren’t. One out of every two thousand people is born intersex. The deviation from the dyadic sex can occur on any of the five levels. Many born intersex never know of their condition.

At the chromosomal level, some intersex conditions are overt. XXY, XXX, and X are all other variations of the forty-sixth pair, which result in varying physical manifestations. However, X does not always produce estrogen and vaginas, nor does Y produce penises. Those with four out of five factors lining up for a female-designation can be born with XY chromosomes. The same is true of XX. Hormones, external sex organs, and internal reproductive organs can come in many variations as well.

Until the last few years, OB/GYN doctors were allowed to perform medical procedures upon newborn infants without parental consent. The medical establishment’s dedication to the proposition of a two-sex species borne a set of guidelines about the external genitals of infants. If an organ was below a set measurement, the organ was classified a clitoris and the infant a girl. If the organ was above a different measurement, the organ was classified a penis and the infant a boy. There was a fairly significant margin between the two—I am avoiding any specific measurements as they did/do vary by location. Those with “ambiguous” genitalia that fell in between the two sets of measurements were at the hands of their doctors. On the shorter end of the gap, the organ was filed down into correct clitoral parameters. If on the longer end, it was classified a penis.

Intersex individuals are not trans. These two existences are not synonymous. Intersex individuals face a series of life challenges that are unique to them. Their struggles have gone on unnoticed for far too long, and it’s time that we welcome them more warmly into the fold and fight alongside them.