[personal profile] flexibeast
'Fluidity' is in. "I'm gender-fluid." "Sexuality is fluid".

It's great that people who feel fluidity in their identities are increasingly recognising and proclaiming that fact. Problems arise, however, once we move beyond an individual describing their own gender identities and/or sexual identities, and start talking about 'gender-fluidity' and/or 'sexual-fluidity' more generally.

One disturbing trend i've noticed is for some people to use 'gender-fluid' as an attempted shorthand for "anyone who doesn't fit the gender dichotomy". Er, no. Don't do that. i'm dual-gendered - i'm both a woman and a man - and thus i don't fit within the gender dichotomy - i'm not just "female" or "male". But my gender is nevertheless a stable one. i don't "move between" being "more female" or "more male"; i'm both female and male, all the time, simultaneously. Further, not only is my gender stable, it's been stable since the early 2000s, when i first realised i was trans. "Ah, but!" someone might say, "before you realised you were trans, your gender was different!" No. My gender identity was different, but my underlying gender was as it is now; transition for me involved a recognition of what my gender actually is and was, rather than what others were expecting it to be.

i feel a significant part of the problem here is the conflation of 'gender' with 'gender identity' and 'sexuality' with 'sexual identity'. Identities can change without the underlying referents changing. For example: for many years i identified as bisexual; in more recent years i identified as polysexual; and i now identify as pansexual. Yet the types of people i'm attracted to has basically not changed during that time. What has changed is which word i think best describes my attraction preferences, based on not only my own understanding of what a given word means, but other people's apparent understandings and usages of that word. One reason i resisted identifying as 'pansexual' for a long time was because, in my experience, it tended to be used as an identity by kinksters - including heterosexual kinksters. More recently, however, i've observed it used much more frequently by people who can be attracted to a person regardless of that person's gender; and since i now identify as a kinkster myself, any associations it has with kink are no longer problematic for me. Thus, even though i've never let a person's gender be an obstacle to me being attracted to them, pansexual is my current preferred way of describing that.

So a person's gender identity or sexual identity might be fluid even when their underlying gender or sexuality is not; and part of the reason for this is that individual and social ideas about particular gender identities and/or sexual identities can be fluid. This leads me to another issue i frequently encounter in discussions involving the concept of 'fluidity': the conflation of the idea that a given person's gender/sexuality and/or gender/sexual identity might be fluid with the idea that sociocultural concepts of gender/sexuality might be fluid.

i would hope that no serious contemporary scholar of gender and/or sexuality not driven by fundamentalist religious beliefs seriously thinks that sociocultural concepts of gender and/or sexuality aren't fluid; and assuming that to be the case, i find statements like "[the sociocultural concept of] gender is fluid" to be relatively trivial. But the phrase in square brackets is, in my experience, rarely stated explicitly; and so the simple statement "Gender is fluid" can be taken to mean:

  • "The sociocultural concept of gender is fluid."

  • "Individual and/or sociocultural ideas about a particular gender identity are fluid."

  • "Any given person's sense of gender identity is fluid."

  • "Any given person's sense of gender is fluid."

Consequently, i would like to suggest that people be conscious of these multiple possible layers of meaning, and rather than throwing around currently-sexy simplistic phrases such as "sexuality is fluid", instead make more of an effort to be clear about which layer(s) they are making claims about, such that such claims can then be addressed accordingly.

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Date: 2011-05-21 22:54 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] winterkoninkje
i would hope that no serious contemporary scholar of gender and/or sexuality not driven by fundamentalist religious beliefs seriously thinks that sociocultural concepts of gender and/or sexuality aren't fluid

I dunno. I'd certainly say that sociocultural concepts like gender/sexuality are plastic (i.e., malleable), just as everything sociocultural is plastic, but I'm not so sure I'd call them fluid (i.e., readily and easily prone to change). A lot of people have deeply held beliefs about gender/sexuality and these beliefs are often powerfully resistant to change. To call the sociocultural concept of gender/sexuality fluid is, IMO, to ignore the challenges we face in confronting the long history of oppression and violence against queer folks by religiously driven folks.


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