Something’s fundamentally wrong here

22 05 2008

There’s been a story circulating around the Internet about how the principal of a South Carolina high school chose to resign when students chose to form a GSA (Gay Students Association).  Now I personally don’t have a problem with the man’s choice.  It seems like he handled it very well – he made it clear that it was for personal and religious reasons that he was leaving, he decided to stay out the term until 2009, and he indicated that he wouldn’t be mentioning to the students his specific reasons for leaving when he made the announcement to the school.  He also, as far as I can tell, didn’t block the formation of the GSA in any way.

The part of this news that made me think, though, was something in his letter of resignation.  What troubles him is that this and no other club deals with students’ “sexual orientation, sexual preference, and sexual activity” and that the way he sees it, the club requires acknowledging that students are sexually active with a certain sex, whether the same, different, or both.

Wait, what?  Back that train up, please.  Besides the obvious problem that others have pointed out in blogging about this article with sexualising the gay movement in general, I’m a little concerned about this specific context.  Coming out, to yourself or to others, doesn’t mean anything about how sexual you are.  Whether or not you are attracted to someone of the same sex is relevant, but sexual experience is in no way required to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or anything in between – including straight.  If sexual experience were the only indicator, I’d be straight, and I’m sure as hell not.  

But it’s not just that alone that bothers me, it’s the inherent assumption here.  In order to be gay, he seems to be saying, you have to admit that you’re sexual with someone of the same sex.  Is the same true in order to be straight?  I actually think it might be almost all right if we just said, no one is anything until they have sex (putting aside the obvious huge problems with basing orientation entirely on experience).  It wouldn’t really be accurate, but at least it would be equitable.  Instead, I think what we obviously say in society is that everyone is straight by default.  Straight is the presumption, that has to be rebutted.  How do we rebut it?  By having sex.  Hmm.  

So what we’re saying, I suppose, is that people are straight until they have a same sex experience.  You can’t have an abstinent gay person.  And I suppose it would be problematic to require straight people to have sex to prove their straightness, because, well, if you fall into a certain religious group, they’re not supposed to be having sex in the first place until they’re married.  Queers can’t get married, so they might as well go have sex?  Oh, I don’t even know.

Thinking back, I realise that I encountered this attitude quite a lot when I was younger.  I said I was bisexual (which is how I identified till I was 21 or so) and people would say oh, okay, that’s great, well you don’t really know until you’ve tried it, but good luck!  Even people who were completely okay with LGBT folks, my family included, would put it that way.  This may have been because I very aggressively tried to be cool as a kid, and cool included being girly and boycrazy, so I seemed rather obviously straight, but even so, I think all this really does is encourages kids to go out and have sex to prove you wrong (whether they’re ready or not).  Now that I’m older, people assume that, because I say “I’m a lesbian,” that I’m sexually experienced with women.  The fact is that I’m not really, mainly because of timing (my one serious relationship with a girl was in high school) and the fact that I’m very picky about relationships and enjoy being single, so I’m less experienced than some people my age.  I don’t really mind that assumption so much, but I think that in general it’s a good rule of thumb not to assume.  Sex and sexuality are obviously related, but there’s no correlation between sexuality and how much sex you have.  

Just food for thought.


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2 responses

22 05 2008
lis

I am often glad that my first real sexual encounter/experience was with a female. I identify as bisexual (well truly, I prefer “pansexual”) and any time I bring it up and get that same response (which I do, almost every time) I have that to say. It always surprises people. “What! You’re supposed to have sex with a MALE first. How can you possibly think you want a female?” As if females are a second choice, always in the line of “I decided I didn’t like guys, so girls are what’s left”. I don’t have enough words in me to describe how much it frustrates me.

As far as the principal’s reason for resigning — I don’t think it’s quite that. I’ve heard several people make the argument that they wish there was a different word for “homosexual” that didn’t involve “sexual”. (Apparently “gay” and “lesbian” are not adequate replacements, I think they were fishing for a more universal word) They are uncomfortable with all of the students being open about sex in general. I can understand and even respect that, but I do think that most of them are unable to reasonably base their argument without making it sound like “everybody is straight until they have sex with a member of the same sex”. And most of them seem to think that by acknowledging sex, you’re directly opening the door to freely discuss sex, which is the part they are not comfortable with.

And, I suppose, the concept that for somebody to identify as homosexual/bisexual, they must have given at least SOME thought to sex and what they’d prefer. While I am absolutely certain that applies to heterosexuals as well (truly, who HASN’T thought about sex in their teenage years?) I suppose it takes a certain step of acknowledgment to say you are different, somehow.

Not that I agree with him, but I can understand his viewpoint.

22 05 2008
Nicole

One of the reasons that I really love the word “queer” is that it encompasses all desires. I’ve met queer straight people. I’ve met queer asexual people. It’s more about a frame of mind, a conscious choice to be with who you want to be, instead of following pressure from society or tradition or whatever. And being more or less comfortable with it.
Of course, having Queer Club (Qlub?) at a highschool in NC might not go over so well. Not everyone is quite so radical.
(I have been reading Kate Bornstein lately, could you tell?)

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