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If the binary don’t fit, you’ve got to quit (confusing it with reality)

October 13, 2010

I have been meaning to work up a post suggested by one of the quotes on the last “Identity Police” themed link roundup, and my Dreamwidth National Coming Out Day post. But, I have been down with some particularly nasty virus, and have been having trouble sitting up for any length of time. (Apologies to anyone whose comments haven’t gotten replied to yet!)

At any rate, I thought I’d compromise by posting links to some online reading I’ve found interesting, and hopefully get back to writing a proper post on the subject of one’s brain just not doing binaries, at all, as a very significant difference which can lead to a lot of problems dealing with people who assume that binaries constitute reality.

Seriously. I was 30 before I figured out that, in cultures that rely on binaries (like the one I’m living in), the majority of people really are taking them seriously–and trying to cram what seems to me a far more complex set of realities into an oppositional binary model. No wonder what I was saying just kept not making sense to people–among other problems. No wonder people tend to lash out, with serious cognitive dissonance staring them right in the face. When they’ve already set themselves up in the “Right/Good/Sane” categories by default, well…

BTW, huge surprise that, as a multiracial person, I’ve been increasingly identifying with a part of my cultural heritage that (besides being the dominant one I saw growing up) isn’t so hung up in oppositional dualism–and so doesn’t automatically paint me as a crazy, lying troublemaker when much of my life just doesn’t fit that model. The only conflict there is the kind you’d have to look for through the kind of oppositional binary lens that created us weirdo “tri-racial isolates” (i.e., about what you’d expect under colonial conditions, and look at all the continuing confusion/dehumanization/assumptions that we’re lying) in the first place.

To start with, one link from the last post which really got me thinking more seriously about some similarities of experience I’d already noticed:
No Designation
* It’s not just Brown and White – From one author comment:

I realized that there was a huge connection between my race, gender, and sexual orientation. That connection was primarily that I don’t fit into a binary in any of the three. And that as such, there is always someone who might tell me that I’m not really what I say I am, that I don’t belong with them, and that constant threat of potential community rejection ruled much of how I interacted with my community for most of my first years living as an adult (and to a degree since then).

It’s an interesting story, but understanding my multiracial experience is what led me to understand my gender experience and come out as trans (well, as genderqueer, trans came later). Contemplating the implications of how one person could see me as a person of color while someone else could see me as white — in the same room at the same time — was the jumping off point for considering how the same thing could happen around gender.

Multiracial Activist
* Beverly Yuen Thompson’s On Defining My Own Identity (emphasis mine)

Eventually I learned that the problem did not lie in my inability to commit to one identity over another, but that the rules of the game did not fit my reality. I had fallen through the cracks of the binary opposition paradigm of identity. It is the definitions that have to change in order that those who have been marginilized out of the “box” can be included…

The term “passing” has been used to mean a temporary acceptance from the dominant society as long as you deny a part of yourself and endeavor to fit a particular box. If one looks heterosexual enough or white enough, this gains one a membership in the dominant society. Individuals who are part of the gay and lesbian community have been able to pass as heterosexual as long as they look straight. The cost of passing is an erasure of history, a loss of pride and breakdown of the sense of “wholeness” of identity

To dismantle the binary opposition of race and sexuality we must work towards an inclusion of “other” identities. The horizon must be broadened to include those who identify as “both and more”. To truly organize against discrimination we must not allow ourselves to be pitted against each other by a binary paradigm of identity. We must fight against the segmentation of identity that leads to the breakdown of “wholeness” for individuals of mixed races who are denied by both the white society as well as their communities of color. We must fight against the alienation that bisexuals face in the gay and lesbian community as well as the straight world. Sexual and racial purity is an ideal that leads only to division and disempowerment. We must work to create pride around issues of racial heritage and sexual orientation, instead of shame and disrespect.

* Another from Beverly Yuen Thompson: Being Bi in a Mono-Culture: Towards A More Inclusive Perspective on Race and Sexuality (bolded emphasis mine)

In this paper I would like to demonstrate that binary oppositions always underlie “(political) identity” and therefore by definition always exclude an “other”. With such exclusionary practices of identity in a world that does not have such sharp distinctions, many are going to be cut out of the loop because of their “unclear identity”. In particular I will analyze the relationship of bisexual and bi/multi racial individuals in comparison to their mono-sexual and racial counterpoints…I realize that in my usage of the terms “bi” and “mono” I am creating yet another binary and I find myself trapped by the language that I would like to break out of. I have continued to employ this terminology however, because I am comparing the “bi” reality to that of the mono reality on both sides of the margin…

One result of the marginalization of bi’s is that we end up outside of reality- we no longer exist. One characteristic of paradigms is that anything that cannot be explained by it either must be renamed and reconfigured in order to fit, or it no longer exists. Obviously bisexuals and bi- (and multi) racials exist. However if bis exist, then the paradigm is wrong. This may be accepted on an intellectual and critical level, but the binary paradigm infuses all aspects of our lives and to reject binaries in one area means that they are inadequate in all areas. This might partially explain the resistance in the rejection of binaries: us-them mentality informs our judgement on all people…

It is undeniable that bisexuality and bi-multi-racial identity are closely associated with passing. This is why biphobes are compelled to ask, “But which do you really like, boys or girls?” Those who are not clearly defined and labeled are feared because of their perceived ability to deceive (and desire to). “Most multiracials have experienced being stared at and asked insensitive questions about their physical appearance (e.g., ‘what are you?’), family experience and cultural differences (e.g., ‘where are you from?’). Connection is difficult when one is the object of curiosity, pity or fear.” In other countries that are more conscious of their mixed race heritage, they have designated terms that describe an individual with a multi-racial background. Our monoculture mentality tells us more about the dominant discriminatory mindset than about the bi individual’s confusion.

There’s a lot of emphasis here on sexuality, because that has been the hardest part of my identity for me to accept within myself. (Yeah, even nonbinary gender has been easier, now that I know it’s even possible.) The very idea of the existence of people who are attracted to individuals of more than one gender seems to offend so many people, and I got a huge dose of biphobia (and gaslighting based on it) at home; even to a parent with delusions of liberal enlightment, it was apparently much easier to believe that I had horrible psychological damage making me “confused”. For years, I went back and forth identifying as lesbian or straight (really knowing that one didn’t fit!), hoping the other attractions would go away and make life simpler. It just doesn’t work that way, and trying to stuff complex human beings into such binary boxes causes an awful lot of misery in this world. No matter what the category of the moment may be; at the same time, this stuff describes (human-created) conflicts in other (human-created) categories.

And, for “bisexuality”, I’m using pretty close to the Bisexual Index definition, including ‘Bisexual isn’t about there being only “two sexes”‘. Ah, the limitations of readily understood (or not, even so) terms!
* Truly excellent! Robyn Ochs’ Biphobia, from “Getting Bi: Voices of Bisexuals Around the World.” ed. Robyn Ochs and Sarah E. Rowley. (Bisexual Resource Center, 2005), pp. 201-205.

A primary manifestation of biphobia is the denial of the very existence of bisexual people, attributable to the fact that many cultures think in binary categories, with each category having its mutually exclusive opposite. This is powerfully evident in the areas of sex and gender. Male and female, and heterosexuality and homosexuality are seen as “opposite categories.” Those whose sexual orientation defies simple labeling or those whose sex or gender is ambiguous may make us profoundly uncomfortable.

Thus, bisexuals create discomfort and anxiety in others simply by the fact of our existence. We are pressured to remain silent, as our silence allows the dominant culture to exaggerate the differences between heterosexual and homosexual and to ignore the fact that human sexuality exists on a continuum. It is much less threatening to the dominant heterosexual culture to perpetuate the illusion that homosexuals are “that category, way over there,” very different from heterosexuals. If “they” are extremely different, heterosexuals do not have to confront the possibility of acknowledging same-sex attractions within themselves and possibly becoming “like them.” There is considerable anxiety in being forced to acknowledge that the “other” is not as different from you as you would like to pretend.

Because of our cultural erasure, bisexuality tends to be invisible except as a point of conflict.

* Biphobia in the GLBT community from a bi man’s point of view — Lots of interesting comments.

I personally have experienced curses and insults from within fellow marchers at a pride parade, calling me a slut, a fake fag, and a ‘try-sexual’. We also frequently got ignored or shunted to the side in public debates, and some times in events. I’ve been told that bi people don’t really exist, that it’s just a fad, that I’m really one orientation or another, and that I absolutley must make up my mind one day if I’m straight or gay because my partner will leave me if I don’t.

I’ve also had to deal with the inevitable bisexual/polyamory link. There’s the fear that bisexuals might push for polyamorous marriages to be legal, and that would hurt the same sex marriage movement I’m not sure if that’s biphoba or polyphobia. I know I’m guilty of it whatever it is. I’ve avoided speaking up for multipartner relationships in order to keep the conversation on track about same sex marriages. I always feel a bit like I’m betraying something when I do that, especially considering I’m polyamorous.

Sex Or Television
* Biphobia: Real and Relevant (emphasis mine)

But how bizarre is it to define an orientation by the amount of oppression one faces as opposed to who you are?

The underlying sentiment that I see behind the stereotype of the typical bi person and the reaction to Schickner’s piece is that bi people are sexual tourists, privileged people who get to flirt with a queer identity in an appropriative fashion who always have the ability to retreat into straight privilege.

This way of viewing bi identity is typical of the main issue bi people face that is actually separate from homophobia: invisibility. Bi people who are non-gender conforming, who date primarily same-sex partners or are in a same-sex relationship often do not get read as bi at all. So their existence as bisexuals is invalidated and shoved into the tent of “real queerness” and we’re left with the most privileged bi people as the unofficial representatives for everything bi…

This factors in with the current accepted narrative that claims that homosexuality is inherently an inborn trait, as is straightness. What would follow from conclusion, which is simplistic but may be based in some degree of fact, is that bisexuality is similarly an inborn trait, but it isn’t treated as such. It often seems to me that the notion behind a biological root of homosexuality is the idea that no one would choose gayness if they were able to. Bisexuals fuck up that narrative by having the ability to “choose” to live either a gay or straight lifestyle yet by the very act of acknowledging themselves as bisexual they refute and refuse the binary. This is obviously threatening, primarily to straight people who don’t want to confront the issue of sexual behavior as a choice, but also to the modern mainstream gay rights movement which depends on the idea that gay people really just can’t help it – they’re born that way…

Bisexuals are the “other” in both worlds. Straights wonder why bisexual people would choose to be out as bisexual, when they could easily pass – as in, “Why are you wasting the straight privilege you could have?”

this ain’t livin’
* Beyond the Binary: Where Do I Fit In? — part of an excellent Beyond the Binary series.

One of the really interesting things about being a nonbinary feminist, aside from sometimes feeling excluded by feminism, is that I often have difficulty fitting in. I navigate a betweenspace. There are a lot of people out there navigating betweenspaces and no one really seems to know what to do with any of us, whether those spaces are gender, race, class, or disability-based. For the most part, we’re part of the movement…until we’re not. We are convenient to have around…until we are not…

I am included under the banner of ‘women’ even though I am not one, even though I am in the betweenspace, because people don’t know what else to do with me. In part, this is because my own language about my gender identity is fluid and has been rapidly evolving, but it’s also because most people operate under the assumption that there are only two genders and everyone fits into one or the other.

Some people seem to believe that only women can be feminists. Or, rather, they think that men can’t be feminists and they subscribe to a binary view of gender so nonbinary people and nongendered people don’t occur to them, ergo, only women can be feminists. Those people don’t contest my feminist label, though. They think I’m a woman. Or they think that my nonbinary gender identity is subordinate to my anatomy and endocrinology; when things get down to brass tacks, I’m a woman, right?

Where do people in the betweenspaces fit in?

Nowhere. Which means that when things come down to the wire, we get left out. Our identities are subordinated to the greater whole. We are, as I said above, convenient until we are not; we are more voices in the movement but if we question the movement, if we attempt to assert our identities, we would be thrown out. We masquerade inside the movement until we can’t take it anymore.

On the very practical side, an interesting bit of info I ran across (as if the US Census weren’t perceived-ambiguity-unfriendly enough already):
* Filling Out Our 2010 Census Form as a Gay, Multiracial Couple

The FAQ at has further information on gender identity issues and also includes this piece of information:

A note for bi-racial couples: It is not widely known that the race of the household member who fills out the Census form determines the racial designation of a family in one of the Census’ major statistical tables. Given that people of color are often undercounted by the Census, couples or families may want to consider having a person of color identify as household member #1 when filling out the form for a family.

2 Comments leave one →


  1. [post deleted] | A world that loved monsters
  2. Self-determination is a fucking joke and widgetry harms real people | A world that loved monsters

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