Rainbow(ish)

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Pride season is not only set on fire by the summery sun, but also by the heated debates about the significance of pride. The excesses are criticized, but also the capitalist exploitation of the event, the culture of showing off perfectly sculpted bodies or the hypersexualized atmosphere, till the monopoly of the event exerted by gay white men, overshadowing the opposition to racism, lesbophobia and transphobia within the lgbt community.

Overall, I am still strongly in favor of pride as a political/social/cultural event of affirmation of the lgbt community in the wider society, inclusive of all the identities that still suffer from lack of visibility. But I can’t be a supporter of a pride that doesn’t evolve over the years: we need to cope with the criticisms, distinguish between the cheap and the constructive ones, and strive for a better pride for the years to come.

This is why I hardly tolerate pride supporters showing very little critical thinking in making their point when asked for. It seems that many pride supporters believe in some sort of “mantra of inclusion” of all non-heteronormative gender identities, which arbitrarily excludes straight people from the “pride spectrum”. Why arbitrarily? Because most of these pride supporters, anchor their conception of pride on a private understanding of their own sexuality: if they find out that they are not heterosexual, they already have a reason to be “proud”. But why? Why straight people shouldn’t be proud of their sexuality as well? Why is sexuality anything to be proud of in the first place?

There must be better reasons than a private understanding of one’s own sexuality. In a previous letter of mine, I pointed out the difference between two dimensions of gender: one is intimate, hardly definable and private; the other one is political and subject to public assessment.

The first dimension can be the basis for a positive self-identification, which has not yet political meaning and can’t be criticized in the first place. If I come to believe that I am sexually attracted to people I only feel a deep emotional bonding to, independently of their gender, then I might very well be a demisexual and identify as such. But this identification can’t be the basis for pride yet! There is nothing to be proud of about being of a certain sexual orientation/gender identity per se.

At this point, the political dimension of gender comes into play. For political affirmation, we need much better defined labels: labels and categories that potentially everyone can find intelligible, and not only our inner self. How do we find these categories? Well, they are already there, because the heteronormative society has done a wonderful job in discriminating and creating them in our place: gayphobia giving us gays, lesbophobia giving us lesbians, transphobia giving transsexuals/transgenders, to the more general misogyny giving us women, and racism Blacks, Asians, and so on and so forth.

The public/political dimension of gender is grounded mostly on negative phenomena of systematic discrimination and oppression of behaviors, allusive to non-heteronormative sexualities. In short, when asked why isn’t there any straight pride, one shouldn’t answer by appeal to private reasons, but rather keep in mind an entire history of discrimination and political fights, which contributes to give meaning to categories like “gay” and “lesbian”.

This doesn’t yet mean that if you are pansexual, demisexual, asexual, etc. or simply “privately gay” or “privately lesbian” you don’t belong in pride. In that case, rather than direct opposition to homophobia or transphobia, the motivation for pride can very well be public visibility and representation.

You might now protest: there is more to being lesbian or trans than mere resistance to homophobia and transphobia! There is more to being a woman than mere fighting misogyny and patriarchy! After all, no one ever chose to be non-heteronormative, we ended up being such, who-knows-how. Furthermore, there is beauty and positive value in enjoying one’s “spontaneous” non-heterosexuality without necessarily thinking about political visibility! We have a right to “thoughtlessness”!

I agree. But I also think that this spontaneity of behavior can’t be arbitrarily held as evidence for a public category or a public vindication: one needs good arguments in support of her positions and be open to the possibility of being shown wrong. As I’ve been arguing elsewhere, I think that the correct route to follow is anchoring basic forms of non-heteronormative behavior in our biological makeup.

Demisexuals pose a challenge to my view: they neither are direct objects of homophobia insofar as they identify as demisexuals, nor can they credibly ground their identification in their biological makeup, for it is based for the most on culturally shaped emotions. What right do they have to vindicate their “public dimension of gender”?

I don’t know but, most probably, human beings are much more complicated than what we will ever be able to find out, and a little theoretical charity with respect to demisexuals sounds very much in conformity with pride values.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

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Disgust

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Sometimes we need those moments of pure loneliness. Just locking ourselves in our bedrooms and do whatever we want or nothing at all, away from indiscreet glances. Alone with ourselves. Or almost. Because who knows who else is hiding with us. Spiders, millipedes, silverfishes, flies, midges,… not to talk about mosquitoes!

There are very good hygienical reasons to keep some of these unwanted visitors away from our homes, but a fact remains: no matter how clean and well-supervised your place is, they will always find a way to crawl, fly or scamper in. Whether you want it or not, we live with these creatures and our houses are part of their ecosystems.

If you have developed some sort of moral sensitivity toward animals in general, I have a warning for you: insects are animals too. So a question arises, however of little importance it might sound: is it ok to crush, electrocute, poison to death or simply evict our tiny “flatmates”?

Many of these species are noxious, like mosquitoes, some are the symptom of scarce cleanliness, like cockroaches, others are just very annoying, like flies. There is however one reason I can’t take seriously: disgust.

I can’t understand how certain people find the eight hairy legs of a spider more revolting than swimming with unshaved human beings. You never risk to swallow the hairs of a spider by chance!

Another explanation for disgust might be the great anatomical difference between insects and human animals. One could picture insects as sorts of aliens or monstrous creatures. But again, why be disgusted by such differences? Just mind your own business and the millipede will do the same! Isn’t it wonderful that there is such diversity of shape, color and function even in the otherwise very boring environments of your home sweet home?

Perhaps, other people believe that they could be crawled over by one of these animals, or bitten by a venomous spider. However, how probable is that to happen? I mean, you are thousands of times bigger than a silverfish! Chances are that you inadvertently stomp on him without even noticing, not that he has any interest in getting any closer to you. The same with spiders – whose venom is innocuous in most cases anyways.

Imagination seems to play a very important role in disgust. We imagine that certain things might be too different to be understood, based on their exterior appearances, but it would require little effort to appreciate the industriousness of the spider in building her spectacular web, while we tidy up our place.

We imagine that certain things are much more dangerous than what they truly are, and we could’ve felt much less fear and disgust simply by asking ourselves “What could possibly happen? What is truly at stake and what is just a fanciful exaggeration of our mind?”. Sometimes we are scared by something, and we forget we are thousands of times bigger, more numerous or powerful. We could even forget that the object of our fear might have much better reasons to be scared of us.

Disgust is often thought of as a feeling one can’t change at one’s will. It is almost like distaste. But the disgust we feel toward insects, other animals or other human beings is of a different kind than the distaste we have toward unappealing food. It is almost entirely based on our imagination. And guess what? We can control our imagination and, through it, we can influence how we feel disgust. We could even stop being disgusted, if we retain it not to be rational of us: so great is the power of our minds.

Three days ago it was the international day against homophobia and transphobia. If it is possible for us to stop being scared or disgusted by creatures with more than a pair of legs and more than a pair of eyes, I do believe that, one day, we could even stop being disgusted by our fellow human beings.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

 

Homophobia

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Have you ever heard that “the greatest homophobes are closeted gays”? Yes, me too. This is often shouted on social media as a progressive statement, both from lgbt people as from non-lgbt. It is declared with a great confidence and greater support, even if it is unclear to what extent it targets homophobes and to what extent it targets gays in the closet.

In this letter I will attempt to show that this statement is not only arbitrary and ill-grounded, but also that it hides a slithering superstition, with an often underestimated homophobic flavor.

To be a “great homophobe”, I take it, is to be known for public homophobic utterances and jokes, for open opposition to extension of rights to lgbt couples, and to laws to protect lgbt citizens from homophobic attacks, either physical or verbal.

Many people, it seems, think that being a repressed gay makes you homophobic in virtue of your “internalized homophobia”, namely the hate toward yourself for being gay. Moreover, this internalized homophobia, which non-gays don’t feel, would cause externalization of “greater homophobia”.

When anti-lgbt politicians and public figures get caught in homosexual sex scandals, this ‘theory’ is applied to stigmatize at once their sexual repression and homophobia. But why is sexual repression to be stigmatized? Isn’t it an effect of homophobia, rather than its cause?

It will be replied: no one is attacking sexual repression, it is just that homophobia and sexual repression together make greater homophobia. Look at what a masterpiece of nonsense we have come up with!

Homophobia makes a person sexually repressed and, because of this repression, the person is even more homophobic. This would mean that the person is not at all to blame for his homophobia! If sexual repression (and not a person’s will) makes it the case that a gay guy is more homophobic, he is just a greater victim, rather than a greater homophobe. The only thing to blame remains the social phenomenon of homophobia, not the specific homophobia of those closeted people!

Our initial statement falls into a tautology about the devastating effects of homophobia on the psychological and sexual integrity of a gay person, and it most probably blames the wrong thing, that is sexual repression rather than homophobia. And if it were to blame homophobia, it doesn’t blame the “right kind” of homophobia: it targets that of an individual, when it is the whole society’s, which stands at the root of the evil.

A couple of years ago I met a gay guy, who makes a perfect “case study” (call him G). He enjoys economical and emotional stability, he has a wonderful boyfriend, but no one knows he is gay at his workplace. G told me, rather proudly, that he was used to mock one of his subordinates for his effeminate manners.

Although the boldness of G to come out as a proud homophobe among gays in a gay bar must be appreciated, I couldn’t negate him the thrill of a homicidal look.

Is G a greater homophobe than homophobes because he still is in the closet? Is his sexual repression a good explanation of his behavior? What if, instead, being a “straight-acting” man in a position of power, he behaves precisely like a very average homophobic straight guy the way it is expected of him in his workplace environment?

This is the point: you don’t need sexual repression to explain homophobia. All you need is to analyze the social phenomenon of homophobia and see that, even those who should be expected to feel affinity to the oppressed because of a common “natural condition”, forget one of the most fundamental requirements of morality: respect.

G is just as disrespectful toward his subordinate as any non-gay homophobe. He is not worse, or greater in his homophobia. On the other hand, his sexual repression or internalized homophobia doesn’t justify his revolting behavior in any way.

What can we conclude about “the greatest homophobes” then? First of all, that people who think we can single out anything like that, have a very poor understanding of homophobia, which is a much wider spread way of thinking and behaving, subtler and more terrible than what the inconsistent utterances of anti-lgbt politicians make us think. Second, that they do stigmatize sexual repression, which is a form of blaming the victims. But there is something more.

If you blame a victim for precisely what oppresses her, you are making a favor to the oppressor. You are complicit in homophobia, because you ascribe it to the wrong entity and implicitly make non-gay homophobes somewhat look less guilty.

True freedom of identity, sexuality and womanhood can be achieved only by destroying a monster which has assumed many names over time, but can sometimes be recognized for its means: witch hunt.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Correctness

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Potentially, every time we say something, there is a risk to hurt someone else’s feelings or to discriminate certain people. This is the trivial sense of “taking a risk to discriminate” and, of course, if we were to take it seriously, we couldn’t say a word anymore.

There is another sense, however, which is the one of consciously foreseeing the discriminatory effects of what we are saying and say it none the less. This is immoral. And immoral is also avoiding to excuse oneself, once one is shown the discriminatory effects of her utterances.

Political correctness has developed in western, modern, multicultural societies as a method of talking and thinking in such a way as to avoid, insofar as it is possible, immoral discrimination of disadvantaged members of a society. An excess of political correctness could mean being self-righteous and be unsustainable, because it might lead to improper censorship.

Since more than one person has accused me of unsustainable political correctness, I owe them an explanation. I need to address two related features of the problem: the first is political correctness taken as a form of “moral censorship” about certain everyday life, linguistic or artistic freedoms; the second is the risk of adopting the stance of a moral police officer.

Flat-out censorship is never the most efficacious method to contrast discriminatory ideologies. I do believe in the importance of dialogue about what is right and wrong, and in the possibility for fallible creatures like ourselves of making forgivable mistakes.

This said, my political correctness doesn’t yet allow me to appreciate a racist or a homophobic joke. Indeed, certain kinds of satire have an oppressive flavor: they attack the vulnerable and implicitly defend the powerful. And each time you laugh, you strengthen inequality and oppression.

We won’t stop laughing then, because something gets censored. We stop laughing when we start thinking, and our thoughts will help us next time to distinguish funny jokes from discriminatory ones, and to laugh accordingly. Moreover, in an evolving society, what was strange and “abnormal” in the past, can suddenly turn out to be common in the present, and related jokes will thus stop being funny “just for that”.

In a previous letter, I have already addressed the topic of misconduct of artists. In this case, all I shall underline is that nothing in the production of art provides artists with any “moral pass”. Art can’t be judged in moral terms, just as moral subjects can’t be judged in artistic terms. Art is judged with artistic criteria, whereas an artist’s moral conduct with moral criteria. In the case of discriminatory lyrics, for instance, we might adopt artistic criteria but, among them, we shall also consider the originality of the message and its meaning. Given my recent definition of art, we might even question whether those lyrics can’t be better defined as a discriminatory regurgitation, rather than art.

Now I skip to the second accusation, that of endorsing some sort of Orwellian moral police, if not being myself a moral police officer. Here I must distance myself from a common phenomenon of political correctness. What I really don’t like about this phenomenon is its Manicheism, its seeing everything as either black or white, its dividing the world in bad guys and good guys, in police officers and criminals.

We can’t a priori rule out the possibility of victims to be themselves oppressors and we can’t deem oppressors as monsters. That would be too easy: monsters don’t have the chance to be otherwise. Human beings are much more complicated creatures. They often act upon certain motives and they have reasons for acting. They have a history and they are culturally shaped. They deserve blame sometimes. Sometimes they perpetrate unforgivable evils. But always as human beings, never as monsters.

This means that we can never judge an individual life as if we could see through every relevant decision leading to an evil action. All we can do is just to try to analyze the action itself, its motivational background and attempt to construct a model for making the action morally intelligible. I really can’t see how this approach might count as “moral police”.

Talking about monsters in a politically correct fashion is a terrible mistake: we risk to ascribe very human vices to non-human entities. De-humanizing vices leads to extreme dangers: we tend to be too indulgent with ourselves and too fatalist with monsters. We tend to forget the evil in ourselves, because “at least we are not monsters”.

No one is. Not even the filthiest genocidal criminal. We all are fallible human beings, and we fail whenever we are given the chance to reconsider our conduct, and we laugh or appeal to specious artistic license or else instead of thinking.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Hope

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Last Saturday my hometown hosted a gay pride for the first time in its history. I already knew the event was to take place, but interestingly I found myself filled with awe as I scrolled the photos on Facebook and Instagram. It was striking for me to see the very place in which I grew up experiencing homophobia and bigotry on a daily base being invaded by rainbow flags and people of all ages and colors reunited to celebrate inclusion and the value of life in all its orientations.

I don’t live in the city I was born anymore, and I wouldn’t like to go back to live there in the future either. My city rejected me when I was most in the need of being accepted, it suffocated my personality and clipped the wings of my aspirations. It burned the soil around me, hindering my youth from flourishing and attempting to force me into madness. How can I love a place like that? How can I appreciate the perks of a hometown, which smashed the foundations of my positivity?

Back then, my city was grey and disheartening. The best people were the hypocrites, because “honesty” meant verbal harassment to me.

Now everything looks different. Last Saturday, thousands of people gathered together, swarming through the streets of the city center saying out loud that equality is no empty word to embellish political correctness. It must be substantial and it must be for everyone, unconditionally. Noticing my cousin with her husband, their two-year-old twins on the respective shoulders, and their third daughter marching along with the crowd, felt as if they were liberating the places of my oppression. I saw it as a cathartic parade, to purify the moral pollution my city was saturated by.

I wasn’t there, and I would agree with anyone accusing me of cowardice. My case is even worse, since I have not contributed to the liberation in general. I went away, leaving my past behind irremediably.

As time went by, my resentment got milder and more rational, but it has always underlied my feelings. However, something new has recently burst into my emotional spectrum. It’s a feeling I have always mistrusted, for all it usually brings is stagnation, indulgence and delusion. It is what the strong tell the weak to feel, in order to control them and justify injustice. But now I have reasons to let it grow in me. My ex fellow citizens have shown a courage and a dedication which is more than admirable, it brings hope for the future. Hope is what they make me feel for the hopeless place of my youth.

Maybe I don’t have the right to feel something as lazy as hope for people who are fighting for the ongoing liberation. Maybe they would prefer “less words and more facts” from me. Unfortunately, I doubt that I have anything to share with my hometown anymore.

I still would like to humbly dedicate this letter to them, if you will allow me to, my princess. I dedicate it to the strength they have that I lack, because they didn’t give up when I did. So, thank you, even if you won’t read this letter. Thank you because a tiny piece of world is a better place thanks to you. And my little me of the past would have been very proud of each one of you.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha

Gender

Dear Princess ‘Ishka,

Dualistic gender is a big issue. It poses constraints on our behaviour and on our everyday life, but mostly on the way we think. Dualistic gender means that if you are a man you have to act in the way appropriate to man, and if you are a woman you have to act accordingly to being a woman. This rigidity of roles is both internal, shaping our mental states, and external, determining obligations and permissions as well as prohibitions.

An article appeared last month on Time dealt with the process of redefinition of gender going on among young people in recent years. The “no-gender generation” tries to get rid of the dualism of gender by spreading a countless amount of new labels for those finding “man” and “woman” too tight fitting, if not completely inappropriate. From pansexual to polyamorous, from non-binary to gender-fluid, there seems to be a label for any identification.

What kind of social significance does this identification present? The answer can be tracked in the following distinction I make: there is a personal and intimate dimension of gender and a public and political dimension.

When you call yourself “gender-fluid” in the sense that you don’t recognize your behaviour as conforming to the dualistic labels, and you feel like swinging between various patterns of behaviour, you are trying to give a name to what you feel on the inside. And this attempt of defining yourself will always be an approximation, since the way we experience gender is particularly complicated and resist precise definitions and labels.

However, when you scream to the world that you exist and you deserve the same recognition as a member of society  the way all other members are recognised, then “gender fluid”, “lesbian”, “gay”, “transsexual”,… assume a completely new meaning. This new meaning is a political one, rather than a personal one. It is also very precise, insofar as it categorises you as “politically different”.

When you have suffered homophobia or transphobia or similar forms of discrimination, you are not “just like the others”. Of course, we are all the same on the inside, for there is almost a gender identity for each human being. But on the outside that changes. It changes as soon as you get confronted with the dualism of gender, which structures society.

If you can’t identify as a man or a woman, you are left alone, as a strange beast unable to cope with its “natural” habitat. And when you grow up and come to know that your identity needn’t conform to the dualism, you also need society to know. The habitat must structurally change to welcome you as an authentic member of society.

Bisexuals exist and asexuals exist too. And they are, along with all the other identities, political realities. The intimate dimension of gender remains so far a mystery,  and self-identification can help get through the trouble of alienation. But the category under which a person suffers the pain of systematic discrimination has no ambiguity.

A gender-revolution must be aware of the two battlefronts. One is intimate and based on empathy, compassion and altruism. The other is a categorical vindication of existence and equality.

Forever yours,

‘Miasha